|Graphic by Peter & Maria Hoey|
Does Michigan’s economy really need six law schools pumping over a thousand newly minted graduates into the service sector every year?
Unlike many job seekers, most new lawyers are heavily debt-burdened; some carrying well over $100,000 in student loans. This can lead to desperation.
The economy is still smarting in several key sectors here in Michigan. Both the auto and real estate sectors appear to be clawing their way back, but the jobless rate remains stubbornly high. Most experts are saying we are in for another half-decade of “recovery”.
In down-times, higher education, as an industry, does remarkably well. People take a hard look at their employment prospects and many decide to improve their skills by obtaining additional credentials.
Law school is something that nearly half the population considers at one time or another. In this tough economy, however, have law schools turned this recurring American Dream into a debt-nightmare?
The question is on Congress' collective mind; they ordered up a report on this very topic from the GAO.
An entire generation of newly minted lawyers, facing student loans the size of a modest first home, are in the same tight spot as those who over-purchased real estate during the boom years. Only for these new lawyers, there is no foreclosure option.
And the prospects are, well, scary. Established small and medium sized firms will lease office space, but they are not going to pay salaries. The larger firms are downsizing their attorney-rosters. A Northwestern Law study estimates that the large firm sector has lost more than 15,000 attorney and staff positions since 2008.
Corporate legal departments are slashing legal expenses; anything that can be outsourced goes to India where there is a glut of cheap lawyers, eager to review documents for about $20 per hour.
Despite this grim outlook, law schools are reporting up to 93% of their graduates are, “known to be employed nine-months after graduation.” This statistic is fostered by the annual law school rankings published by the U.S. News & World Report.
Employment as a barista at Starbucks, however, is different than working in the legal profession. To improve their stats, some law schools have been known to temporarily hire a battalion of their recent grads for $20 an hour to work in the placement office. The U.S. News statistic does not take these distortions into account.
This grim theme was the focus of recent “over-the-top” marketing techniques employed by Lansing’s Cooley Law School. The correlation between a paucity of jobs and a downright glut of attorneys is well documented in the blogosphere.
It’s not all bad though. Students with a high motivation and grade point can persist with good jobs in their chosen field, even after they take off their rose-colored glasses. In our free society, with its commerce, temptations and throw-away marriages, there will always be a strong demand for legal services.
Update: Shortly after this post, inspired by the front page article in the Sunday NYT's Business Section, this offering appeared in the WSJ's Law Blog.
Another Update: As another sick indicator for law students and lawyers alike, here is a report from the ABA Journal about the editor-in-chief of the Chicago-Kent Law Review describing how he cannot find a job despite his best efforts. Presumably, this dude is at the top of his class. Like Michigan, however, Illinois has half a dozen law schools, all churning-out juris doctors each year, all with little hope of landing a paying lawyer-gig. Go figure.
Labels: attorney, Chicago-Kent Law Review, Cooley Law School, law school, lawyer, U.S. News and World Report