Law School Isn't a Game - It's a Serious Investment

Law School Isn't a Game - It's a Serious Investment

 

The legal web world is buzzing over David Segal's Times article from this weekend: Is Law School a Losing Game? Featuring several law-school graduates and blawgers who are drowning in debt with few or no viable career prospects, Segal's article offers a grim portrayal of law schools and the legal job market. As I read the article, I was struck by the one-way finger pointing, the scrutiny of the legal industry, and the implication that BigLaw is the only path for law-school graduates.

I agree that the legal field is a frightening and downright depressing place at the moment. BigLaw is transforming, and the final result is still unknown. Lawyers are being laid off, lawyers and law students are struggling to land interviews (let alone secure jobs), and law-school debt is stifling many. I also acknowledge Segal's points on law-school employment and salary numbers.

But I think too much blame is being placed on schools. Law school provides an education, not a golden ticket to a corner office and six-figure salary. Ignorance is not an excuse, but it seems to be the central theme for Michael Wallerstein, the main subject of Segal's article. Wallerstein "knew little about the Thomas Jefferson School of Law" and "assumed that the very scale of law school . . . implied that pots of gold awaited anyone with smarts, charm and a willingness to work hard." When it comes to a hundred-thousand-dollar-plus investment, it seems irresponsible to rely on assumptions rather than arming oneself with all information available.

Law schools should be held to stricter regulations in reporting their numbers, including the percentage of alumni responding and the percentage of alumni reporting non-legal employment. These numbers should accurately reflect the true employment and salary outcomes for the school's graduates. But individuals entering law school are (hopefully) intelligent, analytical adults, who should leave naivety at the door and fully inform themselves before moving forward. When it comes to employment, there are no guarantees one will get a job, and there are no guarantees one will keep that job regardless of the economy.

And, yes, the economy is terrible right now. Many law graduates are in tough spots regardless of their pre-law-school research and hard work. But law students aren't the only ones in trouble. Students from every field are out of work and buried in loans. With over 2.4 million people with a BA or advanced degree out of work in November 2010, lawyers are not alone. In fact, in September 2010, the unemployment rate for "management, business and financial" industries reached its highest point since 2000. But other graduate programs aren't receiving the same attention.

Perhaps there is more focus on law schools because they tend to concentrate on one legal career path: BigLaw. With incoming classes being slashed and associates being laid off in droves, this legal promised-land is going barren. It's time to start exploring other legal career options, such as government jobs, small legal practices, fellowships, nonprofits, in-house legal departments, and education-based positions. Law schools should beef up their resources on non-BigLaw jobs and provide their students with alternative opportunities.

Law school doesn't provide the code to Daddy Warbucks' vault. It's the training ground for your career as an attorney. Should law schools provide accurate employment information? Yes. Should law school candidates do their own due diligence and understand the investment they are making? Yes. Regardless of whether you did your research, you are in this world now, and it's time to start considering other career directions.

Reference: NYT Article
USA Today Source regarding Unemployment

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