i was wrong: law school is much suckier than i thought

A little while ago, I wrote a post comparing academia to other types of graduate education. My argument was fairly straightforward. Academia is worse than the other major alternatives in every major measure – time to graduation, % of people who complete the program, getting a job after graduation, and income. I think I am right about the comparison overall. Medical school graduates have a 90%+ graduate rate after 5 years and almost always land jobs or internships.

However, I have revised my assessment of law school. It is much, much worse than I knew about. I still don’t think it’s quite as bad as academia. For example, the typical law school student will actually get the degree, while most PhD students never finish up – and they waste many years trying. And, there is actually an extremely well paid elite law track, which doesn’t exist in academia, except in the medical schools. But still, the legal market is now starting to resemble academia in that those at the top have many good career opportunities, while the rest have poor opportunities, unemployment, and ever increasing debt.

If you want a good summary of the issue, read the blog “Inside the Law School Scam” by law professor Paul Campos. It boils down to the following:

  • The recession contracted the entire legal services market.
  • A lot of work previously done by young lawyers is now done by computers, paralegals, English speakers in India, and other non-JDs.
  • Corporate clients are not willing to pay top dollar for on the job training for young associates.

As a consequence of these trends, law firms, corporate legal counsel offices, and other employers have reduced their positions or cut salaries. Also, the rate at which people make “partner,” has gone down since firms can’t take on so many senior associates.

We now have an emerging two-tier structure in the law market that resembles academia. Graduates of the top 20 or so programs still have great opportunities – prestigious clerkships, fast tracks in New York or DC firms, and teaching gigs at law schools. But one you get past this tier, it gets brutal, really brutal. People working for $15/hour doing “document review,” which is like being a grad school research assistant. Many graduates spend years finding a job requiring a JD. To add insult to injury, law schools, even those in lower tiers whose graduates almost never make big salaries, are increasing their tuition and saddling alumni with debt. And don’t get me started on how law schools inflate, or even fabricate, employment rates for graduates…

Law students, you have earned my pity.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz    


Written by fabiorojas

October 29, 2012 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, professions

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] i was wrong: law school is much suckier than i thought « […]


  2. This split in the legal profession isn’t so new. See Heinz and Laumann’s (1982) “Chicago Lawyers” and their notion of the two hemispheres of the legal profession, as well as the follow up study, “Urban Lawyers” (2005), which documents the “more diverse, but less integrated” structure of the legal profession. One hemisphere, populated largely by white men from prestigious law schools, serves corporate masters and “big law.” The other, populated by graduates of lesser programs, people of color, women (though women are more present than before in the other hemisphere) do the less prestigious, litigation and personal service law.

    You might also consider Brian Tamanaha’s “Failing law schools,” should you need any more support for the suckiness of law school.



    October 30, 2012 at 9:24 pm

  3. I’ve heard quite a bit of conventional wisdom regarding how the location of your school matters. So does location matter for at least a little bit for maybe mitigating some of these negative effects? For instance if your less-than-elite school is nested in a locale that has some demand for a certain type of law, would that increase your chances of finding employment in the area? Or would an applicant from a top ivy thousands of miles away simply step over your prospects anyway?


    frightened student

    November 3, 2012 at 6:36 am

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: