Yesterday, I might have fooled some of you with my “LSAT waiver” prank, but today, I am forced to be serious again. It’s about those post-grad legal employment numbers. “Bleak” continues to be the best word to describe the job market for new lawyers, and it’s really anybody’s guess when (or if) things will turn around. For those of you now considering where you’ll attend law school—or if in fact you’ll head straight to any law school next year—I offer another great piece from Prof. Brian Tamanaha, who continues to do good work breaking down the numbers, and calling attention to the structural flaws in the ways those numbers are reported. Tamanaha notes:
The job market for law graduates is horrendous; more than 35% of law graduates in 2010 did not land full time lawyer jobs. It is so bad that even students at top 15 law schools are having difficulty finding jobs.
But he goes further to chastise the law schools for how they present the employment numbers in ways that are difficult for even the most astute applicant to parse:
It is not fair to expect prospective law students to dig into the numbers at each school they are considering in order to decipher the true underlying numbers—and moreover this is not easy to do because the information on many web pages is difficult to apprehend (as Burk confirms). It takes skilled reading, the use of a calculator, and knowledge of which numbers modify others.
Signs of weaknesses beneath advertised employment percentages do not always show straightforwardly. A school might look good with a relatively high percentage of students in lawyer jobs, but this must be discounted if a sizable percentage of these jobs are part time (as with Loyola). And it’s hard to compare schools: Is a 70% lawyer rate, of which 5% are part time, better than an 80% lawyer rate with 20% part time? When discounting, the student would also have to factor in what percentage and what types of jobs are subsidized by the school. All of this requires a lot of savvy on their part and close, skeptical reading of the numbers.
But it’s also important to remember that job numbers at graduation or at 9 months post-graduation are not the only factor you should be considering in deciding whether law school is “worth it.” It’s been decades since law school made sense on a strict cost/benefit basis for most students, at least for the first 10 or so years post graduation. Money matters, and is a very important factor that you should be taking into consideration. But it’s not the only criterion. If law is your passion (and you are sure that it is because you’ve done your in-depth research into legal careers), then you’ll be amortizing that investment over a significantly longer period than 10 years.
Deciding whether, when and where to attend law school is no joke—nothing to be taken lightly. That debt will be with you for a very long time (unimaginably long for most of you). Take it seriously.