Really– don’t go to law school

Given the number of law school recommendations I write, I’ve long seen the high numbers of people going to law school who should not.  It’s amazing the number of people who go to law school who have no real interest in the law, but just think it is a guarantee to a good salary in three years.  Increasingly, there’s no such guarantee:

The job market for lawyers is terrible, full stop—and that hits young lawyers, without professional track records and in need of training, worst. Though the National Association for Law Placement, an industry nonprofit group, reports that employment for the class of 2009 was 88.3 percent, about a quarter of those jobs were temporary gigs, without the salaries needed by most new lawyers to pay off crushing debts. Another 10 percent were part-time. And thousands of jobs were actually fellowships or grants provided by the new lawyers’ law schools.

The big firms that make up about 28 percent of recent grads’ employment slashed their associate programs in 2009 and 2010, rescinding offers to thousands and deferring the start dates of thousands more. Worse, the profession as a whole shrunk: The number of people employed in legal services hit an all-time high of 1.196 million in June 2007. It currently stands at 1.103 million. That means the number of law jobs has dwindled by about 7.8 percent. In comparison, the total number of jobs has fallen about 5.4 percent over the same period.

At the same time, the law schools—the supply side of the equation—have not stopped growing. Law schools awarded 43,588 J.D.s last year, up 11.5 percent since 2000, though there was technically negative demand for lawyers. And the American Bar Association’s list of approved law schools now numbers 200, an increase of 9 percent in the last decade. Those newer law schools have a much shakier track record of helping new lawyers get work, but they don’t necessarily cost less than their older, more established counterparts.

I definitely have seen many of my student apply to these newer law schools that have no reputation and you really have to wonder just how successful their graduates will be.  There’s plenty of students I have no problem recommending for law school– due to either a strong and genuine interest in the law or a clear career goal of which a law degree is typically a necessary step– but far too many people go to law school for lack of any better ideas.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Really– don’t go to law school

  1. Arlene S. Hirsch says:

    I agree with you 100%. I am a career counselor and am always astounded by how many people are convinced that law school, and being a lawyer, is an easy answer to the hard question of career choice. I’m glad that the professors have started speaking out and spreading the word about the reality of a very difficult profession.

    Thank you for writing this.

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