Scambloggers have noted with dismay that law school applications are on the rise even as the legal profession continues to contract. With prospects for recent and future grads so horrible, and the word finally getting out through some mainstream media sources, one would hope that it had some deterrent effect. No need to worry, though, because "the applicant pool also appeared a bit savvier than its predecessors, as far as reading the fine print, admissions deans reported. Admissions offices fielded more questions than ever about job placement rates, career services and finances." Thank God, these kids are well-prepared and full of information fed to them by admissions deans. I was really worried there for a moment. If only the schools didn’t send out their best shills and respond to all of these queries by blowing smoke and lying their asses off about these very statistics, these kids might stand a fighting chance.
Yet even an industry cheerleader publication like the NLJ can't hide its disbelief about the naivete of prospective students. I especially like the lead photo montage of 0Ls with the caption "WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?" The article then goes on to talk about how law school applications are booming, deans are hungry for students, and 0Ls are ignoring the blood-curdling screams and foul stench of death emanating from the schools they are touring during admitted students day.
The piece also cited what is probably my favorite statistic from all of this law school meltdown mayhem: "In a recent survey of 330 prelaw student by Kaplan Test Prep, 52% felt "very confident" that they would land a legal job after graduation, although only 16% felt confident that most of their fellow graduates would be as successful." Not to minimize the hubris of 52% of these 0Ls, but how about the 48% who presumably do NOT feel "very confident" about landing a legal job? If about half of these prospective 0Ls aren't confident they will get a legal job, what possesses them to plunk down six figures for the degree?
What really boggles the mind about these articles is that they always manage to find some nontraditional student who already has a decent job, or someone who actually worked in a law firm, to interview.
Arline Laurer is among those banking on a turnaround during the next three years. The 21-year-old from a small town outside Rochester, N.Y., plans to begin studies at the University of Toledo College of Law next month. An internship at the Kings County district attorney's office in Brooklyn, N.Y., while an undergraduate at St. John's University solidified her ambitions.
"I've been watching [the legal job market] pretty closely — especially in the past year, as I get closer to going to law school," she said. "I'm obviously about to take on a lot of debt. I'm hoping by the time I get out of law school the job climate will be better."
One would think that, having worked in local government, where hiring freezes and working for free are the norm, this 0L would be skeptical of her chances of emerging as a salaried lawyer. The office she worked in was being staffed by UNDERGRAD interns, and certainly a host of unemployed volunteer law grads. When she looked around at all of the unpaid co-workers, did that not have any effect? Then there are the people who are pushing 30 and are ready to throw in the towel on their current career.
Law school has always in the back of Minnesota native Emily Johns' mind, but she gave it a more serious look during the past two years as her employer, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, declared bankruptcy and offered buyouts.
"First and foremost, I'm doing this because I want to be a lawyer, not because I'm running away from these scary times in the journalism industry," said Johns, 28, an education reporter who will soon be a 1L at the University of Minnesota Law School. "But it did make me think seriously about my Plan B. I think I'm doing to right thing. There's no way you can know for sure."
After suffering through the journalism bloodbath, and being lucky enough to have a job as a reporter in that dying industry, I would be a little more skeptical before vaulting into another risky, dying profession. Especially if it had the potential to cost me $100,000 or more before ever working a day as a lawyer. Also, if she always wanted to be a lawyer, isn't that what she would have pursued after school, instead of journalism? Let's make up our minds, 0Ls. Which horrible, dying career field do you want to meet your doom in?
I was glad to see the scambloggers' old pal Professor Tamanaha make an appearance and offer this bold-faced warning (which no one will heed):
The tipping point — when the cost of law school will dissuade those are not seriously interested in practicing law — is on the horizon, Tamanaha said. He cautioned, however, that he has made that prediction before.
"In 15 years of teaching, I've known a lot of students who came here because they didn't know what they wanted to do," Tamanaha said. "A lot of this is about cyclical irrational decision-making. It's based on a very human trait, which is overoptimism. For the people who have always wanted to be a lawyer, they should go to law school. For anyone else, it's not a good decision."
There you have it, kids, straight from the professor's mouth. How many of us really, truly, "always wanted to be a lawyer." Not the majority of current or prospective students, who are mostly here because they (erroneously) believed that lawyers make decent money.
The piece ends with four short profiles of prospective students. Talk about ripe material. We’ve got lifelong lovers of the law, a nontrad, and plenty of willful ignorance. There's a theater major and future victim of Drake. There are people who turned down actual paying jobs, and lots of dreams of entering arcane, impossible-to-crack-into, or nonexistent practice areas.
"I was surprised by how many people were planning on going to law school," said Klatt, 22, who just graduated from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, with a degree in ¬theater and English. "It may be because of the economy. Right now, in the job market, there's nothing."
Klatt isn't using law school as a delay tactic, even if some of her classmates are. She has wanted to be an attorney since childhood and saw no point in putting off her career ambitions because of turmoil in the legal industry. After months of research, she settled on Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa — a school she considers vastly underrated.
She hopes to become an advocate for the disabled, partly because she has watched people take advantage of her handicapped brother and other vulnerable people.
Although Klatt is confident that law school is the right choice for her, the price tag of a J.D. still leaves her a little queasy. Drake offered a scholarship that will cover half her tuition, but Klatt still expects to take out about $90,000 in loans.
I really, really hope Ms. Klatt finds her way over to Third Tier Reality before sending in that first semester tuition deposit.
Then there are the folks who claim they're aware of "how bad things are," but are steaming full speed ahead anyway.
Payne, 25, insists she's not looking at the legal world through rose-colored glasses. She has friends who have been laid off from paralegal and clerk jobs with law firms, and is well aware that the industry is unstable right now. Even so, she would like to land a job at a law firm and perhaps specialize in the legal issues surrounding social media — an area she manages for a Washington nonprofit.
So she's presumably witnessed your friends suffering layoffs and firms cutting back, and that the industry is "unstable." Better still, it appears Ms. Payne has a paying job with a nonprofit. How many 25-year-olds can say that, in this economy? How many liberal arts majors dreamed of working for a nonprofit, only to be on the part-time roster at Walgreens? Count your blessings, Ms. Payne. But you've got nothing on
Yazmin Wadia, who acknowledges that she hasn't been paying as much attention to the legal job market as she probably should, given that she is poised to start law school next month.
Granted, the 20-year-old has had plenty of other things occupying her time and mind — not the least of which was completing her undergraduate degree in political science and history in just three years at Arizona State University.
Wadia turned down a paying job at The Public Forum Institute, a nonprofit in Washington that promotes public discourse, in part because she felt that she wasn't yet ready to join the 9-to-5 workday grind. Instead, she plans to attend Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Ore., which lured her with a scholarship and a strong public interest law program. She hopes to parlay a law degree into a job with a large nonprofit in Washington such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League or Amnesty International.
While she hasn't done as much research as she knows she should into the job prospects for new law graduates, she understands that she'll face stiff competition to land her dream legal gig. "It definitely does scare me, knowing that you're competing in the job market with Ivy League graduates from Harvard and Yale," she said. "But it doesn't hurt to try. What's the worst that can happen?"
What's the worst that can happen? It'll only cost an inquisitive 0L three years and $100,000 to find out!