Changing markets for lawyers and law schools

The economics of practicing law of law school are in the news again.  In an article this week, Jeffrey Toobin writes – part quoting an article by Gunderman and Mutz from The Atlantic  “’More than 180 of the 200 US law schools are unable to find jobs for more than 80% of their graduates.’ Median starting salaries for those who do find work are down by seventeen per cent, and more than a third of graduates cannot find full-time employment.”

Toobin links the circumstances of the legal profession to broader changes in the global economy, but then shifts the article into a commentary on legal education.  Speaking of lesser law schools, he observes, “for many that remain are only offering their students false hopes of employment in exchange for big debt. These students are getting the legal-education equivalent of the subprime loans that helped sink the national economy.”

That’s incredibly strong language that many would-be law students need to drink-in: Not only students who might select a lesser school but also students in better schools who will face a competitive market place populated by starving lawyers.

Gunderman and Mutz, write about the importance of rankings in bringing about the current state of affairs.  While beginning with a discussion of law school rankings, they turn to consider the significance of law firm rankings – and in particular – the profit per partner ranking published by The American Lawyer.

Treating lawyers as unit of production, demoting them “from professionals to mere service providers,” and measuring the work of lawyers by profit and dollars is, they report, demoralizing.   They write, “Noble aspirations that may have drawn young people to the law in the first place—serving their fellow citizens, making the community a more just place, and securing democracy—evaporate thanks to this constant attention to money.”

Again, pretty strong language.  If nothing else, these two articles suggest that going to law school should be a well-considered choice and not a default.  In other postings, I’ve commented on the economics of going to law school, but the Gunderson Mutz article makes a larger point about happiness and quality of life.  Far too many students head to law school or other post-graduate opportunities because they don’t know what else to do.  That’s not a good place to be.

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