Not so long ago, enrolling in law school was an almost guaranteed ticket to a six-figure salary. But with horror stories circulating through the media about six-figure debt loads and no jobs for recent law school grads, many students are reconsidering.
And the slight decline in interest is leading a few law schools to slash the number of places in their new classes. Touro Law Center, Albany Law School and Creighton University School of Law have all announced plans to cut enrollment, and the Chronicle of Higher Education reports: “While most law schools are still claiming high job-placement rates, those numbers don’t seem to show up in other reports. A study by Northwestern University’s law school estimated that since January 2008, about 15,000 attorney and legal staff jobs have disappeared from the nation’s largest firms.”
The really bad news for prospective lawyers is this: The recession certainly hasn’t helped matters, but the negative trends are more than cyclical. And, in fact, a few observers have been noticing trouble for law school grads for years. Almost five years ago to the day, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece titled “Law school by default,” which argued that
“The legal profession is really two professions: the elite lawyers and everyone else. Most of the former start out at big law firms. Many of the latter never find gainful legal employment. Instead, they work at jobs that might be characterized as ‘quasi-legal': paralegals, clerks, administrators, doing work for which they probably never needed a J.D. … The mean salary for graduates of top 10 law schools is $135,000 while it is $60,000 for ‘tier three’ schools. It’s certainly possible that tier-three graduates tend to gravitate toward lower-paying public-interest and government jobs, but this lower salary may also reflect the nonlegal nature of many of these jobs and the fact that these graduates are settling for anything that will pay the bills.”
My advice to would-be law students is this: Don’t think that law school is a guarantee of anything, and only consider going if the career you are passionate about involves being a lawyer. Keep your ego out of it, and don’t be seduced by the bright lights of a J.D. Finally, let your results on the LSAT influence your decision: If you aren’t qualified to get into an elite law school, consider that it might not be the right career for you anyway.