Law School Grads Face Uncertain Prospects

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The New York Times’ David Segal has a devastating piece on the economics of the law school business. Basically, law school programs are hugely profitable, and the schools have expanded — and jacked up prices — rapidly, leaving many grads with too much debt and little in the way of career prospects.

In fact, law schools are so profitable, Segal reports, that many fork over as much as 30% of their revenue to the universities to subsidize less profitable programs. According to Segal, “From 1989 to 2009, when college tuition rose by 71 percent, law school tuition shot up 317 percent.”

(MORE: Consumers Finally Figure Out That Law School is Overrated)

Then there is the problem of the U.S. News rankings, which are highly influential but self-reported and therefore prone to manipulation. Here’s (in part) what I wrote about the U.S. News rankings in my book:

Another systemic problem with the US News research is that the editors and publishers are too lazy and/or cheap to actually do the research themselves (note to self: cross US News off list of magazines to pitch future freelance articles to). Instead, they send questionnaires to the colleges asking them to self-report the data. Because, you know, who would lie or exaggerate about statistics with no chance of getting caught just to gain tremendous national prestige, millions of dollars in donations, an ability to attract a more elite student body, and possibly a more attractive job offer from a competitor?

There’s a lot to like about Segal’s piece. It’s the most illuminating look yet at the law school ripoff, and it should be required reading for anyone who’s contemplating law school.

(MORE: When College Grads Move Home: Six Ways to Get Them Off the Couch)

The fundamental problem with law schools is the same fundamental problem with higher education in general: The prices are rising much more quickly than the expected return; but with law schools, the numbers are even worse than with bachelor’s degrees.

Check out this recent post I did for some ideas on how to determine whether law school might make sense for you.