I don't for a second believe the outlandish $135,000 average for 24% of the new Tulane graduates when I see attorneys here, in a very comparable market to that served by Tulane (New Orleans), struggling to get jobs that pay $35,000 a year with no benefits. Tulane is obviously inflating the salaries. The fact is law schools lie regarding attorney salaries and job opportunities, and they lie big. Law schools like Tulane know that the average salaries of graduates reported affect law school rankings such as those that appear in U.S. News and World Report. (Imagine law schools competing against each other to tell the biggest lie regarding salaries knowing the methodology and facts behind those numbers are never going to be examined. That's what is going on.) Law schools want people to continue to spend tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend their school.
"According to the Internal Revenue Service, the inflation-adjusted average income of sole practitioners has been flat since the mid-1980s. A recent survey showed that out of nearly 600 lawyers at firms of 10 lawyers or fewer in Indiana, wages for the majority only kept pace with inflation or dropped in real terms over the past five years."
"Students entering law school have little way of knowing how tight a job market they might face. The only employment data that many prospective students see comes from school-promoted surveys that provide a far-from-complete portrait of graduate experiences. Tulane University, for example, reports to U.S. News & World Report magazine, which publishes widely watched annual law-school rankings, that its law-school graduates entering the job market in 2005 had a median salary of $135,000. But that is based on a survey that only 24% of that year's graduates completed, and those who did so likely represent the cream of the class, a Tulane official concedes."
If you want to get a laugh out of a second year associate, show them what their law school claims their average beginning salary should be. At one time I figured that there were something like 500 people passing the bar every year in Indiana. At any one time, there are about five or six Indiana job openings listed on the law school job board (that generally pay very modest salaries by the way.) It does not take a math genius to figure out that associate salaries are not going to increase with that kind of labor oversupply. Partners are not about to pay associates more when they are easily replaced and increasing their salaries would cut into their own take home pay.
A few years ago, I did an open records request asking for the surveys that supposedly supported IU School of Law at Indianapolis' claim regarding first year associate salaries that was being quoted to new students. IU refused to provide that supporting documentation claiming an exception to the open records law because the surveys included personal information. Of course, the school could have simply redacted the personal information but did not. My guess is they know that if anyone takes a close look at those surveys and how they come up with the supposed average salary, the fraud would be exposed. This coming year, I vow to take this project up again. I have a real problem with young people being lied to so they will incur huge amounts of debt to go to law school only to find out later they are not going to make enough in salary to pay the debt they incurred in getting the education.
In the meantime, if you know someone you know is considering law school, have that person read the Efrati article. Oh, and have them talk to a real practicing attorney, instead of a law school recruiter or professor, about what the salaries and benefits are really like in the profession.
See also: Analysis: Law schools growing, but jobs aren't (USA Today 6/17/2008)