Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mandatory Reading Before Going to Law School

On September 24, 2007, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled "Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers" written by Amir Efrati. In the article, Efrati brilliantly exposed the truth regarding attorney salaries and employment prospects. It should be mandatory reading before anyone goes to law school. Here are a couple excerpts:

"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."

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.

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)


varangianguard said...

Good post, Paul. Ten or Twenty years ago, the Indianapolis Star/News (IIRC) published an article about average salaries of Indiana lawyers (across the state). The number was $15,000/yr (which even then wasn't anything to write home about).

Now, I don't remember what any of the criteria were or whether it was a survey, but it was at least indicative that law wasn't necessarily the most lucrative career around the state.

If you think about it, for every partner who does make good money averaged with attorneys who work alone, full or part-time (or entry level attorneys), there were a lot of lawyers out there not living the dream like Tulane (or IU) is promoting.

Still, my favorite collegiate lie is that companies "love" liberal arts majors for good paying jobs. Uh-huh. I finally decided that (some) companies do indeed love liberal arts majors, but it's because they come cheap, are expendable, and have little bargaining power in the workplace. In my own experience, I have yet to find a manager who appreciates my ability to think critically. In fact, it has been the exact opposite. It is a rare bird indeed who is confident enough in their own skills to allow subordinates to feel free to disagree with the boss.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Thanks, Varan. One thing I did not even get into was the misleading story that law school makes you more valuable in other fields. Well, yes and no. It gives you a base of knowledge and critical thinking skills that are helpful in other fields. But what law schools do not tell you is that if you try to go out into other fields, you will find you are pigeonholed as an attorney.

They also don't tell you you wil be excluded from many jobs because they think you are overqualified and/or would shortly leave to take a higher salary in a legal position somewhere else, a belief that is often not based on a realistic view of the job market.

Anonymous said...

Then, upon graduation, an attorney has to spend money on a bar review course, local and state bar memberships, ABA membership, malpractice insurance, annual bar dues, and the ongoing scam known as CLE that costs around $750, annually.

The true cost of being an attorney is very high, and the benefits are low. For obvious reasons, Law has a relatively high percentage of people who leave the profession.

My SO reminds me from time to time that he/she/it doesn't have to pay any fees or take any additional courses to do he/she/it's job.

We're being fleeced by the government, and for our efforts, we get judges who don't read pleadings, rule as autocrats, and flatly ignore the law, substituting their will for the acts of the legislature.

As a bonus kicker, if Randy Shepard knew who authored the above, he'd move to have me disbarred. Attorneys have far less free speech and other constitutional rights than non-attorneys.

Learn to make something tangible, useful and worthwhile, and you'll have a happier life.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon 12:40, I never took the bar review course like most of my other classmates. I just studied the outlines by my apartment pool the Summer of '87.

I also have never joined the ABA. The CLEs are a scam, but at least now we're getting additonal options besides ICLEF, options that are cheaper.

What is really bad is the perception regarding attorney salaries. Everyone thinks attorneys make a ton of money. I've always said that teachers are geniuses. They have everyone convinced they make $20K a year and that they need to be given more money. Actually they average close to $50K a year for nine months and get great benefits. Of course, having to put up with those brat kids pulls down the enjoyment of the position.

Nando said...

Law is a scam. It is a dying industry for many reasons. Chief among them: (1) the ABA continues to accredit more law schools, even though we currently produce about 45,000 law grads every year; (2) ABA Ethics Opinion 08-451, which allows U.S. law firms to offshore American legal work to foreign attorneys AND non-attorneys; (3) there is an already-existing gross oversupply of lawyers in this country; and (4) technology has allowed greater access to legal information (statutes, forms, court documents, opinions, and case law).

Law has been a saturated market for decades.

Here is a third-tier grad's perspective: