Being about the last person to speak, I heard adult after adult speak glowingly about education has opened doors for them. Most of the presenters were students themselves, i.e. law students, or were recent law school graduates and experiencing the legal job market for the first time.
I was reminded of this experience this week. A fairly recent attorney, who I'm sure has an extremely modest associate salary of $35,000 or so, told me that she was paying back $150,000 in student loans. Ugh. From a pure dollar standpoint, I doubt that law school education investment will ever prove to be profitable.
She shouldn't count on experience making that much of a difference in her salary either. Another Indiana attorney, who ended up relocating out of state, told me of a conversation he had with a partner who was considering hiring him. The attorney had decades of experience that he could have brought to the firm. The partner told the experienced attorney that he couldn't hire him when he had a stack of resumes from people in the top 5% of their law school class who were willing to work for $30,000 to $35,000 a year without benefits. That's the same pay, $30,000 to $35,000 that private law firms were paying out in 1987 when I graduated from law school.
Those of us in the legal profession laugh when we read about the employment statistics claimed by law schools. According to the 2008 Employment Survey conducted by IU School of Law at Indianapolis, 96% of attorneys are employed within 9 months and those new lawyers in Indianapolis average $70,000 a year. There is no auditing of these numbers. Law schools can make up whatever claims they want without fear of penalty. Since the law school ratings consider these numbers, there is an incentive is to inflate the numbers to compete against others law schools which also want a better rating.
Supposedly these IU Law School employment numbers are based on surveys that are returned by new lawyers. When I asked for the surveys in an open records request several years ago, the law school refused to produce them claiming confidentiality requirements. Of course the school could have simply redacted any identifying information. One thing that did slip come out during my asking questions is that school officials admit they estimate salaries for those new attorneys who don't return their surveys. So the estimate of salaries is based substantially on salary numbers the law school is making up for new lawyers who don't return the form. Not real scientific.
If the new and future lawyers who were at the charter school that day had talked to actual practicing attorneys about their career choice, before they made it, they might well have chosen a different career. The legal profession needs to hold law schools responsible for lying to prospective students about the salaries and jobs available in our profession. Why does the Indiana Bar Association remain silent about an issue that is so important to the welfare of those who practice the legal profession?
Wednesday, December 3, 2008, Mandatory Reading Before Going to Law School
Wednesday, April 22, 2009, Lies, Damn Lies and Law School Employment Statistics; The Sordid Truth Behind the Numbers