Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Law School Lie: Plenty of Jobs and Great Salaries; Where is The Indiana State Bar Association?

It's heartwarming to see law schools finally being exposed for lying about salaries and employment opportunities while leaving graduates with six figure debt they'll never pay off. The latest was a lengthy article in the January 7, 2011 New York Times entitled "Is Law School a Losing Game?" Here's a snippet of the article:

IF there is ever a class in how to remain calm while trapped beneath $250,000 in loans, Michael Wallerstein ought to teach it.

Here he is, sitting one afternoon at a restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a tall, sandy-haired, 27-year-old radiating a kind of surfer-dude serenity. His secret, if that’s the right word, is to pretty much ignore all the calls and letters that he receives every day from the dozen or so creditors now hounding him for cash.

“And I don’t open the e-mail alerts with my credit score,” he adds. “I can’t look at my credit score any more.”

Mr. Wallerstein, who can’t afford to pay down interest and thus watches the outstanding loan balance grow, is in roughly the same financial hell as people who bought more home than they could afford during the real estate boom. But creditors can’t foreclose on him because he didn’t spend the money on a house.

He spent it on a law degree. And from every angle, this now looks like a catastrophic investment. Well, every angle except one: the view from law schools. To judge from data that law schools collect, and which is published in the closely parsed U.S. News and World Report annual rankings, the prospects of young doctors of jurisprudence are downright rosy.

In reality, and based on every other source of information, Mr. Wallerstein and a generation of J.D.’s face the grimmest job market in decades. Since 2008, some 15,000 attorney and legal-staff jobs at large firms have vanished, according to a Northwestern Law study. Associates have been laid off, partners nudged out the door and recruitment programs have been scaled back or eliminated.

And with corporations scrutinizing their legal expenses as never before, more entry-level legal work is now outsourced to contract temporary employees, both in the United States and in countries like India. It’s common to hear lawyers fret about the sort of tectonic shift that crushed the domestic steel industry decades ago.

But improbably enough, law schools have concluded that life for newly minted grads is getting sweeter, at least by one crucial measure. In 1997, when U.S. News first published a statistic called “graduates known to be employed nine months after graduation,” law schools reported an average employment rate of 84 percent. In the most recent U.S. News rankings, 93 percent of grads were working — nearly a 10-point jump.

In the Wonderland of these statistics, a remarkable number of law school grads are not just busy — they are raking it in. Many schools, even those that have failed to break into the U.S. News top 40, state that the median starting salary of graduates in the private sector is $160,000. That seems highly unlikely, given that Harvard and Yale, at the top of the pile, list the exact same figure.

How do law schools depict a feast amid so much famine?

“Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm,” says William Henderson of Indiana University, one of many exasperated law professors who are asking the American Bar Association to overhaul the way law schools assess themselves. “Every time I look at this data, I feel dirty.”

IT is an open secret, Professor Henderson and others say, that schools finesse survey information in dozens of ways. And the survey’s guidelines, which are established not by U.S. News but by the American Bar Association, in conjunction with an organization called the National Association for Law Placement, all but invite trimming.

A law grad, for instance, counts as “employed after nine months” even if he or she has a job that doesn’t require a law degree. Waiting tables at Applebee’s? You’re employed. Stocking aisles at Home Depot? You’re working, too.

Number-fudging games are endemic, professors and deans say, because the fortunes of law schools rise and fall on rankings, with reputations and huge sums of money hanging in the balance. You may think of law schools as training grounds for new lawyers, but that is just part of it.

For the rest of the article, click here.

Maybe 7-8 years ago, I met with a reporter from the Indiana Lawyer trying to get her to write an article on the bad attorney job market and how law schools lie about employment and salaries. I told her the attorney job market was completely saturated and there was no demand for attorneys. I even brought an example with attorney who struggled for years to get any sort of job.

The reporter was flabbergasted. She was certain the attorney job market was good and that my friend was an exception. She claimed there was a high demand for many legal jobs, such as divorce attorneys. She had no clue what she was talking about.

During that time I also conversed with the placement offfice of the IU Law School at Indianapolis. I challenged the statistics they were touting to prospective students and even asked for the response forms from new graduates they said support their numbers. They refused to provide me with that documentation and IU faculty members ridiculed graduates complaining of the job market as having personal failures that would be overcome if they exerted more effort..

Since that meeting with the Indiana Lawyer reporter there has been a string of articles detailing the realities of the legal job market. Law school employment lies are also being finally exposed.

One wonders when the Indiana State Bar Association will finally get off its collective ass and do something on behalf of attorneys, i.e. call law schools out for their lies about employment prospects in the profession. When will the ISBA stop turning a deaf ear to the attorneys' complaints that the job market is completely saturated and that associate salaries have been stagnant for decades? By its own inaction, ISBA is defending a fraud perpetrated upon those who decide to go to law school.


Cato said...

What's particularly cruel is how an inability to repay this mountain of debt whilst having sketchy career prospects and weak earning potential is seen as evidence of bad moral character by bar examiners.

Such an ethic is a lovely way of ensuring the born wells face less competition.

Bar examiners and supreme courts are going to have to relent on this non sequitur of debt having any bearing on moral character.


I figured out after a a couple years of college that there was not going to be an ROI waiting for me.

That said, being educated is invaluable. Much of want you need/want to learn, you can learn on your own by reading and seeking out mentors.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Cato, excellent point. That's graduate with a lot of debt and they can actually use that against you to get in the profession to repay the debt.

HFFT, I actually think what you learn in law school is valuable in other fields. The problem is the law school education is not valued...rather you'll find that having a law degree knocks you out of you out of non-lawyer jobs. While legal experience and training would help excell in those fields, you'll never get a foot in the door.

Citizen Kane said...

Our economy has been infected with a Ponzi scheme - all Ponzi schemes require constant growth, - all Ponzi schemes require fraud. In order to keep the lucrative money machine going, they have to produce fake stats to induce numerous naive (they shouldn't be, but are) undergraduates to become debt slaves to enter a career that has long since past the point of saturation.

What you are advocating requires retrenchment, fewer law schools, fewer law professors, less fraud, etc.

In order to continue to perpetuate this Ponzi scheme, they will trot out the PR people, continue to massage the numbers and vilify opponents as anti-intellectual and anti-education.

varangianguard said...

This rates right down there with the old lie from college deans that employers "love liberal arts majors".

Well, maybe some do, but only because it represents a large source of cheap and unempowered labor.

It's not because they think liberal arts majors know anything useful - business-wise.


I think the point is that there are not guarantees for anyone, regardless of what your school may try to sell you.

It's like advertising. Just because you spend lots of money on media doesn't mean they are well placed and will work for you (regardless of what the saleslady says).

You have to earn every bit of success you get in life (unless you are born into one of the families of the elites that get things magically handed to them).

Paul K. Ogden said...


While there is some truth in what you're saying, the fact is the job market for attorneys has changed drastically over the last 25 years. There's no getting around that. Attorneys who are retirement age don't necessarily grasp what younger attorneys are going through because in their day jobs were plentiful and salaries were good.

The problem is law schools, once they started lying about jobs and salaries to improve their rankings, continued to do so year after year. If they were being honest with graduates, you'd see people make better choices and decide not to go to law school.

dcrutch said...

This is not exclusive to law school. With maybe 1/4 to 1/2 of college/tech/law school students moving on every year, my contemporary impression is the bigger concern is filling seats versus scrupulous advisement. Like a lot of things, you've got to uncover what rocks you can yourself.

A friend of the family wasn't aware that becoming a funeral director would necessitate blowing out her back when they lacked a lift for a coffin. Not something they shared at funeral director school.

Indy Student said...

There's also some concerns surrounding med school as well. The House of God is basically a must read for anyone who has gone through med school, residency, and an internship or knows someone who has. Several episodes of the first Season of Scrubs use themes from that book and quote it as well.

It's a semi-autobiographical account, and the guy is a pretty damn good writer as well