As soon as Indiana Tech announced its decision, critics pounced.
Staff writer Jennifer Nelson of TheIndianaLawyer.com, for example, noted that a recent study conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., a group that tracks employment statistics, seemed to suggest that Indiana does not have enough legal jobs for the recent law school graduates it already has.
According to the group’s study, Indiana will have about 399 jobs open in the legal field each year through 2015, while about 600 people will pass the bar each year.
“Tell me why then Indiana Tech thinks it’s a good idea to open up a law school?” Nelson wrote. “They claim their research tells them Indiana is actually underserved when it comes to lawyers.”
Most who follow employment trends in the legal industry agree it’s a rough time to be a law school graduate.
The Association for Legal Career Professionals, which tracks employment data, said the class of 2010 faced the toughest job market since 1996, and predicts the class of 2011 will have an even harder time landing legal jobs.
“There’s no shortage of attorneys in Indiana,” said Indiana University law professor William Henderson, who writes about law school education. “We do have too many law school students.”A big selling point for Indiana Tech is that even though legal jobs will not be available for its law school graduates, a law degree opens your door up to many non-legal jobs. That couldn't be more wrong. What a legal education does is pigeonhole you as an attorney and closes doors to non-lawyer jobs.
In addition to worrying about job prospects, some critics are worried about the kind of debt Indiana Tech students will accumulate – and what effect that debt will have on their future.
Students without other financial resources, for example, would need to take out $85,500 in loans and likely more for living expenses.
Snyder acknowledges it’s unlikely that Indiana Tech students will go on to earn six-figure salaries. According to the school’s own feasibility study, most beginning lawyers in Indiana can expect to make between $35,000 and $65,000. [Editor's note, $35,000, without more than token benefits, is the more realistic estimate. $65,000 is a pipe dream unless you land at one of the biggest firms. Worse still many new attorneys are commission only...they don't receive any salary.]
With that salary, paying off student loans can be a challenge.
Above the Law, a national law blog that follows industry news, was also critical of Indiana Tech’s law school plans.
“Does somebody have to die? Does somebody have to commit suicide? Does somebody have to leave a suicide note that reads, ‘I just couldn’t go on paying off the debts I incurred from going to this law school.’ What is it going to take before somebody, some organization, some kind of regulatory authority steps in and prevents universities from opening up debt-generation shops under the guise of providing legal education?” Above the Law blogger Elie Mystal wrote in May.
I ran across a blog titled "Rose Covered Glasses," an attorney who writes about her experience looking for non-lawyer jobs:
But perhaps I can turn this into a job-search journal. I have been applying for non-legal jobs for three weeks now. In that time I have had two interviews. (Two and a half if you count a phone interview that lasted about a minute.) Perhaps I will post more about those later, but the real take-away from all three is what I (along with many others) have been saying all along. A law degree is NOT an asset in any field but law. The law degree scares people away. A position that you are fully qualified for and could perform well in will be out of reach because the employer will be scared that you will leave for a "$100,000 law job."That is exactly my experience. One of the reasons I went to law school was that I thought it would open up doors to non-legal jobs. What I found is that it actually closed doors. While it is true a legal education is useful for the world of business, for example, the fact is you are never going to get a chance to get the job. The employer will pigeonhole you as a lawyer who will leave the company the minute that six figure attorney job comes open. (People outside of law still believe all lawyers have six figure salaries awaiting them after law school.) At one point, I even took my legal education off my resume so I could get interviews for non-legal jobs.
Plenty of people go to law school not knowing what the practice of law entails, and therefore not knowing that they might not like it. That is bad enough, but what really pains me is to hear about people who plan on getting a law degree *knowing* that they have no desire to practice, thinking that they can "do anything" with a law degree. The employers I spoke with beg to differ.
To Indiana Tech's credit one thing that is outlined in the Journal-Gazette article is that the school will look at a better way to educate lawyers-to-be. That though is an argument for reforming how the state's current four law schools operate their schools. It does not give Indiana Tech a pass for taking nearly $80,000 in tuition to train students for jobs that don't exist and for an education that will close out the chances those students will have of getting many non-legal jobs.
NOTE: In a previous post on Indiana Tech I misidentified the school as a for profit institution. Actually it is a non-profit. Of course, regular readers of this blog note that I don't see much of a distinction between for profit and not-for-profit corporations. Instead of paying out profits, non-profits simply disguise those profits as salaries and benefits to directors, managers and employees.
NOTE 2: Just ran across the blog "Restoring Dignity to the Law" blog that takes apart piece by piece the phony argument Indiana Tech is using for the supposed need for a new law school. I may blog on it later.