Beware the law-school scam

Non-elite law schools are a scam, write unemployed law-school graduates on a growing number of web sites, including: Third Tier Reality, Esq. Never, Exposing the Law School Scam, Jobless Juris Doctor and Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition,.

Brian Tamanaha, a law professor at St. John’s University, is sympathetic.

Law schools advertise deceptively high rates of employment and misleading income figures. Many graduates can’t get jobs. Many graduates end up as temp attorneys working for $15 to $20 dollars an hour on two week gigs, with no benefits. The luckier graduates land jobs in government or small firms for maybe $45,000, with limited prospects for improvement. A handful of lottery winners score big firm jobs.

And for the opportunity to enter a saturated legal market with long odds against them, the tens of thousands newly minted lawyers who graduate each year from non-elite schools will have paid around $150,000 in tuition and living expenses, and given up three years of income. Many leave law school with well over $100,000 in non-dischargeable debt, obligated to pay $1,000 a month for thirty years.

It’s been going on for years, Tamanaha writes. The recession just made it worse, spreading the pain into the lower reaches of elite schools.

The law graduates posting on these sites know the score. They know that law schools pad their employment figures—96% employed—by counting as “employed” any job at all, legal or non-legal, including part time jobs, including unemployed graduates hired by the school as research assistants (or by excluding unemployed graduates “not currently seeking” a job, or by excluding graduates who do not supply employment information). They know that the gaudy salary numbers advertised on the career services page—“average starting salary $125,000 private full time employment”—are actually calculated based upon only about 25% of the graduating class (although you can’t easily figure this out from the information provided by the schools).

Law schools should be honest about the employment data for recent grads, he writes.

More crucially, law schools must shrink the number of graduates, and must hold the line on tuition increases. . . .  This will be painful: smaller raises (perhaps even salary reductions), smaller administrations, smaller faculties, more teaching, less money for research, travel, and conferences.

Instapundit, also a law professor, links to Tamanaha and runs a letter from a law graduate, who writes,  “There are simply no jobs.”

I myself graduated in May from a very competent, middle-of-the-road law school, and probably around 75% of my class is unemployed. . . .  they’re looking at 150-200k in student loans and no employment. When I say “no employment” I don’t mean a lack of big-law, 100k associate employment. I don’t even mean that we’re having trouble getting the clerkships and government jobs that the ivy league law schools so despise. I mean nothing – there are simply no jobs.

Four years ago, my daughter researched law schools — including reading sites by law grads who were temping — and concluded that she needed to go to a top-tier law school to make sure her degree would pay off.  As a 2009 graduate of University of Chicago Law School, she got one of the last seats on the gravy train.

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