Sunday, June 13, 2010

Wake Up, Fellow Law Professors, to the Casualties of Our Enterprise

Brian Tamanaha

It’s grim reading. The observations are raw, bitter, and filled with despair. It is easier to avert our eyes and carry on with our pursuits. But please, take a few moments and force yourself to look at Third Tier Reality, Esq. Never, Exposing the Law School Scam, Jobless Juris Doctor, Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition, and linked sites. Read the posts and the comments. These sites are proliferating, with thousands of hits.

Look past the occasional vulgarity and disgusting pictures. Don’t dismiss the posters as whiners. To a person they accept responsibility for their poor decisions. But they make a strong case that something is deeply wrong with law schools.

Their complaint is that non-elite law schools are selling a fraudulent bill of goods. 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.

This dismal situation was not created by the current recession—which merely spread the pain up the chain into the lower reaches of elite schools. This has been going on for years.

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). They know all this because they know of too many classmates who didn’t get jobs or who got low paying jobs—the numbers don’t jibe with their first hand knowledge.

They know the score now. But they didn’t know it when they first applied to law school. They bought into the numbers provided by law schools. The mission of these sites is to educate, to warn away, the incoming crop of prospective law students—to save them from becoming victims of the law school scam.

Wait a minute, we protest.

Law professors are not scammers. We advance the rule of law and justice. We promote efficient legal institutions. We develop legal knowledge and knowledge about law for the good of society. We are the conscience of the legal profession. Indeed, we made a financial sacrifice to become academics when we could have earned more money as practicing lawyers.

The students made their choices. They should have done more research. They should have thought more carefully about the consequences of taking on so much debt. It was their foolish over-optimism to think they would place among the top 10% of the class and land the scarce corporate law jobs. They should have known better. (If the numbers on our website are misleading it’s the Administration’s fault; and we don’t set the high tuition.) Don’t blame us.

It is their dream to become a lawyer—we provide them with the opportunity and what they make of it is up to them. Besides, a law degree is valuable even if you don’t get a job as a lawyer. It improves your reasoning ability. It opens all kinds of doors.

When annual tuition was $10,000 to $15,000, these rationalizations had enough truth, or at least plausibility, to hold up. When annual tuition reaches $30,000 to $40,0000, however, it begins to sound hollow. Students at many law schools are putting out a huge amount of money for meager opportunities.

What can we do? As a start, we can provide prospective students with straightforward information about the employment numbers of recent graduates. It is open knowledge that many law schools present employment information in a misleading fashion, or don’t disclose it at all. This lack of candor on the part of law schools is itself a telling indication that there is something problematic about the product we are selling to prospective students.

More crucially, law schools must shrink the number of graduates, and must hold the line on tuition increases. (The fact that many students get scholarships is no answer because it simply means that some students, those paying full fare—often the students with the worst prospects—are subsidizing others.) This will be painful: smaller raises (perhaps even salary reductions), smaller administrations, smaller faculties, more teaching, less money for research, travel, and conferences.

The longer law schools delay in undertaking these measures, the more casualties there will be. At some point, law professors can no longer disclaim responsibility for the harmful consequences of this enterprise. (These comments are not meant to point fingers at others—I too want to earn as much as I can, with lots of time for research, knowing that this is paid for by students.)

Professors at elite law schools might think this has nothing to do with them because their graduates are getting opportunities that justify the cost. In narrow terms this might be correct. But the current contraction of the legal market has spared no one (except law schools!), so their graduates are not immune. Their graduates too are burdened by massive debt.

Law school tuition has tripled in just 15 years. Annual tuition at Yale, Columbia, and Berkeley will likely top $50,000 by next year. Add $20,000 per year in living expenses, and the total cost of becoming a lawyer at these institutions will be $210,000. (That’s not counting the cost of an undergraduate degree.) Other law schools are not far behind (New York Law School projects an annual cost of $67,615).

The negative consequences for individuals and for society of the extraordinary price of entry to the legal profession will become more apparent over time. And it all happened under our watch.


This is a narrow posting by Professor Tamanaha, but at least it is a new post.

Am I the only one, but has anyone else observed that this blog fallen into a state of lethargy, if not decay? Days go by when there are no new postings. There was a time, about 18 months or so ago, when there was a flurry of posts and counterposts by readers who sometimes, to be fair, were more than willing to talk about themselves than the post of a famous academic poster (my favorite was the post by some fellow who whined about getting a bad grade in a family law course in law school many years ago).

In any event, let's hope that Balkin and his sidekicks will start posting with more vigor and more frequency.


Well, this post certainly took a lot of guts. How is it going down with the administration of your law school?

If there's such a glut of lawyers that they can't get jobs justifying their education expenses, why are law services so damn expensive? At the top of the market there's some tournament going on for the very best, but presumably most issues are straightforward. It seems like either the law market is one of the least efficient markets ever or law schools must be churning out zillions of unqualified people.

A much-needed and courageous post by a professor. It would be easy to sit idly by. To be fair, many of my law professors are very decent people. It's the administration, career services, and the admissions office that one really needs to watch out for. Most professors, in my experience, are kind of benign and not particularly plugged-in to the economic realities wracking their students.

I would have to argue that all law schools need to engage in this kind of hard look review of their policies, not just "third tier" institutions. Students and recent graduates at what were previously considered fine institutions, ranked in the 30s, 20s, and even into the vaunted "Top 14," are seeing themselves unemployed in huge numbers.

Law professors do not lack culpability. The faculty of the University of Colorado Law School just voted to increase the median class grade from an 84 to an 88.

What does this do?

1) It makes students - who as you note are taking out massive debt and face bleak job prospects - feel good about doing good in school, despite what faces them down the road.

2) It deceives potential employers about the quality of student.

3) By more-or-less eliminating a normal distribution with a few standard deviations of variance, it does not allow for truly excellent students to stand apart for the merely decent ones.

So why did the faculty choose to make the change? To boost students' job prospects? To deceive employers? To make students 'feel good about their massive debt? This change was the choice of the faculty.

So it isn't just deceiving reporting of employment numbers.

"Law professors are not scammers. We advance the rule of law and justice. We promote efficient legal institutions. We develop legal knowledge and knowledge about law for the good of society. We are the conscience of the legal profession. Indeed, we made a financial sacrifice to become academics when we could have earned more money as practicing lawyers."

Really? I thought you were professional sophists who provided the theoretical basis for turning the Constitution into a meaningless joke. Ok, unfair generalization, but the above referenced are certainly among your numbers.

And I thought you were engaged in producing a profession that is widely despised for it's lack of ethics, especially when it comes to matters financial. Isn't this just the schools pulling on the students the same sorts of stunts the students will be pulling on their future customers, the equivalent of billable hours?

Not that I'm defending it. I'm just pointing out that, based on the ultimate work product, law professors haven't been all that impressive in a long, long while.

As Inspector Renault in CASABLANCA might say, "I'm shocked, shocked to find false and misleading employment statistics in these law school brochures!"

If there's such a glut of lawyers that they can't get jobs justifying their education expenses, why are law services so damn expensive?

You answered your own question. There's not a glut of "lawyers," because they can't get jobs practicing law.

A law firm works like this: senior lawyers sell the work of junior lawyers, keeping most of the revenue for themselves and for the operating expenses of the firm.

Junior lawyers agree to this because it saves them the difficult task of attracting clients, and because they hope to become senior lawyers one day.

So when the law firms don't hire, they keep the supply of legal services low and the cost high.

This a very good start.

My only beef is that he shouldn't be so quick to defend every professor. This issue is all about creating accountability beyond a "freedom of contract" defense.

Professors are in a position to inform students if they "know the score"

Sitting idly by is indefensible to a degree IMO

Still, the post was very honorable. Thank you Mr. Tamanaha

I think it's an issue at elite, semi-elite, non-elite law schools and everywhere else. You can slice it up however you like, but the reality is that students are being required to pay seven years worth of tuition in order to be taught by people (law professors) most of whom lack traditional academic qualifications in return, as you rightly note, for either a limited shot at nonexistent jobs or a lifetime of debt that is payable only if they go the corporate route. No other country teaches law in this way, and it seems clear to me that the matter is not sustainable in the long run, no matter how well-intentioned the professors may be.


I agree that the problem exists at all law schools. It is more acute for graduates of non-elite schools (and I include all but ten or so schools in this category), but you are correct that the situation generally is not good.



I applaud the honesty of your post. Accurate information from the law schools would cure the problem.

Students would like to know: how much yield protection does the school engages in and of what kinds; for what price (i.e., scholarship money) will you “buy” high LSATs scores; for admittees of my UG GPA and LSAT’s, what are the flunk-out rates, the drop-out rates, the bar passage rates, and the post-graduation employment rates; what percentage of the 1L class gets dropped and on what basis; what is the graduation rate and the bar passage rate by 1L class rank; what is my 1L class rank; what is the bar passage rate by final class rank; what’s the break-down on post-graduate employment – real stats, not make work; how many of your graduates get hired in various geographies.

Sorry to go way off topic, but I firmly believe that the reason things are as bad as they are for grad students (and many, many others in the American economy) is that most respected scholars and voices cannot accept the reality that most consumers are deeply flawed and do not make rational decisions.

It's not a PC topic, but I think it explains why many markets don't correct themselves until it is too late

George Soros gets it. Yves Smith gets it. Why can't others?


The information you speak of is definitely out there (National Law Journal). It hurts law school marketing, and thus does not get plugged.

The problem is that the current model (and amount of law schools in particular) is built on deceptive marketing and predatory lending. IMO, it is really tough to argue with this when you see so many similarities to the subprime mess.

Part of the problem is that most law professors really, really, really hate to see their institutions as trade schools. It's the same reason why there's such a disconnect between the law school curriculum and what you actually need to learn to practice law.

If law schools were more forthright in saying "we're basically training lawyers here, yeah, a few people will go into academia but that's our main purpose", there might be more attention to better preparing students so that they can get jobs. I suspect that schools that did a great job of preparing their students, even if such schools were not top tier schools, might gain a reputation over time that led to more hiring of their graduates. But in order to get there, the administration and faculty would have to ditch the mentality of teaching law students what THEY are interested in (legal academia) and instead providing what the paying customers really value.

Future Biff,

Thanks. The data that Bill Henderson has published are great -- but we need lots more, and we need school-specific info.

Kudos, Professor, for finally shining a light on a subject that we scambloggers have been hammering away at for some time now.

But you are preaching to the choir here...we need this information to reach the type of students that populate the echo chambers of Top Law Schools and Auto Admit and keep reinforcing this myth that law school is a "sound investment" if you "love to argue" are prepared to "work harder than everyone else" and "love the law."

Perhaps your foray into this contentious area will spur your colleagues in the legal academy to think more about their students than their salaries and work to provide incoming classes with the tools to make informed choices.

Locke, author of Shilling Me Softly

Professor Tamanaha,

Love your article. As a student (at your school, no less) I find almost all of your comments trenchant and meaningful. My one proposal: Filter the students better.

Law school seems to have taken on a rather insane P.O.V. that everyone can, nay should be a lawyer. You allude briefly to this with the "values of being a lawyer" pitch. But what has law school become? For a lot of people, it's merely a limbo between college graduation and the real world. I study with a great number of students who have no genuine intent to be a lawyer.
Imagine if this was true in medical school. But it isn't there: they screen effectively for both interest and ability. And they are able to peg their tuition and costs at a level that is taxing enough to filter people out. In the end, however, they produce the correct amount of doctors (or even a slightly low amount).

Lacking any sort of "reasons" for going to law school, the economic motivations dominate. Add in a negligent system of financial aid (where the government issues loans regardless of likely repayment) and we have the disaster we're in.

Oh, and I'm a pretty decent rising 3L student here and effectively unemployed this summer.

Part of the problem is that most law professors really, really, really hate to see their institutions as trade schools.

A Vandy 2L a while back told me that Evidence is an elective class there. Yow.


It was an elective when I went to USC too. I took it, and it was taught by a guy who later went on to be one of Ken Starr's prosecutors in the independent counsel's office. Yuck. (It was a pretty good evidence class, though.)

But yeah, I'd say the average graduate of a top 30 law school probably knows more about the formalism-realism debate than they do about how to file a motion.


You are right that there are too many students who go to law school for the wrong reasons, especially the ones who go because they are not sure what else to do.

The only sound reason to go to law school is a strong desire to become a lawyer.

John Steele,

The less than forthcoming information law schools put out on employment numbers is scandalous. I cannot understand why this is not of greater concern for legal ethics professors. I hope you will take this up on your Legal Ethics blog. We can hardly serve as good role models for lawyers if our own house is not in order.


A Vandy 2L a while back told me that Evidence is an elective class there. Yow.

When I went to Michigan I don't think anything was required after the first year, Evidence included, other than having to satisfy your professional responsibility requirement.


I have many posts on this topic at Legal Ethics Forum, and have repeatedly said that, sadly, the law schools are teaching by their conduct that grown-up lawyers game the numbers in misleading ways. From talking to students, my sense is that most of them think law schools are deliberately deceptive.

The problems of recent law grads getting employment is nothing new. I finished law school in 1954 as a commuter student in Boston, which then had five (5) law schools in downtown Boston/Beacon Hill. Of course, there was THE LAW SCHOOL across the river in Cambridge. The most tuition I paid was $400 in the third year. I was told that the tuition at Harvard Law was $500 at the time.

Upon graduation and passing the bar, what were the opportunities available? Well, the two most significant law firms in Boston were Hale & Dorr and Ropes & Gray. Based upon their letterheads back then, each had less than 15 partners. Back then, associates were not included on letterheads of these firms. Back then, the ratio of associates to partners was less that 1:1. So chances of landing an associate spot at these firms - and thus other law firms in the area - was slim, and perhaps limited to Harvard Law grads. So what did we do? Well, some would actually put out a shingle and start their own practices; some of us would work for an attorney for a stipend as we developed a practice.

As for debt, student loans were not yet in vogue. It was possible to work over a summer and the XMas holidays to save enough to cover most or part of the tuition.

Compare that to today, with the high student loans facing many law school grads. How much can a student earn in a summer - and save - to handle the tuition, plus non-commuter expenses of room and board?

Over the years, Hale & Dorr and Ropes & Gray expanded significantly, as did many other Boston law firms. New York and other major cities grew their law firms. So the big attraction to law school was the shot at the brass ring of a huge starting salary at a major law firm; economically - it seemed - well worth the required student loans to pay for ever increasing law school tuitions. But of course not all law school graduates would have a shot at the brass ring, especially as law schools proliferated. Law firms went well beyond local and regional, becoming national - and then with globalization international - bigger and bigger, needing more and more associates for competitive growth, which required more and more law school grads. Does this sound like a bubble?

Let's look at the training the associates at the large firms would undergo as their training time would be converted to billable hours at prices high enough to offset the big salaries they were being paid. Does this suggest that perhaps the law schools were not adequately training its students to actually practice law?

We have all read about "too big to fail" in the investment banking community. Will this extend to large law firms?

Some law school grads do venture into private practice, including learning and gaining experience from a seasoned attorney at low wages, and some end up doing okay. Perhaps this is the alternative to the brass ring.

Now that I am in semi-retirement, I can appreciate my long legal career with its cycles of recessions, actually dealing one on one with clients. Would I want to go through today's process of becoming an attorney? I don't know. But what does concern me is that the direction of the practice is towards commodification, perhaps away from a profession. Maybe the trade school concept of teaching law is not so bad after all. (For several years in my semi-retirement, a research project has directed me - perhaps sidetracked me - to the training for the law in law offices going back to Colonial days and well beyond the Revolution and continuing after the Civil War. Those weren't necessarily the good old days, but they did produce some good lawyers and judges.)

I applaud Brian for this post. More discussion is required.

The problem is not so much the false advertising anymore. It is eliminating the "things will be different for me syndrome." Even in a floundering economy with large firms laying people off and no hires, law school applications are still on the rise. Students forever believe that despite the stats, they'll work hard and get into the top 5 or 10 in the class and have options. Something has to be done to address this mentality.

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About 15 years ago the East Bay Express did a great article titled something like "Mommas don't let your children grow up to be lawyers". (I can't find it online; not everything is, folks; there are more things in the world than are returned by Google searches).

It was occasioned by some Nolo Press event but went much deeper. It tried to answer the questions: why do so many kids go to law school, why are so many of them unhappy ten years later, and what was it they thought they went for in the first place?

IIRC the answers were: a lot of bright, articulate 20 year olds are looking toward graduation and don't have any other plans, someone suggests a law degree, says "you don't have to be a lawyer, you know, a law degree opens corporate doors, or you can do other things with it", or maybe public interest law sounds good, so they take the LSATs and score well, and they're on their way. They most of them make it through, get their degree, pass the bar exam, but along the way acquire enormous debts of course, and then find public interest law is out of the question to pay those debts, but unless/until they make partner their incomes won't do much more than pay down that debt. So they slave away doing corporate America's legal work, which they hate, because apparently it's boring. Few of them find corporate doors opened to them; an MBA would have been a better choice for that. Ten years later they hit thirty, they're unhappy puppies, they fully understand some realities they might have been well advised of ten years earlier, but no one was telling them that at the time.

Hence the point of the article, and its title. The Express had some good quotes from lawyers and ex-lawyers with law degrees, concerning what advice they'd give anyone considering law school.

What advice would you give?

Shrinking the number of graduates will only make (or keep) the cost of law services out of reach for many. It is a self serving idea that mainly profits law professors and the universities they work for.

A better idea would be to relax the ABA standards for accrediting law schools so that lawyers who do not need an Ivy League legal education are not forced to pay for one just to be allowed to represent clients. So long as the legal cartel blocks capable advocates from earning an honest living, law schools will be complicit in the resulting economic exploitation of lawyers, clients, and those who cannot afford legal representation.

I, too, wish to thank Professor Tamanaha for having the guts to publicly expose the problem of lawyer overproduction.

The situation is indeed dire. In fact, you can calculate some shocking statistics using ABA lawyer registration, LSAC enrollment, and Census Bureau data. In 2004 about one in every 275 Americans was a licensed attorney. In 2009 the number increased to one attorney for every 258 Americans. Assuming that a new attorney would want to work for 40 years, the law schools are currently producing enough new JDs to sustain having a ratio of one attorney for every 165 Americans.

If Harvard 3Ls are having difficulty finding jobs when we one lawyer for every 258 people then what will it be like when we have one attorney for every 165 people?

Sadly, our law schools have become socially irresponsible. A huge conflict of interest exists between the financial interests of universities, law schools, administrators, and professors and the economic interests of prospective law students and society at large. Bright, ambitious young peoples' lives are being absolutely destroyed by JD overproduction, resulting in an unnoticed humanitarian crisis.

Hopefully Congress will change the bankruptcy laws to make private student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy. The law schools will be forced to confront the issues of JD overproduction and insane tuition costs when lenders no longer want to gamble money on overpriced sub-prime JD degrees.

Frank the Underemployed Professional

Visit my law school scambusting blogs at:

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Give me a break Tamanaha. You work for a diploma mill law school, and you profit from all this deception. If you really had balls (or a conscience for that matter) you'd quit your bullsh*t job at St. John's monkey law school and make a real statement.

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Professor Tamanaha writes, "The only sound reason to go to law school is a strong desire to become a lawyer."

How about a genuine interest in what the law says and how the legal system works? I'm not asking churlishly, or to make a priggish rhetorical point. I am actually curious: is law school the best place to learn about the law, or does its orientation towards producing legal professionals mean that it downplays certain valuable ways of conceiving of the law, and tacitly inculcates a "practitioner's attitude" - one that, e.g., precludes radical skepticism - towards it?

I could easily see the answer being that, for many purposes, studying the law in e.g. a graduate political science program is the better way to go for those who care about the law, as opposed to becoming a lawyer.

There are valid reasons to go to law school other than to become a practicing lawyer. One example is to become a law librarian.

Unless you are wealthy, going to law school for any reason other than economic gain--employment as a lawyer, a law librarian (would that make economic sense?), or an executive (good luck if you're not already employed as an executive) is irrational.

If we were only talking about tuition costs of $1000/semester then perhaps it might make sense for interested people to attend in order to expand their horizons. However, today tuition can run as much as $46,000/year and when you add $16,000 for living expenses, that quickly balloons to $62,000/year, or $186,000 total for three years.

Even the few and far between "less expensive" law schools are charging $15,000-$20,000/year, which comes out to a real cost of about $30,000-35,000/year, or $90,000-$105,000 total.

Claims by greedy self-interested industry apologists--law school professors and university and law school administrators--that law school should not be treated as vocational school but as a broadening of one's horizons and that education has inherent value as education--are completely intellectually dishonest and knowingly disingenuous. Only wealthy people would spend $90,000-$186,000 on education for the sake of education. In reality, almost everyone who are not wealthy spend time and money on college education solely for economic and vocational gain.

I've always wondered why law schools don't consider themselves trade schools (the way medical schools do) and teach to the profession of law. After all, a significant number of law school graduates actually pass the bar and a lot of them practice law.

This is the hundreth anniversary of the publication of the Flexner Report, the study that changed medical education in the United States and Canada and set the standards for those schools. One result of the Flexner study was the recognition that medical students had to have a scientific and practical basis to become doctors. This ended up standardizing medical education to the extent that the worst student in the least prestigious medical school is still called "doctor" when he or she graduates. It also made the establishment of a medical school very expensive.

On the other hand, all you need to have to start a law school is a bunch of lawyers and some buildings. You don't even have to have ABA approval if you stay in your state. You can still charge the same amount as the medical schools charge in spite of virtually no capital expediture and a few salaries to worry about. Law schools are money machines for the owners. (This used to be the way medical schools were run until the states realized that maybe it wasn't the best way.)

Maybe this is the reason there are so many of them.

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Frank writes, "Claims by greedy self-interested industry apologists...that law school should not be treated as vocational school but as a broadening of one's horizons and that education has inherent value as education--are completely intellectually dishonest and knowingly disingenuous."

Do you say this because you think going to law school costs so much that it could only make sense for the very wealthy to attend just in order to learn about the law, or do you think that law school doesn't even do that good a job teaching about the law (as opposed to teaching you how to lawyer)?

I am a doctor, and I would just like to say:

Suffer, you pirates! You thieving lice! You parasitic scum sucking slime that grows on the bottom side of whale turds! Time to get an honest job as a Wal-Mart greeter.

I am hugely enjoying this spectacle. I will be donating heavily to Republicans this year and in 2012, in the hope that they will come back with a vengeance. I'd like to see them bring in tort reform that will cost 90% of the rest of you cockroaches your livelihoods and de-fund the Democratic party for a generation.

Your profession is a plague and a curse. I hate your guts and revel in your misfortune.

I am a doctor, and I would just like to say:

Wow. Just imagine what he would have said if he were a construction worker.

Prof. Tamanaha-
I applaud your noble first-step. To see a law prof with the guts to do this is heartening.

Now will you have the guts to do the right thing? Will you stand up in your next class at St. Johns and tell everyone there who is paying full-fare that, unless they are in the top 10-15%, they are (economically) insane and by staying there they are sentencing themselves to a life of penury and debt-bondage to evil institutions like Sallie May and scummy usurers like Matasar and the Access Group?

Will you do this sir?

@Skookum John-
A doctor of what? Truthology? Even if you are a real doc, you do give proof to the adage that doctors make lawyers look like geniuses when it comes to matters like practical reasoning and commonsense.

"Your profession is a plague and a curse. I hate your guts and revel in your misfortune."

Couldn't you have at least limited your hate to medical malpractice suits (considering you must have lost yours)

There are already Med Mal limits in California.

And large judgments are pittance compared to insurance premiums increasing to drive profits higher , not to mention the costs of pharmaceutical drugs/medical equipment/hospitals driven higher for the same reasons.

Think first, hate second :)

A problem is exposed which is not unique to law schools. Graduate schools can run the same con: have students enroll, so professors can be supported in their research. Then use the graduate students as cheap labor teaching classes, but make actual graduation difficult. The professors get to be supported in their research, but the students trade their time in the hopes of a degree, only to be disappointed. However, professors are well paid, and graduate students can deal with their loans on their own time.

I'll never forget the day when I realized my evidence Professor was reading from a handwritten outline he admittedly drafted in the early 80's. I will also never forget the day when I realized my Civ Pro professor's exam was a collection of ripped off fact patterns from easily searchable case law on Lexis.

It were these days I realized where the real problem at law schools lie - with extremely well-paid (six digit plus) full-time professors being paid for part-time work. I especially realize that now as I work double-time to make the same full-time salary these jokers made.

As a twice divorced, 30 year law enforcement officer I just can not raise any sympathy. Suck it up or go lay bricks.

As a twice divorced, 30 year law enforcement officer I just can not raise any sympathy. Suck it up or go lay bricks.

As some have noted, this is not peculiar to the law schools.

Graduate programs in many fields allow - even encourage - gifted young people to pursue lives as scholars at research universities. The sad fact is, that most of them will never end upin such positions and many will never be employed fulltime in academe.

To be sure, part of the problem is that universities are cutting down on tenure-track lines and relying on the [desperate] adjunct army. Stil, anyone who does not make his/her students fully aware of the facts of the situation fails morally. Fight for tenure and other fulltime positions. Don't entice young people into a hopeless path of failure and depression.

Love the completely awful comment from the self-proclaimed doctor. If he/she is a medical professional, I pity the patients.

It is worth noting that we are in need of doctors in many fields, but do not have enough seats in med schools to supply our needs. Talk about supporting your own supply side economic interests.

I've been saying for years that the ABA should close the doors of about 50 law schools. They should do like the AMA and limit the number of graduates every year, thereby improving job prospects. I know plenty of people who graduated from top 25 law schools and are doing two part time jobs right now to make ends meet. I used to work in career services, and provided honest numbers, but know the tricks some offices play - and I had many conversations with our admissions dept, along the lines of "please stop telling everyone they will earn 90k a year after they graduate." I saw many grads stay in their old jobs, because they'd have to take a pay cut in their entry level lawyer job. Wake up ABA!

What amazes me is that law school marketing practices have not come under the scrutiny of the FTC. Last time I checked one of their responsibilities is to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices in commerce. In very crude terms, law students are consumers and the schools are vendors. Why should these law schools be able to escape the purview of the FTC? They are right in the crosshairs.

The call to limit the number of law schools, or the number of students admitted to law schools, under the guise of consumer protection is truly incredible. The ultimate consumers here are the general public who are forced to overpay for, or cannot afford, legal services. The only equitable solution here would be to reduce the cost of a legal education by relaxing the standards that the ABA imposes on law schools (for example, by allowing for a 2-year, 60 credit JD) and by allowing more legal services to be perfomed by non-attorneys so that there fewer people will feel the need to go to law school to practice their chosen profession.

In my earlier comment on this thread referencing the five (5) laws schools located in downtown Boston/Beacon Hill back in 1954, none of them required an undergraduate degree for admission, requiring only two years. Only Harvard Law across the river required a degree. (In the late 1930s, early 1940s, some required no college attendance at all.) Over the years, an undergraduate degree did become a requirement (with an exception for combination undergraduate/law degrees for a total of six (6) years), in keeping with ABA standards for approvals. The change did not result in a reduction of law school applicants/students/graduates.

Maybe an examination of MBA programs should receive similar treatment as law schools, as both attorneys and MBAs contributed to the financial crises on Wall Street.

CG, increasing the number of lawyers (or not reducing the amount of lawyer overproduction) will do almost nothing to reduce the cost of legal services to the public because the market is already over-saturated. That is to say that a huge number of lawyers are not offering legal services at all and are involuntarily-out-of-the-field. Reducing the number of law schools and law school seats would merely reduce the absolute number of people who have law degrees who do not work as lawyers.

Legal services will always be inherently expensive simply because becoming a lawyer requires seven years of college education and anyone who has spent that much time and money pursuing college education should be earning $75,000/year minimum.

Frank the Underemployed Professional,

You are right that my suggestion will not rectify past mistakes. Yes, the current crop of law students may be doomed to suffer from high debt and low, non-legal salaries. But that does not mean that we should perpetuate this injustice onto the next batch of lawyers and the general public. By reducing the JD to a two year degree, for example, at least 1/7th of up front costs of a JD can be trimmed and the price for most legal services (some specialties may need the third year for an advanced degree) will, consequently, be more affordable.

In any event, there are numerous ways that lawschools can trim costs. Some other ideas may include: reducing law professor salaries, eliminating several ABA requirements, and limiting merit scholarships, which merely transfer wealth to those more likely to succeed.

Good luck,


CG, I'm all for a reduction in the cost and price of going to law school.

I suspect that the reduction in costs and perhaps a reduction in the number of law schools and law school seats will end up being driven by banks that no longer want to gamble money on sub-prime legal education. Would they want to continue to fund the law schools if (when?) JDs begin defaulting in mass? Also, it will be interesting to see what happens if Congress changes the bankruptcy laws to make private student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy, restoring a market force to legal education.

Frank writes:

Legal services will always be inherently expensive simply because becoming a lawyer requires seven years of college education and anyone who has spent that much time and money pursuing college education should be earning $75,000/year minimum.

Note that most graduate programs for academic careers are either cheap or well-subsidized by the programs. Startyin positions for newly-minted tenure-track Ph.Ds run between lows of 20,000 to highs of 50,000. [Higher, alas, for business folks who have no higher degrees.] Unfortunately salary increases for most academics are pretty ...minimal.

Although it varies by field, the average number of years for a PhD. is 6-10 after the B.A.

I have tremendous respect for the law and for most practitioners. However, this nation does not reward intellect and education in the way[s] you and I think appropriate.

By the way, I would love to pursue some formal legal education. I just cannot afford it.

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It's not just legal education that's a scam.

MBAs are a complete scam too.

Anybody taking on 6-figures of debt for a degree is a sucker.

Thanks for this thoughtful and provocative post. I attempted my response here:

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"Legal services will always be inherently expensive simply because becoming a lawyer requires seven years of college education and anyone who has spent that much time and money pursuing college education should be earning $75,000/year minimum."

But the vast majority of legal services needed by the average person, (Mostly assistance in filling out forms.) could be delivered by a para-legal with a couple years training.

Is Brett emulating Garrison Keiller's Lake Wobegon effect with this?

"But the vast majority of legal services needed by the average person, (Mostly assistance in filling out forms.) could be delivered by a para-legal with a couple years training."

Perhaps my clients in my career of over 50 years have been above average (and good looking, too). Most of this time I was practicing from an office building and rarely had walk-ins. Occasionally a client - or potential client - might need only a simple form to be filled out and perhaps notarized. I and many other of my peers would usually attend to such at no charge. But sometimes even a simple form may involve complex legal issues that an experienced attorney might recognize and ask a few question of the client, who may need more than a simple form filled out. Yes, a paralegal may do as well in this regard as the lawyer. But not all lawyers have paralegals on the payroll. I don't think Brett is advocating that paralegals open up independent shops, or is he? So those of us without paralegals should refer such clients to the larger law firms that do?

Compare the lawyer to the physician who gets a call from a patient - or prospective patient - about a particular new drug advertised on TV and a free sample coupon obtained via the Internet that requires a prescription. That physician just might have a few questions to ask before complying with the request, including an office visit.

I've dealt with simple, standard forms that often are not that simple and not that standard. If they are simple, and assistance does not take too much time, many of us assist as an accommodation, a form of goodwill, without charge. Will a national law firm with paralegals do the same, considering that a paralegal's training might not result in asking the right questions about potential legal issues involving the simple form?

This comment should not be construed as disagreement with Brian's post.

physician who gets a call from a patient -- or prospective patient -- about a particular new drug advertised on TV

The numbers show the ads get doctors to prescribe product they wouldn't have otherwise. Pharm firms wouldn't be spending billions on DTC ads for any other reason. It is entertaining to believe that lawyers would withstand similar pressure.

I wonder if any studies have been conducted AND published on how physicians have responded to calls from patients to find out whether a TV advertised drug is proper for them. Perhaps rather than calling just any physician or even one's own physician on the telephone, some patients may bring up the subject at a visit with his/her physician. While the music is playing on the TV drug ad, especially as the side effects are mentioned as required by the FDA, maybe some physicians are watching and listening. Of course the physician should be aware of the drug's side effects as well as the medical history of the patient, including perhaps a current examination that surely might include blood tests, before prescribing. (Or do physicians cavalierly prescribe male sexual enhancement drugs?) Presumably the expense of all this on the part of the physician has to be somehow recovered. So perhaps physicians benefit financially from these Pharma TV ads.

jpk's comment closes with this:

"It is entertaining to believe that lawyers would withstand similar pressure."

While I agree with his take on Pharma TV ads, I'm trying to figure out a situation that might similarly pressure lawyers.

in case anyone didn't see the front page NYT story on how law schools are inflating grades in a (likely futile) attempt to help their students get jobs.

This comment has been removed by the author.

This last comment, a spam ad for bankruptcy services, should help drive home the point that our nation is producing too many lawyers. Some lawyers are so desperate that they are willing to comment-spam a blog post that will only be read by other lawyers.

Thank you so much for sharing it.
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The sad thing is that there are a number of professions that would benefit a great deal from a structured two year legal education program.

You could repurpose a law school, drop the law library, dramatically lower overhead, and place the graduates.

Contract compliance officers, EPA compliance, foreign service (when law school was cheaper, those in the know would go to law school for a couple of years as preparation as it vastly improved their professional success) -- there is an entire range of insurance claim representatives working for insurance companies that has as an implicit requirement a law degree -- but two years of focused education would do much more for preparing them -- bankruptcy paralegals (allowed an independent practice under the act), and so forth.

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Thanks for the post. Re your second recommendation, my understanding is that law schools are money-makers for their universities. They require relatively little money to support their professors' research work (though the library is a substantial cost) and students are willing to pay top dollar. With states cutting funding to universities left and right, I think universities are unlikely to limit law school enrollment and starve their cash cow. Further, the professors, library, physical plant, etc. are a sunk cost that does not drop as enrollment drops (you cannot lay off professors if there are not enough students, for ex.) It makes sense to make as much money as they can from that investment.

Re your first suggestion, I have a few quibbles. First, it takes a fair amount of research to give students complete and accurate information on the local legal hiring environment. Many students will rightly complain about their own individual experiences, but the overall picture, even a local one, is complex and nuanced, and changes over time. Further, even knowing the job market is bad might not deter a law student who lacks a clear career goal and is willing to spend more time in school, especially if their parents are footing the bill.

But the major problem here is that law schools are incented to maximize the number of students they have, and do not feel the costs of producing excess law grads. Some other measure is required to close the feedback loop. Perhaps something like a school's job placement rates should be given more attention by undergrad advisors and students.

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If there's such a glut of lawyers that they can't get jobs justifying their education expenses, why are law services so damn expensive? At the top of the market there's some tournament going on for the very best, but presumably most issues are straightforward.

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