If you have a healthy chunk of time today to read, please take a look at this lengthy New York Times piece on the grim job prospects facing young attorneys.
The Times explores the disconnect between the healthy job market/earning potential depicted by law schools in their recruitment efforts and the bleak reality that confronts new lawyers. I have several friends whose children are unemployed or underemployed freshly minted attorneys. One has given up the hunt and is trying to make it as caterer in New York.
The Times writes:
Job openings for lawyers have plunged, but law schools are not dialing back enrollment.
Apparently, there is no shortage of 22-year-olds who think that law school is the perfect place to wait out a lousy economy and the gasoline that fuels this system — federally backed student loans — is still widely available. But the legal market has always been obsessed with academic credentials, and today, few students except those with strong grade-point averages at top national and regional schools can expect a come-hither from a deep-pocketed firm. Nearly everyone else is in for a struggle.
I often wonder about the obligation of colleges to inform students of the likelihood of jobs in their majors. (I am speaking as the mother of a philosophy major.)
I understand that many people do not ever work in the discipline they studied in college, but I assume that most people who pursue graduate school expect to work in their chosen fields.
What is the obligation of colleges and grad schools to hold off cashing those tuition checks until they caution their prospective students that there is a weak market for philosophy professors or attorneys?
A typical rejoinder is that students should study what they love and the rest will fall into place. I am not sure that many people can afford to adopt that posture in these new economic times where entire industries are in scale-back mode and jobs continue to disappear or move to cheaper shores.
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, … 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.”
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.
They are also cash cows.
Tuition at even mediocre law schools can cost up to $43,000 a year. “If you’re a law school and you add 25 kids to your class, that’s a million dollars, and you don’t even have to hire another teacher,” says Allen Tanenbaum, a lawyer in Atlanta who led the American Bar Association’s commission on the impact of the economic crisis on the profession and legal needs. “That additional income goes straight to the bottom line.”
– From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog