Monday, September 24, 2007

More Graduates, Fewer Jobs: That Can't Be Good News

The WSJ has a big story today on the fact that the legal services sector has lagged badly behind the economy in recent years and that the number of law schools (and graduates) has proliferated over the same period. As the numbers bear out, this isn't good news for most law graduates. While the top firms continue to pay top dollar for the best graduates, those students who don't find jobs at elite firms can expect lower starting salaries than they would have earned in years past. This fact, combined with the fact that tuition (and student debt) at both private and public law schools has skyrocketed over this time makes the financial prospects for students who don't graduate near the top of their class pretty chilling.

None of this is exactly news, of course, but it certainly is compelling to see this data collected in one place. A few weeks ago there was a lot of discussion on the blogs about the bi-modal distribution of salaries among first year lawyers. The WSJ story hammers home the point that the bi-modal distribution made at least implicitly: A law degree simply isn't the guarantee of the good life that it used to be. In this environment, we can expect fewer students to apply to law schools and for those who do to be better and more knowledgeable consumers of law school services. They are certain to demand more from law school and to gravitate toward those that offer good value for the money. The WSJ takes some schools to task for providing incomplete or misleading data on student employment and lauds others for being honest about post-graduation employment. This is the sort of thing that motivated consumers are sure to notice.

Given all of that, can a shake-out in law schools really be that far behind? Will there really be over 200 ABA approved law schools in 10 years? In 5?

(Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg)


Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Maybe the picture is not that gloomy. The return to an investment in legal education is low but many of my students have no interest in practicing law. One view is that law school is an extension of a well-rounded education.

On the more cynical side, if applications drop I feel certain law schools will just lower their standards.

9/24/2007 3:49 PM  

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