Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Is Law School a Sham? Too Many Sharks Already?

From the Former Law Office of Paul Levine...

Are law schools suckering students with the promise of non-existent jobs and the certainty of crushing debt?  (Should someone be shooting law school deans?  In crime fiction, I mean).

Steven Harper's "Law School is a Sham" is adapted from his book "The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis."  Here's his take:

"Law school applicants continue to overwhelm the number of places available for them, ignoring data that on their face should propel most aspiring attorneys away from a legal career. Only about half of today’s graduates can expect to find a full-time position requiring a legal degree. Meanwhile, law schools have grown in number and size to accommodate demand without regard to whether there will be jobs for their graduates. 

"The first part of the equation— student demand—is the product of media images projecting the glamour of attorneys’ lives, the perception that a legal degree ensures financial security, and law school’s status as the traditional default option for students with no idea what to do with their lives. The second part of the equation—the increase in law school supply—was made possible by a revolutionary change in the method of legal education more than a century ago. It gave educators an easy way to transform law schools into profit centers for their universities. Decades later, student loans would provide the funding."

Mama, don't let your kids grow up to be lawyers.  That seems to be the current lesson, though the cream of the crop -- top grads at top schools -- are earning upwards of $160,000 a year right out of school with the big New York firms.

I practiced law for 17 years before I realized my work had about the same social utility as the current plague of pythons in the Everglades.  Yet the education (and the work) prepared me for my next career as a crime fiction novelist and screenwriter.

So, when I'm asked whether a young person should go to law school, I'm often stuck for an answer.  If the person has a damn certain career goal -- environmental lawyer, prosecutor, tax lawyer -- I'd say go for it.  If the person is considering law school because he/she doesn't know what to do with that B.A. degree, I'd say forget it.  Any thoughts?

Paul L.


  1. In my late thirties, early forties, I went to law school at night while teaching English during the day. It was a strenuous four-year commitment. And then, my life went in a different direction; so, I never put out the shingle, as they say. However, I wouldn't trade that experience for the world -- even having to take the Bar exam a second time before I got it right. The experience taught me many facts, and it also taught me how to use the right side of my brain in a way I never had before. Some learning isn't about the end: It's about the process.

  2. A couple of days ago, there was a big article in the L.A. Times featuring a recent law school grad who was suing his school for false promises about future employment.

    I agree with Sandy's comment. I got my MBA in my late thirties and even though I'm not CEO of Ford, I use those skills every day. Plus, I made life-long friends while in that program.

  3. I went to law school because I loved persuasive writing. What I didn't know is that actually practicing law means dealing with other lawyers, which in turn involves a lot of yelling and egos. Not to mention the sleepless nights over (perhaps) missing a tiny detail. Not a lawyer anymore--a decision that makes me happy every day--but I have a mountain of student loan debt. I actively advise people not to go.

  4. My niece is a newly-minted paralegal. The horror stories she tells me about some of the lawyers' abusive treatment of the staff is sort of shocking.

  5. We need attorneys, just so Shakespear can hate them.

  6. We need more attorneys, so the lobbyists in Washington have bag men.