Law School Grads To Students: Quit Worrying About Rankings And Worry About Jobs

According to a new survey from Kaplan, when asked, “Which of the following factors would you tell prospective law students should be the most important when picking where to apply?” only 17% of law school graduates said law school rankings made an impact. The top factors were a law school’s job placement rate and its affordability/tuition, both coming in at 24%. Looks like priorities have changed for law school students. That tends to happen when you are entering the worst legal market in decades.

Sometimes it takes being in the trenches to see what your priorities are. See law school students who aren’t looking for jobs just yet still put a lot of importance on rankings.  They aren’t worried about eating meals regularly at this point or facing their staggering debt from three years of law school. In fact, 86% said law school rankings are “very important” or “somewhat important” in deciding where to apply. But for graduates, that number dropped significantly. “Going to law school is a significant investment of both time and money, and those who have gone through the process are affirming a rational conclusion that at the end of three years of hard work, it’s important to leave law school with a job and as little debt as possible,” said Jeff Thomas, director of pre-law programs, Kaplan Test Prep.  “Our advice to LSAT students has always been that while rankings can play a useful role in helping them decide where to apply, they should look closely at other statistics, including how many of a school’s graduates have found a job in the legal field and how much debt their graduates accumulate.”

Your priorities would probably change to if this is the job market you were facing.  New data released by the American Bar Association in June revealed that barely half of those who graduated in law school in 2011 found full-time jobs as lawyers within nine months of graduation. A separate June survey from the National Association for Law Placement found the overall employment rate last year was the lowest in 16 years.

According to TelAssistant, this spring 43, 979 people graduated from law school and only 27,639 gained employment, according to the chart. And apparently this dip in unemployment isn’t just a phase. ”It is not a blip. It is not temporary. It is a permanent, structural shift,” said Frank Wu, the dean of the University of California’s Hastings law school in San Francisco, which is cutting its incoming class by 20%. The main problem is around 2000, the competition for law school seats spiked, just as tuition costs were also on the rise. But demand for lawyers didn’t keep up with supply, a gap that only widened when the recession hit in 2007.

Elie Mystal of Above the Law wrote:

“The ability to learn from other people’s mistakes is a mark of intelligence, but it’s not a skill shared by your average prospective law student. Despite an internet full of information, they continue to make the same mistakes when it comes to choosing a law school.

The fact that prospective law students quickly learn the error of their ways when they become actual law students only seems to emphasize their failure. By January, I’ll start getting the first emails from 1Ls saying, “I wish I had read you before I decided to go to law school.” By springtime, people who shouldn’t have started in the first place will be asking me whether they should drop out. By the time people graduate, they’ll be experts on all the things they should’ve thought about before matriculating to law school.”

Sometimes you can’t learn the lesson until you have made the mistake yourself.

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    • Lastango

      I’d separate this advice into two parts:
      =======
      First part: deciding whether to go to law school at all.
      That’s where Jeff Thomas is right: the prospective student wants to know how many students at the schools under consideration are getting jobs, and how much debt the student has at the end. If that looks grim, consider another occupation.
      I’d add that that the student should also consider the economic outlook. I won’t repeat myself at length here, because anyone who reads Grindstone daily knows I think we are at the beginning of a deep, global depression, and will become a permanently poorer society. That’s why Frank Wu is bang on when he says, “It it not a blip. It is not temporary. It is a permanent, structural shift.” What I want to add to that thinking is that I believe we are nowhere near the bottom. The disintegration of the law profession has only just begun. First comes the new grads who can’t find jobs. Next comes the lawyers being let go from the firms.
      =======
      Second part: if someone is going to go, picking the right school.
      A couple of years ago, I read an observation that one ought only to consider law school if one can get accepted to a top-tier school. These are nearly the only students who get actively recruited, and the only students who earn high incomes. That sounds right to my ear, and that’s why I wouldn’t disregard rankings. Looking at employment rates can be a useful adjunct, but it’s important to know what those jobs actually were. For instance, a new grad opening a private law practice might be classed as “employed”, but the pay is low and the failure rate very high.
      =======
      One other thing. I’m in love with Elie Mystal’s way of talking about this. And when he writes “They believe they’re doing the right thing, and you can’t tell them otherwise. The Apostles of Jesus Christ had more doubt that the people who showed up to campus this fall”, I think that applies to more than just law students. The global depression is going to cut through the market for soft degrees like a scythe. There isn’t going to be any extra money to pay for all those semi-parasitic hangers-on currently cluttering the administrative ranks of government and private organizations. University students are living in the last days of our false prosperity, and their delusion is about to crash hard. Did you see the stat yesterday that the median American income has now fallen to 1995 levels? That’s the sound of Reality, knocking on the door like the Grim Reaper.

    • Lastango

      I’d separate this advice into two parts:
      =======
      First part: deciding whether to go to law school at all.
      That’s where Jeff Thomas is right: the prospective student wants to know how many students at the schools under consideration are getting jobs, and how much debt the student has at the end. If that looks grim, consider another occupation.
      I’d add that that the student should also consider the economic outlook. I won’t repeat myself at length here, because anyone who reads Grindstone daily knows I think we are at the beginning of a deep, global depression, and will become a permanently poorer society. That’s why Frank Wu is bang on when he says, “It it not a blip. It is not temporary. It is a permanent, structural shift.” What I want to add to that thinking is that I believe we are nowhere near the bottom. The disintegration of the law profession has only just begun. First comes the new grads who can’t find jobs. Next comes the lawyers being let go from the firms.
      =======
      Second part: if someone is going to go, picking the right school.
      A couple of years ago, I read an observation that one ought only to consider law school if one can get accepted to a top-tier school. These are nearly the only students who get actively recruited, and the only students who earn high incomes. That sounds right to my ear, and that’s why I wouldn’t disregard rankings. Looking at employment rates can be a useful adjunct, but it’s important to know what those jobs actually were. For instance, a new grad opening a private law practice might be classed as “employed”, but the pay is low and the failure rate very high.
      =======
      One other thing. I’m in love with Elie Mystal’s way of talking about this. And when he writes “They believe they’re doing the right thing, and you can’t tell them otherwise. The Apostles of Jesus Christ had more doubt that the people who showed up to campus this fall”, I think that applies to more than just law students. The global depression is going to cut through the market for soft degrees like a scythe. There isn’t going to be any extra money to pay for all those semi-parasitic hangers-on currently cluttering the administrative ranks of government and private organizations. University students are living in the last days of our false prosperity, and their delusion is about to crash hard. Did you see the stat yesterday that the median American income has now fallen to 1995 levels? That’s the sound of Reality, knocking on the door like the Grim Reaper.

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