Law degree leads to a futile job search
BACK TO BASICS
Published: Monday, March 26, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 26, 2012 23:03
As a Politics major, I sometimes get the sense that every one of my classmates wants to go to law school. I remember sitting in “Introduction to Political Theory” as a first-year when Prof. Bernard Yack (POL) asked how many of us wanted to go to law school, and it seemed like almost everyone in the room raised their hands.
I was not one of them.
A year and a half later, I stand by my disinterest in law. Now, despite the fact that graduation from law school is years away, I have an additional, more compelling reason that my peers should seriously consider: lawyers are having trouble finding jobs.
In June of last year, The New York Times published data from Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. in its article on the massive surplus of lawyers, writing that every state, except for Wisconsin and Nebraska (and the District of Columbia), had many more students passing the bar exam in 2009 than there was an estimated need for new lawyers each year until 2015.
The state of New York, with all its glorious Manhattan firms, had the biggest gap in raw numbers, with 9,787 new attorneys in 2009 for an estimated 2,100 new lawyers needed each year through 2015. These numbers translate to job placement for about 21 percent of the state’s new attorneys.
Many of the other states that have surpluses of lawyers are the home states of many Brandeis students, such as Massachusetts, which has jobs for about 33 percent of its new attorneys; Connecticut, which has jobs for just under 36 percent; and New Jersey, which has jobs for under 28 percent. Washington D.C. does have a surplus, but that surplus is only for 345 new attorneys each year, which certainly wouldn’t cover the gaps present in other states. The country as a whole suffers from a large surplus of lawyers, with 53,508 new students admitted to the bar in 2009 and 26,239 expected new jobs that make for a surplus of 27,269 lawyers, or 51 percent, without employment as lawyers, according to data the Economic Modeling Specialists Incs.
Potential law students have begun to recognize this employment gap, according to another article from The New York Times. The number of students taking the Law School Admissions Test, more commonly known as the LSAT, has fallen by almost 25 percent in the past two years, suggesting that the legal field is not recovering in the near future.
Before you get excited that a drop in LSAT administrations means that the legal job market will suddenly open up, I should point out that there is no definitive link between LSAT testing and new attorneys.
In any given recent academic year, the LSAT was administered well over 100,000 times (possibly to the same student more than once), while there were only 53,000 students admitted to the bar nationwide in 2009, according to data from the Law School Admission Council. A drop in LSAT administrations, therefore, will not necessarily improve employment prospects for young lawyers.
Some young lawyers who have had difficulty finding a job have even sued their alma maters, claiming that the schools inflated post-graduation employment rates to entice students. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 15 law schools are facing lawsuits for allegedly inflating post-graduate employment statistics.
Given the debt that many students take on during law school, that they expect to be paid off with a job upon graduation and bar admittance, becoming a lawyer might not be in most students’ best interest.
Like many private law schools, New York University School of Law charges almost $50,000 each year for tuition alone, and I can tell you firsthand that the additional cost of living (and eating) in New York City is incredibly high.
Over three years of law school, students can end up accumulating over $175,000 in debt. Without clear employment prospects, taking on this type of debt, which can take years to pay off, can be daunting.
Unless you graduate with good grades from a top-tier law school, law is not the lucrative and reliable career that students perceive it to be. Entering the field because it seems like a safe way to earn a comfortable living would be uninformed and risky. Even if your plan is to become a lawyer to further an interest in social justice, it is vital to consider the realities of the job market and ask whether there is a more financially secure way to achieve those goals.