22 responses

  1. Now you know I am repenting. Restitution not available. On the other hand too many students believe you can always fill an inside straight.

  2. There has never been more than one (two depending on how you count it) really good reason for going to law school: A desire for legal education (or to be a lawyer, which is not quite the same thing – hence maybe two reasons). That there were significant financial rewards for many (never all) of those who went was a bonus. But the money was a lousy reason for spending what for most students has always probably been a pretty miserable 3 years and then taking a job that was rarely as exciting as TV shows made it look.

    That’s not to say that some folks who went to law schools for other reasons (couldn’t think of anything else particularly interesting after college/seemed like a good idea at the time/avoid the draft, whatever) aren’t very pleased that they did. Of course, many are. But for the hope of riches to come?

    Really big bucks was always a pipe dream for most. Now it’s obvious to anyone who looks into it. People who aren’t smart enough to look into it, or who don’t care enough to bother, probably aren’t the ones who should be going in the first place.

    I should add that back in the ’70s, when I was in grad school in English and in a top 20 department, the faculty made clear to us that it was the worst job market in a century and we’d mostly never find work doing what we were preparing for. The reason to stay, they said, is that you love doing this. Of course, we weren’t mostly getting saddled with massive debt for it, which made the choice to stay much easier.

  3. Jeff,

    I agree with the thrust of your comment. Indeed, I have always thought that the reason to go to law school had nothing whatever to do with snagging a lot of money when you got out. But, if, as Toobin suggests, “[e]ighty-five percent of graduates now carry at least a hundred thousand dollars in debt,” and jobs are more scarce than the few remaining teeth my pie hole, it is no longer about doing what you love. All the best.


  4. Except that if there’s no money at all in it – and just a lifetime of debt – than what other reason to go could there plausibly be than the desire for law itself?

  5. RGK,
    But I’ll get a job! I’m a special snowflake!

    Actually I’m scared shitless like every other 3L with a quark of sense in my school. Anyone need a starving law student to scrub their golden toilet?


  6. Toobin’s article reminded me of the 1910 Flexner Report (aka Carnegie Foundation Report No.4) on the then 151 medical schools in the US and Canada. One of the outcomes of the report was that half of the medical schools either merged or closed. In contrast the number of law schools has increased from about 75 to 201 when it was not obvious that more were needed.

    I wonder what would happen if there were the equivalent of the Flexner Report for law schools. I think that facing the prospect of unemployment the law professors would unite to fight the common enemy.

  7. SLS,

    Not to worry. You will get a job doing something you love. After all, anyone willing to scrub golden toilets is the equivalent of the guy or gal who graduated first at Yale. All the best.


  8. jsneff,’There was a similar report on law schools at about the same time as the med report, When I became a law prof 45 years. ago there was a large debate on why it was not implemented, even an AALS meeting devoted to the subject. Reasons are many. Bob Stevens’s book oh history of legal education though dated is good on this and on the accreditation rules, in many ways aimed at keeping Catholics and Jews out of the profession. Loans have been the villain lately driving increased enrollment and increasing number of schools

  9. SLS, Do not think most law schools are run by for profits, but law schools have been run to generate cash for institution as a whole, law profs call the rake off the tax. Say is relative tend to have more say the other parts of faculty except MDs, and tier makes a difference, but at the end of the day faculty are employees.

  10. Thank you I was not aware of the report on law schools. Was it also sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation?

    In my opinion it is more remarkable that the Flexner report was implemented than the failure to implement the report on law schools.

  11. And do students know that student loan debt is generally not dischargable in bankruptcy? I never see that fact in news stories.

  12. I sure do. I made a calculated decision, and it’s a gamble, but I want to practice law. Hard to do that without going to law school.

  13. jsneff, Yes to Carnegie Commission. AMA and its Council on Med Ed were behind Flexner and his push for adopt Johns Hopkins model. Influenced licensing, specialty boards, and the emerging requirement of credentials in hospitals to block operation of non accredited medical schools. We still have States which have State Accredited law schools. Though I do not think there was ever a State except perhaps Montana that let you study off a matchbook, though LaSalle extension and its matchbooks were still around 50 years ago.

  14. Cornhead Even when discharge was possible Minn and perhaps other States refused admission if discharge had been sought.

  15. I am a young attorney (30 years old) and have found financial success and a rewarding career in the law. I read these articles with amazement. There are really two issues. First, student debt. Second, jobs.

    As for Debt, I have a hard time sympathizing. It is very possible to go to law school without huge indebtedness. For example, Judge Kopf’s alma mater (Nebraska) cost approximately $12,000 a year with tuition and fees. On top of that, nearly 50% of the students at UNL have some scholarships. Wait, wait you say: Everyone isn’t so “lucky” to live in Nebraska. Students can attend quality, affordable institutions like Nebraska or indebt themselves at more highly ranked schools or illegitimate private institutions. They should choose reasonably priced, respected universities. Instead, many choose debt and then act surprised when the first debt payment is due. Do I pity the debtors? Sure. But its their own fault. Bad decisions bring bad consequences. That is a timeless “law” of the universe. Our society in general needs to understand debt is a bad thing. This isn’t just about law schools.

    The second part is jobs. These articles always focus on “big law” as if it were the only type of law that exists. However, there are alternatives that can be even more lucrative. From my own experience, it took one “big law” clerkship to understand “big law” was not for me. What I found is that there are literally limitless “jobs” to be done. Regular people can hire you to help them with legal matters (Shocking, right?). In fact, I’ve been hired by HUNDREDS of individuals in just 3 short years. Some of them have big cases that big law would never touch. Remember, one person walks in after a serious accident and the attorney can make tens of thousands of dollars. Whether it is an accident, a major drug case, a probate case or some other niche it is possible to make a handsome living as a private practice attorney. In fact, I now make multiples of the salary I was offered to work at big law AND have all the advantages of being my own boss. In my opinion, big law is an extremely unattractive career path.

    One more thing on the availability of jobs, I believe Judge Kopf himself was a rural Nebraska lawyer. Today, rural counties all over the country are starving for lawyers while at the same time young lawyers claim not to be able to find jobs. The problem is not the availability of work. The problem is that young lawyers want someone else to have created the job for them, they want a salary of more than they are worth and they want it in their desired geographic location. In short, they want the good life on a silver platter. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. I, for one, have no sympathy. Opportunities abound for those with the desire to take action and seize the moment.

    I guess I am preaching personal responsibility for financial decisions and a little entrepreneurship in the job market. At 30 I must sound like an old curmudgeon. Every day I am understanding the meaning of that old Churchill quote a little more: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” I guess that means I will have to stop voting democrat eventually 🙂

  16. I spent 6 months driving for a renowned attorney in my region for $10 p/hour. While doing that I saw him win a jury trial, work with US attorneys, cross-examine FBI witnesses, talk on the phone for plea deals, set prices for new clients, etc. You could call that my version of “scrubbing the golden toilet.” If you are willing to work and learn the trade without regard to “prestige” in the eyes of others then you will do great.

    Good luck.

  17. The lasting value of a legal education is that it imparts and develops a method of problem-solving that can be applied in almost any vocation. Think of it as a graduate degree in the humanities, with a minor in American history. It will always be of value, as long as you keep that perspective.

    If you are looking for a career, the thought of constantly genuflecting before an endless stream of mavens of mediocrity who did not obtain their jobs through intrinsic merit might not be appealing, which is why substance abuse is rampant in the profession. I was told that one out of every two trial lawyers is on some form of anti-depressant, and I don’t doubt that statistic. If all you seek is a career, anyone bright enough to get into law school can find a more palatable alternative.

  18. Pingback: Toobin The Clueless | Lawyers on Strike

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