What Ails Lawyers and Law Schools, Pittsburgh Edition

Updated (January 9, 2011):  You can read my post below, and the comments, or you can read this feature from today's Sunday New York Times, which covers much of the same ground.)  

Duquesne law professor Bruce Antkowiak took the floor this morning in the Post Gazette to describe what ails law schools today.  That discussion has been percolating through law office corridors and the halls of law schools themselves for quite some time.  It's rare, however, that it spills over into mainstream media. In the public at large, who cares about this sort of thing?

Because the PG published the piece, and because I'm a law professor and have this semi-public podium of my own, I feel somewhat compelled to speak up on the topic -- and to say that disagree with a lot of what Prof. Antkowiak has to say.

His basic argument, so far as I can make it out, is that contemporary law students make a moral claim on law schools that they will be trained adequately to do justice in the world.  Law schools are failing to honor that claim by failing to teach the art of lawyering -- "an integrated appreciation of the intellectual, practical and ethical dimensions in which law operates in real life" --  that lawyers must acquire in order to succeed.  How are law schools failing?  By hiring as faculty men and women who do not care for the dirty world of law practice, who think and write about larger questions of law and justice rather than nitty-gritty questions of running a law office and trying cases.

My concern with the argument is not (primarily) its consistency or lack thereof.  (Briefly:  The image of ivory tower academics disengaged from questions of lawyering and justice is a straw man.  Law schools across the country are falling all over themselves today, and have been for many years, to bring more "lawyering" education into the curriculum.  And I think that it stretches our concepts of morality and justice to color the problem in such stark terms.)

My concern is instead that the argument misses what truly ails legal education and the legal profession today.  What truly ails them -- where law schools *and the practicing bar* let down law students and new lawyers -- comes down to this:  Money.

There are college students and young professionals out there today who are wondering:  Should I go to law school?  There are young lawyers out there who are wondering:  Where should I drive my career?  There are senior lawyers out there looking back at their careers and wondering:  What happened?

What happened is this:

The cost of legal education has skyrocketed over the last 20 years.  Duquesne Law?  More than $30k per year in the day program -- that's tuition alone.  My school, Pitt Law, is more than $33k per year for out-of-state students, and more than $25k per year for PA residents.  A large portion of our respective student bodies borrow all or nearly all of that money, which means that after three years, many students walk away with a law degree and $75k - $90k in debt.  Add that to their debt burdens from college.  It is not uncommon for law students to enter the profession with well over $100k in student loan debt.  And Pitt and Duquesne are not exactly top of the table when it comes to cost and prestige; Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Stanford grads are looking at annual tuition bills in the range of $50k annually.  You can do the math.

Until the last four or five years or so, lawyers' expected incomes and the number of law-related jobs more or less kept pace with the growth in tuition -- at least so long as everyone focused on the glamorous end of the business, where the larger and larger firms were willing to hire boatloads of new lawyers each year and pay them upwards of $150k in starting salary.  The last 20 years not only saw tremendous increases in tuition, it also saw an explosion in the size and revenues of private law firms around the world.  The pyramid of the legal profession kept going higher:  the base kept expanding, the folks at the top reaped the benefits, and there was plenty of money floating around to ensure that all of the bricks fell into place.  (Most law schools expanded, too.)

That era is over.  Business is down.  As a result of the recession, clients are far more cost-savvy than they have ever been, and they are likely to remain so.  It's not just that clients don't want to subsidize training of young lawyers on the job by paying high rates; clients don't want to subsidize anything.  The dominoes have fallen:  Large law firms (in Pittsburgh:  K&L Gates, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Reed Smith, Eckert Seamans) are hiring a tiny fraction of the new lawyers they hired as recently as five years ago.  New lawyers are not assured the high starting salaries that they once were.  And those small number of jobs are hugely competitive.  There's no reason for the biggest firms in Pittsburgh to focus on Pitt or Duquesne grads.  Local law students have to compete for Pittsburgh jobs with the brightest minds from New York and Cambridge.  No amount of "lawyering" training in law schools will persuade law firms to hire more new lawyers than they are hiring today.  The jobs are simply gone.  Legal education is becoming a zero-sum game:  A law firm that hires my former student is a law firm that won't hire your former student.

A footnote here:  The larger, wealthier law firms don't have to behave this way.  They don't have to furlough and fire young lawyers (and paralegals, and other staff), as they have done; they don't have to cut way, way back on hiring, as they have done.  The economy has gone in the tank, sure, but profits-per-partner among the glamour firms, the standard measure of law firm economic health, have stayed level -- or improved!  Which means that in the main, senior lawyers have preferred to maintain their standard of living and throw the future of the profession over the side -- rather than cut their own take and nurture the next generation.

But I digress.

I have focused on the gravy-train end of the legal profession.  What about the rest of the practicing bar -- which is to say, the majority of the practicing bar, the folks who make a decent living practicing law but who don't get rich?  As the curtain has gotten pulled back on the flawed economics at the top of the bar, we have learned that lawyers' incomes, particularly new lawyers' incomes, have a "bi-modal" distribution:  a relatively small number of lawyers have been making the big salaries ($150k and up); a relatively large number of lawyers have been have been making modest salaries (let's say between $35k and $60k); and relatively few lawyers have been making the money in the middle.  Sometimes you'll see published reports from law schools that talk about the "average" starting salary of a recent grad -- often somewhere in the mid $80k range.  That figure turns out to be terribly misleading.  As a new grad, either you hit the lottery and score one of the handful of big ticket, big money jobs, or you don't, and if you find a job in the profession, you make much, much less.

And don't forget:  Either way, odds are that you're carrying a six-figure student loan debt.  It's like buying a house and carrying a mortgage -- before you've started work.

OK.  That's all terribly gloomy.  What about solutions?  There are things that both law students and law schools can do, but there are no magic bullets.  (There are things that law firms can do, too, but this post is already pretty long!)

Law students:  Don't go to law school unless you are really interested in law.  Not necessarily law practice (though there's absolutely nothing wrong with law practice); there are still lots of great things that a law degree enables that don't involve law practice.  But don't go to law school because you can't think of anything better to do, or because it's a "safe" place to wait out a recession.  The odds are that you'll graduate (if you graduate) without having figured out anything better to do, and other things being equal, you'll be a lawyer that I'd prefer not to hire.  And above all:  Avoid debt!  Get your parents to pay your tuition bills.  Get your company (if you have one) to pay your tuition.  Find scholarships and grants.   Paying off a six-figure debt will still take you well over 10 years, perhaps even 20 years, even if you score a $150k law firm job right out of school -- and keep it.

Law schools:  Lawyering training, especially the kind of integrated, rich, ethically-aware experience that Bruce Antkowiak appears to be advocating, belongs in more law school classrooms, but it can't substitute fully for post-graduate training.  Legal and medical education are different, and for a lot of good reasons; law students come into school and exit school with hundreds of different career ambitions.  And law schools shouldn't get rid of the faculty he dismisses as ivory tower types.  They're not ivory tower types to begin with, plus their attention to questions of justice (the kind of questions that academics can talk about precisely because practicing lawyers have so little time for them) is essential to making the lawyering education effective.  More important than realignment of the curriculum, however, is cost.  Legal education costs a lot.  Too much.  Law schools -- and the universities that house them, and the alumni who support them -- have to find ways to make the experience less expensive to begin with.  Most law schools today are "tuition-driven," because they have thin endowments, modest financial contributions from their host universities (in fact, it is often the case that law schools send money to the central administration, rather than the reverse), and relatively modest amounts of financial support for alumni.  If tuition stays high (and law schools can be expensive to run), then big chunks of that money has to come from sources other than the students themselves.

I am well aware that among the implications of all of this is that money would be coming from institutions, firms, and people who would not reap the direct benefits of their investments.  That is why, among many other reasons, the development universe refers to "gifts."

I could go on and on about the law school side of things, but the key point is that legal education doesn't operate in isolation from the rest of the legal profession, from higher education, or from everyone's interest in justice for all.  (There's the proper place of the claim to justice, in my view:  It's not that law schools are letting down law students, though they are, but that the legal profession is letting down society at large.  Sorry to get all noble on you there, but it's part of the package!)  If you want to focus narrowly on business and the economy, legal education doesn't operate in isolation from that, either -- a point that I'll come back to in a later post.  We all get what we pay for, in a manner of speaking, but we also get what we give.  If the legal profession wants better trained lawyers, and if clients want better trained lawyers, and the public interest demands better lawyers, then everyone is going to have to stop pointing its fingers only at law schools, and figure out how to partner with law schools.

The payoff is this:

All of us who teach want our students to change the world in small and large ways.  Students who are mired in debt have a tough time doing that.  Students who graduate with little or less debt will have better career choices, because they won't feel as constrained by debt to find a job -- any job -- that will simply allow them to pay their bills.  The world doesn't have too many lawyers, but it has too many lawyers wearing fancy suits and working in business law firms.  It doesn't have enough lawyers in the criminal justice system (working either side of the street), or working on consumer interests, or helping patients navigate byzantine health care systems, or in other public interest work.  That's the justice that law schools and their graduates can -- and should -- deliver.

And now back to regular Pittsblog programming!


19 Responses to "What Ails Lawyers and Law Schools, Pittsburgh Edition"

Anonymous said... 1/04/2011 10:14 PM

"It doesn't have enough lawyers in the criminal justice system (working either side of the street), or working on consumer interests, or helping patients navigate byzantine health care systems, or in other public interest work. "

Please tell me where I can find one of these jobs.

Mike Madison said... 1/05/2011 8:23 AM

I'm no placement expert, but my guess is that what jobs there are can be found in places like Seattle and Portland (slightly brighter economies than Western PA, perhaps, and without Western PA's huge surplus of lawyers), and in underserved, smaller cities like Des Moines, Salt Lake, and Boise. Don't be afraid of looking around even smaller cities. Dubuque, for example, is beautiful. Cedar Rapids isn't so beautiful, but it has some fine lawyers. (No, I am not kidding.) My one very broad recommendation to anyone graduating from Pitt Law these days is: Be flexible -- very flexible -- geographically.

Mike Madison said... 1/05/2011 8:26 AM

One other note about public interest legal work: The tendency in most public interest fields is to hire lawyers who have a passion for the mission, not lawyers who are simply bright and hardworking. Other things being equal, that means that public interest jobs go to people who have a record of commitment to the relevant field -- volunteering and activism outside of law, success in law school coursework, law school clinics, and writing for law journals

Anonymous said... 1/05/2011 12:21 PM

Here's an idea -- have law schools stop enrolling so many students. When the school is pumping out 10x more graduates than there are jobs, then you find a lot of unemployed lawyers.

Mike Madison said... 1/05/2011 12:28 PM

What any one law school might do is a different problem/solution than what law schools as a group might do. For practical reasons, law schools will never get together collectively and agree to reduce the number of graduates -- though in certain respects, I agree that fewer JD graduates would be a good thing. (Not in all respects, though.) Medical school admissions are regulated this way, however, I believe, because of the power of the accreditation process. In other words, if the ABA would to impose a cap on numbers, then it might be done. But I don't see that happening any time soon.

Anonymous said... 1/06/2011 1:44 PM

Have your parents pay your tuition? What an offensive and poorly thought out solution. Certainly, those who leave law school with $100k in debt are not the same students whose parents have the wherewithal to pay their $30k/year tuition bill. Perhaps law professors are further removed from the real world of students than I thought.

Mike Madison said... 1/06/2011 2:23 PM

Why offensive? I don't get the insult. I also don't get the insult about being removed from the real world of students. I have two college students of my own, and believe me, I understand the world of debt.

Nowhere would I suggest or did I suggest that the students who are borrowing $100k get the money from their parents instead. It's not an all-or-nothing issue. The suggestion was merely that would-be law students think about ways to avoid goind into debt. Nb. not all parents who can afford to support their grad student children financially do so.

Russell said... 1/07/2011 1:11 AM

I think the problem is much worse than you have described. I agree that we need more lawyers in the criminal justice system and in public interest. I also agree that law schools must become less expensive if we want any chance of achieving this. However, while lowering tuition would help, it still wouldn't be nearly enough to fix the problem. The problem is that the lower and middle classes cannot afford attorneys.

Despite the proliferation of lawyers, the amount of overhead and risk inherent to lawyering means that even a desperate attorney has to charge a relatively exorbitant hourly rate if he or she wants to survive. Clients simply don't have the money to pay us. As a result, the glut of lawyers does not result in substantially lower costs for clients, but instead results in lawyers leaving the profession or, in the case of many recent grads, never even getting started in the profession.

I appreciate what law professors, both the ivory tower and "practical" variety, do. However, it makes little difference what they teach so long as this fundamental economic problem is not addressed.

Unfortunately, Professor Antkowlak doesn't even identify this issue, let alone offer a solution. His argument appears to be:

1. Teach more than just ivory tower doctrine
2. ??
3. Justice for all

I look forward to your promised future post on the relationship between legal education and the economy at large. However, by even suggesting such a post, you've already surpassed Professor Antkowlak in identifying some of the real problems our profession faces. Hail to [ivory tower] Pitt!

BIGG...F..F..FFFFANNN said... 1/07/2011 11:01 AM

I am a Pitt Law Grad who owns his own Firm. While the premise of your argument is valid it does not refute the argument made by Professor Antkowiak. You dismiss his argument as missing the point and then make your argument. However, you fail to explain why his argument misses the point. Your position does not contradict his as the two arguments each identify problems with law schools which are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps you can share with us why you disagree with Professor Antkowiak's argument or perhaps you should have presented your position as an addendum to his rather than a criticism and/or rebuttal.

For the record, as a lawyer and as an employer, I think you both have made very interesting and valid points and I agree with the premise at the heart of each of your arguments. Having read your argument I don't understand your criticism of Professor Antkowiak's argument.

Mike Madison said... 1/07/2011 11:06 AM

My criticism is summarized in this part of the post:

"My concern with the argument is not (primarily) its consistency or lack thereof. (Briefly: The image of ivory tower academics disengaged from questions of lawyering and justice is a straw man. Law schools across the country are falling all over themselves today, and have been for many years, to bring more "lawyering" education into the curriculum. And I think that it stretches our concepts of morality and justice to color the problem in such stark terms.)"

I don't have extra time today to unpack the details of each of those statements, but they give you the outline of the critique.

BIGG...F..F..FFFFANNN said... 1/07/2011 11:57 AM

With all due respect your criticism is conclusory and lacks any support or analysis. Moreover, it is unnecessary to make the main point of your article.

Mike Madison said... 1/07/2011 1:33 PM

Right. That's because I wrote, "Briefly" to preface it. I'm not writing a law school exam or a memorandum of points and authorities. Rigorous logic isn't my goal (nor was it Prof. Antkowiak's). We're in the domain of rhetoric. "Necessary" or "unnecessary" has nothing to do with anything. I disagreed with a lot of the op-ed, and those were my reasons why.

But if you really can't handle the absence of arid abstractions and formal reasoning, and don't like filling in blanks on your own, here's some more detail.

The "ivory tower academic" as a straw man: The structure of the op-ed seems to be "because law faculties are staffed with ivory tower academics, law schools don't deliver what they should to their students." I don't buy the premise -- that law faculties are staffed with ivory tower academics. It is certainly true that a lot of law professors today don't have a lot of practice experience. A few do (I do). A few have none. Many have some. The nature of that practice experience varies widely, just as the nature of the jobs that comprise the legal profession varies widely. So the complaint really isn't about the "who." The complaint is about some of the "what." Faculty who publish contemporary legal scholarship publish in a variety of genres. Many, probably most, publish law review articles, and there are a lot of law review articles that borrow theories from sources other than law itself -- from economics, sociology, linguistics, philosophy, and history, among other things. A small portion of this literature -- some of the more formal law and economics, and what is left of "critical theory" -- begins and ends with theory. That's where the "ivory tower" accusation really seems to try to find its mark. But that is a small subset of what law professors write today. The vast bulk of their writing uses external materials to understand, address, and solve specific problems in legal doctrine and public policy. Do practicing lawyers or judges need the theoretical justification? Usually, of course, they just want the answer; they don't care about the reasoning. Or if they want the reasoning, they want it only in terms of the formal logic of the law. But remember Holmes: the life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience. And experience comes from all kinds of places -- schools of social science as well as schools of hard knocks. Do I wish that more faculty had longer terms of experience in non-academic settings before moving into teaching? On the whole, yes. But so long as the prevailing model of legal education is to teach the law in abstract categories like "Contracts" and "Corporations" and "Federal Income Tax," and to teach "how to think like a lawyer" (I hate that phrase), then lack of deep practice experience is largely irrelevant. Law schools are teaching the rules and structures, and any smart person who understands the rules and structures -- with helpful support from non-legal sources -- can, in principle, teach them and write about them. On the whole, then, the depth and diversity of the professoriate is a strength of contemporary law schools, not a weakness. And it isn't really the cause of what ails law schools today.

[My reply continues in the next comment; Blogger limits length.]

Mike Madison said... 1/07/2011 1:34 PM

So - it's plausible to say: Aren't law schools teaching the wrong stuff, and in the wrong way? And isn't that Prof. Antkowiak's critique? I would say yes to the first point. Law schools are teaching a lot of the wrong stuff and in the wrong ways. But that's a criticism of methods and history, not a criticism of the people doing the teaching. So the critique (in the op-ed) is only partly accurate -- because as I wrote above ("Briefly"), law schools today are scrambling like crazy to reform their curricula to do precisely the kinds of things that Prof. Antkowiak says that they are not doing. We are scrambling at Pitt; I know of lots of specific efforts at other schools. I don't know about Duquesne. So, yes, Prof. Antkowiak would be "right" on this score if he had been writing in, say, 1991 -- before the 1992 MacCrate Report that prompted the first major wave of "lawyering" initiatives, or in, say, 2006, before the 2007 Carnegie Report that prompted the second major (and current) wave. But the trend in law schools today isn't to ignore lawyering. It's to embrace it.

Finally, as to the moral character of the entire issue. I really don't know why this is part of the discussion at all. Maybe he includes it because Duquesne is a Catholic institution? But that doesn't make sense; it can't be the case that religious universities have moral obligations to their students but public or secular private institutions do not. It might be the case that he's accusing law schools of engaging in affirmatively deceptive practices when recruiting and admitting students. That would be immoral, perhaps, and I have heard that argument made by others. I don't read it in this op-ed. As a philosophical matter, I have a hard time ascribing moral attributes to institutions rather than to individuals. Altogether, the "moral" aspect of the op-ed isn't tethered to anything. As my affirmative argument explains, I regard any problems with legal education today as part and parcel of larger economic and structural problems with the legal profession as a whole. Unless one is prepared to make the case that the very idea of being a lawyer is immoral (and of course I've heard that claim made, too), then I don't see what "morality" adds here.

So there you are.

Gus the Groundhog said... 1/07/2011 11:39 PM

I'm not attempting to be combative or rude, and I do not want to diminish the value of the contributions that many members of the legal academy have brought and continue to bring to legal practice, but Professor Antokowiak hits the nail on the head with regard to the applicability of legal scholarship to legal practice. Most of it will never be read by anyone but other law professors.

Maybe the profession itself is to blame, however. Over the past fifteen or twenty years, the amount of academic journals published by law schools and run by law students has increased exponentially. Hiring partners continue to value selection to the West Blawnox State University Journal of Law and Lunchmeat over participation in legal clinics or internships, even though a student who participated in a clinic is far-better equipped than one who spent two years fixing citations (at least in my opinion).

The problem, Professor Madison, lies in the fact that several notable Pittsburgh law firms (maybe not the K&Ls of the world, but respected regional law firms nonetheless) outright refuse to hire new graduates. They do not want to incur the cost of training them, only to have them jump ship to Reed Smith after they've acquired the practical knowledge that should be obtained in law school. In fact, a hiring partner at a highly-respected mid-sized downtown firm told me that his management committee had discussed lifting the ban on hiring new graduates as a sort of "public service." There is something dangerously wrong when potential employees are looked at as charity cases. Therein lies the economic hardship. It's not necessarily the amount of debt- it's the fact that law school gives its student little in the way of being able to pay it back. I know several young attorneys who have already left the profession for greener pastures (to the tune of $40-$50k).

I think part of the answer is that the academy needs to teach more practical law. Should we do away with teaching the model codes? Not entirely. But maybe for classes that are entirely steeped in state law (Wills, Trusts and Estates; contracts), Pitt and Duquesne ought to focus on the Pennsylvania Probate Code and Pennsylvania Uniform Trust Act, rather than the Uniform Probate Code put together by the ALI (which is mostly a bunch of professors pontificating on how the law "ought" to be). Should we do away with the case method? No, but it is relied on too heavily by the academy under the guise of 'teaching students how to think like lawyers.' Case law is an absolute waste of time when it comes to certain subjects, especially when professors assign bad law or state law from another jurisdiction. Should we do away with the Socratic method? No, but again, it is overused. How about if the first two students called on can't tell you the rule of the case, you concede that it is difficult and just get to the point. You can cover a lot more material that way. Maybe then the First Amendment could be squeezed into basic Con Law curriculum.

Mike Madison said... 1/08/2011 12:09 AM

You might be surprised, Gus, to read that I agree with a lot of what you've written. Not everything, but a lot.

Is legal scholarship applicable to law practice? Lots of it is not. Lots of it is not intended to be, though it usually is intended (we hope) to be read by people in addition to our colleagues. (I can give you examples from my own work, but you'll have to email me with your real name!) The legal system involves more than the day to day concerns of practicing lawyers.

But law schools are already set up to divorce what faculty do in their scholarship from what they do in their teaching, and the rest of your comment confirms that. There are lots of ways to change the way that law is taught and ways to change what law is taught without changing the character of the writing that law professors do.

In terms of reforming law teaching, however, it's tricky to think of solutions in such a regionally-specific way. Pitt or Duquesne could teach PA law rather than broader principles of state law -- our graduates might be relatively advantaged in looking for jobs in the (oversaturated) PA market but relatively disadvantaged when they look for work in other states. Which they do. A lot.

Socratic method and cases? Professor Kingsfield retired a long time ago, literally and metaphorically. I have a very small number of colleagues who ask students to recite cases in some semblance of the old school. I certainly don't; I think that the popular image of Socratic teaching is idiotic (in other words, no sane person should teach that way, but I think that was the original point of The Paper Chase, too), and my observation is that most contemporary law professors more or less agree with me.

[My response continues in the next comment.]

Mike Madison said... 1/08/2011 12:10 AM

It's equally tricky to rely on the economics and attitudes of Pittsburgh firms when analyzing what to do about law schools. When it comes to cities with law firms that won't hire new lawyers, Pittsburgh isn't alone, and the refusal to hire untrained new grads is hardly new. My mid-sized law firm in San Francisco went to the same model, for the same reasons, roughly 20 years ago. But back then, the large firms were still willing to hire big batches of new grads, and lose most of them (intentionally) after two or three years. Today, that's changed. The big firms aren't willing to hire in big batches. Not because the grads are untrained -- the big firms have always known and until relatively recently accepted the fact that they are untrained. But because the budgeting doesn't work. The clients won't pay any more. That's why most analysts of legal education today look past the rhetoric of "they're untrained!" to the pragmatics of the economics of the profession. (In reality, in this post and comments I'm channelling a whole bunch of people - again, I can send cites to anyone who sends me their real name.)

It is true that law schools could become more "trade school" oriented and turn out "ready to be a junior lawyer" grads in much greater numbers than we do now. The law firms that would like to hire these first-year lawyers would be happy. That's the industrialization of the legal profession fully realized: the law schools supplying ready-made raw material to be processed by the next stage in the industry.

As teachers, despite what some people think of the scholarship, we like to think that our obligation to train new lawyers goes farther and deeper than that. I was a cog in the big firm machine for a long time, and I got a little tired of being part of the process of chewing up law grads and spitting them out. I like to think that I'm helping to train people who will have careers. Who will change jobs, who will move around, and who will need to have some basic intellectual tools coming out of school to help them figure out when, why, and how to do that. That means, in my view, taking a step or two or three back from the nuts and bolts of law practice as a first year lawyer and seeing quite a bit of how the relevant systems go together. Do law schools do that today? Not much. Would bringing more of contemporary law practice into the classroom be a good idea? Yes. But not because I want to make life better or easier for law firms. Instead, because I want to make life a tiny bit better or easier for my students.

Mike Madison said... 1/08/2011 12:20 AM

Oh: And as to the point about the proliferation of useless law reviews -- I agree entirely! Do hiring partners really value journal participation today the way that journal participation was valued 20 or 30 or more years ago? I hope not.

Barry said... 10/30/2012 9:20 AM

Mike: "Law students: Don't go to law school unless you are really interested in law. "
" But don't go to law school because you can't think of anything better to do, or because it's a "safe" place to wait out a recession. The odds are that you'll graduate (if you graduate) without having figured out anything better to do, and other things being equal, you'll be a lawyer that I'd prefer not to hire."

This is excellent advice - law school is no longer a place to experiment or to shelter. It's too expensive, not even counting the lost years.

(out of order quote, since it doesn't fit in with the rest of the paragraph)

" Not necessarily law practice (though there's absolutely nothing wrong with law practice); there are still lots of great things that a law degree enables that don't involve law practice. "

The problem is that a JD costs $100K bare mininum, and probably $150K-250K. You can get a JD and get all sorts of jobs - not because of, but despite the JD. However you still have the debt, so you've paid for a house that you can't live in, so to speak.

I'd urge people to read the blog 'Inside the Law School Scam' about the idea of getting a JD to work as a non-lawyer.

" And above all: Avoid debt! Get your parents to pay your tuition bills. "

The reason that this Romneyesque advice raised a few hackles is because (a) almost no families have that sort of wealth and (b) it's still spending the money.

" Get your company (if you have one) to pay your tuition. "

Always nice, if you can get it. I wonder how many companies will pay for law school?

" Find scholarships and grants. "

Inside the Law School Scam has some information about how law schools sucker people with scholarships and grants.

"Paying off a six-figure debt will still take you well over 10 years, perhaps even 20 years, even if you score a $150k law firm job right out of school -- and keep it. "

As is well know, the overwhelming majority of people hired by elite law firms are quite deliberately fired in a few years. This suggests that even those getting such jobs will not be able to pay off those debts.

Mike Madison said... 10/30/2012 10:39 AM

There are, in fact, a number of public law schools -- quite decent law schools -- that will cost you a little more than $10,000 per year or less. Even you pay full freight, the total cost of attending is $35,000 or so. That's not pennies, but it is affordable for a lot of families -- a lot of parents, even.

And there are companies that will pay for law school. Not a lot of them, and not at high-end, elite schools, and companies like everyone else are cost-conscious. But this is a benefit that has not disappeared entirely.

The one point where I disagree with some critics of current legal education is this: I think that for the right people, and for the right price, going to law school is still a great thing to do. It can be a great education, and being a lawyer (or some other kind of legal professional) can be a great career.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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