Here is my comment about the above-titled post in Stephen Harper’s excellent conscience-of-the-industry blog, Belly of the Beast, in which he discusses the ongoing issue of litigation surrounding law schools’ allegedly overstating their graduate placement success.
To me, the post-law school employment imbroglio is the long tail on the “golden age of prosperity unmatched by any other industry” (as the July 1, 2011 issue of the ABA Journal Law News Now put it).
Law schools were simply the supplier of people-inventory to sate the voracious hiring appetites of BigLaw firms enjoying unprecedented demand and pricing power, as evidenced by their annual rate increases and, later, associate salary increases. I have no data, but it wouldn’t surprise me if, during that time, every law school was able to place virtually every graduate at a law firm of some kind, and those graduates who chose to hang out a solo shingle did so in the confidence that there seemed to be enough clients willing to give them work.
Like all pyramid schemes, it worked fine until the supply of new buyers dried up. Clients cut back or reallocated their legal service spending, creating a ripple of dislocation down through the law firm tiers. Just like that, demand for the lawyers in gestation at the law schools dropped precipitously.
The law schools’ problem seems to stem from their failure to acknowledge that the three-year law school cycle virtually guaranteed that a high percentage of students already enrolled would have difficulty finding jobs, and encourage students to adjust their expectations in response to the seismic shift in demand.
Would that they had said something to this effect in 2008:
“Demand for new lawyers appears to be dropping, and it looks like it is not a short-term, recession-related dip, but more likely a permanent change. As a result, Law Review performance at a top-tier law school no longer assures you of a $160k BigLaw job. Obviously, all other types of firms will likely show diminished demand, too. Accordingly, each of you should consult with your counselor and evaluate your career plans in relation to this major development. The law remains a wonderful profession for many, as long as they understand that the underlying economics have changed for the worse.”
Had they done something that simple, the media story wouldn’t be about the law schools, but instead we’d be talking about how foolish some students were to blindly continue to pursue law careers despite being alerted to significantly lower demand, or at least to have formulated alternative plans that align with the new reality.
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