Another Bubble: Law Schools

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Apparently, we’re living in the age of bubbles—housing, financial, etc. The only thing they don’t have is their own reality show. The next one is about to burst all over the legal profession.

“There were 68,000 applicants to the fall of 2012 entering class, while the total number of new, full-time jobs requiring a law degree is 25,000 a year and falling,” Steven J. Harper notes in The Chronicle Review. Harper teaches at Northwestern Law.

“Along with their degrees and dubious job prospects, 85 percent of 2010 graduates from American Bar Association-accredited law schools carried an average debt load of almost $100,000,” Harper notes. “Average law-school debt for the Class of 2011 broke six figures, and that number has been growing in tandem with unemployment rates for new graduates.” Harper is the author of The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis, from which his article in The Chronicle Review is excerpted.

“The median starting salary for lawyers graduating in 2011 was $60,000 (a 17-percent drop compared with the $72,000 median starting salary for the class of 2009),” Harper observes. “Even those numbers overstate new graduates’ financial reality for another reason: They’re based solely on salary information for the 65 percent of graduates reported to be working full time in a position lasting at least a year.”

The international comparisons Harper makes are also interesting: “By 2010, there were more than 1.2 million lawyers in the United States—almost four for every 1,000 citizens. In Britain, the comparable number is about 2.5; in Germany, it’s slightly more than 1.5.”

When the law bubble does burst, lawyers may be the last ones to notice.  “John Sexton, former dean of the New York University School of Law and now the university’s president, suggested that if the recipients of the [U. S. News & World Report] survey ‘were asked about Princeton Law School, it would appear in the top 20. But it doesn’t exist.’”

“Thomas E. Brennan, who founded the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 1972, when he was a Michigan Supreme Court justice, proved Sexton right. Before 2000, Brennan sent a law-school survey to 100 of his fellow lawyers. His list included Harvard, Yale, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, along with lesser-known schools, such as John Marshall and Thomas M. Cooley. ‘As I recall, they ranked Penn State’s law school right about in the middle of the pack,’ Brennan said later. ‘Maybe fifth among the 10 schools listed.’ At the time, Penn State didn’t have a law school.”


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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