ABA Journal


Law Schools

Job market for would-be lawyers is even bleaker than it looks, analysis says

Apr 1, 2013, 07:14 pm CDT


Hey usual suspects, you're slacking off in failing to show up to say that ALL IS WELL! and to blame the students for being lazy.

The law school bubble is bursting. So glad I paid off my student loans and can put that all behind me.

By Bob on 2013 04 01, 7:29 pm CDT

Well, with the stellar ability these kids have shown in analyzing numbers, I'm sure 1.1 percentage points hardly make a difference.

By B. McLeod on 2013 04 01, 10:55 pm CDT

@ Bob - what do you expect undergrad dilettantes to do with their lives. Taking machine graded tests is their only talent. They have to go to law school. Everything else requires skill, experience, maturity, direction, and the like. When the government guaranteed money dries up they'll borrow it from their relatives (i.e., people like you). Good luck with that.

By Pushkin on 2013 04 02, 12:42 am CDT

This kind of information is a good thing. It is part of the ongoing market correction. Eventually, prices will come down at most schools. As tuition decreases, new attorneys will be more able to take lower paying jobs serving clients that need access to our court system.

By Island Attorney on 2013 04 02, 1:23 am CDT

Truly. Eventually even the most falling-down stupid of the stupid will realize that they possibly should not be incurring six-figure debts for this, and when the lunatic borrowing stops, the prices will have to come down. The market will correct.

By B. McLeod on 2013 04 02, 2:48 am CDT

Good. The sooner these recent graduates realize there is no future in law, the better off the rest of us will be fighting for the scraps.

By Doodle Dandy on 2013 04 02, 6:28 am CDT

hopefully the aba orders a bunch of these 3-4 tier law schools shut down---there are too many graduates coming onto the market working for chump change taking away clients.

By SalTown on 2013 04 02, 10:25 am CDT

Maybe they can convert the closed schools to Section 8 housing for student debtors. "ABA Projects" in the truest sense. Each one can simply have "Green" added after the name of the former law school.

By B. McLeod on 2013 04 02, 12:17 pm CDT

As a 2012 graduate these numbers are absolutely believable and almost surprised they are as high as 55 percent. I always planned on an alternative legal career and am very happy with the path I'm taking right now. More people should consider alternative uses for their JD as it can be a very sought after tool in other industries (besides the law of course).

By Jonathan on 2013 04 02, 1:23 pm CDT

At Pushkin @3: it takes one to know one.

By Pushkin Jr on 2013 04 02, 1:29 pm CDT

re 7 SalTown, "too many graduates coming onto the market working for chump change taking away clients."

FYI that is called the free market. Perhaps you are a communist, and demand a protected market? And what do you consider "chump change"? $100 per hour?

Time to open up the practice of law to foreign attorneys, and get that hourly rate down to something affordable to ordinary Americans, about $20-$30 per hour.

There is a saying in the business-investment world, "pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered". There are too many hogs in the legal profession, and they have killed the profession. This story is only reporting the death throes of your profession.

On such hog in the profession is DLA Piper, in its attorney fee dispute lawsuit with Adam Victor: "Churn that bill, baby!"

"pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered"

By free market on 2013 04 02, 2:58 pm CDT

Anyone thinking of going to law school needs to go to the facebook page Don't Go to Law School, if they read the info there and still go they are a fool

By Joe Black on 2013 04 02, 5:47 pm CDT

Why are there so many slots available that obviously are not needed? The AMA rations admissions to the market need. The ABA rations to maximize constituent (read: law school) income. Way too many of my classmates have nothing, or temporary school funded fellowships, for now.

I would close the bottom 30-50 schools, or at least eliminate their accreditation. Job placement and first-time bar passage need to be major accreditation factors for which schools continue. 10-year payback should also be a major factor. The Top 14 can justify $50k/yr tuition. The next 90 should only charge $25k/yr. The TTTs should only charge $10k/yr. Value pricing. Let's see who survives this economic model.

By Bulldozer on 2013 04 05, 9:41 am CDT

Wow, some of the comments here are predictable.

Do law schools over-state their value, absolutely. But what marketer of a product doesn't. THAT is the American way. Even the beer companies in this country over-state the value of their product . . .("It doesn't get any better than this" really???) I suspect that those who think they paid too much and got too little from their law school education would say the same thing about any education they received. The bottom line, in this country, your only as valuable as you are because of who you are and what you do. Unfortunately, you can't practice law without a license, and you can't get a license without a law degree.

#13 - what makes you think that you are the one who should dictate which schools get closed and which stay open. What makes you think the rankings of the schools matters. You sound like such an elitist. The way I read the article, the unemployment rate of law school grads is really not much different than the unemployment rate in general, save 1-2%. I have a friend that recently graduated from law school, passed the bar, and won't even consider a job for less than $100K to start. Now, is that the fault of the law school. No, it is an elitist mentality on the part of many college graduates, law school grads included, that they are worth more to the market than they are. Will they be worth more in the future, as they gain experience . . . yes. But right out of school, not so much.

Was/is law school worth the investment? That is an individual decision, that can not be made by anyone of us for anyone else. I went to law school at the age of 43 and graduated at 47 (yes, 4 year evening program). I spent $60K on my education, and when I graduated, I passed the bar, but I do not practice law full time. I own my own business, which I started while in law school, and quite frankly, I can't afford to take the pay cut to practice law. But, am I glad I wend to law school, yes. Would I do it all over again, maybe. Do I have any regrets about spending $60k, no. But then again, I didn't borrow that. I earned it while going to law school and graduated with no debt. It can be done.

By Jeffrey Hall on 2013 04 05, 12:14 pm CDT

The article says 51.1% have full time jobs, and 27.7% are unemployed, underemployed, looking,, or in grad school. What happened to the other 21.2%? Ascension?

By Curmudgeon, Esq. on 2013 04 05, 12:29 pm CDT

You may be surprised to see which schools have better employment rates than others. It's definitely not purely based on rank or cost. Much of it seems regional. Quite a few surprises.

I found the stats at:

By William Able on 2013 04 05, 12:34 pm CDT

I love the "silver lining" toward the end of the post:

"On the other hand, 45.7 of schools perform above the statistical mean..."

Well, duh. That's like saying, "Almost every student completely bombed the final exam, but look at how many people pass when you apply the curve!".

I suspect that the recent grads are more interested in the raw score, and are nonplussed with the curve.

By Steve on 2013 04 05, 12:38 pm CDT

15, crumedgeon:

I too have the bad habit of being able to add.

I bet that other 20% didn't respond - they're totally unemployed and living with their parents.

By associate on 2013 04 05, 2:10 pm CDT

Anybody who thinks that law school tuition will ever decrease is fooling themselves, even in the face of the "easy money" spigot being turned off. The rate of increase might slow, but that is little comfort.

As for "free market" above: stop being a troll. Largely attorney representation already IS affordable to "ordinary Americans" if you look outside the Liberal enclaves. Average hourly rate, when including "non-comp time" in the heartland is ALREADY about $35/hr for solos. So don't knock the rest of us for the fact that the "Elites" in the Liberal enclaves want to drain their poor clients dry and then whine about how "Justice is unaffordable to the common individual."

By Charles W. Skinner on 2013 04 05, 2:10 pm CDT

@18 - A kindred spirit! I wonder if "living in parents' basement" was a response option in the survey.

By Curmudgeon, Esq. on 2013 04 05, 2:14 pm CDT

Law School should mean more than just a fast track to big bucks. Now that the scavengers are going on to pursue business, we might see some students who really want to help people and actually practice real law.
But I would like to see law schools who overinflate the success of their grads be called to the table.

By justanotherlawyer on 2013 04 05, 2:51 pm CDT

The Fed needs to start giving low interest loans directly to students instead of handing it to banks at 0% interest rate who then lend it to the students at anywhere from 3 - 8.5%. Talk about a racket.

By You call this coffee!? on 2013 04 05, 3:20 pm CDT

Another government created bubble...just eliminate the subsidies (loan guarantees, grants, etc.) and the market will take care of the rest (fewer schools, lower costs). Those subsidies haven't helped would be lawyers, they've hurt.

By Easily fixed on 2013 04 05, 3:21 pm CDT

This surprises who?
All bubbles burst, that is at least until the real smart kids who are going into science fields invent a non-burstable bubble and get rich off their invention and hire more unemployed young attorneys to protect their intellectual properties.

By Realist on 2013 04 05, 3:59 pm CDT

@23 Easily Fixed. I hope you are not a law school graduate. The situation is far more complex than your label implies. In the 1980s, tuition at my top-tier law school was $400 a year. It has now exceeded $40K a year. Now, why is that? Is it because the Rght Wing has been busily defunding public education since the 1970 Powell Memorandum came out? So yes, it's a government created bubble, created with the aim of keeping anyone but the affluent from obtaining a higher education. We see the results right now. Student debt is higher than consumer debt nationwide, and that's saying a lot. What happened to the idea that education makes a nation great? Cui bono? I hear the sucking sound created when the public commonwealth is being drained for the benefit of the already-rich.

By Olivia LaRosa on 2013 04 05, 6:32 pm CDT

@11: Before you start dishing out hourly rates, do some basic math. Let's assume that I can bill 40 hours a week. (With the caveat that there are things I must do for which I can not charge - so this means that I am working on average 60 hours per week.) That means I should expect $800-$1200 a week. Now I need to rent an office, pay for telephones, westlaw, insurance, and really should have a secretary at the very least to answer phones. Well, that person, even if they only answer phones, will expect at the least, $500 per week - which is only $20k per year. (That does not include the hidden costs- the employer social security tax, vacation, sick time. And believe me that does not include any health benefits.) Bluntly, at $20 to $30 per hour I would be bankrupt within a year. THAT, my dear friend, is why attorneys charge $100+ per hour. Because not every one pays the bill.

By Amy on 2013 04 05, 7:06 pm CDT

Wow. No wonder the rest of the country hates this profession.

#14 - i went to law school - evenings just like you - when I was 45. And worked my way through. And have a managerial job in a Fortune 500 company. No regrets. I went to a better school. However, you imply that law school is an investment. If you can only get a $50k job (or a $0k job at some places), then what is your investment backed expectation for your $60k tuition bill? Basically, your payout is NEVER based on the actual jobs available today for new lawyers that pay $40-50k. And if that's where the market is (and it's there), then tuition should reflect reality. And for a TTT, the only way this makes any sense at all is if the tuition is in the range I specified. Otherwise, your investment analogy falls apart.

#19 - if you were correct, LegalZoom wouldn't exist. People do it themselves on things they can't handle because your heartland $35/hr lawyer simply doesn't exist. Even in your beloved Redneckistan, legal rates are a lot closer to #26's description - and the average worker who hasn't had an increase in their standard of living since the Carter administration can't pay $100 an hour for anything.

#16 - the employment stats look like the regular rankings for the most part. Tier 1 = employed. Tier 2 = half employed. Tier 3 = you just lost three years of your life for nothing. And won't be able to discharge that debt.

#21 - where did you go to law school? Maybe my Tier 2 school had a defective class, but i don't know those people. My classmates are happily plugging along in those $50k/yr jobs doing the good work for a lot of people. Several of us with other careers are white knights, working on the side for affordable rates - yes, those untrained, unmentored, and hope-for-the-best junior lawyers who try anyway with no idea what we're doing. We can't get any training beyond CLEs because you won't or can't hire us. So we're the ones serving the underserved public. If there wasn't such a pent-up demand for reasonable cost lawyers, I wouldn't have attracted a stable of clients within days of opening my part-time practice.

By Bulldozer on 2013 04 05, 10:02 pm CDT

Re: bulldozer (above)

I have never seen a "LegalZoom" style "document preparation" service work out well. Every time I have seen it, without fail, the client has ended up having to pay out 5 timed or more than they would have if they had come to me directly because something was not thought of that later rose up and bit them in the ass.

Allow me to thank you for denigrating my example by calling it "redneckistan." It shouts just how little you know about the practice of law outside your little ivory tower enclaves in the liberal cities. Three words for you to consider: flat rate billing.

By Charles W. Skinner on 2013 04 07, 1:57 am CDT

Thanks to Amy (no. 26 above) for setting out the basic economic facts of life about being a new lawyer in town, hanging out a shingle. Prices vary by region, but not by a whole lot. In truth, very few lawyers are getting rich these days... or ever, most likely. Joining the profession for purely economic reason is not a good idea, and it probably never has been.

I started practice in 1977, and although the numbers have changed today (costs/fees, etc.) the financial reality that Amy descibes above has not.

Unfortunately, that is not the popular view of lawyers.

The public sees TV lawyer shows and your high sounding hourly fees, and they immediately figure that you are getting rich... of course, they also think that Joe Doaks is your only client like on TV... and that the trial part of the TV show they call life will occur right after they've grabbed a sandwich during the commercials.

That's what's wrong with the country and its view of who lawyers are and why anyone would become a lawyer -- no sense of reality.

When you think about it, this ridiculous view of life is also at the heart of the USA's gridlock politics too... but then, I do digress. That's another topic for another day.

Have a good day, Amy, and thanks again.

By SavannahGuy on 2013 04 08, 5:09 pm CDT

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