Now is the time to go to law school, at least in this state, dean says

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Photo of Rachel Zahorsky
by Marc Hauser.

Updated: While critics continue to disparage the state of legal education, at least some of its top figures continue to balance calls for change with assurances to prospective students of law school’s current value. And one law dean is citing the regional hiring preferences of law firms and positive local economic growth to court would-be lawyers to schooling in Denver.

“Many critics argue that law school is a bad investment because there are not enough law jobs for new graduates, and will not be for the foreseeable future,” Sturm College of Law Dean Martin J. Katz wrote in a message to prospective students this week. “However, legal markets are highly regional. The math for Denver, the primary market served by the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, is very different—and very favorable.

“The Denver legal market is likely to produce enough jobs to place our graduates,” the dean asserted.

Katz cites Colorado Department of Labor and Employment projections that estimate roughly 550 lawyer job openings per year over the next few years. The state’s two law schools produce fewer than 450 new law grads each year, he said. A favorable number at first blush; however, roughly 1,000 people passed the Colorado bar exam in 2012. But “that’s where the notion of regional law hiring is important,” Katz told the ABA Journal. “Firms, for all sorts of reasons, seem to prefer local talent. That’s true in most legal communities.”

That’s bad news for those 550 out-of-towners.

Katz also chides news media outlets for overlooking distinct regional outlooks as part of its national coverage of the legal profession. Those reports too often examine the profession in a vacuum and don’t adequately compare a person’s earning potential with and without a J.D., he says. That’s an argument previously cited by University of California Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

“Yes, prospects are worse now than five years ago, but that won’t help prospective students decide what to do with their lives,” Katz told the ABA Journal.

“Law schools absolutely need to change. Most need to shrink. Most need to think about the training they provide. And most need to be more transparent,” Katz said. “But if you look at the numbers in a more nuanced fashion than the recent media coverage of law schools has provided … for some students, law school is a really great investment.”

Katz is correct. For some, law school will be a great investment. The issue today is: How many is “some?”

Updated at 11:26 a.m. to include an amended statement from Sturm College of Lw Dean Martin J. Katz to correct an error that identified Forbes contributing writer Shawn O’Connor as a Forbes staff writer. O’Connor, a Harvard Law School graduate, is the founder and CEO of a law, business and graduate school test preparation and admissions counseling company.

Related coverage:

ABA Journal.com: “Massive layoffs’ predicted in law schools due to big drop in applicants”

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