Law Schools

A turning point for law schools? As studies are cited, law prof bets not one will close

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University of California at Berkeley law professor Steven Davidoff Solomon is so confident about the future of law schools that he has a bet that not one will close.

In a column for the New York Times DealBook blog, Solomon points to “signs of vigorous life in the legal job market” and a possible turning point for law schools. Solomon acknowledges problems that include high student debt, disappointing employment statistics, law school faculty buyouts and structural changes in legal employment.

But Solomon says applications for law school, down only 2.9 percent this year, may have hit a bottom. “It seems as if the law school entry class is likely to stabilize around 37,000 students—or back to 1970s levels,” he writes. Smaller law school classes will mean there are more jobs to go around, as long as the employment market does not continue to decline.

At top law schools, employment statistics are on the upswing, Solomon says. At Georgetown, for example, about 93 percent of class of 2013 graduates were employed. Sixty percent were in the private sector with a median starting pay of $160,000.

Solomon also points to recent studies illustrating the benefits of legal careers. A recent study by professors Frank McIntyre and Michael Simkovic found that graduating from law school in a bad economy had a relatively small impact on lifetime earnings relative to graduating with a bachelor’s degree. Though unemployment levels at graduation affect pay for the first four years, particularly in boom times, the impact fades as law graduates gain experience, the paper says. A prior study by the professors concluded that the value of a law degree is $1 million in a lifetime.

Solomon also cites the American Bar Foundation’s After the JD study, which tracks lawyers who passed the bar in 2000. In 2012, the graduates were largely happy with their decision to attend law school. Even at lower-ranked law schools, graduates with low grades had median incomes in the $85,000 to $95,000 range.

Will Solomon win his bet with Jordan Weissmann at Slate? Weissman already claims he has won because of the merger William Mitchell College of Law and Hamline University School of Law. Solomon doesn’t count that as a closure and he still thinks his prediction will prove true.

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