Law Schools

Is law school like an undervalued stock? Job hunt could be 'relative cinch' for class of 2016

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Is now a good time to go to law school? A Slate columnist has answered “yes,” at least for those who really do dream of becoming a lawyer, and is backing up his claim with statistics.

“Right now, law school looks like a stock that crashed too far after a panic, and is suddenly a bit undervalued,” says Jordan Weissmann in Slate’s Moneybox column. “It’s a good time to buy.”

Weissmann says the number of law school applications is at its lowest level in 30 years, and the legal market is starting to stabilize. Law school isn’t a good idea for those who don’t have an overwhelming desire to be a lawyer, Weissmann says, but those who dream of depositions should go for it.

Not everyone agrees with that view, particularly the “delightfully acidic folks at Above the Law, Weissmann says. So Weissmann is attempting to refute the blog’s criticism of his earlier column, “Apply to Law School Now!”

First, Above the Law says it’s unclear how many jobs will be available. ATL cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which projects that 19,650 jobs will open up for lawyers each year between 2012 and 2022. That’s not enough to provide employment to new law grads.

Weissmann instead cites ABA statistics finding that, last year, 26,377 law school graduates found long-term, full-time employment requiring bar passage. Another 6,438 found long-term, full-time jobs that didn’t require a law license.

“If the market produces the same number of jobs in 2016,” Weissmann says, “when around 36,000 students are set to graduate, job hunting is going to become a relative cinch. Theoretically, 91 percent of the class could land long-term, full-time work—on par, if not better, than some of the legal industry’s best years.”

Second, Above the Law says the increase in hiring has been spurred by large law firms, which tend to hire from elite law schools. Weissmann points instead to the lower number of graduates law school will produce, which will benefit all law grads.

Third, Above the Law says Slate isn’t taking into account all those unemployed law grads still searching for work. In an ideal world, Weissmann says, employers would hire them. But law firms are creatures of habit, he says, and are more likely to hire graduating law students.

He also argues that:

• Despite the drop in salaries for newbie lawyers, combined with increased tuition debt, law school may pay off in the long term.

• The growth in law grads taking “JD advantage jobs” may be worrisome, but most of those jobs are professional opportunities with pay that isn’t out of line with many legal jobs.

Above the Law has a new rebuttal here. “If you think the crash in law school applications is temporary,” write ATL bloggers Elie Mystal and Joe Patrice, “now might be a good time to BUY A LAW SCHOOL, not buy the education on the theory that you’ll be good as long as nobody else gets the memo.”

Updated on July 2 to add a link to Weissmann’s earlier column.

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