Law Schools

Law Dean Criticizes 'Overwrought Atmosphere' Discouraging Prospective Students

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Case Western Reserve University law dean Lawrence Mitchell is tired of the detractors.

“I’m a law dean, and I’m proud,” Mitchell writes in a New York Times op-ed. “And I think it’s time to stop the nonsense. After two years of almost relentless attacks on law schools, a bit of perspective would be nice.”

Mitchell criticizes the “hysteria” and “overwrought atmosphere” that are discouraging talented individuals from attending law school. Yes, the job market is bad, and yes, most students will have trouble finding a first job, especially at law firms, he says. But the job market has been bad before.

In 1998, only 55 percent of law grads obtained jobs at law firms. In 2011, the number was 50 percent. “A 9 percent decline from a previous low during the worst economic conditions in decades hardly seems catastrophic,” Mitchell says. And there are other job possibilities—in business, politics, government, finance and other areas.

Mitchell also sees opportunities in “the graying of baby-boom lawyers” who will retire and create job openings.

Turning to other problems, he makes these arguments:

• Even as tuition rose by a reported 160 percent from 1985 to 2011, starting salaries for law grads rose 125 percent.

• Although the average student at a private law school graduates with $125,000 in debt, the average lawyer’s annual salary is higher. “You’d consider a home mortgage at that ratio to be pretty sweet.”

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