Law Schools

Law School ‘Wonderland’ Stats Show 93% of Grads Employed, Despite 15K BigLaw Job Cuts

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The most recent statistics from U.S. News & World Report show 93 percent of law grads were working nine months after graduation—a big hike since 1997, when the employment rate was 84 percent.

A Northwestern Law study highlights the reality, the New York Times reports in a lengthy story entitled, “Is Law School a Losing Game?” Since 2008, big law firms have eliminated about 15,000 attorney and legal-staff jobs. And more of the entry-level legal work is being outsourced to temporary contract lawyers, making it more difficult for new grads to obtain full-time work.

The story points out that the statistics don’t discriminate between the law grad working at Applebee’s and the grad working at Skadden. The high employment numbers are buttressed by salary figures released by some schools that show median private-sector starting salaries of $160,000, even at schools outside the U.S. News top 40.

“In the Wonderland of these statistics,” the story says, “a remarkable number of law school grads are not just busy—they are raking it in.”

But it’s the law schools that are profiting, the story says. Even mediocre institutions charge as much as $43,000 a year, making the schools cash cows, the Times says. Some of the money supports professor salaries that are among the highest in academia, and some of it is sometimes used to prop up money-losing programs in higher education.

The story profiles Michael Wallerstein, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson law school in San Diego with $250,000 in loans. Tuition at the school was $33,750 a year in 2008-09. (It now stands at $38,700.) Wallerstein also used borrowed money to pay for a month studying in the south of France and a month in Prague, and $15,000 to finance his study for the bar. He currently works in contract positions reviewing documents.

The story quotes Indiana University law professor William Henderson. who faults the law schools for finessing survey information collected by U.S. News and the American Bar Association. “Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm,” he told the newspaper. “Every time I look at this data, I feel dirty.”

Henderson says law schools fudging the statistics are engaging in “disreputable practices.”

“What we have here is powder keg,” he said, “and if law schools don’t solve this problem, there will be a day when the Federal Trade Commission, or some plaintiff’s lawyer, shows up and says ‘This looks like illegal deception.’ ”

The story points out that the ABA is studying how to refine its questions to get better statistics, the Times reports. It held a two-day hearing in December on the job-data issue.

Related coverage:

New York Times: “I Want My Money Back (on Everything)”

Updated to clarify that tuition was $33,000 for Wallerstein when he attended the school.

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