Make no mistake: A Law School Carol is no heartwarming holiday tale of redemption.
The computer-animated video, which has been circulating on YouTube for several weeks, focuses on a law student named Steve who is visited by the ghost of Ralph Marley's disappointing legal career (Ralph Marley being the law student who used to rent Steve's apartment and now does document review somewhere in New Jersey). The ghosts of Steve's prelaw, law school and postlaw school lives visit him to offer a sobering accounting of the sacrifices he made to attend law school, the staggering debt he assumed in the process and the limited prospects his degree from a third-tier school will afford.
"Wake up and smell the student loan payments!" the ghost of law school present warns.
The video may be a joke, but the argument isn't. On the Internet and in academic circles, debate is flaring over the value of a juris doctor, and whether the degree is a wise investment for many of the thousands who flock to law schools each year. Law schools have always had detractors, but the rising cost of legal education and the dearth of jobs available to new graduates is prompting more people to urge prospective law students to think twice before they write their first tuition check.
This message of caution doesn't appear to have hit home just yet. Applications to law schools accredited by the American Bar Association increased by 5 percent for this year's incoming class, according to the Law School Admissions Council, and the number of people taking the Law School Admission Test this October shot up by nearly 20 percent, meaning admissions officials are in for a busy year. Still, the recent growth in people applying to law schools falls short of the 17 percent surge during the last recession, in 2002.
Those would-be lawyers should take a hard look at the benefits and drawbacks of spending three years and upward of $100,000 to get a law degree, the law school skeptics warn. Law schools should provide better statistics on student debt, career prospects and earning potential, according to recent graduates and law school faculty. Potential applicants, they say, should not be blinded by the promise of $160,000 starting salaries -- which only 23 percent of the class of 2008 secured, according to the National Association for Law Placement.
Even a committee of the American Bar Association has concluded that law school applicants need a dose of reality.
"Far too many law students expect that earning a law degree will solve their financial problems for life," reads a recent message posted on the ABA's Web site from the organization's Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Profession and Legal Needs. "In reality, however, attending law school can become a financial burden for law students who fail to consider carefully the financial implications of their decision."'BUYER'S REMORSE'
That message is at the core of A Law School Carol, which was produced by a 2009 graduate of a second-tier law school who has not been able to find a legal job and now is looking for work in other fields -- a search he chronicles on his blog, Esq. Never. He views his decision to go to law school as a costly mistake (his debt is in the "six figures"), and hopes his blog and YouTube videos will prompt potential law students to delve beyond the conventional wisdom. A law degree is not a golden ticket, nor is law school a good place for directionless college graduates to plot their next move, he said.
"Like a lot of people, I took society's view that law school is a good career move and leads to a stable job," said the unnamed blogger behind Esq. Never, who agreed to an interview on condition of anonymity because he does not want to hurt his job prospects. "Unfortunately, I think a lot of employment career statistics aren't accurate, and I ended up with buyer's remorse."
The author of Esq. Never is hardly alone. Drawing upon a small sample, a recent LexisNexis survey found that, because of the changing legal marketplace, 21 percent of the 100 law students polled wished they had not gone to law school. The backlash is fiercest on the Internet, where blogs with names such as Exposing the Law School Scam and Third Tier Reality focus on what they characterize as the oversupply of lawyers in the United States, high law school tuition and student debt, and the unrealistic expectations many people have about lawyers' salaries and lifestyles.