Three recently released statistics tell an unhappy tale of what ails the legal profession in particular and society in general. Specifically, those data points reveal profound intergenerational antagonisms that are getting worse.
Dismal Job Prospects Persist
The first troubling number comes from the ABA, which reports that only 56 percent of law school graduates from the class of 2012 secured full-time, long-term jobs requiring a legal degree. The good news is that this ratio is no worse than last year’s. The bad news is the number of 2012 law graduates reached an all-time record high—more than 46,000. The even worse news is that the graduating class of 2013 is expected to be even larger.
Sure, the number of students taking the LSAT has trended downward, as has the number of law school applicants. But students seeking to attend law school still outnumber the available places in first-year classes. Meanwhile, the number of attorneys working in big law firms has not yet returned to prerecession levels of 2007. If, as many hope, the market for attorneys is moving toward an equilibrium between supply and demand, it has a long way to go.
Law School for All the Wrong Reasons
The second significant data point is even more distressing. According to a survey by test-prep company Kaplan Inc., 43 percent of college prelaw students plan to use their degrees to find jobs in the business world, rather than in the legal industry. Even more poignantly, 42 percent said they would opt for business school, if they were not already "set to go to law school.”
I don’t know what "set to go" means to these individuals, but if they want to go into business, spending more than $100,000 and three years of their lives on a legal degree before doing so makes no sense. That’s especially true in light of another of the survey’s findings: that only 5 percent of respondents said they were pursuing a career primarily for the money, while 71 percent said they were "motivated by pursuing a career they are passionate about."
Maybe these conflicted prelaw students are confused by the chorus of law school deans now writing regularly that a legal degree is a valuable vehicle to other pursuits. Let’s hope not. Many deans are simply trying to drum up student demand for their schools in the face of declining applicant pools.
Follow the Money
The third critical data point relates to the money that fuels this dysfunctional system: federal loan dollars that are disconnected from law school accountability for student outcomes. The New York Times recently reported that the interest rate on many student loans is set to double—from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent—as of July 1.
Young law school graduates are among what might be considered the unenviable 1 percenters among those affected by this change because 85 percent of them hold, on average, more than $100,000 in debt (compared to the overall average of $27,000 among all students). Like all other educational loans, those debts survive a bankruptcy filing.
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