Advocates for more transparency about law school cost and employment prospects welcomed recent news that the American Bar Association is examining the issue. However, a new survey of prospective law students indicates that better information would do little to stem the tide of law school applications — which hit an all-time high last year.
Veritas, a law school admissions consulting firm, polled 112 prospective law school applicants in June and July, and 81% said they would still apply even if “a significant number of law school graduates were unable to find jobs in their desired fields.” Only 4% said they would not apply to law school under that circumstance.
At the same time, more than half the survey respondents — 63% — were concerned about finding a job after law school, and 70% said they were worried about finding a position in the field of their particular interest.
“I think there could be one of two things that are leading factors in explaining this paradox,” said Veritas Chief Executive Officer Chad Troutwine. “It could be the idea that there is still a perceived value in the legal education one gets law school. That’s different from why people go to business school, which is to increase their chance of financial success.”
Alternatively, prospective law students could be suffering from that well-known American affliction of overconfidence — “Hey, that’s somebody else’s problem, not mine,” he said.
According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), 88% of the class of 2009 had found employment nine months after graduation. However, 25% of those positions were temporary. The employment rate was lower than in previous years, while the percentage of temporary jobs was higher, NALP reported.
The grim employment news for recent law graduates does seem to be making an impression on would-be lawyers, however. In addition to worrying about landing a job, prospective students seem to understand that landing a $160,000 starting job at a major law firm is harder than ever. Only 11% of the survey respondents expected to earn more than $145,000 out of law school. Another 29% expected to earn between $100,000 and $145,000, while the remaining 44% expected to earn between $75,000 to $100,000.
Still, those expectations don’t jive with reality: The latest new lawyer salary data from NALP show that 34% of reported salaries fell between $40,000 and $65,000 for the class of 2009.
Would-be law students seem to understand that earning a juris doctor isn’t cheap. Of those polled by Veritas, 37% said expected to take on more than $100,000 in debt. Earlier this year, the Law School Survey of Student Engagement spearheaded by Indiana University found that 29% of law students expected to graduate with upwards of $120,000 in loans.
“When you’re young and confident about your prospects, taking on a modest amount of debt is acceptable,” Troutwine said.
Location was the most important factor to prospective law students when choosing a school, followed by prestige and ranking and career placement rates. Affordability was an important factor for 54% of those polled.
Twenty-four percent of the survey respondents wanted to work as a public interest attorney, while another 21% wanted to work in for a major firm.
Only 3% aspired to a non-legal position.
Karen Sloan can be contacted at email@example.com.