I was pleased to see that our legal-education video series sparked a lot of interest. In case you missed the posts, we interviewed the deans of all four local law schools on topics of interest, breaking down the discussion into the following five parts:
I. The effect of the bad economy on job-seeking students;
II. The impact of the growing debtloads of law students;
III. Concerns about whether the state has too many law schools/ lawyers;
IV. Issues with the U.S. News & World Report rankings of law schools;
V. The future of legal education and the profession.
It should have been evident to those paying attention to both what the deans said and the remarks left by commenters, the distinctions we drew between these categories are wholly artificial. All of these things are, in fact, interrelated.
The economy has led to a dearth of lawyer jobs, the likes of which has not been seen in a quarter of a century or more. With work for lawyers not overabundant in even the best of times, the situation has heightened competition for the fewer openings that are out there. Record student debt loads have potentially devastating impact for the students who can’t find a job in this economy — or can only find a relatively low-paying job. The horrific job market has heightened concerns that the Minnesota market may have too many lawyers (and/ or law schools, depending on how you want to frame it.) Less-than-top U.S. News & World Report rankings can make it even more difficult for a law school’s students and/or grads to land those increasingly scarce high-paying jobs (particularly at the big firms). This “perfect storm” scenario has profound implications for a profession trying to find its way in a changing world.
A number of the comments on our blog expressed a concern that law schools are not forthright enough about future salaries and placement rates to potential students. Yet a number of commenters felt that a school’s U.S. News & World Report rankings matter — and, of course, a school’s ranking would surely suffer if it were to rejigger its methods of reporting placement statistics to paint anything other than a rosy picture. And despite the call for law school honesty on the lawyer-job situation, what proved one of the most controversial remarks on that topic may also have been one of the most frank ones — the idea that the practice of law might be governed by the same competitive forces that guide other businesses. On the student-debt issue, some commenters believe the answer is to the student debt situation is to make law school shorter and cheaper. But others think that the barriers to entering the legal profession are too low and that the market is already oversaturated as it is.
I could go on, but you get the idea. There are no easy solutions. We brought you this series not because we had the answers, but because we think that in this rapidly changing legal environment, it’s important to advance the questions.
Thanks again to the deans for giving generously of their time, and to the many commenters who shared their insights on our blog. I, for one, think it’s been a fascinating discussion, which, no doubt, will be ongoing.