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Even with a sluggish job market, new 1Ls turning out in droves for fall semester. Why?

Large 1L Class at WM

By Nicole Battles

Last moth I was at William Mitchell for their 1L orientation and was astonished by the size of the incoming class. The woman at the booth next to me said “Don’t they read the newspaper? Don’t they know there are no jobs?” One student I spoke with said that at least some of the students were asked to defer their enrollment until next year. The school officials who were there would not provide any information on how many students were asked to defer or how many did. So why are so many people enrolling in law school when there has been nothing but grim statistics on legal jobs? I have to say that I would be more than hesitant to take on such a large time and financial commitment unless I had a secure job waiting for me when I graduated.

The students I spoke with at the Minnesota State Bar Association booth were very aware of the current job prospects. They were most interested in networking events and opportunities to meet practicing attorneys in areas that interested them.

My advice to 1Ls: Get involved now. Join the MSBA/RCBA/HCBA and take advantage of the free Sections and events. Stay informed of trends in the legal profession with publications and blogs for practicing attorneys, not just law students. Get as much experience as you can before you graduate.

2 comments

  1. Great advice on getting active in the local bar associations. I would also suggest getting involved in the ABA. Law student membership is only $25 and opens a lot of doors for professional development.

  2. “So why are so many people enrolling in law school when there has been nothing but grim statistics on legal jobs?”

    Good question. Several factors are responsible, but I think most of the law school applicants are completely unaware of the employment situation in the legal profession. (They quickly become aware of it once they have started law school, after it is too late.) I suspect that almost all of them went to law school in the hopes of being able to readily secure an at least solid middle class job and career upon graduation.

    So why are law school applicants unaware of the harsh realities of the legal job market?

    (1.) The law schools have been publishing misleading if not fraudulent employment statistics for years. Either only happily employed graduates return the surveys and/or graduates who are “employed” outside of the legal profession are counted as “employed” for statistical purposes. (So a lawyer-turned-stripper, a lawyer who works at Starbucks, or a lawyer who only earns $10/hour on a part-time basis working as a law clerk is counted as “employed”.) Naive 20 year-olds read that 95% of all graduates are employed and assume that they are all employed as lawyers with career-building jobs earning at least middle class incomes.

    (2.) Very few mainstream publications or sources of information communicate the reality of the legal job market. To the extent that they do they mostly comment about jobs at large firms and suggest the malaise in the legal job market is temporary due to the recession and that the market will recover in the future.

    (3.) Cyberspace is filled with optimistic “good news” websites and discussion forums about the legal profession. Most of the available information is positive. In contrast, the law school scamblogs are much more difficult to find and not mainstream.

    (4.) The notion that you could go to law school and obtain a professional degree and then be unable to find a job in the field and end up impoverished is completely inimical to what the vast majority of the U.S. population believes. It runs counter to everything that students have been indoctrinated with since Kindergarten. We have all been indoctrinated with the notion that higher education is a guarantor of economic success. You cannot open a newspaper or turn on talk radio or watch television without coming across this message somewhere. (Invariably, a politician or pundit will say something to the extent that, “We need more higher education to solve our nation’s unemployment problem.”)

    (5.) Hollywood has glamorized being a lawyer. Also, few laypeople understand the legal profession and see lawyers as scary, powerful beings. This perception combined with the notion that higher education leads to economic success results in the general populace believing that all lawyers are rich.

    (6.) Many people also suffer from the “grass is greener” delusion. If you have a worthless political science degree then the legal field will appear to be better. Millions of college graduates have found themselves unemployed or underemployed, and since we tend to believe that more and better higher education has economic value, it’s natural to think that going to law school and becoming a professional would be a guarantor of a middle class living.

    Ultimately, the best way to end lawyer overproduction will be to make student loans fully dischargeable in bankruptcy, returning market forces to the education market. If tens of thousands of lawyers began defaulting on their $120,000-$185,000 worth of student loans the lenders would become increasingly unwilling to loan money to law students, resulting in a forced decrease in the amount of lawyer overproduction.

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