Friday, January 08, 2010

LA Times: No More Room on the Bench

Wow, wow, and just WOW!. Perhaps the hardest-hitting mainstream Op-Ed yet on the dismal state of the legal "job market." From todays Los Angeles Times:

The American Bar Assn. allows unneeded new law schools to open and refuses to regulate them. The government should consider taking steps to stop the flow of attorneys into a saturated marketplace.

By Mark Greenbaum

Remember the old joke about 20,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea being "a good start"? Well, in an interesting twist, thousands of lawyers now find themselves drowning in the unemployment line as the legal sector is being badly saturated with attorneys.

Part of the problem can be traced to the American Bar Assn., which continues to allow unneeded new schools to open and refuses to properly regulate the schools, many of which release numbers that paint an overly rosy picture of employment prospects for their recent graduates. There is a finite number of jobs for lawyers, and this continual flood of graduates only suppresses wages. Because the ABA has repeatedly signaled its unwillingness to adapt to this changing reality, the federal government should consider taking steps to stop the rapid flow of attorneys into a marketplace that cannot sustain them.

From 2004 through 2008, the field grew less than 1% per year on average, going from 735,000 people making a living as attorneys to just 760,000, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics postulating that the field will grow at the same rate through 2016. Taking into account retirements, deaths and that the bureau's data is pre-recession, the number of new positions is likely to be fewer than 30,000 per year. That is far fewer than what's needed to accommodate the 45,000 juris doctors graduating from U.S. law schools each year.

This jobs gap is even more problematic given the rising cost of tuition. In 2008, the median tuition at state schools for nonresidents was $26,000 a year, and $34,000 for private schools -- and much higher in some states, such as California. Students racked up an average loan debt in 2007-08 of $59,000 for students from public law schools and $92,000 for those from private schools, according to the ABA, and a recent Law School Survey of Student Engagement found that nearly one-third of respondents said they would owe about $120,000.

Such debt would be manageable if a world of lucrative jobs awaited the newly minted attorneys, but this is not the case. A recent working paper by Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt Law School contends that with the exception of some of those at the best schools, going for a law degree is a bad investment and that most students will be "unlikely ever to dig themselves out from" under their debt. This problem is exacerbated by the existing law school system.

Despite the tough job market, new schools continue to sprout like weeds. Today there are 200 ABA-accredited law schools in the U.S., with more on the way, as many have been awarded provisional accreditation. In California alone, there are 21 law schools that are either accredited or provisionally accredited, including the new one at UC Irvine.

The ABA cites antitrust concerns in refusing to block new schools, taking a weak approach to regulation. For example, in 2008 the ABA created an accreditation task force to study the need for changes, but saddled it with a narrow charter. In the end, it proposed only cosmetic changes and rejected out of hand the possibility of giving up control over accreditation, calling the idea not viable and "draconian."

The task force also raised the possibility that if the ABA gave up its accreditation authority, the Federalist Society, a conservative-leaning interest group, could take over that job. This is an intellectually dishonest red herring, likely injected to divert attention from the idea's merits. The Federalist Society would have no reason to do this because the technical, expensive accrediting process does not gibe with its mission, nor would the Department of Education be likely to give it such authority.

The ABA has also refused to create and oversee an independent method of reporting graduate data. Postgraduate employment information generally provides the most useful facts for prospective students to study in deciding whether to go to law school.

In many cases, the data that schools now furnish are based on self-reported information, skewing the results because unemployed and low-paying grads are less likely to report back. Law schools do this because they want the rosiest picture possible for the influential rankings given by U.S. News & World Report. Despite its ample resources, the ABA has rebuffed calls to monitor the schools to get more accurate data, calling the existing framework an effective "honor system."

Based on what happened with the accreditation task force, the ABA is not likely to force change; it is too intertwined with the law schools. ABA groups -- such as the task force, which was chaired by a former dean -- are stacked with school officials who have no incentive to change the status quo. This is why the ABA should get out of the accreditation business completely.

Unlike other professional fields such as medicine and public health, whose preeminent professional organizations do not have control over the accreditation of schools and programs, the ABA exercises unfettered power over the accreditation of law schools.

The American Dental Assn., the nation's leading dental group, offers a model for the ABA to follow. It accredits schools but assiduously guards the profession and has allowed respected dental schools such as the ones at Emory, Georgetown and Northwestern to close for economic reasons and to prevent market saturation. Such a move by the bar association would be unprecedented. Dental schools go even further to protect the profession's integrity by collectively boycotting the U.S. News rankings.

The U.S. Department of Education should strip the ABA of its accreditor status and give the authority to an organization that is free of conflicts of interest, such as the Assn. of American Law Schools or a new group. Although the AALS is made up of law schools, it is an independent, nonprofit, academic -- not professional -- group, which could be expected to maintain the viability and status of the profession, properly regulate law schools, curtail the opening of new programs and perhaps even shut down unneeded schools. The AALS has cast a very skeptical eye on for-profit schools, compared with the ABA's weak hands-off accreditation policies.

Although these would be unprecedented moves, they are necessary. The legal profession must be saved from itself.

Link to original here:,0,4457698.story?track=rss


Temptastic said...

While this may be the hardest hitting piece of news about the glut of attorneys in the states, your author is hardly sympathetic.

Boo-hoo- I went to Harvard and worked at BIG LAW. All this jerk had to do was keep their head down, pay their loans and wait until they got put out with the trash in 10 years b/c they didn't have a book of portable business. After 10 years of BIG PAY they could walk away, debt free, and move onto something more suitable.

This article does not even touch the TTTT McDonaldization of the legal field-- the real root of the problem.

Temptastic said...

wait- the link---

Anonymous said...

The Op-ed was strong, but it misses one key element:

How the over population of lawyers harms the public good. While our economic well being is important, the other issue is that we face a situation where the quality of the legal worked perform is also in decline. This is caused by the race to the bottom caused by saturating the market.

There is a balance here between pricing that allows more people to obtain legal services versus the quality of the legal services provided. I would love to see more research on that issue.

Nando said...

That was a strong post - especially coming from the mainstream media. Mark Greenbaum's comparison of the ABA to the ADA is spot-on! The American Dental Association actually PROTECTS its practitioners and students. Imagine that!

Plus, dental schools have actual costs, i.e. technology, lab space, clinic fees, developments in medical science, etc. In contrast, law schools pay for rooms, paper, Westlaw and LEXIS access, a small IT department. Most of the expense of running a law school is paying people who work 4-6 hours a week six figures, i.e. "law professors."

Anonymous said...

Re: Race to the bottom, pricing and quality of services

I forgot to add that you can see the impact on the race to the bottom on a site like Craigslist under the legal services. If anyone thinks those people offering in some cases insane deals regarding taking on a matter are actually providing good services, then you are buying what you pay for. The reality is that like with foreign cheap products that you are not buying quality of service at a lower rate. You are buying cheap. Some case will be straight forward, but many will not be. Yet, low cost services will have to treat all cases as the same in order to make a living wage for the debt they have to pay. You don't want people choosing between observing their ethical standards as lawyers and moving on to the next case to meet their financial needs.

Anonymous said...

GREAT piece... The paragraph near the end stated it well... Much of the fault for this glut is with for-profit law schools. (Please note the distinction between "for-profit" and "private" institutions; all for-profit schools are private, but most private schools are not for-profit.)

To rein in this bloody mess which is destroying the profession, all for-profit law schools, such as schols that aren't part of a larger, diverse, full-scope university, should be shut down.

This means ALL of the lttle hole-in-the-wall schools in California like Thomas Jefferson and Golden Gate, and ALL of the big-money phony-baloney subprime schools in the Northeast, like BLS, NYLS, etc. that cater to money-obsessed, big-nosed Jewish, Italian, Indian, etc. obnoxious rich white and ethnic kids in the NYC suburbs who twaaak like the women on "Coffee Talk"... Yeah, I mean the Guidos, the Isaacs, the Rajivs, etc.... (and being Italian-American, I guess I am a Guido.)

If you can't make Ivy or at least a "legit" university, you shouldn't be wasting society's resources by going to law school!!

Anonymous said...

8:19 pm: I graduated from Bklyn and take umbrage at your statement. BLS may have had that reputation of attracting ethnic kids and Jews/Italians from working class families back in the late 80s and mid 90s, but that image has drastically changed over the past few years. My graduating class had the biggest Ivy brats I've ever seen and many who were lured to BLS away from top schools like Northwestern, Fordham, Notre Dame and BU/BC because of scholarships. It was definitely a competitive group of students and I don't regret having attended it in any way.

I do agree that the ABA needs to be stripped of its power to accredit law schools. There are just way too many and most law schools that are in the works right now (like SUNY Binghamton and Stonybrook in NY) should just be closed. NY needs more law schools like it needs another crime statistic.

Anonymous said...

Every state is entitled to one law school associated with its state university. After that maybe another 25-50 private schools.

Kill the rest. Use "smart" bombs if necessary, but somehow these schools need to go.

Anonymous said...

You're all losers.

Chief Constable for the Area said...

Nobody ever cries that the schools were irresponsible in graduating a bunch of kids with Philosophy and Art degrees. But let me tell you how they do it in the UK: law and medicine are pursuits that you start as a freshman in college. I knew a girl who, at age 18, was already cutting on cadavers...and based upon the studies, I don't think that the field of medicine suffers from eliminating four years of pointless schooling.
I think that law could be handled like that as well. I don't think anybody here has ever said, "thank god I had four years of basket weaving classes to prepare me for the Rule Against Perpetuities!" All the current system does is weed out people who don't have the time or money to go into law and does nothing to increase the quality of talent because an undergraduate degree is meaningless. Under the current system, anyone who can hang around long enough and eventually poop out an undergraduate degree at RindyDink U can still get into a third or fourth tier school. Matter of fact, it took a few of my classmates at least 6-8 years for them to finally get an undergraduate degree because they couldn't be bothered to show up for class. Considering this, one would imagine that this would be a huge red flag considering that the overwhelming odds would suggest that this student will not do well in class, will not be hired by anybody, and is now going to have to magically become a self-sufficient person who can run his own law practice. Alas, the trump card is that many of these guys know somebody who will give them a job at the end of the day. This even though they are routinely absent from class and when their classmates are killing themselves to get good grades and volunteering for resume padders.

I ask you, again: Why the worthless undergraduate degree?

Fan of Trailer Tom said...

If you can't make Ivy or at least a "legit" university, you shouldn't be wasting society's resources by going to law school!

But surely in choosing a law school like BLS or NYLS, a student is mostly wasting his own resources? Furthermore, for-profit is the foundation of USA's capitalist society; why then are venal law schools being attacked when the practice of being economical with the truth is ubiquitous in US economic and political life? Surely no-one expects these schools to tell the unadorned truth, do they? Anymore than a tobacco compnay will advertise that its products kill or McDs that its offerings will cause obesity and high-blood pressure.

The legal profession is saturated but on an individual basis, surely there should be the right to choose to go to law school and take one's chances? Even if the choice of schools is restricted to dross like NYLS and BLS ....

Chief Constable for the Area said...

I should also mention that the law school I went to had a disproportionate amount of students with familial ties to other attorneys or family businesses. These people are a complete win for the admissions office because, not only do they have a pipeline for potential tax-deductible donations from the parents and a source of money to pay cash for their schooling, these kids also have a guaranteed job lined up after graduation working in the family business which adds to the post-graduation employment figures. All they had to do was provide these students the necessary hoop to jump through to become an attorney.

Anonymous said...

The lemmings and fools are still not getting the message... there appears to be an endless supply of rubes, naifs and just plain suckers to keep the scheme going. As PT Barnum said...

Fan of Trailer Tom said...

8:14pm: There's nowhere else for people to go. Unemployed graduates sitting on their hands think: "Well, what the hell, let's give it a shot. Things won't be worse than my present unemployed state (except for the student loan)." There are structural problems with the economy, a structural shortage of jobs in virtually all areas, that encourages people to acquire credentials and yet more credentials -- often with their eyes open to the real hazards. In the situation of late capitalism which the moribund US finds itself in, and one where people are encouraged to only explore individual solutions (rather than work together to find collective ones), this kind of phenomenon -- grasping at straws -- is inevitable.

Anonymous said...

Law schools will always attract liberal arts majors seeking to defer unemployment.

They think spending 3 years and $120,000 to be a "law student" is preferable to being an "unemployed liberal arts major".

Anonymous said...

Yes, as the above article suggests, law schools are currently enjoying a tsunami of applicants. There are just so many people out of work, who foolishly believe that having a JD will enhance their resume. Induced by the fraudulent stats produced by law schools, these lemmings will rack up the most debt of any group of law students in history and will graduate into a declining legal job marketplace.

They just aren't doing their homework and are making emotional decision. But remember, this debt is non-dischargeable!

What is wrong with these desperate fools?

Anonymous said...

8:14, you are spot on. We "lemmings and fools" of the middle and working classes are, in fact, "rubes, naifs and just plain suckers" and probably always have been. The opportunity to enrich ourselves by going to law school and the possibility of making a good living as a result of doing so was too great a temptation to resist. We are now reeping the reward for indulging in the outragious fantasty of escaping the hard world of our parents and grandparents. What ever made us believe that we could do this?

Lawyerboy said...

The author left out the opportunity cost of the law degree; that is, not only are students shelling out huge amounts for tuition and living expenses, they are also foregoing the income the student would have made had s/he gone to work. So toss another $90/120k on top of tuition and loans.

Never be able to dig out...NEVER.

Rockon said...

I do agree that the ABA needs to be stripped of its power to accredit law schools. There are just way too many and most law schools that are in the works right now (like SUNY Binghamton and Stonybrook in NY) should just be closed. NY needs more law schools like it needs another crime statistic.

Anonymous said...

If you lied to the government or to a major corporation about your ability to pay for something or the amount you can realistically make or had made, and managed to get them to sign a contract with your fraudulent claims, they would come down so hard on you with legal action or just action period that your head would spin. You wouldn't get the benefit of blaming them for not checking your fake facts, and you certainly wouldn't be able to tell them too bad federal law takes place here so you can't discharge this contract like you normally would otherwise.

That's really the major thing, the lying about statistics. It is straight up fraud, and when you encourage and media blitz people into going to get an education you can't just wash your hands free of that. The president is still telling people to go to school. This isn't like a bar of soap or a brand of beer or something where you get to make your own decision and the benefits are obvious and necessary for everyone if they choose it, this is a situation where people are pushed into things.

Also, most of the posters here already acknowledge it's too late for them, but are instead trying to save others. This isn't a case of trying to profit themselves, which is understandable anyway. The situation is so bad people just want others to have fair warning, and then you have posters complain about even that. Most likely these posters benefit from the law school scam directly.

The economy is I believe picking back up again, but law school for most people is still a huge mistake. Taking on any debt for higher education is always a huge risk that really only makes sense in limited situations, based on the name of school or family connections. Work experience virtually always beats out education, and that 3 years for most people between the ages of 23-27 or so is a huge amount and a time where people can get ahead because of age and obligations. At those ages you can constantly work overtime and really focus without worry about health issues or marriages or anything else, and still have time later on for a family. You won't get that opportunity after wasting time in law school most likely.

Attorney Jobs In Los Angeles, CA said...

Hello there...
great discussion..thanx for writing..for job information go