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Should Would-Be Law Students Be Scared Off by Job Stats?

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by Publius
Posted January 04, 2013, 10:15 AM

Chris Fletscher writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

There is a crisis in law-school education, but don't expect the institutions to tell potential applicants about it. In short, there are far too many graduates for the number of jobs available, and the majority of those who get jobs are not being paid nearly enough to service their debt.

Nationally there are twice as many graduates as there are jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the economy will provide 21,880 new jobs for lawyers annually between 2010 and 2020; law schools since 2010, however, have produced more than 44,000 graduates each year. Yet schools continue to enroll more students than the market demands and to raise tuition faster than inflation. The result is exploding debt loads for current students and graduates whose employment prospects are appalling.

To be sure, the employment prospects for Americans across a broad swath of society have been grim in recent years. But the legal profession has clearly lost any reputation it might have once had as a safe, prosperous haven in troubled times.

I graduated in 2011 and am one of the "lucky" ones. Within six months of graduation I secured a job in my area of interest, international human rights. My class entered the worst American job market in 18 years—only 56.7% of law graduates found full-time jobs lasting at least a year and requiring passage of a bar exam.

For many new hires, even finding a job with a law firm might not be quite the cause for celebration it once was. According to the American Bar Association, the average amount borrowed by students attending private law schools has gone up 78% in the past decade, to $124,950 in 2011 from $70,147 in 2002. However, these loan figures don't reflect the true burden. With the average interest rate on federal loans for graduate students at 8%, which starts to accrue while the student is still in school, the typical law graduate often holds debt in excess of $150,000 by the time repayment begins.

Making matters worse: Salaries have plummeted, with the mean private-practice compensation today, $78,653, falling 16% from where it was in 2009 ($93,454), and 8% from 2002 ($85,518). The dramatic increase in law-school tuition—which has increased 434.8% at private schools since 1985—coupled with the decrease in jobs and salaries prompted James G. Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, to describe the current entry-level job market as "the weakest . . . that NALP has measured in nearly 40 years of doing this work."

 

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