Got any good lawyer jokes? Here's one, "What do you call a law school graduate?"
Sadly, the answer is increasingly becoming: "Unemployed."
The national unemployment rate for law graduates has grown for the sixth year in a row to a whopping 15.5 percent, according to a report by the National Association for Law Placement. This unemployment exists despite soaring law school tuition.
As a family lawyer in Dallas, I am proud to report that my alma mater, SMU Dedman School of Law reported in its 2014 alumni literature that 91 percent of the class of 2013 were employed by Feb. 15, 2014. However, the reality for the rest of the nation is a bit bleak.
There are even articles (which are probably not featured prominently in law school recruitment materials) called, "5 Reasons Not to Get a Law Degree."
These articles point to a number of factors that are driving this uncharacteristically high level of unemployment. Having grown up in an era when law school was seen as a pathway to a stable and successful career, I find the following to be the most disturbing aspects of this drastic shift.
For many, this downturn comes as the second major surprise in their careers. The first came with the financial crisis of 2008, in which many people lost their jobs. Considering that the National Association for Law Placement reported that law school graduates hit an all-time high employment rate of 91.9 percent in 2007, many of these unemployed people turned to law school as a good fallback strategy. They presumed they could invest their savings into a degree that would virtually guarantee a job. But then, right when they began to graduate, law jobs became scarce (right as other industries were on the upswing). For such unfortunates, their long-term joblessness has now compounded yet another problem ...
Drowning in Debt
The New York Observer recently reported that the average public law school graduate carries a debt of $84,600, while graduates of private colleges were handed an average bill of $122,158 along with their diploma. And these are debts that must be repaid regardless of whether or not your secure employment. For this reason, few graduates can afford a prolonged job hunt for a coveted spot as an attorney. Which leads them to ...
Accepting Non-Legal Jobs
Although the American Bar Association's recent report might lead one to believe that while new graduates from 2013 have a stronger 88.8% employment level, the truth is that the devil is in the details. Among these, one of the more staggering statistics is that many of those law students who want to be lawyers are not able to secure full-time attorney positions. In this new era of the eroded value of a law degree, the ABA reports that only 57 percent of graduates were working in long-term time positions where bar admission is required. The sad fact is this: two out of every 2013 law school graduates is either unemployed or working in a job that has little to do with the fact that they went to law school.
In my 12th year of practice as a lawyer- doing what I love- I had no idea that it got so bad. So, why do people keep going to law school considering the lack of jobs coupled with the expense of education? The answer: they aren't.
Lowest Interest in Law School in Over 30 Years
2013 marked a bad year for new lawyers and law students together. According to the New York Times, "Law Schools' Applications Fall as Costs Rise and Jobs Are Cut." In fact, first-year law student admissions fell to the lowest that they have been since 1977 (the year that I was born!). And yet, the sheer number of new law schools is growing (from 167 schools in 1977 to 200 schools in 2013). Rather than going to law school as a natural next-step after a liberal arts education, for the hope and a prayer for a six-figure job, students are making alternative plans.
So, Who Should Go to Law School?
Being a lawyer is a vocation. This vocation has a 7-year commitment that carries an $80,000-$120,000 price tag, yet it offers no guarantees.
- People who want to change other people's lives;
- People who cherish a civil society;
- People who want to defend justice and fight for equality;
- People who want to work really hard and accept that justice is relative.
Personally, I am very proud that I went to law school. And if my daughters one day express an interest in it, I will certainly encourage them to pursue that path.
But, more importantly, I will encourage them to pursue their passion.