The law school crackup
I haven’t written a super whole bunch about the question of attending law school here lately, but I have written.
But then there’s what Elie Mystal has written at Above the Law.
It’s strong medicine, but if you or someone you care about is considering, as Elie puts it, “get[ting] off the turnip truck and apply[ing] to law school,” you’ve got to read it, bookmark, and understand it.
Here are some highlights:
You know that you are selling a substandard product when you start trying to blame bloggers as the reason people are refusing purchase your bill of goods.
Before going any further, let’s be clear that Elie was certainly not talking about the LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® blogger! Because the mood here is mainly about the fun, exciting and glamorous life that is the law! Of course he wasn’t. Anyway, I digress:
Lawrence E. Mitchell, the dean of Case Western Reserve University Law School, took to the Op-Ed page in the New York Times to defend the value proposition of going to law school. Mitchell would have you believe that the media — which only recently started asking law schools to provide evidence that legal education was worth the exorbitant prices schools charge for it — has unfairly and “irrationally” dissuaded the brightest students from attending law school. He writes: “The hysteria has masked some important realities and created an environment in which some of the brightest potential lawyers are, largely irrationally, forgoing the possibility of a rich, rewarding and, yes, profitable, career.”
To be clear, the argument here is that some of the BRIGHTEST potential lawyers are acting “irrationally” by not going to law school, which I suppose leaves only some of the not-brightest potential lawyers as the ones who still believe op-eds from law school deans touting the value of law school.
Mitchell’s problem is actually quite common among law school deans. In fact, Mitchell unintentionally captures the basic disconnect between law students and the deans that take their money: the facts Mitchell wants people to focus on when they are considering going to law school are not the facts that matter to people when they graduate from law school.
And the reason law school applications are on the way down is that the brightest potential lawyers are starting to understand the difference…. [Quoting from Mitchell:]
[T]he focus on first jobs is misplaced. We educate students for a career likely to span 40 to 50 years. The world is guaranteed to change in unpredictable ways, but that reality doesn’t keep us from planning our lives. Moreover, the career for which we educate students, done through the medium of the law, is a career in leadership and creative problem solving. Many graduates will find that their legal educations give them the skills to find rich and rewarding lives in business, politics, government, finance, the nonprofit sector, the arts, education and more.
Any time you see the word “many,” you should hear, “I have no figures to back up my claim in statistically significant way.” I’m still waiting for the law dean to tell us what percentage of their graduates in any year do in fact have “rich and rewarding” lives outside of the law. He can pick the class. PICK ANY CLASS, and then tell us the percentage breakdown. My guess is that for most classes it’s “less than 20%,” which isn’t exactly my idea of “many.” . . .
If you are looking at “averages” and “means” when it comes to salary, you are an idiot. I don’t know how else to put that. You are a mouth-breathing, drooling, Honey Boo Boo idiot if you think the average starting salary has any relevance to what you are likely to make as a first year lawyer. If you quote “averages” and “means” as a way to make your “purely economic” argument, you are a cynical man who thinks his audience is comprised of, again, idiots who can’t see the truth behind the numbers. No discussion of lawyer salary makes any sense without reference to the bi-modal salary distribution curve. Here it is. Here it is again. . . .
Look, except compared to the twelve or 13 other things I like to think I might have done as well as at, or maybe even better than at, practicing law, practicing law has worked out okay for me.
But that was then. This is now. That was me. And if it’s not too late to clamber back up onto the turnip truck, you have to ask yourself, how much am I like, or (happily) better than LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® in the good ways that mean borrowing ga-tens or ga-hundreds of thousands of dollars for law school might make sense in the 21st century?
Do not answer that in the comments. Just use your inside voice. Inside your head. But do read the article. Read Dean Mitchell’s article, too. Then invite me to speak about this at your college’s pre-law society, as long as it’s in someplace warm.
UPDATE: Yes, this topic is a gift that keeps on giving — and the giver keeps being the New York Times.