Integrity Legal

11th January 2011

Sympathy for the Lawyer?

Posted by : admin

The legal profession is being transformed in more ways than one. The rise of the legal outsourcing industry has resulted in a substantial change to the way in which individuals and firms practice law. Meanwhile, American businesses are becoming increasingly assiduous in analyzing expenses related to legal services. No matter what can be said about the legal profession one thing is clear: simply being a lawyer, particularly a young lawyer, does not automatically mean that one will become wealthy, or, for that matter, even employed. In fact, by many estimates, the legal profession in the USA might not be as lucrative as once thought, at least for young law school graduates. In a recent New York Times article entitled “Is Law School a Losing Game?” writer  David Segal writes about the travails of recent law school grads and their activities after graduation. It was not an uplifting article for those aspiring American attorneys with visions of sports cars and six figure salaries dancing in their heads. To quote directly from the aforementioned article:

[T]he glut of diplomas, the dearth of jobs and those candy-coated employment statistics have now yielded a crop of furious young lawyers who say they mortgaged their future under false pretenses. You can sample their rage, and their admonitions, on what are known as law school scam blogs, with names like Shilling Me Softly, Subprime JD and Rose Colored Glasses.

Everyone hates lawyers…until they need one. This blogger, much like the members of the legal profession noted in the opening credits of the film The Rainmaker, loves lawyer jokes; but the profession of law in America is a noble undertaking and should be treated seriously especially by attorneys. This is why the economic impact of recent downturns upon the legal profession is so troubling. In order to practice law, prospective attorneys need to receive proper training and instruction in the law itself and the many ways in which it is applied. Furthermore, law school should be an exercise in learning about the law and the application thereof, not learning how to run a creative statistics racket. It would appear that some Law Schools view their role as one which is solely fixated upon the profit motive, often at the expense of the overall legal profession. For example, at a time when there are fewer legal jobs and more students going into deeper debt to obtain a Juris Doctorate of questionable utility under current market conditions shouldn’t law schools be making an effort to take less students? The more newly minted lawyers roll off the conveyor belt of academia, the more the demand for jobs goes up, but wait, the number of actual jobs is decreasing and yet the conveyor belts roll on.

In what is seemingly an effort to raise profits, those whose fortunes are attached to that of the legal education business seem to be reporting rosily on the prospects of newly minted law graduates notwithstanding the fact that the real world situation for newly licensed lawyers is rather bleak (for now). The New York Times article noted above went on:

But improbably enough, law schools have concluded that life for newly minted grads is getting sweeter, at least by one crucial measure. In 1997, when U.S. News first published a statistic called “graduates known to be employed nine months after graduation,” law schools reported an average employment rate of 84 percent. In the most recent U.S. News rankings, 93 percent of grads were working — nearly a 10-point jump.

In the Wonderland of these statistics, a remarkable number of law school grads are not just busy — they are raking it in. Many schools, even those that have failed to break into the U.S. News top 40, state that the median starting salary of graduates in the private sector is $160,000. That seems highly unlikely, given that Harvard and Yale, at the top of the pile, list the exact same figure.

How do law schools depict a feast amid so much famine?

Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm,” says William Henderson of Indiana University, one of many exasperated law professors who are asking the American Bar Association to overhaul the way law schools assess themselves. “Every time I look at this data, I feel dirty.”

This situation is simply absurd. The Law Schools in the United States bloat the appearance of the post-graduate legal prospects in order to bring in more law students. Meanwhile, the legal profession itself is taking serious hits in terms of economics as more businesses in the United States begin using outsourcing services and the number of jobs in the legal profession declines. Again, to note the New York times Story:

Today, countless J.D.’s are paying their bills with jobs that have nothing do with the law, and they are losing ground on their debt every day. Stories are legion of young lawyers enlisting in the Army or folding pants at Lululemon. Or baby-sitting, like Carly Rosenberg, of the Brooklyn Law School class of 2009.

“I guess I kind of assumed that someone would hook me up with something,” she says. She has sent out 15 to 20 résumés a week since March, when she passed the bar. So far, nothing.

Jason Bohn is earning $33 an hour as a legal temp while strapped to more than $200,000 in loans, a sizable chunk of which he accumulated during his time at Columbia University, where he finished both a J.D. and a master’s degree.

The stories noted above are quite disturbing, but one thing should be brought to the reader’s attention: licensed lawyers, in good standing, can practice law in their jurisdiction, they do not need a “job”. This blogger finds it interesting that the so-called Millenials seem so transfixed by the idea of “jobs”. An attorney’s profession is his or her job. Therefore, those who cannot get on at a law firm could begin practicing law as a solo practitioner. When getting started, the pay is usually not so great and it is likely that one will not have clients lining up outside the office from day one, but it is, at least arguably; better than waiting by the phone or babysitting. Law Students and lawyers should look to unorthodox strategies for making money in law school and upon graduation. This blogger worked at a Casino as a part-time poker and blackjack dealer throughout law school and, illuminatingly, this was the only vocation offering employment upon graduation notwithstanding all of the supposed job offers which were to have materialized upon passage of the Bar examination.

Clearly, the machinations of US Law Schools, the American Bar Association, and U.S. News and World Report need to be addressed in such a way that post-Law School prospects are accurately reflected prior to matriculation, but fault can also be found in the Law students, and presumably eventual lawyers; themselves. Later in the article, the author went on to note that some students used student loans to finance all manner of, questionably useful, expenses. The author of the previously mentioned article noted one law student’s expenses:

[He] rented a spacious apartment. He also spent a month studying in the South of France and a month in Prague — all on borrowed money. There were cost-of-living loans, and tuition of about $33,000 a year. Later came a $15,000 loan to cover months of studying for the bar.

Today, his best guess is that he should be sending $2,000 to $3,000 a month in total, to lenders that include Wells Fargo, Citibank and Sallie Mae.

It is difficult to argue that this gentleman could choose to pay tuition since one cannot hope to ultimately receive a law degree without doing so, but common sense should at least tell the reader that studying American law in the South of France, on borrowed funds, is something less than an exercise in austerity. Also, the month in Prague looks more like a vacation than a pedagogical exercise since there is no mention of studying in that location. Furthermore, this author personally has never understood the necessity of a “bar exam loan”. While studying for the Bar examination, this blogger toyed with the notion of taking such a loan, but in the end the decision was made to simply continue working as much as possible, living as cheaply as possible (which included living back at home for a brief period), and trying to pass the bar as quickly as possible in order to move on.

Borrowing funds to study for the Bar examination is not irresponsible per se as some truly need such a loan in order to maintain themselves during the interim between law school graduation and bar exam passage, but those taking on more debt simply to study for the Arizona Bar examination in the South of France should perhaps rethink the logic of such a plan. Individuals thinking of doing taking a bar exam loan should analyze such an action before making an irrevocable decision especially since it is never a foregone conclusion that one will pass the bar on the first, or for that matter; any, attempt.  The limbo zone between Law School graduation and Bar passage is not an enjoyable place, but trips to the South of France and Prague do not seem to be in line with the usual legal curriculum.

As can be seen from this very interesting article, and those reading this post are well advised to read the whole thing for themselves, the practice of law and the legal profession are not recession-proof. However, some financial common sense on the part of law school applicants, students, graduates, and attorneys would likely lead to less stories of unemployed lawyers with a quarter million dollars in debt. That said, law schools really should be in the business of educating legal professionals and not devoted to “massaging” numbers to look good in U.S. News. Hopefully, some new statistical methods can be utilized by the ABA and U.S. News which will provide real insight to prospective law students about the actual prospects for new lawyers after law school and/or the bar examination rather than “pie in the sky” statistics used to inflate the public perception of one Law school over another.

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