May 3, 2012
Building a Bridge to Nowhere
"Since the Great Recession began, we’ve heard here and there (and more recently here) about a few law schools helping out a few graduates with employment subsidies of one kind or another. But US News’s reports of school after school boasting over 90% postgraduate employment got us thinking—how many of those are really permanent paying law jobs?', wrote UNC law prof Bernie Burk in his March 19, 2012 Faculty Lounge post, A Stunning But Largely Unnoticed Anomaly In Recent Employment Outcomes Data Suggests That Things May Be Even Worse Out There Than We Imagined. Since then Burk has published additional posts in his Employment Outcomes series on The Faculty Lounge.
Also since Burk's post, the ABA released substantial placement data for each accredited law school's Class of 2010 graduates. See the Placement Summary Report (released April 16, 2012). "For the first time, the ABA has provided information about the number of graduates in jobs paid for by their law schools; the number of graduates in both short-term and long-term jobs; and the number of graduates working in a variety of different-sized firms and whether those jobs were permanent or temporary," wrote NLJ's Karen Sloan.
Even though the data are somewhat now out of date — information about the class of 2011 was due at the ABA in February — they nevertheless offer insights into the legal job market and how law schools are adjusting to market forces. Law schools have never previously been required to reveal how many graduates they employ, but the new data show that the practice is fairly common:
27 percent of ABA-accredited law schools reported that they had not hired any of their 2010 graduates.
48 percent of schools reported hiring between 1 percent and 5 percent of the class of 2010.
11 percent of schools hired between 6 percent and 10 percent of their 2010 graduates.
9 percent of schools hired between 11 percent and 15 percent of the class of 2010.
Three schools hired more than 15 percent of their classes: The City University of New York School of Law hired the most, at 19 percent, followed by the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law at 18 percent and the University of San Francisco School of Law at 17 percent.
For the most part, lower-tiered schools were not employing their graduates in large numbers, according to the ABA data. Among the top 50 schools as ranked by U.S. News, Georgetown University Law Center employed 11 percent of the class of 2010, the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law employed 12 percent; Boston University School of Law employed 13 percent; the University of Minnesota Law School employed 14 percent; and the University of Notre Dame Law School and Fordham University School of Law employed 15 percent.
For much more, including additional data from the ABA, see Sloan's Data trove reveals scope of law schools' hiring of their own graduates. See also Burk's Employment Outcomes IV: What The ABA Employment Outcomes Data Tell Us About The Prevalence and Distribution Of School-Funded “Bridge” Positions, Employment Outcomes V: Some Speculation On Who Gets School-Funded Bridge Positions, And Whether They’re A Good Idea and Employment Outcomes VI: How Should Bridge Positions Be Paid For? Also check The Faculty Lounge for previous and forthcoming posts in Burk's Employment Outcomes series. All highly recommended.
Producing oversupply in the legal labor market, a whooping 73% of accredited law schools created their own "demand." Many probably have been for sometime now but ABA's data dump only covers the Class of 2010 and we ought not expect additional retrospective data unless someone serves about 200 subpoenas for that.
BLS employment projections for the 2010–20 decade in the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook "provide more evidence that the legal job market for graduates will be extremely difficult for the next several years," wrote Indiana-Bloomington law prof Bill Henderson. While not discussing what has come to be called "bridging" employment by the legal academy, Henderson commented on and added three mutually compatible suggestions to reduce the legal academy's short and long-term construction of a bridge to nowhere.
The public debate often talks about the surplus of lawyers as if the hand of a regulator could or should turn down the spigot on entry level lawyers. Yet, no such spigot exists. Overproduction is primarily a function of optimism and the availability of federal loans. Over the medium to longer term, I see three possible ways -- all mutually compatible -- to unwind lawyer overproduction:
The Dept of Education looks at the proportion of law students on Income-Based Repayment, reads the BLS projections, and in turn curtails federal funding for law student loans;
Law schools focus on making their degrees more versatile and valuable so graduates become more competitive for professional jobs outside traditional legal services (traditional legal services has its own structural issues at the moment).
#3 is the only factor in the control of law faculty, albeit it calls for something radical -- change in what we do and how we do it. Call me crazy, but I think #3 is actually a huge opportunity for a law school with the right leadership and the right mix of faculty.
If it is "crazy" to think that "a" as in one law school might take up Henderson's opportunistic challenge expressed in No. 3, think about how insane it would be imagine that great than one law school might do so. That's an even bigger if then getting the right leadership and right mix of faculty to produce "practice-ready" law school graduates.
If law schools take up Henderson's challenge to make JDs more versatile for non-legal professional careers, isn't that really an admission against interest? Why go to law school for a non-legal career? Any professional department or degree offering an undergrad or grad degree program -- business school, med school, IT, social services, education, LIS, etc. -- can hire qualified JDs to teach a set of law courses for their professional degree programs. Of course, if hired for the full-time faculty, tenure requirements and teaching loads would be substantially higher, while earnings potential would be substantial lower than they are in the legal academy. [JH]