Monday, October 11, 2010

Warning to those thinking about going to law school: Here's where the jobs will (and won't) be.

The good news is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting long term job growth in the legal sector.  The bad news if you're thinking about going to law school, is that most of that growth is expected to be among the paralegal ranks as they begin to take over tasks formally done by lawyers.  Those are the ominous stats that came to light in this story about the dean of a new Nashville law school who was touting these labor stats as a reason to enroll.  As the ABA Journal blog reports:

Belmont University will open Nashville’s third law school, welcoming its first class before the new law building is built, the Tennessean reports. Law school Dean Jeff Kinsler told the newspaper that Belmont has already received inquiries from 1,200 would-be students.

He points to a forecast by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that predicts employment of lawyers will grow by 13 percent in the decade ending in 2018. He also says that by the time the school's 1Ls graduate, the economy may be on the upswing.

The labor report says the legal sector will grow faster than the average for all jobs, but it will add the fewest jobs among professional occupations. Lawyers will account for 98,500 new jobs, while paralegals and assistants will account for 74,100 jobs—a 28 percent growth rate—as they begin taking on more tasks once handled by lawyers.

The outlook from ABA “recession czar” Allan Tanenbaum isn’t as bright, the newspaper says. Tanenbaum is chair of the ABA Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Profession and Legal Needs. He told the Tennessean that the country’s economic problems have hit law grads particularly hard.

It’s not unusual to see law graduates working as department store clerks while handling pro bono cases to boost their resumes, he said. The median income for U.S. lawyers is about $75,000, far below the $150,000 starting salaries that so many new law students hope to earn, he added.

What blows my mind is that Nashville County, with a population of just over 600,000, has three law schools.   Can such a relatively small population really absorb all the grads of those schools?  (Granted, Vanderbilt is a national school so that many of their grads presumably find work elsewhere.  But still . . . . ). 

I'll be the first to defend a legal education as among the finest a student can get who's interested in developing analytical skills.   But I'm also among those law profs who are concerned that too many students leap before they look and thus don't give enough serious thought to the job market, average salaries and debt-load upon graduation.  Go to law school if you want but make sure you do your research first and enroll with your eyes open


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