Saturday, June 16, 2012
The article is called "10 Things Law Schools Won't Tell You" from the June issue. An excerpt:
1. "Lawyers are a dime a dozen."
After graduating from California Western School of Law in 2005, Kathryn Tokarska sent dozens of resumes to law firms. Prior to attending law school, she worked at investment firms, so she was hoping to land a job at a securities law firm or another related field that could use her experience. Instead, says Tokarska, the only position she was offered after graduating was a $10 per hour part-time clerkship. Knee deep in debt and unable to find a decent job, she opened her own law office in San Diego in 2008. "I thought if I got a higher degree, I'd have a better chance to get a job, but that's not what happened," she says.
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2. "We're being sued by former students."
Since 2011, a total of 15 lawsuits have been filed against law schools, including New York Law School, DePaul University College of Law and Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, Mich., claiming, among other things, that the schools inflate job placement numbers. Specifically, the lawsuits allege that job placement rates don't specify how many students are actually working as lawyers or other legal positions versus graduates who are employed in fields that don't require a law degree. "Law schools count working at a Starbucks as employed," says Frank Raimond, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers on the case. The lawsuits also allege that schools inflate graduate salary data by basing it on a small group of intentionally-selected students.
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3. "Salaries are shrinking ..."
While public service and government attorneys don't expect to make the big bucks, corporate law positions have traditionally paid some of the highest salaries of any industry. But even these lofty positions aren't recession-proof. Law school students who graduated in 2010 earn $84,111 on average during their first year, down 10% from 2009, according to the most recent available data from NALP.
And fewer graduates are landing six figure jobs. Eighteen percent of 2010 graduates earned $160,000 compared to 25% in each of the previous two years. Nearly half of 2010 graduates made between $40,000 and $65,000, up from about 40% for the prior two classes. In some cases, starting pay is even lower: Last week, Boston-based civil practice law firm Gilbert & O'Bryan posted a full-time associate position that pays $10,000 annually. Larry O'Bryan, a partner with the firm, says it has just two lawyers, hires when it receives extra cases, and that the salary is based on the amount of work billed and collected. So far, he says, the firm has received around 35 applications, mostly from recent law graduates.
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4. " ... while tuition is soaring"
The slowdown in jobs and salaries hasn't stopped law schools from raising their fees. Tuition has jumped 5% to 10% a year since 2008. The cost of attending a private university averaged $39,184 for the academic year that ended this May, up 21% from the 2007-08 academic year and up 71% from a decade ago, according to the ABA.
Tuition at public schools for in-state students is much less than private schools, but those costs are rising, too: It averaged $22,116 this past year, up 43% from 2007-08 and up 163% from a decade ago. For context, tuition for in-state undergrads at public colleges rose 33% and 119% over the same periods, according to the College Board.
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5. "You'll be paying off your student loans for years."
When Laurie Jaffee graduated from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York in 2001 with $95,000 in student loans, she never imagined she'd be stuck with that debt more than a decade later. But, Jaffee never found a job as an attorney.
Nine out of ten 2012 law school graduates (about 48,000 total) will leave school with student loan debt, according to FinAid.org. That's the highest percentage of any undergraduate or advanced degree programs, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, which tracks student debt. What's more, the projected average debt owed by law school students is now roughly $91,100, up 14% from four years ago.
Law students have few options for debt relief. Employers rarely pay a portion of tuition costs the way they do for, say, MBA students. Federal grants don't exist for law school and scholarships don't reach many students, says Kantrowitz. There's no official data, but Kantrowitz observes that parents often end up footing some of the bill. In fact, some law schools ask applicants as old as 30 to submit their parents' financial statements in addition to their own. "If you don't have a trust fund or parents who can afford to pay, your only choice is to borrow," says Kantrowitz.
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Check out the remaining five beginning here.
Hat tip to the ABA Journal Blog.