Monday, July 8, 2013
A new article by Professor Richard Westin (Kentucky) and available at 46 Akron L. Rev. 137 (2013). From the introduction:
The lobster industry and the law school industry are developing an eerie parallel. Ghost fishing in the lobster industry happens when a lobster trap separates from its control line and breaks away. As planned, it attracts a lobster that entered to eat the carrion bait, but--thanks to the broken line-- instead of being harvested, the lobster starves. Later, another lobster enters, devours the dead lobster, becomes trapped, dies and the cycle thus continues indefinitely. The same applies for many law students--they enter law school with high hopes, baited by false promises, only to find that they vastly exaggerated their hopes for success, and, if they are unlucky, find nothing in the legal field. Next year another crop of young competitors enter the field, compounding the improbability of finding a job close to what they expected.
American law students are in a crisis. The ghost fishing crisis was cured when the law required that the lobster trap's door eventually open, thanks to biodegradable metal hinges or gates. Unfortunately, there is no such relief for the glut of law students. The ABA Journal reports that 85% of graduates from accredited law schools in 2010 were burdened with debts averaging $98,500, but they are graduating into a weak economy where their prospects for employment have narrowed greatly. Students in previous classes have far from been absorbed into the legal industry and classes behind them promise a continuing flow of competitors.
In the meantime, law schools have stood shoulder-to-shoulder behind the false numbers law schools have generated about their success in placing recent graduates into the job market because no law school dares to be the first to tell the truth. The result is a mass of private tragedies and extensive economic waste in the form of large debts for an investment that, for many, represents money wasted, leaving only haunting, unpayable education loan obligations. Ever since the New York Times published Segal's article Is Law School a Losing Game?, the cloud hanging over law school education has become thicker and more unsavory. Here is an illustrative case written by Janet Lorin and published by Bloomberg News:
Trapped for Decades
Gerrald Ellis, 28, took about $160,000 in federal loans to attend Fordham Law School, and then spent a year searching for a job. He eventually found work at a four-lawyer firm in White Plains, New York, doing consumer protection work.
Because his student debt is so high compared to his salary, Ellis said he expects to qualify for a plan that would let him pay 15% of his salary for 25 years, and whatever debt is left after that is forgiven.
“I'm trapped for at least two decades,” said Ellis, who lives in Harlem with a classmate who also borrowed more than $100,000. “The debt has an impact on everything, where I decide to live, what job I take. I can't even imagine having kids with this kind of debt burden. Multiply that by a whole generation.”
What follows is an attempt to lay out the problem and propose some serious changes promptly in order to make law school more humane and economically efficient before the opportunity for taking advantage of faculty attrition for restructuring the law school system has faded.