Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dean Lawrence E. Mitchell: "Law School is Worth the Money" in N.Y. Times

Dean Lawrence E. Mitchell of Case Western Reserve has written an article in defense of law schools for the New York Times.  He declares, "I’M a law dean, and I’m proud. And I think it’s time to stop the nonsense. After two years of almost relentless attacks on law schools, a bit of perspective would be nice."

He continues, "The hysteria has masked some important realities and created an environment in which some of the brightest potential lawyers are, largely irrationally, forgoing the possibility of a rich, rewarding and, yes, profitable, career."

Dean Mitchell concludes, "The overwrought atmosphere has created irrationalities that prevent talented students from realizing their ambitions. Last spring we accepted an excellent student with a generous financial-aid package that left her with the need to borrow only $5,000 a year. She told us that she thought it would be 'irresponsible' to borrow the money. She didn’t attend any law school. I think that was extremely shortsighted, but this prevailing attitude discourages bright students from attending law school.

We could do things better, and every law school with which I’m familiar is looking to address its problems. In the meantime, the one-sided analysis is inflicting significant damage, not only on law schools but also on a society that may well soon find itself bereft of its best and brightest lawyers."

You can read the rest of the article here.

(Scott Fruehwald

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As a current 3L at CWRU, where Lawrence Mitchell is dean, I can tell everyone that this article upset most everyone at the law school. The most upsetting point, to me, is that the focus on your first job is misplaced and over-hyped. I am not asking for a dream job. I am asking for a job to pay the bills. However, at this junction, is is HIGHLY likely that I will be unmployed at this time next year. Despite having spent the time and money to pursue a legal career (one that I have focused on assisting low-income people w/ legal issues), where I feel that I have done everything "right," still, if I am not employed as an attorney next year, I could fall back on my family's small business making $10 an hour and qualifying for food stamps. I'm not suggesting that I deserve a job merely by virtue of having attended school....I'm suggesting that there is a problem when law schools are churning out grads and NO ONE is hiring.

Posted by: robinste | Nov 29, 2012 8:54:48 PM

Lawrence presents his case poorly. His anecdotes involve a-typical and unrepresentative cases. Most law school applicants get little or no grant assistance and must borrow heavily. Few will get offers of full-time employment upon graduation on terms that warrant the time or debt. Long term earnings projections based on prior decades' data (that also omitted under-earning people who left the profession) is misleading, and fails to compare it to what the same capable people might earn in other fields. There is nothing "rewarding" about a credential accompanied by $75K or more in debt, for the sake of part-time work that fetches less than what would earn as a fast food assistant manager with benefits, and which also makes one "over-qualified" from the vantage of many potential employers. A great deal of entry-level legal work will disappear or pay poorly, anyway, do to advances in electronic documentation and processing. All of higher education, forever fixated on itself, has become too expensive. Public grants or loan subsidies only make the problem worse, just as in the case of the housing bubble. $75k in debt, plus another $100k in wages forgone during 3-years of study, would turn into $1 million by retirement age, if invested in stocks appreciating only 4% per year on average.

Posted by: jmk | Nov 29, 2012 8:36:44 AM

Note how Dean Mitchell limits his salary data to "practicing" lawyers, therefore leaving out unemployed lawyers, lawyers tending bar, lawyers waiting tables, etc. and maybe even leaving out document review attorneys as well.

Posted by: G. Recco | Nov 29, 2012 6:41:53 AM

I'm not sure I understand some of Dean Mitchell's comments and comparisons. He seems to make a fair number of what could be called apples/oranges comparisons.

In a time when somewhat over half of 2011 grads obtain jobs using their JD, he points out that the median 2011 starting salary for practicing lawyers was over $61K.

This is a clear statement and $61K is not a median salary to sneeze at. But it seems odd, to my way of thinking, that in an Op-Ed arguing why law school is "worth it", one would to point to the median salary for the half of the people who actually obtained jobs as lawywers without any reference to the other half - who also went to law school - who did not get jobs as lawyers. Not to be rude, but this seems at least a bit disingenuous.

Another strange comparison is the 1998 law-firm employment rate vs. 2011's (text pasted at bottom of this comment). Dean Mitchell states that only 55% of 1998 grads had firm jobs, and compares that to a stated 50% rate for 2011.

But the ABA's numbers indicate that for all types of firm jobs (whether part time, full time, temporary, etc.) only about 37% of 2011 grads were thus employed. And this number is somewhat lower, about 33%, if one counts only full time jobs.

Dean Mitchell also cites the BLS which reports projected growth in lawyers’ jobs from 2010 to 2020 at 10 percent, without describing what this means in any real terms. Yet according to that same BLS report he cites, what that 10% growth means is that lawyers' jobs will grow at an average of about 22,000 per year over that period. Dean Mitchell fails to mention that. But clearly, if we are producing some 44,000 new JD's each year for 22,000 new jobs, there is a serious disconnect between the amount of job growth Mitchell touts, and the number of persons who will be fighting for those jobs.

In any event, Mitchell's opinion piece does not appear to be a serious attempt to argue facts. Rather, it looks a lot more like an effort to twist statistics to fit a desired result without regard to the actual "facts" of the matter.

"But a little historical perspective will reveal that the law job market has been bad — very bad — before. To take the most recent low before this era, in 1998, 55 percent of law graduates started in law firms. In 2011, that number was 50 percent. "

Posted by: Concerned Citizen | Nov 28, 2012 11:46:39 PM

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