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Skeptics Questioning Value Of Law School

Compiled By Yaffa Klugerman
January 6, 2010

Bloggers and academics are urging students to think twice before enrolling in law school, given its high price and the current dismal job outlook for new lawyers.

Law.com reports that blogs questioning the value of law school are becoming more widespread on the Internet, including "Exposing the Law School Scam," "Third Tier Reality," and "Esq. Never." The blogs focus on law schools' high tuition and what is increasingly perceived as many people's unrealistic expectations about lawyers' salaries and lifestyles.

A recent message posted on the American Bar Association's Web site from its Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Profession and Legal Needs summed up the situation as follows: "Far too many law students expect that earning a law degree will solve their financial problems for life. In reality, however, attending law school can become a financial burden for law students who fail to consider carefully the financial implications of their decision."

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that while the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that lawyers will see an 11 percent average annual growth rate through 2016, the job market is particularly brutal right now: Layoffs have become common at law firms nationwide, and firms have significantly cut back on the number of new recruits.

Recent findings from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement, which polled 26,000 law students at 82 schools, seem to indicate that law students are beginning to adjust their career expectations. While 58 percent of students from 2006 to 2008 expected to work in private law firms, the number fell to 50 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, students expecting to work in public service rose from 29 percent during 2006 to 2008 to 33 percent in 2009.

But in general, these realities do not appear to be affecting law school enrollment, which has surged nationwide. The Journal Constitution notes, for example, that Georgia law schools have seen steady to increased enrollment this year and are reporting huge spikes in applications.

"The conventional wisdom is that when people are unable to get jobs directly out of school or they lose their jobs or they think they're going to lose their jobs, they go to law school," noted Paul Rollins, director of admissions at the University of Georgia's School of Law, who was quoted in the Journal Constitution.

Nevertheless, said William Henderson, a professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law who was interviewed by Law.com, administrators and educators should be making more efforts to give students a realistic idea of what to expect.

"The realities haven't trickled down to the students," he told Law.com. "They all believe they are going to be in the top 10 percent of their class, and they have this vision of the profession that doesn't exist. And law schools don't try to dispel those myths to potential applicants."

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