November 17, 2009
Disconnect by Applicants and Discontent by Graduates
Posted by Erik Gerding

The surge of new LSAT takers cited by Gordon is troubling to Larry Ribstein given the changes we've been discussing in our interblog discussion (the Death of Big Law and the Death of Big Law School) on how structural changes in the legal profession will affect law schools.

As Gordon notes, going to law school might make more sense if this is just a cyclical downturn in the legal market and if employment rebounds. I hope this turns out to be the case, but macroeconomic prognostication is not my specialty. But the layoff carnage among law firms means there will be a lot of people on the market competing with new graduates for an extended period.

Moreover, if the financial crisis has triggered both a larger structural shift in legal services and a longer-term decline in well paying entry level jobs, this upsurge in applicants and enrollment could result in calamity. Larry agrees.

Some of the responses to my original blog suggest that legal education will be fine no matter what happens because there will always be a crop of new undergraduates regardless of job prospects.

First, I hope law schools don't become that cynical

Second, sooner or later any long term disconnect between applicants and job prospects would have a "correction." Behavioral economists might ask if applicants suffer from biases of over-optimism or overconfidence. But if the decline is well-paying jobs is long-term, sooner or later front-page stories of law school graduates looking for work would resonate with all but the most determined or romantic undergraduates.

Not to mention, if graduates can't service their debt, lenders would react. Massive increases in government support for lawyer training would not play well politically even if we have a former law professor in the Oval Office.

One response for law schools will likely be investment in placement officers. But I hope legal education's long term response is not like certain PhD programs in the humanities. I recall reading several years ago about how graduate programs were struggling to place newly minted PhDs. The head of one professional organization suggested that humanities PhD programs reinvent themselves as training for a broader range of job opportunities, including private sector work in fields like advertising. That response seemed to me to place a priority on preserving the size of PhD programs rather than on education or scholarly mission, let alone student's bottom lines.

Financial Crisis, Law Schools/Lawyering | Bookmark

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