Law Schools Teach Junk, Exaggerate Their Students’ Job Prospects

Propped up by government subsidies and regulations requiring students to attend law school before taking the bar exam, law schools waste their students’ time teaching irrelevant legal theories and ideologies, even as they paint a deceptively rosy picture of the job prospects that await their students upon graduation.  As I noted in The Wall Street Journal this weekend,

At Harvard Law School I learned about trendy ideological fads and feminist and Marxist legal theory. But I did not learn the basics of real-estate and family law until I took a commercial bar-exam preparation course after graduating from law school. I learned more practical law in one summer of studying for the bar exam than I did in three years of law school. Students should not have to attend law school before taking the bar exam.

As Charlotte Allen notes at Minding the Campus, law schools are “fudging the facts” regarding their students’ job prospects in order to attract students and justify skyrocketing tuitions:

law schools, along with the universities to which they are attached, crave their students’ tuition dollars (law schools, where expensive labs are nonexistent and large lecture courses are the rule, tend to be cash cows for their host campuses) . . . One way to do this is to boast a high percentage [to U.S. News & World Report of] “graduates known to be employed within nine months after graduation.”

The “known” in the phrase “known to be employed” is the operative word. Law schools send their recent graduates surveys . . .  The graduates then self-report their employment, if any, and the school calculates the percentage of those who responded who say they have jobs and submits it to U.S. News. Graduates who fail to respond to the survey or who can’t be located don’t count. Furthermore, any kind of job counts as “employment,” even a job that requires no legal training. In a Jan. 8 story for the New York Times, reporter David Segal wrote: “Waiting tables at Applebee’s? You’re employed. Stocking aisles at Home Depot? You’re working, too.” . . . Segal reported that Georgetown University’s law school, safely in the top tier . . . last year sent an e-mail to its graduates who were “still seeking employment” offering them $20-and-hour temporary jobs in the admissions office for the six weeks encompassing Feb. 15, the cut-off date under U.S. News’s nine-month rule. . .As might be easily predicted from these loosey-goosey controls on survey accuracy, even the lowest-tiered law schools report astonishingly high levels of employment for their graduates. . .Last year that number had jumped to 93 percent, with some schools reporting 99 percent and 100 percent employment.

Furthermore, many law schools report starting salaries for their graduates that seem unrealistically high, given the current dismal market. In a July 16, 2011 story for the New York Times Segal noted that New York Law School (NYLS), a third-tier institution in lower Manhattan with a U.S. News ranking of No. 134, told the magazine that the median annual salary nine months after its Class of 2009 graduated was $160,000–the same figure cited by Yale and Harvard, which ranked No. 1 and No. 2 for that year. Only the largest and most prestigious law firms pay three-figure salaries to brand-new lawyers, and they hire most of them from top-tier, not third-tier law schools. . .

Since it’s estimated that a law graduate needs to earn $65,000 at a bare minimum in order to pay down a student-loan debt in the $100,000 range, there’s quite a bit of anger among unemployed and under-employed young lawyers burdened with staggering loans that, like other federal student loans, can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Class-action lawsuits alleging fraud and misrepresentation have been filed by graduates of NYLS and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School . . . the lawyers who launched the NYLS and Cooley suits plan to sue fifteen more law schools that have reported post-graduate employment rates ranging from 88 percent to 100 percent–rates that the lawyers say amount to misrepresentation.

As I have previously explained, there is no reason to require people to attend law school before sitting for the bar exam. As law professor Paul Campos notes, legal education is a rip-off, since the typical law professor “knows nothing about being a lawyer. Hence, he must bullshit,” and thus, “talks without knowing what he is talking about,” when explaining the practical workings of the legal system or how to be a lawyer. But since most states require people to attend law school before sitting for the bar exam, law schools have been able to increase tuition by nearly 1,000 percent since 1960 in real terms.