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August 09, 2010 1:07 PM The Law School Problem

By Daniel Luzer

A reasonably constant part of the long-term recession is the constant parade of the educated and unemployed through the news cycle. This continuing joblessness is particularly irksome for law school graduates, who were so expensively educated and now face payments on massive student loans. It’s hard to pay off debt, after all, if you don’t have a job.

One law school graduate is fighting back, sort of. As Yelena Shuster writes in the Huffington Post:

In this economy, even lawyers can’t get jobs! And Ethan Haines, an ‘09 law school grad, is fed up with it. So he did what any unemployed JD would do: start a hunger strike.
He has gone “without a drop of liquid or an ounce of food” for over 39 hours to support Law School Transparency, with the demand that law schools provide accurate statistics about employment outcomes for graduates.

Basically, Haines says he plans to continue his hunger strike (which he began on Thursday) until the law schools he’s contacted agree to:

1) Comply with Law School Transparency’s (LST) employment disclosure request or state whether it anticipates declining their request. Provide written confirmation of its intent to comply with LST’s request. And 2) Audit its career counseling programs for effectiveness, resourcefulness, and accuracy. Provide written confirmation of its intent to comply with this request.

This isn’t going to work. As the legal blog AboveTheLaw points out,

Ethan Haines could wither away, die, instruct his mother to send his dismembered body parts to the random law schools he picked — and it wouldn’t make a law school administrator think one extra second before jacking up tuition on the next class of uninformed lemmings.
Law schools have no incentive to keep costs low. They have no incentive to be more transparent. And that’s because at this point the demand for legal education appears to be limitless. Tuition went up during the recession, and still new law students signed up in droves.

Listen, Americans can wait for another 10 or 20 years for law school transparency or people can just take charge on their own. Here’s a good rule for people who are interested in going to law school: don’t go to a third or fourth tier school. Just don’t; it’s not worth it.

There is obviously both methodological and perhaps even ethical trouble with the whole notion of ranking law schools into tiers. No doubt there are bright students, engaging classes, and talented faculty at all sorts of schools.

But the reason one goes to law school is to get a job as a lawyer. Period. And the firms that could potentially employ newly-minted lawyers pay attention to law school rankings. In the words of one lawyer friend of mine: “when first tier law school graduates are having trouble finding jobs, the ones down the rung are just f—ked.” Keep that in mind.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Barbara on August 09, 2010 5:44 PM:

    You might also consider that for many, law schools are regional. It might be okay to go to a tier 3 school if you are committed to staying within 150 miles of the school's location, or if you already have a full-time job and are going part-time. University of South Carolina might be tier 3, but if you are going to work in Columbia or Charleston, SC, maybe it doesn't matter as much.

    But even in flush times, tier 3 and especially tier 4 schools do not yield great opportunities. My cousin went to a tier 4 law school and it took him many years to find a full-time career track job. My husband and I tried hard to talk him out of going in the first place, but he was desperate. Ugh.

  • Tim on August 09, 2010 7:24 PM:

    I attended and graduated from what would likely be a Tier 4 law school. I am in the process of retiring from my 30+ year career in business and environmental law (which followed a 20 year career in sales), having earned millions of dollars and received some acknowledgements (often grudgingly) of capabilities. Many of my fellow students ended up on the bench. Life seems to me to be an adaptation. I started out as a Trade Reg. lawyer for a private company, left, opened my own doors, only to have Antitrust go the way of the dinosaurs. I changed to environmental law. To some extent everyone finds or makes or exploits opportunities encountered on the way.t's been great, but becoming boring, so I'm working on my MA, to teach. Oh, yes, I'm 72. My comment to younger lawyers, hang in there, learn from you (and others) mistakes.

  • gullyborg on August 10, 2010 12:42 PM:

    There is nothing wrong with going to a 3rd or 4th tier law school - if your career goal is just to practice law with a small local firm, to be a solo practitioner working on family law and small claims, to work for the government, or to gain a legal education to help you in a non-practice career such as politics or business. However, if you have visions of being a hot shot young partner at a large firm earning millions and networking with the power elite, you are better off skipping grad school (and seriously re-evaluating your life) if you can't get into a top-tier law school.