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January 08, 2010 2:07 PM Too Many Law Schools?

By Daniel Luzer

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Mark Greenbaum writes in the Los Angeles Times that there are too many law schools in America. According to the article:

The problem can be traced to the American Bar Assn., which continues to allow unneeded new schools to open and refuses to properly regulate the schools, many of which release numbers that paint an overly rosy picture of employment prospects for their recent graduates. There is a finite number of jobs for lawyers, and this continual flood of graduates only suppresses wages. Because the ABA has repeatedly signaled its unwillingness to adapt to this changing reality, the federal government should consider taking steps to stop the rapid flow of attorneys into a marketplace that cannot sustain them.

The basic problem is that people rack up an average $92,000 in debt (for private law schools) because of the implied promise of a high-paying job at the end. Except that industry predications indicate that there are likely to be less than 30,000 legal jobs available per year. Some 45,000 people graduate from law school every year.

And more law schools open every year, including a new, unaccredited one at U.C. Irvine. The problem, according to the author, is that the American Bar Association “cites antitrust concerns in refusing to block new schools.”

The author says that it appears clear now that the ABA has a conflict of interest and should get out of the business of accrediting law schools. It’s not clear how this step would entirely solve the problem but it’s about time someone pointed out that going to law school is no longer the golden ticket it was once thought to be. In fact, the law degree is starting to look a little more like the famously unlucrative humanities PhD.

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

Comments

  • I Call Bogus on January 08, 2010 6:06 PM:

    Where's the numbers/data to back up your claims? So what if there are more graduates than jobs I think the labor market can handle that. As far as school fraud goes the ABA has a system in place to deal with that issue. Overall the op-ed and your response are not that convincing.

  • tgp on January 08, 2010 7:30 PM:

    at first i thought this would be an article that focuses on the state accredited schools. if you want a real discussion about too many law schools then that should be some part of the discussion.

    the general statistics cited dont do a good job of analyzing the situation. first not everyone who goes to law school expects to be a lawyer. many go into business or other areas other than strictly law. also law and the job placement of graduates is a regional thing. look at the locations of schools and the saturation of certain markets. southern california has 9 or 10 of the accredited schools. i think that comes to about 18% of accredited schools. then the north east has a huge amount of schools. the distribution is as important as the general numbers.

  • Barrick Arnold on January 08, 2010 7:32 PM:

    Bogus: you call the author out for not including numbers/data, but then base your argument on the fact that "you think the labor market can handle" the influx of new attorneys? Not too consistent.

    As someone who has worked in the legal profession for over ten years, I can attest to the fact that, if anything, the legal profession has been contracting at a pretty good clip over the last couple of years, and that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. And as someone who is finishing up their second year in law school, I can also tell you that those organizations will (quite deliberately) overhype the prospects for a cushy job at the end of the tunnel, even to folks who probably have no business going to law school in the first place.

    After all, it's no loss to them if you can't make the cut -- they still get your tuition money.

  • RSA on January 08, 2010 9:32 PM:

    I guess I don't get it. Two things: First, does Greenbaum also think that the federal government should impose regulations on the establishment of new Ph.D. programs in the humanities? After all, there's quite a glut there, too, and I suspect that most graduates have at least the hope of getting a tenure-track job somewhere, but very few do. Second, what mechanisms does the ABA have available to prevent new law schools from opening? If universities have to ask the ABA for permission in advance, that's fine, but if they don't (my guess), what does Greenbaum expect from an accrediting agency? If a school is above the bar, it's not their fault or the ABA's that the market's saturated.

  • John on January 09, 2010 8:00 AM:

    Mark Greenbaum is an idiot. This is not a responsibility of the federal government. It is up to the student to determine if he is going into the right field of study. The information is publicly available.

  • Here's the Data on January 13, 2010 9:03 PM:

    The numbers are quite straightforward. The are 43,000 new lawyers entering the market each year and the growth in the number of legal positions available has been growing by around 7,000 annually, only to turn negative over the last couple of years. In sum, there is oversupply.

  • Nando on January 14, 2010 8:35 AM:

    According to NALP, ABA-accredited law schools produced 43,588 JDs in 2008. Were there anywhere near that many lawyer or law-related openings in 2008? According to the ABA, there were 198 ABA-approved law schools in 2008, of which 118 were private schools.

    The law schools continue to pump out more graduates. It is you is stuck with the student loan payments for the next 15, 25, or 30 years. If you cannot find legal employment, well then "that is your fault for not researching this decision more thoroughly."

    It is funny to see an industy evade any responsibility, when it is the one that puts out misleading, inaccurate and incomplete employment figures and starting salary info to its prospective customers/students. But it is also disgusting, frustrating, and pathetic.

    Thank you for writing this piece. I hope many prospective law students see this article.

  • Practicing attorney who knows what she is talking about on February 19, 2010 11:05 PM:

    The article is right. We need to cut down on law school accreditation. Ask those who have graduated from the bar recently how hard it is to find a job. And ask experienced lawyers who want to switch jobs how hard it is to find a salary commensurate with their experience! The unrestricted accreditation of law schools has made the market BAD for EVERYBODY, new graduates and experienced attorneys alike! ABA get a grip!

  • Joey on November 02, 2010 1:41 AM:

    I have heard the anti-trust concerns argument as a reason for not limiting the number of law schools. The ABA is lame, why don't they raise the standard for admittance into law school. Our profession is a joke. They have law schools that will admit anyone into law school, even if you have C or D undergrad GPA. Why not have a minimum undergrad GPA/LSAT cutoff?

  • So Right on December 09, 2011 5:38 PM:

    Taking the Thomas Jefferson Law School as an example, only 73 out of the 221 members of the class of 2010 obtained jobs as lawyers. As of the compilation of the statistics, 13% reported they are still seeking work. This is a tragedy. I'm at a top 10 law school and I'm having trouble finding work. I expect about 30% of my class will graduate without a job.