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Lawyer to Law School Applicants: “Don’t Go!”

Lawyers are famous for being able to argue their way out of anything, but even they might have trouble defending the schools that trained them. International Human Rights Attorney Chris Fletcher warns in the WSJ that law schools are being less than forthcoming with potential applicants about the grim job prospects that await them on the other side of the JD:

Nationally there are twice as many graduates as there are jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the economy will provide 21,880 new jobs for lawyers annually between 2010 and 2020; law schools since 2010, however, have produced more than 44,000 graduates each year. Yet schools continue to enroll more students than the market demands and to raise tuition faster than inflation. The result is exploding debt loads for current students and graduates whose employment prospects are appalling.

Did you catch that? These days there are twice as many law school graduates as there are new lawyer jobs.

Poor job prospects aren’t the only problem. Even as the industry has contracted, wages for remaining jobs have fallen, and the average law student’s debt has risen to as much as $150,000. As we’ve said before, this can’t go on forever. Law schools will eventually come under pressure to lower costs or change the structure of a legal education. We have already seen applications drop by almost 25 percent in response to the dismal state of the law job market, and those numbers will keep falling.

But don’t expect this situation to stabilize anytime soon. The BLS data points suggest that enrollments still have a long way to fall until law schools will really feel serious financial pressure to change—and even then, IT innovations will continue to stir the legal job market for the foreseeable future. Prospective law students should be aware that the bad job market for law grads isn’t just a temporary trend fueled by a weak economy but a fact of life they will most likely have to face for their entire legal career—if they are fortunate enough to have one.

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