As The Herald recently reported, seniors considering law school are increasingly concerned that the investment may no longer pay off (“With downturn, some grads reconsider law,” Sept. 28). Today’s law degree recipients often graduate with enormous debt only to face a job market depleted by the recession. A Northwestern Law study concluded, for example, that “some 15,000 attorney and legal-staff jobs at large firms have vanished” since 2008.
Such facts understandably give pause to those considering a legal career. And it certainly is not easing applicants’ nerves to read newspaper articles relating tales of forlorn law graduates struggling to find any job, let alone one that takes advantage of their legal education. But to those seniors tired of being cross-examined by friends and family skeptical of the law degree, rest assured: Law school remains a great post-graduation option.
Students at top-tier law schools, where Brown graduates generally matriculate, have been largely immune to the recession’s worst effects. As Ross Cheit, associate professor of political science, told The Herald, “Demand for Yale Law School graduates doesn’t really change with the economy.” The same can be said about other top law schools.
Yet the downturn in legal job prospects raises issues that should concern any potential lawyer. Legal jobs are evaporating, but law schools are not responding by reducing class sizes. The reason is simple — schools profit from law degree candidates at a higher margin than virtually any other degree. In this regard, top tier schools are no different from their lower-ranked peers. Brunonians considering law school would therefore be wise to approach their search with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Ideally, a third party would help applicants concerned about relying too heavily on information provided by self-interested law schools. Sadly, the U.S. News and World Report rankings can be extremely misleading and are open to manipulation. The rankings are “based entirely on unaudited surveys conducted by each law school,” meaning that crucial data is published without independent verification. Even accurate data can be deceiving. When reporting the percentage of graduates employed after nine months, for example, schools do not need to filter out jobs that do not require a law degree. For applicants, it is not useful to know that almost 100 percent of graduates find employment — they need to assess whether or not they will be able to find the kind of work that pays off six-figure student loan debts.
The American Bar Association, which maintains reporting guidelines used in U.S. News rankings, must reform this process in a meaningful way. Continuing to foster an environment where many end up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt because they were misled about the costs and benefits of law school is morally reprehensible.
Luckily for Brown students, the College offers numerous advising services that help potential applicants make informed decisions about whether law school is a good choice. It is also encouraging that the number of law school applicants dropped significantly last year. Hopefully, that means students are doing a better job realistically evaluating the costs and benefits of law school.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.