The New York Times recently highlighted many pitfalls of law school with the troubling story of Michael Wallerstein, a recent law graduate with a crushing debt of $250,000 and few job prospects. Closer inspection reveals that Wallerstein’s predicament is more a product of his own poor decisions rather than any environmental factors, however.Â First is the fact that he attended a fourth-tier law school with an Ivy League tuition rate in one of the most expensive areas of the country, San Diego. He also chose to hunt for jobs in New York City, where he would be competing with graduates from Columbia, Cornell and NYU in addition to many of the other Ivy League schools in the region. Spending a semester in Prague probably didn’t help his bank account either.
Many graduates, like Wallerstein, may be under the delusion that holding a law degree – from any school – is a one-way ticket to a six-figure salary. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The law profession is not immune to the economic recession that has plagued many other industries. During recessions, applications for graduate and law schools increase dramatically meaning the competition upon graduation is now significantly greater.Â At the same time, law firms around the country are scaling back on their hiring and some are even laying off associates, according to the National Law Journal.
Don’t be fooled by the inflated statistics given by law schools. When a law school reports that a certain percentage of graduates have gained a job within a 9-month period, they are including any job, not just ones related to law. That statistic includes graduates who have gone on to work at prestigious law firms in Washington D.C. and those who find themselves taking orders at Chili’s to make ends meet.
The rankings of law schools are also a complicated and an arguably biased source if you want to find out which school offers the best law education. The U.S. News & World Report rankings have come under criticism in the past few years for the way they are administered.Â According to the American Bar Association Journal, “Deans from 164 accredited U.S. law schools (including highly ranked Columbia, Cornell, New York University, UCLA, Virginia and Yale) signed a letter sent to 93,000 potential applicants saying the rankings are flawed and urged them to rely on their own observations and individual investigation.”
That is good advice. Forty percent of a school’s ranking is based on the vague, subjective category of “reputation.” The bar passage rate accounts for only 2 percent. Why does the defining element of a law student’s ability to practice law account for only 2 percent? This system of ranking hardly seems like a good resource for such a monumental decision.
Attending law school as an alternative to hunt for a job in a sluggish economy does not appear to be a safe bet. Graduates can expect more competition, fewer job prospects than before and a mountain of crushing debt. If law school has been a lifelong dream and you are committed to the considerable commitment it takes, then go for it. Otherwise, it’s best to avoid the fate of Michael Wallerstein and look for other avenues after graduation.