Law schools lure fewer students as jobs dry up

Those figures include 11 percent working part-time and others holding temporary jobs. And the national median salary for new law school graduates declined from $72,000 to $63,000 over the past year.

Several colleges have recently scrapped plans to build new law schools, including the University of Delaware and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Stung by criticism that prospective students aren’t aware of those unflattering statistics, law schools accredited by the American Bar Association will now be required to report the types of jobs their graduates obtained, not just overall employment rates. The ABA approved the change this summer at its annual meeting.

“The problem of a lack of transparency, a disingenuousness, is very real,” said University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos. “The law school degree as a guarantee for job as a lawyer is just not anywhere close to being true.”

The changing industry has more students questioning both the value and costs of a law degree. Disenchanted students – and at least one anonymous professor at a top school – are taking their complaints public on what have become known as law school “scam” blogs.

Others are taking their complaints to court, appropriately enough.

Earlier this month, former students at New York Law School and Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., filed a class action lawsuit over what they called inflated employment rates. A similar suit was filed in May against Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.

James Leopold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, said such criticism “adds to that culture of doubt surrounding legal education.”

“The whole economy of delivering legal services, and the structure of these services, is changing,” he said, describing changes that include a move to “offshore” legal jobs as well as a growing reliance by corporations on contract attorneys rather than in-house counsel.

“Are we producing too many lawyers? It’s a question I can’t answer,” Leopold said.

Larry Lambert, a 28-year-old veteran from St. Louis, struggled with that very question before deciding to enroll at Missouri this semester. A candid conversation with a burned-out lawyer had “stopped me cold in my tracks,” Lambert said.

In the end, a strong public service ethic honed during his time in the Navy prevailed. Lambert hopes to work as a federal prosecutor or in another position where he can “be a part of something bigger.”

“That’s one of the best things to happen to the profession in a long time,” he said, referring to the declining interest. “People don’t go into social work thinking they want to get rich. They want to help people. The law should be like that.”

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