Saturday, January 9, 2010

Law Student Glut

A recent survey reveals that nearly 30% of law students will graduate this year with more than $120,000 in student debt. On top of this, large law firms are cutting back in hiring and many have dropped the salaries for new associates.

The president of the American Bar Association has lobbied the White House and Congress to convert private debt to federal debt and to provide a three-year deferral for debt repayment for unemployed law graduates, but it is doubtful that there will be much support for having ordinary tax payers come to the rescue of law grads.

The sad fact is that there is a glut of lawyers in the United States, but this has not deterred the law schools from continuing to churn out tens of thousands of new law graduates every year. Young college graduates with stars in their eyes are still being captivated by the romantic notion of a professional career as an attorney. It sounds prestigious. It sounds like a ticket to a big six-figure income. Many care little about money, but see a law degree as a road to help make a better society.

With all of these dreams of sugar plums dancing in their heads aspiring law students seldom give much thought to the consequences of taking on huge amounts of debt or to a realistic evaluation of the chances of being able to pay off the debt without significant hardship. The only ones who have a chance to land the high-paying jobs with the big law firms are the top students from the top law schools which are only a tiny percentage of the lawyers coming out of the country’s hundreds of law schools each year.

In my opinion the main fault in this broken system lies with the law schools who continue to feather their own nests with their siren song to their unwary prospects. The more students that they can attract, the more money keeps flowing into their coffers. The law schools are not accepting any risk here; they get paid, and the burden falls squarely on the hapless law graduate who finds himself/herself with the prized degree in hand, but with no job or with a job that does not pay enough to allow repayment of the debt together with a comfortable life style.

It is a sad situation with no prospect of being fixed in the foreseeable future, but there ought to be a way to send a clear warning to anyone considering a career in the law.