I don’t mean to criticize lawyers, just the need for so many lawyers. Lawyers don’t dig ditches or build buildings. When a society requires such a large number of its best minds to conduct the unproductive enterprise of the law, something is wrong with the legal system. Antonin Scalia, Assoc. Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, in Parade Magazine’s Intelligence Report, 9-14-2008
In its August 25, 2009 article, “Downturn Dims Prospects Even at Top Law Schools,” The New York Times ran a story about the weak job prospects for newly-minted law school graduates. Faced with astronomical tuition debts, the new graduates also face the daunting challenge of finding sufficiently remunerative employment during a recession.
But in spite of this, each year, upwards of 50,000 would-be lawyers matriculate in American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law schools across the United States. This number does not include those enrolled in unaccredited law schools or who study through an online law school, correspondence school, or learn the law the way Abe Lincoln did, by self study under the guidance of a lawyer mentor.
But counter-intuitively and against all rules of supply and demand, lawyers keep coming off the assembly lines at more than 200 U.S. law schools. They join the more than 1.2 million active lawyers currently practicing in the U.S. Talk about excess capacity. I thought of this on recently learning that the University of California at Irvine had also opened a law school. But Irvine isn’t alone. In the last 5 years, at least 7 new law schools have been established and according to The National Law Journal, as many as 10 are in the planning stages with 8 of those on the eastern seaboard.
Predictably, some lawyers are having second thoughts about their career choice. The Wall Street Journal recently followed-up on a widely-reported story about 32 year old Boston University Law School grad Kirsten Wolf. Wolf has made it her mission in life to talk people out of law school. She does so after completing her own painful stint and then finding out that the proverbial brass ring was not a job but a cow-pie. See http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/01/16/law-blog-qa-kirsten-wolf-law-school-naysayer/
And then there’s the reported story of David Wold, a DePaul University Law School Grad who supposedly tried to sell his Juris Doctor degree for $100,000 on eBay. Wold is quoted at lawyer Scott Greenfield’s blog, Simple Justice, as stating, “Why am I selling this great item? Because it has been nothing but a curse and aggravation in my life. Going to school for this degree has been a joke, and has only brought me stress and misery.”
But if you really want to get a sense of it all, go no further than the stream-of-consciousness ranting of the New York City blogger at Big Debt, Small Law. Subtitled, “Dirt Poor Lawyers in a Filthy Rich Town” this particular blogger is one really angry guy. He harangues about lawyering as a sweat-shop job for little pay. Most of his venom is directed at law schools. He sees them as dishonest and unethical, fraudulently trolling for more and more enrollees despite increasingly dire prospects for work. The link is at http://bigdebtsmalllaw.wordpress.com/about/
So what to make of all of this? Yes, there are too many law schools. And yes, there are too many lawyers. And as a consequence, the too many remain too unhappy about being too poor.
So what’s the solution? Actually, there isn’t one. Market forces are clearly at work. Young people who run by default to law school because they can’t or won’t think of something else, will continue to be disappointed in the end. Therefore, until these would-be lawyers begin to self-select, that is, to voluntarily opt out of law school in lieu of other profitable alternative careers, the ruthless efficiencies of the marketplace will keep winnowing them out.
And while all that churning takes place, the angry bloggers and regretful, repentant lawyers will persist in their painful refrains. With apologies to Susan Powter, the prescription for the juridically contrite is to take personal responsibility and “Stop the Insanity.”