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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Law School Admissions at a 30-year Low: What Does That Mean?

     For the country's 200 law schools, 2013 is not going to be a good year. In 2004, law schools admitted 100,000 students. This fall, only 54,000 students will be seeking a legal education, a 30-year low in enrollment. There are two main reasons for this stunning drop-off: a lousy job market, and the staggering cost of a legal education. It's a double-whammy, who wants to pay all of that money to become an unemployed attorney?

     With annual law school tuition costs ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 or more, the average law graduate enters the job market $125,000 in debt. Only 55 percent of these graduates find full time positions that require passage of a state bar exam. And a good number of those jobs are not financially rewarding. Over the past several years, various law profession surveys have revealed a continuous drop in job satisfaction among practicing attorneys.
          Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in promoting her memoir My Beloved Life on Oprah, said that "... being a lawyer is one of the best jobs in the whole wide world, because every lawyer, no matter whom they represent, is trying to help someone..." What a load of crap. In an article about the legal profession in Time Magazine, author Paul Campos points out that after twenty years as a federal judge, Sotomayor is detached from "any sense of the increasingly severe problems faced by so many members of the legal profession. For young law graduates, especially, Sotomayor's words about service and happiness are likely to ring hollow."

     To make his point, Paul Compos cited part of a letter he received from a young lawyer who entered the field $150,000 in debt. The lawyer wrote: "Over the last six years, I have discovered that I hate our system of justice, our courts, our law and everyone remotely connected to them. I hate the actual work of being a lawyer and having to deal with other lawyers. Being chained to the computer and phone every day feels like torture. It has affected my physical and mental health negatively..."

     The diminishing prospects of a lucrative and satisfying career as a lawyer exists because there are too many practitioners at a time when fewer citizens need the services of an attorney. People who used to hire lawyers can find answers to their law questions on the Internet which also provides a wide variety of legal forms. For example, if you need a simple will, a lease agreement, an employment contract, or a loan document, go online. Law firms are also employing paralegal personnel to do work once done by lawyers.

     As a result of fewer young people entering the legal profession, many law schools have reduced faculty and staff. Several institutions are also offering tuition discounts, and accepting less qualified applicants. Some in the profession have suggested conferring law degrees after two rather than three years of schooling. Costly law classes are also being replaced with cheaper field training programs.

     So, what does all of this mean for the future of the legal profession? I think it means that to keep 200 law schools in business, less qualified practitioners will be funneled into the profession. In the long run, this will make the lawyer problem even worse. 

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