Sunday, August 4, 2013

Debate Continues About the Value of a Law Degree

As you know, I have followed the debate between the authors of the report -- The Economic Value of a Law Degree -- and the author of a book -- Failing Law Schools (FLS).

I thought we were about done with the back and forth, but now it seems the author of FLS, the Law Professor at Washington University School of Law, Brian Tamanaha, has gotten help from a member of his faculty.  The story appears here.

Tamanaha has targeted a group of expensive ($40,000+/per year), mostly California law schools, that also have low employment stats when you look only at the category of  full-time jobs requiring bar passage.  I've discussed how to understand the reported employment numbers here.

In the end, I agree that prospective students should carefully consider the decision to go to law school.  They should carefully adopt a strategy that gets them the best education possible at a reasonable cost.  I discuss one possible strategy here.  And yes, they should consider whether they want jobs in BigLaw (assuming they exist) -- which associates rank as soul-sucking experiences. And yes, law school is no longer a cheap default option if you don't know what else you want to do with your life.

So here are my disclosures:  I have not read FLS yet (although I bought it months ago).  I teach at a mission-driven fourth-tier law school.  After teaching for 12 years, I still do not make what I made the year I left private practice.  I also serve on our school's Admissions Committee.

I started my career working in BigLaw.  I did not find the work soul-sucking.  Yes, I worked mostly on document productions and due diligence projects.  I loved my associate and para-legal colleagues. They were funny, smart, mischievous, talented, diligent, and dedicated.  They opened a world to me that I did not know existed.  I came away from the experience absolutely fearless.  I became a much better attorney than the folks who did not have that experience (at least that's my perspective).

Because of my BigLaw experience, I am a better writer, can produce highly professional-looking work product, have deep research skills, became an early-adopter of law firm marketing practices, take all-nighters in stride (because this, too, will pass), and made life-long friends.

A career in BigLaw is not for everyone.  My best friend stayed, later managed a D.C. firm, and now manages a practice group.  She has the temperament for it and makes a shit-load of money because of that.

A law degree offers so many ways to find a satisfying career path -- in and outside a traditional legal practice.  I've been bloggging on this topic all summer, first looking at careers as a solo practitioner, then considering the opportunities that could arise as Baby Boomer lawyers increasingly retire, then summarizing employment trends for new grads, then considering jobs outside traditional law firm practice, and then summarizing employment trends over the last 25 years.

I believe deeply in informed decision-making.  I just hope that all the negative talk about law school, educational debt, and BigLaw practice does not continue to distort (as I see it) the decision-making process for college graduates.  I am glad to see additional perspectives coming into the discussion, whether I agree with them or not.

Dec. 26, 2013 Update:  For more about the value of a law degree, see here.

February 23, 2014 Update:  For an update based on 2013 data, see here.

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