« Elmendorf and Leib on Citizens' Budgets | Main | Can a District Court Commit "Plain Error" By Choosing One Side of a Circuit Split? »

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The law-jobs market: What is to be done?

While I do not think there's any reason people should have noticed the absence, I regret being such a double-plus ungood Prawfsblawgger this summer and appreciate all the great stuff others have been writing.  (Blame it on Arizona, and Jackson Hole, and the North Cascades.)  That said:  I've been thinking and reading a lot about (what one hears is) the coming (and current) very, very challenging law-job-hiring market that our students are facing and wondering, what can we (i.e., the law professors) do to help?

Some thoughts after the jump . . .

One possible answer, of course, is "nothing."  The economy is in not-good shape, and the profession is not only responding to the downturn but also (perhaps) changing in fundamental, structural ways.  Another possible answer is the old reliable one, "law schools should give up on their scholarly aspirations / pretentions and focus carefully and entirely on professional training and practical skills.  If they do, then the students' job prospects will improve dramatically."  Still another might be, "law professors should join together and call for the closing of half of America's law schools.  This would reduce the number of young lawyers seeking increasingly hard-to-find jobs." 

These latter answers do not appeal to me, so I hope that they are not the right ones.

So, what else?  I cannot imagine that any law teachers are not concerned about their students' prospects, or saddened by the stress that so many are facing.  What can we do?  If law schools were to, for example, double the number of staff in their career-services offices, would that help?  Or, would it just mean that there would be more people helping the too-many students chase after the too-few jobs?  If law schools got more aggressive / creative with "how to get a job" programming, carefully reviewed and edited all students' CVs, counseled every student individually regarding their plans and prospects, etc., would it make a difference?  We can call our friends and former students, but such calls are not likely to create jobs that do not exist. 

I imagine that many of us are being asked for advice, help, support.  What are we saying and doing?

UPDATE:  Tax prof Michael Livingston responds convincingly here to, among other things, the "law schools need to become more practical" answer.

Posted by Rick Garnett on July 28, 2009 at 02:47 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The law-jobs market: What is to be done?:


Instead of dropping law schools, why not convert all state law schools ranked 101-200 to undergrad programs? Students can study law in ug like they study accounting or business. They can then go work in law, business, government, policy, etc. The really ambitious ones would eventually go back for a focused LLM in some legal speciality. It would reduce student debt and increase socio-economic diversity.

Alternatively, law schools could let students decide the bulk of the curriculum. For a second-fourth tier school whose students are loading themselves with $95K debt, it seems the least that the schools could do. No doubt students would demand a significant shift toward practical skills. Over time the market would make adjustments, law schools would develop specialties, and students would become increasingly savvy about why they're going to law school and what they want out of it.

I'm not holding my breath until this happens. As someone noted, law school faculties are inclined toward aggressive reform of every aspect of society -- except the law schools themselves. They favor egalitarian distribution of power in every sector of society -- except within law schools themselves. Still, when I read these open calls for "what shall we do with legal education?" I always wonder, "Who knows? Let's ask the folks who are plunking down money what they think."

Posted by: John Steele | Jul 29, 2009 11:54:36 AM

It was the top tier of law firms that adopted the least sustainable compensation and billing structures, and they will feel disproportionate pain. These firms never delivered nearly enough additional value to justify the additional fees that they charged when compared to smaller, regional firms. This is one of the many inefficiencies that will be squeezed out of the economy by this recession. For smaller, regional firms with leaner staffing, more affordable fees, and more realistic compensation structures, there may be more gain than pain in the future. The demand for legal services, after all, is not likely to decline very much over time -- what will increase is a demand for value. That, in turn, will mean that firms will have to become more efficient, and, among other things, they will increasingly demand lawyers who come with sufficient skills to enable them to produce value right away. The schools (and graduates) that will prosper will be those that focus on skills training, rather than theoretical or conceptual education. In the past, all too many law schools focused on more theoretical pursuits, partly because that is what interests most law faculty these days, and partly in the belief that after graduation, law firms will happily absorb the cost of the skills training (coupled with the quite unrealistic belief that a clinic or two and a trial advocacy course or two is all the skills training anyone really needs). In the future, law firms will not be so happy about absorbing these training costs. Law students -- and law schools -- that get out ahead of this curve may do quite well.

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University School of Law

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Jul 28, 2009 11:24:27 PM

Christie, you should check out Above The Law - a somewhat snarky (and sometimes depressing) law blog centered mainly around the big firms. Lawyers are getting laid off or getting salaries slashed just like the rest of Americans, there is no safe harbor really. The trick is to do your best, and hope things turn around. Alternatively, if you aren't coming straight out of college and currently have a job - you may want to stick with that job and weather the storm. Then check out law school when things turn around and there are more jobs to be had. If you are choosing law school because you don't know what else to do, I encourage you to investigate post-law school career climate and reconsider your choices.

Posted by: Law Student '11 | Jul 28, 2009 9:49:14 PM

I'm about to enter law school and posts like this scare the bejeezus out of me. Is the job market usually rough for recent law student grads? Or is there just a scarcity of jobs in the big firms (that come with high incomes and potential bonuses that a lot of attorneys hope to snag)?

Posted by: Christie | Jul 28, 2009 9:42:21 PM

I hope the idea of going on for a PhD as an escape from the tight job market was meant as a joke (sometimes it's hard to tell). If you think there are too many JDs chasing too few lawyering jobs, just take a look at the mismatch between the number of PhDs and the number of academic positions. Or just look at the huge roster of adjuncts clamoring to teach throughout your university. The brutal advice I received went I started grad school is what I would pass along to any aspiring academics: if you don't get fully funded by a top tier grad program, don't go for the PhD--the chances of you getting a job once you finish are too slight .

And, to be even more brutally frank, the students who are having the most trouble getting jobs after their JD are not likely to have earned the kind of grades that would be considered necessary to get into a top tier PhD program.

Finally, just to make things worse, attrition rates at many PhD programs far outstrip what we see at most law schools. When I was getting my PhD, the understanding was that about half the people would drop out before finishing qualifying exams, and half of those who cleared that hurdle would fail to complete the dissertation.

It would be the most rare and unusual unemployed law grad who should ever consider going for a PhD. Most shouldn't give it a second's thought.

Posted by: Ron | Jul 28, 2009 7:12:12 PM

I'm not sure if advocating for additional graduate schooling (aka even more debt) is the smartest course of action, especially in this economy. If law students wanted to get their MA or PhD, they probably should've figured this out before shelling out $120K+ for law school. Law school probably shouldn't be considered some way-station to a life in academia, but if that's the proposed course then it should priced as such.

Posted by: Law Student '11 | Jul 28, 2009 6:43:47 PM

If recent law grads are interested in graduate school, we are always accepting applications at Binghamton University and have had success in placing people in tenure track positions. You need to take the GRE to be considered though :-)

Posted by: Jeff Yates | Jul 28, 2009 4:47:48 PM

I'm encouraging the more academically-inclined among my students to go to grad school. If one was considering to go for a PhD anyways, now is the time. There are less available fellowships, but it seems the safest place to be.

Posted by: Hadar Aviram | Jul 28, 2009 4:35:12 PM

Get your adjuncts to offer one 4. Hr class that shows young attorneys to open their own shops.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward | Jul 28, 2009 4:17:44 PM

Closing about 1/3 of the law schools might be sufficient. The Empirical Legal Studies folks probably would have some good input on that score.

Posted by: Not So Recent JD | Jul 28, 2009 3:46:11 PM

Yes, I agree that this is a very serious issue, Rick. I think one thing law schools could do, which would help all recent graduates, would be to offer some type of extended skills training program. It could be packaged as a six-month training intensive for recent graduates, and it could begin after the Bar exam. It could even be classified as a fellowship, which would help students delay repayment of student loans a little longer, thereby enabling graduates to feel productive, become stronger candidates for positions, and feel less pressured to accept any job just to have one. Larger law firms are starting to provide similar programs for new hires with deferred start dates.

Posted by: Kelly Anders | Jul 28, 2009 3:03:51 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.