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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advice for Undergraduates?

Massachusetts is, by my rough count, one of only six states without a public law school. But not for long, it seems. The public University of Massachusetts (UMASS) has recently approved a proposal to acquire the private Southern New England School of Law (SNESL), a move that will create the state's first public law school. 

There remains one major hurdle left to clear--a final vote in February--but all visible signs point to yes, despite opposition from a coalition of three private law schools in the state.

Although the UMASS acquisition of SNESL will not increase the total number of American law schools, it will give more students the chance to attend law school: under the plan, enrollment will increase from 235 to 559 students. And with a new law school set to open in Dallas in 2011 and the new University of California, Irvine, School of Law, hoping eventually to grow to 600, there will be even more opportunities for law school applicants.

In the face of high demand for law school admissions (in 2008, for example, 82,000 students applied and 55,500 were admitted), the likely increase in applications this year, and given these recent developments, I am wondering how to advise undergraduates who ask me for advice about whether to go to law school.

I suspect that future law school graduates may have difficulty finding employment in law. That said, I am convinced that law school is not just for those who wish to one day practice law. The skills developed in law school are transferable to other disciplines, and are superb preparation for non-law employment. And there is, and will always be, a demand for law school graduates who possess strong analytical abilities and can think creatively, read critically, and write persuasively.

What do/would you advise an undergraduate?

(As an aside, anyone care to guess which are the five states, excluding Massachusetts, without a public law school?)

Posted by Richard Albert on December 13, 2009 at 10:00 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Seconding Katie and anon. Personally, I would advise them to seek a path that will give them real (genuine) expertise in a field and to then attend law school after that, if they still want to. Five or more years of experience doing legitimate work (grad school might count, depending on the subject) will position them to have something real to contribute after law school.

The world (America, in particular) does not need more law school grads who have never held a real job or developed an expertise in anything, unless they are shockingly bright, and the vast majority people simply don't fall into this category.

Posted by: Spoiled White Kid | Dec 15, 2009 4:52:18 PM

Howard, you got all five states! You therefore win this edition of Prawfs Trivia!

Enjoy your virtual prize: http://school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/images/a-trophy.gif.

Posted by: Richard Albert | Dec 14, 2009 4:21:21 PM

Many countries set the bar for bar admission much higher than the US does. The predictable result is that fewer law graduates go into litigation. The number that always buzzes around here in the Netherlands, where bar admission takes 1½ years of apprenticeships and exams, is 10%. The rest give legal advice in some other capacity, or go into different jobs entirely.

Arguably, there are way too many lawyers (as in: litigators) in America already. But it doesn't follow that there are also too many jurists (as in: people with law degrees).

Posted by: Martin Holterman | Dec 14, 2009 12:48:27 PM

"And there is, and will always be, a demand for law school graduates who possess strong analytical abilities and can think creatively, read critically, and write persuasively."

No, there will not always be such a demand. See, e.g., the current job market. Moreover, law school does not teach students to "think creatively" or "write persuasively" (although I would argue it does teach students to "read critically"). I doubt law schools can do the former, although they certainly should spend more time on the latter.

Moreover, it is one of the great myths that just having a law degree is good for any career. I suspect if you look at most of those trained as lawyers who have found great success in another field, they first practiced -- and it was that credential (a practicing lawyer, rather than just a JD) and the skills they learned in that job that allowed them to move into other areas. Either that, or the law degree played no role in their future success.

Posted by: anon | Dec 14, 2009 9:08:27 AM

I wouldn't say that law school can't be a nice bridge to non-law careers, but I would wager that it's rarely worth the high five or low six figures of student loan debt most students incur in getting it. If you can go for free or very cheap, sure. Otherwise, be very careful.

Posted by: Katie | Dec 14, 2009 8:26:02 AM

Oklahoma has the University of Oklahoma. In addition to Alaska and Rhode Island: New Hampshire, Delaware, and Vermont.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 14, 2009 6:56:23 AM

I believe Oklahoma just has two law schools--OKC and TU--neither public.

Posted by: Abby | Dec 14, 2009 12:01:10 AM

Alaska and Rhode Island lack public law schools.
Yeah, I'd advise against law school unless the kid's family is established in law, hopefully w/ a small firm they own--kinda like medicine these days--if you're family's not putting you into a nice private practice you're f&*%d.

Posted by: w00t | Dec 13, 2009 11:27:14 PM

I would advise the undergraduate not to go to law school.

(Think Project Mayhem.)

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 13, 2009 11:21:36 PM

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