It’s a Good Time to Go to Law School? Really?

Oh, sweetheart, you don't need law school. Law school is for people who are boring and ugly and serious. And you, button, are none of those things., the website we know & love for its consistently contrarian attitude, has upped its game, declaring that we should once again consider applying to law school. Really! Forget everything you’ve heard over the past five years about how it’s a terrible field to try to break into because there’s a surplus of struggling, desperate wannabes competing for every spot. Read crisis as opportunity.

Here is the key number to keep in mind: 36,000. That is roughly the number of new J.D.s we should expect to graduate in 2016. Getting to that figure is pretty straightforward: In the fall of 2013, 39,700 students enrolled in law school. Given that about 10 percent of each law school class generally drops out, we should expect no more than 36,000 to reach commencement. (I’m actually rounding up the number a bit to be conservative.) In comparison, 46,776 law students graduated in 2013. So we’re talking about a potential 23 percent plunge. With less competition it should be far easier for graduates to find decent work.

As the daughter of two lawyers, the sister to another, and the wife of a fourth, not to mention a friend to countless others, let me assure you, law is hardly “decent work.” You want to spend 80 hours a week protecting the interests of cigarette companies and oil conglomerates? Surely there’s a way to do that without going six figures into debt first.

The Atlantic backs me up with a tart and timely article today subtitled, “For work that doesn’t feel meaningful, become a lawyer.” Slate ignores us both, though, gets all wonky with some data, and concludes that ACTUALLY, despite appearances, we’re back in the rosy Clinton years. (Goody! We have the Bush II years to look forward to!)

we can expect that about 91 percent of the class of 2016 will find long-term, full-time work, compared with about 72 percent last year. About 73 percent would be in full-time, long-term legal jobs, compared with 58 percent last year. Essentially, employment rates would look similar to those in 2007, when the mid-2000s legal hiring wave crested. That year, about 92 percent of graduates were employed, and 76.9 percent obtained legal jobs. (Both those figures included part-time and short-term positions).

Some would argue that I’m painting too rosy a picture, because law schools themselves have been pumping up their employment numbers by hiring their own graduates for yearlong jobs, for example, or funding fellowships for them at nonprofits. In 2013, schools funded 918 of these kinds of positions. If we subtract them out, the picture is a bit less optimistic. About 88 percent of all grads would have full-time, long-term work, and 71 percent would be in legal jobs.  Essentially, law grads would be partying like it was 1997.

Ah, 1997: the year of Titanic, of Ellen coming out of the closet, and Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook, possibly the worst book I’ve ever read.

What do you think? Are you tempted? Do you have dreams of being Elle Woods, even though everyone you know is Lionel Hutz? Do you regret your law degree? Or is your practice of law meaningful as well as lucrative, and if so, what’s your secret?



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