A reader writes:
I know how to immediately reduce the cost of law school by a third: Make it a two-year program rather than three. For those who worry this might compromise the integrity of curricula designed to prepare students for professional practice, I would propose the following exercise: Ask any competent practicing lawyers what indispensable training they received during their third year of law school; I doubt many would be able to recall much of anything.
There are a lot of problems with law school today.
The tuition is way too high vis-a-vis the potential return for law school graduates from the vast majority of law schools (although, as Steven Davidoff points out in the article that you linked to, the return on investment is still quite strong for those who attend the top-ranked law schools). And, as you pointed out, there are more than twice as many graduates each year as there are jobs for those graduates. All in all, law school is not the safe default alternative that it once was for the English, history or poly sci major who would like to do something with his or her life other than becoming a professional barista.
All that said, just as being an engineer or a musician or a chemist or an actor is right for some people out there trying to decide what to do with their lives, for many, a career in the law is the right fit – just not necessarily at the insane price of $50,000 or $60,000, but at reasonably priced schools (for example, the law school at the City University of New York (CUNY) that Davidoff mentions charges just $12,900 for in-state tuition).
Thank you for lending some space recently to the law school scam. The actions of the people who act as gatekeepers to what is supposed to be (a) a profession and (b) an ethics-driven one, are simply unconscionable. At heart, the problem is one which we see in too many areas of the economy: the commodification of something that should properly be viewed – if only to a degree – as a public good. In my mind, there is no difference between the outrage that we all would feel were we lied to by our lawyer, our doctor or our therapist. In each relationship, one person is by definition relying on another more sophisticated person to look after the best interests of the vulnerable client or patient.
I graduated within the top 20% of my law school class. In the last five years, I've worked about 10 and a half months as a lawyer, and that includes a one-month job in the depths of document review. I have nearly $200,000 on IBR, and I've used up all the patience my private lenders will allow. In effect, I can't afford ever to suffer unemployment ever again for a period of more than a few months, and I can't afford (literally) any major medical catastrophe that ends short of death or paraplegia. Any other circumstance and my financial life is over.
Do not go to law school. Just don't do it.