Too Many Law Schools?

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Law students and lawyers are increasingly concerned about the growing number of new law school graduates. Each year, law schools in the United States produce are more law students and more new attorneys seeking attorney jobs. But there may not be enough attorney jobs to handle to growth.

Still, many believe that more law students will ultimately have a positive effect on society. To evaluate whether the increasing number of law school graduates is good, we should first consider the cause of the growth.

What is Causing the Growth?

There are more law school graduates each year for two reasons:

  1. Current law schools are increasing their class sizes (capacity for total enrolled students) and
  2. The ABA has been approving more law schools, increasing the total number of law schools.

Some Believe that More Law School Students is Bad.

One view is that the increasing number of law school graduates is bad because

  1. there are not enough attorney jobs for the new law school graduates (this may worry current law students) and
  2. more lawyers may foster more litigation in society.

Some Believe that More Law School Students is Good.

The other view is that more law school graduates is good for society because

  1. society has more educated and capable individuals in it and
  2. more attorneys will create competition to drive down the cost of legal services which, arguably, have long enjoyed a monopoly status by laws that prevent anyone but ABA approved law school graduates from practicing law.

What Do You Think?

Are there additional points that should be raised? Which side do you feel is persuasive and why?

14 Responses to “Too Many Law Schools?”

  1. hexodus Says:

    In order to answer the question I think it would help to know if the rate of increase in lawyers and law students is similar to the rate of increase in the general population.

  2. Law Student Says:

    Hexodus, good point. My understanding is that the rate of increase in lawyers and law students is exceeding the general population growth in the United States, but I don’t have statistics to prove this.

  3. hexodus Says:

    I just found some general stats, which may be open to debate:

    Projected rowth in # of lawyers in period 2006-2016: 11%
    http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos053.htm

    Assuming population growth maintains current trends, it is roughly the same as the growth rate for lawyers, about 11%:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States

    In which case, there may not be an issue.

  4. birdsongslaw Says:

    Ye, there are too many law schools, too many new lawyers for the number of jobs ou there. However, legal training is some of the best training one can have for business, art, etc…

  5. Roscoe Says:

    My fellow graduates and I created a website to give prospective law students the info we wish we had when applying.http://www.howtochoosealawschool.com/

  6. Anonymous Says:

    There are way too many lawyers and adding law schools or increasing class size is nothing short of a fraud on young people.

    I’d like to address this argument:

    “More attorneys will create competition to drive down the cost of legal services which, arguably, have long enjoyed a monopoly status by laws that prevent anyone but ABA approved law school graduates from practicing law.”

    This argument rests on a profound misunderstanding of labor economics. The idea that more law graduates will drive down the cost of legal services is completely unfounded. Legal services cannot get any cheaper than they already are without driving lawyers into poverty. I work at a Public Defender’s Office, and recent hires who just graduated from law school are dirt poor. I’m not kidding. I have one colleague who had to work for over a year before she could afford to buy a used car. Why? Because her $1200/month student loan bill took up nearly half of her monthly net pay. She needed the rest for food, clothing, and shelter. This might be okay if she was on the 10 year plan to pay off her loans. But she’ll be paying this much for 25 years, and Public Defender salaries don’t go up very fast. She’d have been better off being a legal secretary.

    So what happens if the legal job market becomes even more saturated? Will her pay go down even more? Let’s say it does? Would that be fair or just? No. Why should someone providing a valuable service to society be locked out of the middle class forever?

    Setting aside the question of fairness, I would argue that her wages will not go down any more. If they did, she’d quit. Its hard to turn your back on a legal career after spending between 100 and 150K on the degree, but ultimately if you can’t make a living at it, you’ve got to do something else, even if that means going back to school to learn a new trade.

    You can’t keep driving down prices indefinitely by adding more and more supply, because suppliers will simply leave the market. Its true that poor people can’t afford legal services, but then they couldn’t afford a lawyer even at $5.00 an hour. No attorney is ever going to work for less than minimum wage.

    The elite lawyers who make six figures to start will always do well, because they are top graduates from top schools. Their salaries will not be driven down by new schools no matter what happens.

    Please, anyone who knows a young person thinking about going to law school, tell them not to do it unless its paid for. They will have mortgaged their future for a job that won’t allow them to raise a family in a decent neighborhood.

  7. JN Says:

    The fact that law student growth may be commensurate with population growth is simplistic. Law is a specialized area of the law, but, like anything else, it adapts to changes in society and technology. People are retiring later. Technology allows for the juggling of many more client issues. All in all, the availability of legal jobs is not keeping up with the supply of newly minted J.D.’s.

    In a somewhat similar vein, the rise of matriculation to tier 4, or even non-accredited law schools is, sorry to say, muddling up the pool. We should be increasing the standards required for admission to the bar, not lowering them. Law isn’t for everyone. We shouldn’t try it sell the lawyer dream to those not really interested in working hard to see it achieved.

  8. An African Gentleman Says:

    It may seem simplistic, but the reasons you give do not necessarily contradict the point. You say that demographics and technology are changing the practice of law by reducing the number of legal jobs relative to new JDs, but you do not really give any evidence as to how.

    Please explain how retiring later and juggling of client issues affect the number of jobs. If possible, provide numbers or general statistics to support your claims.

    One might also argue that globalization of legal services provides more job opportunities, but without support for that claim it is mere speculation.

  9. Nando Says:

    There are currently 180+ accredited law schools in the U.S. There are dozens more that are unaccredited. I graduated from a tier-3 school. With the overabundance of lawyers and the current state of the economy, we had people on law review who did not have employment by graduation!!

    The law schools are money cows for the private colleges and universities. According to 2009 U.S. News & World Report grad school rankings, tuition at Western New England College of Law was $32,756. Simply put, this is a ridiculous sum of money to pay for a legal education (tier four school). How many graduates of this school will go on to earn $100,000 a year? You would need to make this sum in order to justify the huge student loan debt and the lost income for those three years of schooling.

    Law schools have little overhead – lights, Westlaw access, paper, printer cartridges, book orders, teacher and staff salaries, etc. Yet, they insist on charging outrageous tuition. And people attend law school because they buy into the lie that “a legal education will make one in high demand and open up a million doors.” This is true for those who graduate from top-tier schools and distinguish themselves there – but this is the distinct minority.

    This is in stark contrast to medical and dental schools, where the schools invest large sums of money on medical science and technology.

  10. Struggling Lawyer Says:

    I would like to weigh in on this argument; in particular the argument that more lawyers is good to drive down the cost of legal services. Law schools actively seek new students, and they do so through enticement. It would seem to me to be the utmost betrayal to get people to go to law school just so the market can be flooded and nobody makes a good living. I agree with JN. I don’t see where evidence is needed as his argument is based on common sense. In the old days one lawyer could handle x clients. Papers had to be typed, or even before that handwritten. Document preparation programs like pro doc didn’t exist. Prodoc for example allows a lawyer to do all the paperwork to start a divorce in less than 30 minutes. This allows two things, lower billing to the client, and more of a client base for the lawyer. This is pure conjecture, but anyone with a modicum of common sense can see that it’s true, but in the past 100 lawyers could handle for example 5000 clients. Now 100 lawyers can handle 15000 clients. Also, as life expectancy increases, the age of retirement goes higher, especially since it’s easier to practice law, and the new graduates are evermore competing with the oldest attorneys who refuse to retire. For any system to work fairly, there has to be a balance between retiring and new attorneys, giving consideration to economic growth.
    Why is it easier to practice law? Because of programs like ProDoc, time slips, etc…

  11. Sam N Says:

    I went to college and got a BA in Business Economics and I worked for a few years. I thought about law school but recently graduated from an ABA approved paralegal program. It really opened my eyes. I learned a lot about the law, how to draft a complaint, calendering, interrogatories, shepherds citations, BAJI, CACI, Jury Instructions, etc.

    I cannot imagine going straight from undergrad to law school without having any foundation in any of this material. While you hear about lawyers making $160,000 at big firms starting, keep in mind this is only for the best of the best. If you go to a top 25 law school, you have already passed one of the biggest hurdles. However, most third and fourth tier law graduates wont get those jobs.

    Going to a third or fourth tier law school is not a total waste of money or time. I know many paralegals here in Los Angeles who went to Whittier law school, Western State University, and Southwestern. They all were paralegals from ABA approved schools and had 3-5 yrs work experience. Many of them went part time and when they graduated they got awesome job offers. One lady was a paralegal for almost 10 yrs and knew everything about insurance defense/product liability. She ended up making $250,000 starting.

    The moral of the story is this: Unless you go to a top 25 law school don’t expect six figures or a quick return on your investment. However, if you go part time as a professional with something to give to the profession(an engineer goes part time to become a patent attorney, CPA to do tax law, paralegal to be an attorney) then going to a 4th tier school isnt a bad idea.

    I can’t imagine

  12. MsKlutz Says:

    I graduated from a “second tier” law school in 2002, and am now starting pre-requisites to go to nursing school. If I knew now what I know about practicing law, I never would have gone to law school. I am going to nursing school because it sounds interesting and rewarding, and there is a demand for nurses. I just pray that I can pay of my law school loans with my nursing income. I doubt I will ever repay my student loans practicing law.

    Although it is hard for much of the population to believe, salaried jobs for attorneys are incredibly scarce. Low paying jobs with the public defender, prosecutor, and civil legal aid are coveted, simply because they offer health insurance. Yet the hours are long, and it is hard to make your $500 – $1,500 monthly student loan payments on these low salaries. Increasingly, small to midsize firms don’t offer much more in pay or benefits, and some firms offer less. It is difficult to make a living opening your own practice, because of the fierce competition. Further, a new attorney who goes out on her own risks being sued for malpractice.

    This is because of a massive over supply of lawyers. This is not just anti-attorney sentiment, it’s reality. There is no demand for attorneys in the US. The only good thing to come out of this is cheaper legal services for the public.

    Maddeningly, more law schools are approved every year, and even more students flock to law schools on the false assumption that a JD will bring financial security. Most will be in for a rude awakening upon graduation.

  13. Attorney desperately seeking employment Says:

    WE NEED AN ORGANIZATION THAT UNITES ATTORNEYS AGAINST ABA. If med schools can limit their number to 131 and Dentists can limit dental schools to about 58, then we can surely keep the number of law schools under control. The whole thing is a scam. I graduated from Texas Southern University law school – some of my professors were barely literate. Except for a few good professors, most did nothing for me. They have a mysterious double grading system that undercuts students who secure good grades on their merit. There are other terrible law schools out there and plenty of terrible lawyers because of it. The law schools, including mine, inflate their post-graduation employment figures by hiring graduates from menial temporary jobs or by outright lying. ABA leadership is heavily composed of law school administrators and Big Law attorneys, while majority of Attorneys in america dont fall into the big-law category and these are the people who are struggling to find jobs. The average lawyer is severely unpaid, her/his pay undercut by the huge numbers of graduates being churned out of diploma mill law schools every year. On top of that , ABA has allowed outsourcing, this has severely cut the basic work unemployed attorneys depended on – document review. The average attorney is squeezed from all sides with ABA doing more to hurt her/him. The medical field takes care of its own. The dental field takes care of its own. But the only people the ABA takes care of are 1. the deans of trashy law schools like mine who make a million or more a year and 2. the Big law firms that benefit from getting their document work done by ridiculously underpaid attorneys in the US or abroad. ABA, please stop this madness! stop this corruption! You have destroyed not only our livelihood but the prestige we worked so hard to get.

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