Lawyers, Inc.

November 2, 2010

Slate recently ran a bit about disillusioned law students: specifically, those who left stalled (or eviscerated) careers mid-recession and escaped to law school, counting on “a three-year fast track to a remunerative, respectable career.”

LSAT takers increased by almost twenty percent over the last few years, and law school applicants followed suit. As a result, there are more lawyers being churned out than there are jobs for them. While the number of law degrees awarded has steadily risen, the number of people working in the “legal services industry” has shrunk.

Newly-minted attorneys are upset; they feel taken advantage of. They think, says Slate, they were lead to believe their law degrees would be instantly worthwhile investments, quickly paying off in cars and club memberships. Some of the recently disillusioned are speaking out loudly against the establishment and the American Bar Association, which accredits law schools, and others have – imagine! – taken to litigation.

One, Kenneth Desornes, has asked a bankruptcy judge to hold his law school accountable for his debt because it “knew or should have known that [he] would be in no position to repay those loans.”

Knew or should have known? What of Mr. Desornes? Does he bear no responsibility for sailing his own financial ship? We can safely assume that, having applied to law school, he first earned an undergraduate degree. Was this college graduate who planned to practice law not sophisticated enough to realize the danger of borrowing over one hundred thousand dollars with no guaranteed return? Given his dearth of foresight, ignorance of consequence, and obliviousness to reality, maybe it’s best Mr. Desornes is no longer interested in practicing law.

Adults attend law school. Every law student is a college graduate, and each wants to earn a law degree. These are sophisticated (in theory) people who want to make their living in a comparatively intellectual, high-end market. And yet they feel taken advantage of because basic mathematics have failed them? Or rather, because they’ve failed basic mathematics? Because they didn’t realize that huge loans + no guaranteed return = not a sure thing? Because they tried to grab hold of that “three-year fast track” and it’s not going to be as easy as they imagined?

I’m a law student because I want to be a lawyer, because there’s nothing else in the world I’d rather do. If a law degree cost one million dollars, I’d borrow one million dollars and spend the rest of my life happily paying it off doing something I love.

If you don’t feel the same, re-consider your LSAT registration. It’s not too late. Withdraw your application. Ask for your tuition back. There are too many law students grabbing after that mythical “three-year fast track,” and as a result that track is being over-crowded out of existence more every year.

Slate points the finger halfway at the American Bar Association, for allowing so many law schools to exist. Law schools make money because they have very little start-up cost; certainly much less than a medical or engineering school. So many schools mean many with very lax admission standards, and more lax admission standards mean more lawyers produced yearly. This means both more incompetent lawyers, which is bad for the public, and more applicants per job, which is bad for the serious students.

Certainly the ABA has played a role. Stricter standards for accrediting law schools would mean fewer law schools, higher admissions standards and, as a result, fewer and more qualified graduates. The reputation of the profession would increase and the employment situation might begin to right itself. A law degree would stop being a tawdry commodity and begin to look again like a lofty, noble thing.

But does any of that excuse a sophisticated college graduate, who imagines he’s fit to practice law, from the consequences of his own, freely entered-into actions? No.

What we all call “legal thinking” boils down to very basic cause-and-effect: if A happens, then B must happen also, and C must be the result. If I drive too fast I’ve breached a duty, and thus I’m liable for the collision. If you take out loans to finance a dream and you’ll be happy living that dream, regardless of whether you live it in poverty or wealth… take out those loans. If you take out loans because you’re betting on quick money and you don’t consider the risks and their proportionality to the odds of reward… well, practicing law probably isn’t for you, anyway.


Dollars & Sense

April 7, 2010

Online salary database undertook recently to rank American schools by their students’ average income upon graduation, and then again ten years out. Things broke down thus:

  1. Dartmouth College ($58,000 / $129,000)
  2. MIT ($71,000 / $126,000)
  3. Harvard University ($60,000 / $126,000)
  4. Harvey Mudd College ($71,000 / $125,000)
  5. Stanford University ($67,000 / $124,000)
  6. Princeton University ($65,000 / $124,000)
  7. Colgate University ($51,000 / $122,000)
  8. University of Notre Dame ($55,000 / $121,000)
  9. Yale University ($56,000 / $120,000)
  10. University of Pennsylvania ($60,000 / $118,000)

This year wasn’t the first that Dartmouth topped the list; though its graduates start at one of the lower top-ten median salaries, their rise in earnings over the subsequent ten years is largely due to an alumni network legendary for its loyalty.

Al Lee, PayScale’s Director of Quantitative Analysis, doesn’t give much credence to his report, though: “Even more than where you go to school, the degree you get is a bigger influencer of your pay for the vast majority of Americans.” True, Mr. Lee… but then again, the vast majority of Americans didn’t go to any of these schools.

Dartmouth wins again.

Justices Report Earnings

June 5, 2009

In mandatory earnings disclosures made public today, Justices of the United States Supreme Court revealed, among other things, some very comfortable book deals: Justice Clarence Thomas disclosed almost $300,000 in royalties from his 2008 autobiography and his 2007 memoir, My Grandfather’s Son,  has earned him almost $1.5 million.

Justice Antonin Scalia reports earnings of $100,000 from his recent primer on legal advocacy, Making Your Case.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is paid an annual salary of approximately $217,400, while Associate Justices earn about $208,100 a year.

Justice Antonin Scalia, author.

Justice Antonin Scalia, author.

Where The Money’s At:

May 29, 2008

Litigation powerhouse Williams & Connolly raised associate salaries this year by untold margins, although sources close to the firm report the numbers break down along lines like these:

  • First year associate yearly salary: $180,000.00
  • Second year associate yearly salary: $195,000.00
  • Third year associate yearly salary: $210,000.00
  • Fourth year associate yearly salary: $230,000.00
  • Fifth year associate yearly salary: $250,000.00
  • Sixth year associate yearly salary: $270,000.00
  • Seventh year associate yearly salary: $290,000

While nobody in human resources with W&C has yet confirmed this pay scale, the firm has long been known for both paying above-market starting salaries and doing away with year-end bonuses.