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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April is a cruel month for some law students

As we close in on law school graduation season here in the Gopher State, not everyone who will be donning a robe and mortar board next month is a happy camper. Every year at about this time we hear from a disenchanted law student or two -- and this year is no different.

In a recent post, we noted that the University of Minnesota Law School had "slipped" from 20 to 22 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of the "Top 100" law schools. In response to that post, yesterday we received the following comment purportedly from a third-year law student at the U of M:
Honestly, for job placements Minnesota Law School (sic), isn't even 4th tier. We send less than 20 percent of our graduates top the top 250 firms, while most schools in the top 30 send at least a third. We have significantly lower salaries than other comparable law schools In my 3l class most students do not have jobs.
Appropriately enough, the comment was made under the nom de plume "Bitter 3L." I cannot vouch for any of the factual assertions contained in the post. In fact, I am nearly positive that, if called upon to do so, the U of M would pull up all sorts of placement statistics showing things are not nearly as dire as portrayed in this comment. But the statistics are not what interests me. Whatever the real numbers are, every year some law students head merrily off to prestigious clerkships or lucrative Big Law jobs, while others live lives of quiet desperation, facing a lot of debt and few job prospects. Schools trumpet the stories of the first group, but rarely mention the second.

I have some thoughts of my own on some of the issues implicated in 3L's remarks, but thought I'd toss it out into the blogosphere to let you comment. Do any of you more seasoned and grizzled attorneys have any words of wisdom for our bitter young friend?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The cold hard truth is that there are not too many comforting words (at least which are rooted in truth) available to the bitter 3L. The problem, however, is much more systemic than simply the job prospects coming out of law school. It is no big secret that law school does a horrible job of preparing law students for private practice. It is an institution comprised of scholars who did well at taking law school exams, most of which bear little relation to the practice of law. What always baffled me was the manner in which BigLaw drank assumed a high grade on a constitutional law exam translated to a high likelihood of success at BigLaw. For those of us fortunate enough to have done well it worked out great, even if most of us leave BigLaw early in our careers. I understand that the attrition rate at several big law firms approached 80% at the 3 year mark. That is high; and it signifies a much larger problem lurks under the high starting salaries and free lunches.

Anonymous said...

I cannot speak for big firm private practice. I work for a small/mid size firm, and the idea of starting with a six figure salary was not even realistic. As an old lawyer once told me, "If you want to make money, go into business not law". Certainly law can provide you with a nice life, but television and recent articles in local magazines about "average" income for associates sets unrealistic expectations for many law students. As for the unemployment rate, consider the fact that there are four law schools in Minnesota. Also, consider that some recent law graduates "come home" from other states. Perhaps I am to young to understand the economics of it all, but I think this market is saturated with lawyers.

TSE said...

Give. Symphathize. Control.
Shantih shantih shantih.

Anonymous said...

The comment shows a belief that I find false: that UMLS should send its students to jobs. As someone who had a career before law school, I was surprised that many law students had a belief that finding a legal job was somehow different, that one would be waiting for you at the door. The legal market is no different than any - you need to go out and find a job. UMLS can bring employers to the school, but it is not the school's job to get its students jobs.

Anonymous said...

Career Services over at the U would certainly tell you that pretty much all of the 3Ls have job offers. Of course, this is largely due to the fact that they pressure students to list themselves as having "soft offers" if they currently have a part-time legal job and have not explicitly been told that there are no permanent placement prospects.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Not to pick on the U about placement statistics. I think its a general practice among law schools to do a little puffery of these numbers by being a little loose as to what they classify as a "job" for placement purposes.

There are some built in incentives. Lower placement numbers potentially:
-- hurt recruiting of prospective students;
-- hurt the law school in law school rankings; and
-- hurt grads looking for jobs by creating the perception that their degree is not in demand.

It creates an odd situation. You can talk with law students and they alll know any number of folks having trouble finding a legal job. Then you go to a placement director and are told the official statistics show 99.9 percent of students have found employment. It all depends, of course, on how you define employment.

Lawyers tend to know there is some gamesmanship with these numbers (and on the starting salary figures), but law students and prospective law students do not know this -- at least until they turn bitter, like our 3L friend

Anonymous said...

Since practicing law for the benefit of others is a privilege, and the actual practice of law is also a business - welcome to the real world, 3L.

The belief that completing a course of study is going to lead to a six-figure income may be useful in motivating oneself to do all the extra studying needed to get high grade. But that's as far as it goes.

Who do your mother and father do business with? Those people are your most likely clients, especially at the outset. That's the way the world works. Let's see what you can do for us.

Bitter 3L said...

I didn't expect any response to my post so I haven't checked this blog recently. So I will try to respond to some of these comments.

"I work for a small/mid size firm, and the idea of starting with a six figure salary was not even realistic."

"The belief that completing a course of study is going to lead to a six-figure income may be useful in motivating oneself to do all the extra studying needed to get high grade"

Never in my post did I mention that I expected to start off with a six figure salary. I took out 100k grand in student debt to attend law school. Part of my decision to attend the University of Minnesota Law School was based on its employment statistics. When you publish 99% employment, in spite of the truth being very different, as a student I have the right to be bitter.

Most of my classmates have comparable debt loads. You simply can't pay off that much debt in ten years on a 45k salary. It can't be done. Education costs have been rising in this country at a rate far higher than inflation.

"The comment shows a belief that I find false: that UMLS should send its students to jobs. As someone who had a career before law school, I was surprised that many law students had a belief that finding a legal job was somehow different, that one would be waiting for you at the door. The legal market is no different than any - you need to go out and find a job. UMLS can bring employers to the school, but it is not the school's job to get its students jobs."

I have been searching a job, any job for over a year. I have applied at jobs throughout the country. So have many of my classmates. I don't expect the University to get me a job. I do expect though that it will promote itself properly. Outside of the Upper Midwest, employers don't even realize that an incoming class as the U is academically comparable to Vanderbilt. That's the law school's fault.

"You can talk with law students and they alll know any number of folks having trouble finding a legal job. Then you go to a placement director and are told the official statistics show 99.9 percent of students have found employment. It all depends, of course, on how you define employment."

If the University published honest career statistics, I know many of my classmates would never have attended. I can't understand why people feel that anger at the law school system is unjustified. When you blatantly lie to your prospective consumers, and they destroy their lives as a result, you deserve anger.

With regards to the 20% figure, it comes from National Law Journal.
http://www.law.columbia.edu/null/NLJ_Ranking?exclusive=filemgr.download&file_id=133&showthumb=0

From the law school today

M E M O R A N D U M

DATE: May 14, 2008

TO: Students

FROM: Dean Guy Charles

Dean Fred Morrison

SUBJECT: CPDC Reorganization and Staffing

We recognize that the Career and Professional Development Center is an
essential part of the Law School that shapes and impacts the student
experience, alumni relations, prospective student recruiting, and the Law
School's reputation. In consultation with incoming Dean Wippman, we have
made some changes to the Career and Professional Development Center.

Those changes include a search for a Director of Career and Professional
Development.

The Director will be responsible for creating and maintaining a professional
and educational environment that is welcoming and respected by students,
alumni, employers, faculty, and staff and responsible for the development
and implementation of a strategic plan that will advance the Law School's
goals and objectives including actively soliciting employment opportunities
from a broad range of legal employers and connecting students to desired
employment opportunities.

A search committee is being formed that will include representation from
faculty, staff, students, and alumni. The Committee will be charged with
actively identifying and recruiting a high caliber individual to fill this
essential position.

We anticipate a smooth transition and thank you for your understanding and
cooperation during the reorganization.

It appears the new Dean knows there is a problem with the CPDC.