The Job Market
"Is Law School a Losing Game?"
This headline from a New York Times article, published January 8 and amended January 11, is so far off mark that I feel compelled to comment.
All you have to do are three things:
For instance, if two schools list a median salary of $100,000, and both show 62% working at law firms, but one has 70% reporting and the other has 30%, the margin for error is much lower at the school with 70% reporting. And if a third school lists a salary of $85,000 with 80% reporting, it might or might not equal the higher of the first two schools (and looking at the 25th percentile salary, which is also published, will help you figure this out), but its graduates almost certainly are making more than at the school with only 30% reporting.
If that math is too complicated for you to understand or figure out for yourself, you're going to have a really hard time in law school. If you expect someone else to do all that thinking for you and hand you the result, ditto.
"Are law schools "gaming" the numbers? Of course. They're hiring unemployed grads as recruiters. They MAY (and I emphasize this because I know of no school that's actually doing it, but it makes sense that some would) decline to ask the salary in an exit interview if they know you're working for a lower-paying firm. They may encourage unemployed grads to take on even more debt by staying in school.
But some of the accusations border on the absurd.
What difference do three jobs make to a graduating class of 600? And the period from Feb. 1 for six weeks does EXACTLY correspond to the time when GT has to review 8,000 of their 11,000 applications. Ugly yellow journalism; ugly.
But let's face it, folks: you want to be a lawyer.
Broader Job Opportunities
Back in October, The National Jurist, a magazine devoted to issues concerning law students, focused on the switch in the legal market. They feel that the "Top Ten" game is getting stale, as law firms focus more on experience and less on credentials that may bear no relationship to performance. According to Nikolai, my reader and researcher, fewer than half of all "top 100 Law Firm" hires were from the big-name schools in 2007-8 and only a third of legal counsel hires at Fortune 500 businesses were from the 14 schools in the top ten. Here's the full cite. And thank you, Nikolai, for your always-incisive summaries.
In a Better Economy
According to our local newspaper, the economy may finish re-shuffling itself. Banks may merge but not fail, meaning that dislocation will be less acute. Real estate is selling, although at much lower prices than it had been. Stability at a lower level may not feel like improvement, but look at it this way: would you rather have a legal job for $85k or no job at all?
So my answer to all those "angry graduates" who feel cheated because they're not making $160k a year is, why don't you stop by McD's on your way home, then re-evaluate your anger? Life may not feel quite like champagne and fireworks just yet, but compared to last year, it should be a much happier New Year!
Where are the Jobs?
Conventional wisdom says that the higher a school's reputation, the broader its job market. As with most generalizations, it's true sometimes, but not nearly as often as you might think. Before we dive into the data, however, I feel that some caveats are in order:
There is no easy answer to these questions, and I've used my judgment, departing from the reported data whenever I felt that doing so would give a more accurate picture. Here is the resulting list of:
Schools placing more than half their graduates outside of the school's surrounding region
As you can see, about half the expected "national" schools place more graduates out of region than they do in the home region. But a number of lower-ranked schools also share this honor, while a number of top schools don't.
Schools that place between 50% and 75% of their class in the home region are still sending a substantial portion out of the area. At most state schools, 75% in state and 25% out will closely mirrors the preference of the student body, many of whom chose that school precisely because it was in the state where they want to find a career. As with the group above, many of these schools are surprises.
Schools that place more than 25% of their graduating class outside of the school's surrounding region
In this "substantially regional and arguably national" group, there is again representation from the top to the bottom of the USNews rankings. One can argue that New Yorkers want to stay where they grew up; but so do the graduates of Washington & Lee, most of whom would hate living in New York. Conversely, who would expect Tulsa or Valparaiso to place a substantial number of graduates out of region?
The two charts above list 66 law schools, or about one-third of all ABA-approved law schools; but it is not the top third. So if you're worried about where you can work after you graduate, bookmark this page.