The truth. Can you handle the truth??

We so often times block out the truth, willing to live in our own personal states of denial.

Unfortunately, for many law students, denial usually ends in a rude awakening, and a whole heck of a debt and no means (or a job) to pay it off.


The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (YLD) wants to change that, at least for incoming law students.

According to the ABA Journal,

The ABA’s Young Lawyers Division on Saturday voted to press for greater transparency for would-be lawyers considering law school to give them a greater understanding of the risks of assuming the sometimes staggering debt required to obtain a J.D.

The division’s assembly adopted a multipoint policy resolution dubbed “Truth in Law School Education” urging law schools to improve post-graduate employment information provided to prospective students and ensure that information is prominently featured in communications. The division is next expected to bring the resolution, which has had the support of ABA President Stephen N. Zack, to the ABA’s policymaking House of Delegates at its annual meeting in August.

I’ve been writing about transparency in law school education for a while here, here and here, so I was happy to read (and lend my support to) the Truth in Law School Education Resolution (PDF):

BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to report employment data in a manner that accurately reflects whether graduates obtain full- or part-time employment within the legal profession, both in the private and public sector, or employment in alternative professions, as well as whether such employment is permanent or temporary.

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to include this employment information data on their websites, in their catalogues, and in their acceptance notices sent to applicants for admission, or include in each of those locations a conspicuous notice of where such data can be obtained.

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to increase transparency regarding their graduates’ salaries by displaying data regarding the salaries on their websites when such disclosures would not violate the confidentiality of graduates’ salary information, and to similarly display the national median salary information, by employment type, for all law school graduates, and the median salary information for the schools’ respective states and regions.

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to similarly publicize the actual cost of law school education, on a per-credit basis, and the average cost of living expenditures while attending law school.

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to consider revising the Standards for Approval of Law Schools to require law schools to provide on their websites, and in other reasonable methods of communication, additional data on employment and placement of graduates and collect more information from schools through the Section’s Annual Questionnaires to be published by the Section as part of its consumer-information function.

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to consider using and adopting a model questionnaire created by the American Bar Association which will incorporate the various provisions of this resolution.

It’s not just the resolution in the Truth in Law School Education Resolution, but the facts in the report behind it (pages 2-6). Go read the full report … it’s worth it. In the meantime, here are a few choice quotes:

  • From a historical perspective, in the 2005-06 academic year, 43,883 Juris Doctor degrees were awarded. This number increased from 37,909 for the 2001-02 academic year. The total number of graduates in the class of 2009 was approximately 44,000.
  • In the private sector, between 3,200 and 3,700 graduates of the class of 2009 who secured law firm jobs had their start dates deferred beyond December 1, 2009.
  • Overall, nearly 25% of all jobs reported to NALP were temporary.
  • Given the economic downturn, among other factors, it is not surprising that law schools are awarding an increasing number of Juris Doctor degrees, and, consequently, fewer law school graduates are finding employment.
  • It has also been discovered that some law schools are reporting wages in an ineffective, misleading manner by citing unrealistic salary averages and full-time employment statistics of their own law school graduates. This salary data is being manipulated to provide a much rosier employment picture to prospective law students, which in turn may contribute to the increase in law school enrollment.
  • For the class of 2009, 17,699 of the 28,901 graduates (approximately 61%) who obtained employment where bar passage was required reported salary information to NALP. The median salary for these graduates was $77,000, with a mean salary of $96,330. Notably, the 25th percentile salary was $51,000, and the 75th percentile was $160,000. Many prospective law students focus on the “mean” or “75th percentile salaries, and do not believe that they will fall into the “25th percentile.” However, very few lawyers actually receive the “median” salary upon graduation.

I think you get the idea.

Look, I’m not saying DON’T go to law school. The world will always need lawyers. However, you need to walk into the commitment to the debt of law school with transparency and the truth. So here’s some truth for you:

  • Law school is not a guarantee to upper-middle class living.
  • Most lawyers will not walk out of law school and into a job making $140,000 – $160,000 per year, even if you graduate towards the top of your class from Harvard, USC or UCLA.
  • Most law school graduates, even at the lowest tiered schools, will exit with more than $100,000 in debt.
  • While graduate school, in general, has long been a great place to wait out a recession, it was not been this time around,  as proven by our jobless recovery.

I’ve written a few times about how I feel law schools are letting students down. I make my living working with lawyers, and I enjoy working within the profession. However, there are thousands of kids hoping to ride out the recession by going to law school not fully realizing the consequences of taking on an astronomical amount of debt in today’s job market. Buyer Beware: very few of you will attend a top tier law school and graduate in the top 10% of your class, and be offered a job making $145,000 – $160,000 per year. The ABA Journal is reporting that 1/3 of all law school grads will graduate $120,000 in debt:

Twenty-nine percent of law students surveyed said they expect to owe more than $120,000 at graduation, up from 23 percent in 2008, 19 percent in 2007 and 18 percent in 2006. The findings come from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (PDF), which garnered responses from 26,641 law students at 82 law schools in spring 2009.

Yet the huge debt load isn’t having much of an effect on career choices, the survey found. Of those 3Ls who expected to owe more than $120,000, 32 percent planned to enter public interest law jobs, compared to 27 percent of students who expected to graduate with no student debt. Similarly, 49 percent of those with the highest expected debt load planned to work at private law firms, compared to 52 percent of those with no expected debt.

And then I read Debt: The Silent Killer in today’s ATL. It should be required reading for all law students.

I graduated law school in 2003, owing Harvard University just under $150,000. At the time, I had no idea what starting my professional career $150K in the hole would do to my life. I figured I’d work hard, make money, and I’d pay my loans out of my general non-disposable income funds — kind of like my cable bill. Seven years, two careers, numerous deferments and defaults, and one global economic meltdown later, I still owe a ton of money. Now, however, I pay it to various debt collection agencies and lawyers. When prospective landlords run a pro forma credit check on my application, they come back looking at me like I’ve been convicted of multiple war crimes. Every raise I’ll ever get will be eaten up by the collection agencies until sweet death allows me one everlasting and satisfying default. And, oh yeah, I don’t even want to practice law anymore — I quit my Biglaw job because, despite the debt, I really wanted to have a job that I enjoyed. So I essentially purchased a $150,000 disposable good. My time working in Biglaw was kind of like a very expensive vacation that I debt financed. I mention all this because I am the cautionary tale prospective law students never want to think about. I mention all this because it is noble to crush false hope. I mention all this because there are way too many people poised to follow in my financially ruinous steps.

I’m not saying don’t go to law school … I’m just saying make certain that you do your due diligence. That you are aware of the debt to job potential out there. That you are making the right choice. That you are doing so with full awareness.

It’s been a bit busy in my law firm life, but not so busy that I can’t find and appreciate legal/law firm humor.


OK. The funniest bit about this video is 1) how truthful it is; and 2) how bad the audio is, but in a funny way.

Beyond the (bad) humor is the truth. As I have said here and here, when it comes to law school, are you willing to gamble $100,000 in the hope that you MIGHT have a job upon graduation day?

Karen Sloan’s article, “Going to law school? Proceed with caution,” in the National Law Journal (subscription required) summed it up well:

“Far too many law students expect that earning a law degree will solve their financial problems for life,” reads a recent message posted on the ABA’s Web site from the organization’s Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Profession and Legal Needs. “In reality, however, attending law school can become a financial burden for law students who fail to consider carefully the financial implications of their decision.”

That message is at the core of A Law School Carol, which was produced by a 2009 graduate of a second-tier law school who has not been able to find a legal job and now is looking for work in other fields — a search he chronicles on his blog, Esq. Never. He views his decision to go to law school as a costly mistake (his debt is in the “six figures”), and hopes his blog and YouTube videos will prompt potential law students to delve beyond the conventional wisdom. A law degree is not a golden ticket, nor is law school a good place for directionless college graduates to plot their next move, he said.

“Like a lot of people, I took society’s view that law school is a good career move and leads to a stable job,” said the unnamed blogger behind Esq. Never, who agreed to an interview on condition of anonymity because he does not want to hurt his job prospects. “Unfortunately, I think a lot of employment career statistics aren’t accurate, and I ended up with buyer’s remorse.”






The best message from the videos? Before deciding to go to law school, educate yourself and make an informed decision BEFORE you invest the money.