The ABA Journal has an article reflecting on what happened to the 150,000 law school grads that never passed the bar.
Turns out that their lives suck for the first five years, but that they eventually bounce back, but never to the degree as their peer:
Jane Yakowitz, director of a project at UCLA law school that studies affirmative action preferences in higher education, summarizes her findings in a new research paper (PDF). She found that five years out of law school, law grads who fail the bar lag behind lawyers in terms of earnings, employment stability, and even marriage and divorce rates. They also do worse than college graduates who never went to law school.
“But after an initial adjustment period, they spring back and out-perform the average college graduate for the later half of their careers,” Yakowitz writes. “Though they never catch up to their lawyer peers, the earnings of the median bar-failer does catch up to the 25th percentile lawyer.”
Ms. Yahowitz’s rightly concludes that it is important to study what happens to those who never pass the bar as they make up a significant portion of students graduating law school.
This void is somewhat understandable. Bar-failers are hard to study. They’re the invisible JDs. They’re less likely to respond to law school alumni surveys, and state bars have little incentive to follow their careers. But bar-failers are difficult to track for the same reasons we ought to make the effort. They make up a significant portion of graduating law school classes, and we don’t know what they do, how many of them there are, and whether their experiences with the bar caused long-lasting detriment to their lives. This is the first serious attempt to understand the impact of failing the bar exam.
I suggest grabbing a cup of coffee and reading the study, The Marooned Law School Graduate: An Empirical Investigation of Law School Graduate that Fail the Bar Exam, in its entirety for there are numerous nuances and items of note. It should give pause to anyone who is considering incurring the substantial debt associated with a J.D.
On page 15 of the study, for instance, Ms. Yahowitz points out that while there continues to be an increase in J.D. degrees, there is not a correlating increase in lawyers:
The decrease in lawyering rates could be a sign that the JD degree has broadened its applicability to other fields, giving law graduates more choice in their career paths. A less optimistic (and, regrettably, more plausible) explanation, borne out by the layoffs and hiring patterns in the legal market today, is that the legal profession was shrinking during a period that legal education continued to expand. (emphasis added)
Law schools MUST address these issues, from the law school graduates who never passes the bar to the lack of jobs upon graduation. It is unconscionable that law schools continue to admit more students than our current marketplace can absorb. These young men and women need this information so that they can choose to make an informed decision before rolling the dice.