The Law School Problem

A reasonably constant part of the long-term recession is the constant parade of the educated and unemployed through the news cycle. This continuing joblessness is particularly irksome for law school graduates, who were so expensively educated and now face payments on massive student loans. It’s hard to pay off debt, after all, if you don’t have a job.

One law school graduate is fighting back, sort of. As Yelena Shuster writes in the Huffington Post:

In this economy, even lawyers can’t get jobs! And Ethan Haines, an ’09 law school grad, is fed up with it. So he did what any unemployed JD would do: start a hunger strike.

He has gone “without a drop of liquid or an ounce of food” for over 39 hours to support Law School Transparency, with the demand that law schools provide accurate statistics about employment outcomes for graduates.

Basically, Haines says he plans to continue his hunger strike (which he began on Thursday) until the law schools he’s contacted agree to:

1) Comply with Law School Transparency’s (LST) employment disclosure request or state whether it anticipates declining their request. Provide written confirmation of its intent to comply with LST’s request. And 2) Audit its career counseling programs for effectiveness, resourcefulness, and accuracy. Provide written confirmation of its intent to comply with this request.

This isn’t going to work. As the legal blog AboveTheLaw points out,

Ethan Haines could wither away, die, instruct his mother to send his dismembered body parts to the random law schools he picked — and it wouldn’t make a law school administrator think one extra second before jacking up tuition on the next class of uninformed lemmings.

Law schools have no incentive to keep costs low. They have no incentive to be more transparent. And that’s because at this point the demand for legal education appears to be limitless. Tuition went up during the recession, and still new law students signed up in droves.

Listen, Americans can wait for another 10 or 20 years for law school transparency or people can just take charge on their own. Here’s a good rule for people who are interested in going to law school: don’t go to a third or fourth tier school. Just don’t; it’s not worth it.

There is obviously both methodological and perhaps even ethical trouble with the whole notion of ranking law schools into tiers. No doubt there are bright students, engaging classes, and talented faculty at all sorts of schools.

But the reason one goes to law school is to get a job as a lawyer. Period. And the firms that could potentially employ newly-minted lawyers pay attention to law school rankings. In the words of one lawyer friend of mine: “when first tier law school graduates are having trouble finding jobs, the ones down the rung are just f–ked.” Keep that in mind.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer