A Law Degree in 2011: What is the Worth?
There was a time that fulfilling the curricula for a law degree (Juris Doctorate, or J.D. for short, or LL.M., Master of Laws) was a guarantee for future success. After all, there are a multitude of arenas through which you can ply your craft with such a degree:
— Real Estate
— Sports & Entertainment
— Any Major Corporation
— Private Practice
… and so on.
However, since the Great Depre… *ehem* …RECESSION took hold, even law graduates and newly-minted attorneys who have crossed the bar in their respective states are all finding just as many hurdles to cross in order to secure employment in their field. Only medicine appears to be virtually unaffected by the recession.
After all, people are always going to be sick, right?
At any rate, in light of former New York Law School students declaring that they are planning to sue the school for failing to secure them employment (a claim that most law schools both proudly declare, but publish in the American Bar Association listings in order to lure students to their schools) — story here: http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2011/08/new_lawyers_put_those_degrees.html?imw=Y&f=most-emailed-24h5 — you have to wonder where the market is going from here.
This is not a new problem, however. It is just exacerbated by the economy and the main culprit:
THE FIELD IS FLOODED WITH NEW LAWYERS.
Even with a high-flying economy, there are far too many new attorneys than there are new junior attorney positions with firms downsizing in record numbers since 2007. Just as a Bachelor Degree has become not a dime a dozen, but a dime a MILLION, law degrees are quickly becoming the same. The problem lies in the expectation by so many people whose motives for even pursuing law are flaccid and superficial. Not all, but many. When you poll and individually speak to people who are disgruntled by the market that they have faced (usually graduates since 2007), you find very quickly that they thought simply attaining a law degree meant a six figure salary and the lifetime of being smug and looking down on everyone else (okay I added that last part in myself, but with some of them, I don’t feel sorry for at all, because I know this is the mindset of some, because I heard them brag even while undergraduates).
As someone who has put off law school for two years now, and will put it off for another year, while I pursue my second and third Masters Degrees (in Public Administration at John Jay College and in Human Resource Management at Mercy College), I have sat and observed how law schools operate with regards to rankings, recruiting and marketing to prospective students.
I DO NOT LIKE IT.
There is a lot of double talk involved, a lot of deception, a great deal of massaged statistics and blurred lines, which lead students to further amplify their ridiculous expectations post-bar, and cause those with even-keeled expectations to potentially follow suit.
First of all, I applaud people who go to law for less-prestigious disciplines such as Family Law and other less-glamorous fields that may not yield as great of a financial reward as criminal law or being a high priced sports agent may potentially garner. However, I do not necessarily spite people whose goals and aspirations are to enter corporate law or becoming an entertainment lawyer. There’s nothing wrong with that. My initial plan was to enter Sports & Entertainment Law, and I believe that with three Masters Degrees in tow by August 2012, I will definitely have a solid 12 years of professional work, and a healthy academic background should I go all in to go to the University of Miami’s excellent Sports & Entertainment law program.
However, the more cost-effective option, CUNY Law in Queens, is nothing to sneeze at, and if I see that is more beneficial to my short term plans, and finding another avenue into professional sports and the music and movie industry, then there has to be another way. Some of the best agents and advisors are not law students.
WHAT THEN, SHOULD A PROSPECTIVE LAW STUDENT DO?
My personal advice, as someone who has taken the LSAT twice, talked to dozens of Admissions Deans of Top 100 colleges face to face and has several friends and associates who are recent graduates of law schools East to West since 2005, I have come to my own personal conclusion:
— CONSIDER THE CUMULATIVE COST OF ATTENDANCE.
You may or may not have undergraduate student loans, however, whether you do or do not, take into consideration the interest rates on any loans you may accrue, particularly if you pursued any Masters Degrees erstwhile.
— DISSECT THE NUMBERS.
Law Schools, whether intentionally or not, fudge their statistics. Obscure schools are popping up left and right in the past decade, declaring that they are Top 50 or Top 100. Top 50 for what? For Psychology? For Corporate Law? For Sports & Entertainment? Consider your discipline and the cost of attendance at the particular school. If you are going into a hyper-competitive field of law, look at your GPA, test scores, the ranking of the school FOR THE PARTICULAR FIELD YOU WISH TO DECLARE and add it all up.
— DO LIKE PUBLIC ENEMY, “DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE”.
Schools overstate their rankings and their ability to place students post-graduate. Schools receive bonuses, grant money and other financial windfalls by claiming (not necessarily following through) by saying that they place 90% of their students in jobs within 9-12 months of graduation.
The reality is, schools do NOT have to declare how many of those students are actually working in the field of law. For all you know, they are working at BJ’s or Best Buy. Nothing against those fields, but you didn’t accrue $50,000 a year in student loan debt for 3-4 years in order to work at a job that won’t even allow you to secure a lease anywhere in New York City by yourself.
And here in New York, the law graduate who is struggling to find even a position that pays $50,000 and find themselves a place to live without two or three roommates — is largely frustrated. Many can attest to the struggle in that regard alone, nevermind finding the position that they envisioned themselves to be in within a year of graduation.
This is not isolated to New York, obviously.
But if you are going to take anything from this writing tonight, PLEASE do not seek to enter law school with unrealistic expectations. If the school’s ranking is important in correlation with your desired legal discipline, then put yourself in the best position to enter that school and do not settle. If rankings are not important, go for the cost-efficient school.
Going to “The U.” at $40K a year is all fine and I could learn the negotiation tactics of one Drew Rosenhaus, sports agent extraordinaire.
… or I could stay home and go to CUNY Queens for 1/4 the cost.
CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS BEFORE YOU GO.