Does Choosing Law School Still Make Sense?

Does Choosing Law School Still Make Sense?

For many college graduates, the decision to apply to law school is not as automatic as it used to be. Many legal experts and commentators have declared that the “law school bubble” has burst, and that students should look long and hard before taking on the time and debt necessary to obtain a J.D. According to U.S. News, the number of law school applicants has dropped nearly 40% between fall 2004 and fall 2013.

Just two months ago, the Quartz publication wrote that The US Lawyer Bubble Has Conclusively Popped, and argued that “Law schools aren’t just facing a momentary downturn. The industry has to deal with the fact that the world simply needs far fewer lawyers.” In support, they cited the “brutal” economic statistics facing law graduates, including the fact that the unemployment rate nine months after graduation for the class of 2013 was 11.2%. This figure was up from 10.6% for the class of 2012, and 9.2% for 2011 graduates.

The Above the Law blog had a slightly different, but still pessimistic, take on the law school path, asserting in their post titled Go to a Top 50 Law School or Don’t Go at All that “recent employment stats suggest that there are really only 50 schools worth going to, if you want to get a job after you graduate from law school.”

Aside from our own anecdotal observations (for example, many of us working in the legal industry know recent lawyers who didn’t graduate from a top-50 law school and still found good jobs), is there a credible case to be made that law school is still a good economic choice for college graduates?

I think the answer is clearly yes, and the recent two-part series by Slate’s Jordan Weissmann titled Now is a Great Time to Apply to Law School effectively lays out that case. He chooses to view law school as undervalued stock, rather than a crashed market. The crux of his position can be summed up in his statement, “Thanks to the historic enrollment crash that has shrunk law school classes during the past few years, it means that graduates might soon be looking at a shockingly strong job market.”

Mr. Weissmann further notes that 46,776 law students graduated in 2013, while only 36,000 are estimated to graduate in 2016. That would be a 23% drop in law graduates just when the legal market appears to be stabilizing here in the U.S. and expanding globally. He notes that even if growth in the legal market stayed flat over the next few years, “about 91 percent of the class of 2016 will find long-term, full-time work, compared with about 72 percent last year.”

Of course no one knows with any degree of certainty what the legal job market will look like in three to five years, and Mr. Weissmann admits that some legal writers think he is “disastrously off base.” But as we have argued here at the Think Tank, the legal market continues to show resiliency in the face of numerous doom-and-gloom predictions over the past few years. It makes logical sense to me that fewer law school graduates will lead to greater job opportunities as the legal market continues to recover.

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