Friday, November 6, 2009

On The Nature Of Evil: Encouraging Law Students To Go To Law School

I recently posted about the lack of wisdom of going to law school during the present huge bubble in the number of law students - and that the bubble might even get bigger because of application increases, like the 62% application increase at Iowa law school.

However, when I was discussing this matter with a colleague, he made some comments that caused me to contemplate the nature of evil with regard to law school attendance.  Sounds kind of strange, doesn't it?  More after the fold.

More specifically, I had a colleague recently express this thought to me - although it frankly made me feel a little ill and guilty.  His thought was that with all the law students going to law school right now, if you are a lawyer in an established practice, this might be the most profitable time in your life.  Sure, clients are demanding a fee cut, but you are really seeing maybe a 0-10% decrease.  Conversely, starting lawyer salaries (and salaries make up the bulk of the firm's overhead) have already declined 10% and may decline 25% - or 50% - as this article proclaims.  If that happens, your internal margin will improve and profitability will increase - for the firm's owners, not for the new lawyers and associates.

Thus, according to this lawyer, we should be encouraging more law students to attend law school in order to further drive down the cost of their labor.  He followed it up with something like, "Just think about how much we could be pulling in if we could drive salaries down to 40K!"

When I mentioned how this would really, really put new lawyers in a bind because of the massive increases in law school tuition and debt - and that this would probably put them in a position where they would never be able to pay off their loans, much less have a house and a middle class lifestyle, his response was immediate and blunt: "That's not my problem.  It's not our fault that they got themselves into that mess.  If they are willing to work for that little, then the market has spoken.  The rest of it is their problem."

Wow.  It felt like a sock in the gut.  However, I tried to see it from his point of view - that few people worry about doing right by lawyers - that we as lawyers are at the mercy of our clients and at the mercy of the economy with regard to what we can bill them.  No one is going to feel sorry for the lawyers if the client fees are cut in half - which results in our compensation being cut in half.  In fact, the media might even gleefully rejoice because they might see a vision of "the rich" being "taken down a peg" (although this is not accurate, of course).

This caused me to reflect on the nature of evil.  Why did the behavior feel so wrong when applied toward law students, but just kind of sad and disappointing when applied to lawyers?  Here are a few of the factors that occurred to me:
  1. The plan suggested by the lawyer takes advantage of the fact that potential law students don't have adequate information to judge the situation themselves,
  2. The plan misrepresents the situation to the potential law students.
  3. This misrepresentation would be to the benefit of the lawyer and the detriment of the law student.
  4. The potential law students are very susceptible to this misrepresentation because it conforms to the erroneous information that the media has been sending to them for years.
  5. Because we are aware that the students most likely have erroneous information, don't we have some sort of obligation to correct it - or at least to not further disadvantage them?
  6. The impact of the plan on the lives of the potential law students is huge.  Basically the rest of their lives.
  7. Shouldn't we have some sort of responsibility to protect our young?  Not that the potential law students are kids, exactly - and not that we have any fiduciary duty to them, but still - they are certainly very, very naive and apparently have difficulty making harsh rational decisions.
  8. Don't we have some sort of responsibility as lawyers to do the right thing?  Sure, the practice of law has been a business rather than a profession now for decades - but still, don't you at least feel the intermittent echo of nobility and rectitude in this country founded by lawyers and protected by lawyers for 200+ years?

I guess at root evil is in the eye of the beholder.  Further, maybe even categorizing the plan as "good" or "evil" is irrelevant.  All I know is that I disagree strongly with the lawyer's plan, I don't think that it is right, and I will not participate or be associated with it.  In fact, I view this blog as the exact opposite of the lawyer's plan.  I am just trying to get the information out and to do the right thing.  What do you think?


  1. Why was this conversation about the future?

    If he wanted he could get recent grads to work for free TODAY.


  2. 10:34 - Wow. I had seen the ad before - and it is crazy. However, the "wow" is for your blog - and for the blogs that you link to! That is some great work there - and I look forward to reading what you have. Just from the little that I have read so far, I HIGHLY recommend that people read your blog. I hope that you will be OK with me putting your blog in my Link List. Prospective law students really need to know this information before it is too late.

  3. Actually, that's not my blog. I was just linking to it because I wasn't sure if the original thread would still be up for long.

  4. Here's a post from someone at the top of the class at U of Iowa law school. Neither this person, nor anyone else similarly situated at the school, is able to obtain a well-paying position in the field of law. Think about what that means for people at schools further down the food chain.


    There don't really seem to be any current Iowa Law students posting, so I thought I'd give it a go.

    I'm Class of 2011, and wow. I'm not happy. If any prospective law students are looking at Iowa, ignore anyone who graduated in '09 or '08, and listen up:

    If you want to have a prayer of landing a BigLaw job on either coast, do not come here. Want to know how many firms from New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. were at our OCI this fall? Zero. Zero firms. We had Chicago firms and Minneapolis firms dropping out like flies. On average, students had about seven interviews through OCI. And on average, they probably had about zero callbacks. I know several people in the top 30% or so, on Law Review, who have absolutely no job prospects for next summer, paying or otherwise.

    I had two flybacks, gleaned through a massive letter-writing campaign - my only alternative, since no firms I was remotely interested in visited campus. I sent out roughly 150 applications. Two flybacks. One was Fried Frank in New York, which - as anyone who interviewed there this fall knows - was conducting cattle calls. They probably gave callbacks to 300 law students, for about 30 positions. You do the math. It's not great. I had to pay for my own plane ticket, lodging, etc. The other was Latham in L.A., which had already extended offers to 13 people, and only had 6 positions left. Again, do the math. Rejected at both firms.

    Absent a BigLaw miracle, I'll be working at the DOJ Antitrust Div. in D.C. next summer. Not a terrible job, but no guarantees of employment after graduation, and I'll be making a pro-rated salary of about $40k/yr. for the summer. Wow.

    And if you're thinking, "Well, this guy doesn't have the grades - I could do better," you're probably wrong. I'm number two in the class, and on Law Review.

    I would be a lot more bitter if (1) I didn't have to watch my friends completely strike out - they're scared, confused, and disillusioned, and it makes me grateful to have any sort of employment - and (2) I have a full-ride scholarship. I can't even imagine being saddled with $80k plus in student loans, and still graduating unemployed.

    As to the posters who said you're guaranteed in-state tuition your 2L and 3L years, they're wrong. I know at least one person who's stuck paying out-of-state, and a few more who transferred to different schools b/c they couldn't find R.A. jobs (no in-state tuition).

    People have commented on Iowa's problems as an institution; I'll leave that alone. Our geographical isolation is our worst downfall - I imagine it's why our OCI got decimated even worse than a lot of other schools. Fordham, hell, Howard, American - much better options if you have even an inkling that you don't want to open a solo practice in a small town in Iowa.

    We can't even place in Chicago or Minneapolis anymore, and that leaves nothing. I imagine things will look better in the future, but they look pretty bad right now.

  5. 1:28 - Wow.
    First, I want to give credit as to where this comment came from - it's comment 320 at the Above The Law post about Iowa -

    Next, about the article... wow. Number 2 in the class, on law review, and can't get the job. Thank goodness he is on full scholarship so that he won't have as much debt at graduation (although he likely will have some due to paying for living expenses.) My sympathies and best wishes go out to him.

    For those considering going to law school - this is a huge cautionary tale. I'm not saying that you have to forever give up your dream of going to law school, but please, please research the opportunity more thoroughly and consider stongly delaying your entry to law school a few years.