Whether law school is “worth it” and whether law schools need to make huge curriculum changes in order to survive has been quite the topic of debate lately.
The paper — Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be…Lawyers — breaks down the likelihood of an “also ran,” a “solid performer,” and a “hot prospect” making up the costs of going to law school, and the missed salary while attending, less likely than one would think. (The TaxProf Blog presents the relevant abstract and tables and The New York Times Economix blog also wrote about the article, which points out such calculations have been attempted in other fields, as well.)
The hot prospect does not make big firm starting salaries, and it’s safe to say that the Rodge Cohen’s (and future Rodge Cohen’s) probably make their money back not too long into partnership.
But assuming Schlunk is correct, it still must be asked if this is the right way to measure the “investment.” Not all people go to law school strictly for the money — and with the decreasing opportunities at big (money) firms, you would have to be crazy to. Most people go into law for the same reason they go into other fields — they like the topic and feel like they would love, like or, at the very least tolerate, having a career in law.
Many people, in fact, go to law school knowing that they will take public interest jobs that will never pay huge dividends. Their investment has nothing to do with cash flow (and, of course, many school help with loans for those taking non-firm, public-minded positions).
But all of this “investment” talk feeds into another topic, the so-called Death of “Big Law School,” which Erik Gerding argues will struggle as the Big Firm world recalibrates (or, worst case scenario) implodes on itself.
Gerding and Larry Ribstein at Ideoblog (who has been writing about the stresses firms are under and coined the “Death of Big Law” moniker) make good arguments, and law schools and firms are wise to use this economic downturn to evaluate how young attorneys are trained.
Maybe we’re too optimistic (or, depending on your viewpoint, too accepting of the Big Firm structure), but while the industry has suffered a ton of layoffs this year, we doubt any long term impact will be felt by law schools. And we doubt any amount of notably fewer people will go to law school, even if it is not in their economic interest.
Once the economy comes around, people quickly forget. And once money is rolling in again (and at many firms — see Weil Gotschal’s bankruptcy practice — it never stopped), a big firm will be thrilled as usual, to have its name out there as the first to raise salaries or the first to top its 2007 summer classes or whatever is the measuring stick of the moment.
Firms do appear to be truly evaluating their billing policies, or being forced to by clients, and are looking closer at training programs for associates. But while these things make the news, it’s more or less business as usual at a lot of places. None of the associates we know are reporting massive changes in the day-to-day, especially now that the worst seems to have passed.
Do we need as many law schools as we have? Absolutely not. Will we see, as a result of this downturn, any massive changes in curriculum? We just don’t think so. The ships of big firms and big-name schools take too long to turn in any groundbreaking way. And by the time they do, we’ll be on to the next disaster.
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