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Aren't Students Doing Cost-Benefit Analysis of Law School?

Even before the economy took a turn for the worse, many law students had trouble finding employment after graduation. Recall, for example, Kirsten Wolf, the Boston University Law School grad who couldn't find a job and made it her one-woman mission to talk people out of law school. Wolf hoped to show that law school doesn't provide the level of job security that many students believe; indeed, large numbers of graduates aren't able to find employment -- and that was back in 2007.

Wolf's story gained exposure on high-profile sites like the WSJ Law Blog, spawning nearly 300 comments. So after all of that coverage, I was surprised to see that graduates still aren't engaging in the sort of cost-benefit analysis they should when considering law school.

At Veritas Blog, Adam Hoff comments on this Wall Street Journal piece about how college grads are looking to law school (and business school) to ride out the current recession. Hoff emphasizes that law school is not a panacea and that in this economy, lawyers who want to work in highly-coveted positions are going to have to hustle; perhaps, spending summers or internships working for free. Hoff also advises students that they must put cost first and foremost atop the list of criteria that they evaluate in selecting a law school. Hoff's piece will hopefully remind students of the importance of doing a return-on-investment analysis of their time in law school and for that, it's valuable. But still, I can't believe that after all that's happened with the economy and layoffs, that students still need to hear this.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 24, 2009 at 02:48 @ Legal Blog Watch.

 

Best defense to the Economic Downturn? Finding a Safe Haven In Law School

By Nathan Koppel

The job market for lawyers, hit hard by the recession, seems to reach new lows every day. But that has not done much to discourage the thousands who are lining up to become the next generation of attorneys.
In seeming defiance of logic, many law schools are surging in popularity. At Washington and Lee University in Virginia, for example, law-school applications are up 29% this year over 2008, while Yale Law School and the University of Texas School of Law both enjoyed an 8% increase in applications. Nationwide, the total number of applicants is up by 2% over last year, with the deadline to submit applications having passed at most schools.

College graduates, educators say, are seeking refuge from the economy in the relative tranquility of higher education, hoping that the job market will improve by the time they graduate. Law schools also have been aided by the long-held belief that the legal business is relatively immune from recessions.

"In up and down times, economies as complex as ours need a lot of legal services," says Rodney Smolla, dean of the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

In the past, the legal profession has been relatively immune to economic downturns. When times are bad, after all, companies still need lawyers for such tasks as bankruptcy filings.
But the legal industry now is feeling the pain every bit as much as the rest of the economy. Some legal specialties, to be sure, remain relatively robust, including bankruptcy and litigation, but those practices have not made up for substantial declines in mergers, corporate finance and other staples of the business. Firms across the country are firing lawyers by the hundreds, slashing salaries and even rescinding job offers to law-school graduates. Last month, Latham & Watkins, a marquee firm with large New York and Los Angeles offices, laid off 190 lawyers.

In short, it is the worst job market in modern memory at large corporate law firms, which have long been the employers of choice for top graduates.

Public-sector law jobs also are harder to come by these days, according to James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, a Washington-based nonprofit that researches the legal job market. The Philadelphia District Attorney's office, for example, recently rescinded about a dozen job offers to law-school graduates due to start in the fall.

"Law school is not as safe a bet" as it once was, says William Henderson, a professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law, where applications so far are up 8%.

Some large corporate firms may never rebound to their prior size, due partly to contraction in the investment-banking industry and the fact that corporate clients increasingly are fed up by the lofty legal rates charged by elite law firms, says Mr. Henderson, who specializes in the economics of the legal profession.

"There are very few schools that can guarantee students that they'll find a high-paying corporate job," he says. Those considering law school who don't consider law a calling, he adds, need to ask: "Is it really worth going $120,000 or $140,000 more into debt?"

A Place to Hide Out

Still, law school may be a place to hide out. In light of the economy, "there are a lot of people who have decided they will not test the job market as a graduating senior from college," says Richard Geiger, the associate dean of enrollment at Cornell University Law School, where applications are up 8%. Graduate-school applications typically shoot up during a recession.


 

Claire Arnett, a senior at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, says she had planned to move to New York City after graduation, but she put those plans on hold when the economy went south. "The way things are, I thought that even if I could find a job, I would not make enough for it to be worth it," she says.

Instead, she applied to law school, because she says she thinks law degrees are useful in a variety of fields, not just the law. "Whether I end up practicing, I feel like it's a good degree to have," says Ms. Arnett, who has so far gotten into four schools, including her top choice, the University of Tennessee College of Law.

School administrators seize on the versatility of a law degree in asserting that it is still a sound investment. Lawyers, they say, will play a central role in navigating a variety of issues, such as the use of natural resources, cross-border trade and government stimulus spending, which likely will play a central role in the economy for years to come.

"As compared to other graduate programs, [law school] is more analytically rigorous and touches more areas of society," says Paul Berman, dean of Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, where applications this year are down.

But even those bullish on law school stress that students should take steps to ensure that their investment pays off. For starters, students should aim to get into an elite law school. (There are many lists ranking law schools; the best-known is U.S. News & World Report's, which can be found at grad-schools.usnews.rankingsand
reviews.com/grad/law
.) In a buyer's market for jobs, lawyers note, employers can afford to be choosy and hire only the most pedigreed applicants.

That said, all hope is not lost for students who do not gain admission to a top-tier school -- if they work hard once there and gain a place on the school's law review. Students who graduate "at the top of their class from almost any school will find work in almost any economy," says the National Association for Law Placement's Mr. Leipold.

Choosing a Specialty

Once in school, law students should take classes in legal specialties that are poised for growth, such as intellectual-property law and international arbitration, which often is used to resolve cross-border business disputes. Students should also reach out to lawyers practicing in such growth practices, using their school's alumni directory as a source of professional contacts.

"It's never too early to start making contacts in your field and learn about what the practice entails," says Amy Berenson Mallow, a managing director at Shannon & Manch LLP, a Washington-based consulting firm that provides career counseling to lawyers.

If students know where they want to live after graduation, it may help to attend a law school in that region. "Homegrown kids always have an advantage," says Bruce MacEwen, a New York-based law-firm consultant.

Those committed to taking the plunge into law school can at least take heart in the fact that the job market, come graduation, probably won't look much worse than it does now. "Hopefully by then there will be a turnaround," Ms. Berenson Mallow says. "Economic cycles can change."

From Rominger Legal.



     
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