"U.S.News & World Report has ranked Vermont Law School’s environmental law program as the best in the nation for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year. The 2013 Best Grad Schools rankings were released today. VLS also placed among the nation’s top programs for dispute resolution (rank 16th), clinical training (rank 23rd) and law schools where law firms tend to recruit (rank 96th) among America’s 200 law schools.”
Well, I have to ask the obvious: Do you want to be a lawyer?? Law school is three years of your life and costs well over $100,000. A good chunk of that is unsubsidized loans (e.g., that’s very bad). If you’re going to law school to satisfy your inner enviro-idealist, how will you pay that back?
Besides those logistics, are you prepared to compete for a job with other lawyers? Lawyers are a vicious and tenacious lot. And the job market is saturated with out of work, hungry lawyers. Will your resume hold up in the market?
I know a lot of law graduates who’ve been in the market for over two years. TWO YEARS looking to become a lawyer. Many have barred in multiple states - an additional financial and time burden outside of tuition and the three years dedicated.
They’re getting by in the non-profits, but, man, they are really struggling to make ends meet. So, the market is flush with both laid off, careerist-lawyers and fresh-out graduates. Not to mention a fresh crop of grads will be released next spring. There are too few jobs out there and the trends don’t look too good.
Granted, environmental law is a niche. There aren’t a lot of environmental lawyers out there as it’s a specialty field. The more narrow the field, the less unemployment.
Still, the state of the industry doesn’t look good.
By the same token, law schools are scrambling to justify the high costs of attendance in light a terrible job market. And there’s been a plethora of bad press questioning the value of a law degree.
In fact, students are suing law schools to get their tuition money back. One student went to the media shortly after he asked for and was denied that his tuition money be returned. He wrote a letter to the dean of Boston College and the media picked up his story. Hell broke loose.
With that, I point to a solid piece by Paul Campos that argues against getting a law degree using statistics. Campos is a contributor to “Lawyers, Gun$, and Money.” Here’s his abridged argument:
POINT ONE: …Contrary to the standard narrative within legal academia, which assumes an increasing or at least steady demand for legal services relative to overall economic growth, the demand for legal services within the American economy has been declining, relative to the rest of the economy, for the past two decades….
POINT TWO: The rate at which American law schools are producing aspiring lawyers far outstrips the demand for new lawyers, and this has been the case for many years now. …
POINT THREE: The cost of law school is, in economic terms, arbitrary….In other words, over the past quarter century, the relative change in the cost of acquiring a law degree has borne no rational relationship to the relative change in the value of a law degree.
POINT FOUR: There is, to this point, almost no sign that this arbitrary relationship between the change in the cost of acquiring law degrees and the change in their value is going to move toward a more orthodox economic relationship, in which the decreases in value trigger decreases in price. Law schools continue to raise tuition at far faster than the rate of inflation…
POINT FIVE: These otherwise unsustainable trends are being maintained by a combination of unlimited federal educational loan money and, to a lesser extent, poor information regarding the actual relationship between the costs and benefits of acquiring a law degree….
Campos unredacted piece is well worth your time and I highly recommend you give it a go; even if you’re not considering a JD…
Are law schools that fudge employment stats breaking federal law?
We debated about this at Vermont Law, sort of. VLS reported something like 98% employment, but a plurality of us were unemployed. Employment was worse for the 2nd and 1st years under us. Competition was fierce even for non-paying internships and volunteer work. There was no way that that law school grads are at 90% employed after graduation right now. Now one graduate wants to know if lawschools are breaking the law:
Joel Murray, who graduated this spring, writes in a paper posted on the Social Science Research Network that when law schools misrepresent their employment statistics, they’re defying the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prevents unfair or deceptive acts in business. He wants the commission to begin investigating law schools.
And trust me, lawschool is hella expensive. Thrilling? Yes! Debt laden? You know it! I’m lucky to have good contracts after graduating (one of them, if you can believe it, is organizing Obama’s GreenGov Symposium this October). But I was strategic and very aggressive in my last years of school. The debt is unbelievable though, worse than a mortgage - in fact, tuition interest rates are about 75% higher than actual mortgages! Some students are suing,
And last month, a 2008 graduate of Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego sued the school, contending that it had misrepresented its post-graduation statistics. According to the complaint [PDF], plaintiff Anna Alaburda racked up $150,000 in debt and has been unable to find a full-time job as an attorney – even though she graduated with honors.
"My goal with this paper is to raise awareness of this issue and help further the public calls for law schools to clean up their acts and to be transparent and honest with prospective students," he said. "I’m very happy with the education I received from UC Davis. I used the skills and intellectual ability I gained there to write this paper."
I went to Vermont Law School and it was both brutal and exhilarating. VLS is the number one environmental law school in the nation - acceptance is competitive and, er, nasty expensive. But, I learned from some of the best lawyers and professors in the country. I got published, was a delegate to the COP15 in Copenhagen, and met the woman of my dreams. There’s an old joke about lawyers, “99% of lawyers give the profession a bad name.” I was privileged enough to attend with the remaining 1%, the good guys.
I get a lot of questions from budding environmentalists and other readers about going to law school. Should I go? Will I get a job? Can I not be a lawyer?
At the end of the day, I really don’t know. On the one hand, there is a glut of lawyers in the market, becoming an attorney is difficult in a saturated field. So, you have to balance a lowered pay expectation with over $100k in student debt. On the other hand, I cannot think of a more intellectually fulfilling profession that gets shit done. When you win (or lose) a decision, you are shaping legal history. It’s in the books for all posterity. Future cases will hinge on decisions you made while you petitioned the court. To me, this is a deeply profound and tangible contribution to your community and your country (and of course your client, be it fish, fowl, NGO, or man).
But, law school is not for everyone. VLS throws their students into the fire in their first year. Here is glimpse of what we went through:
Hi there! I've been taking advantage of the free Yale Environmental Law post you put up. Right now I'm a sophomore in college and I've been planning on going to law school to become an international environmental lawyer but a lot of folks tell me that unless I REALLY want to be a lawyer not to go. Also I'm constantly told there will be no jobs when I graduate. My mind is becoming hazy and I'm not sure what to do, I want to study something that will allow me to move forward as an environmental activist, and I thought law was a good idea but now I'm unsure. If it's not too much trouble, do you have any advice?
Thanks for the feedback on my Yale post. It’s a really interesting free class. Pros/Cons of law school:
Do not go unless you want to be a lawyer
It’s $100k of debt, minimum
It’s 3 years of grueling, horrible studying
Clerkships or legal internships are very, very competitive
Journal review is also very, very competitive
>You need one or the other
Yep. The lawyer job market has peaked (some students are suing lawschools for their money back!)
Fellow students can be vicious, backstabbing, and competitive.
Students study very hard, and they drink/smoke even harder.
Some students are evil. They will go on to use law nefariously. Your gut will know who these people are. But beware their powerful spells!
The bar exam is pure evil, studying for it is pure eviler. Each state has different requirements, all are expensive. I’ve seen students puke and have nervous breakdowns while studying for the bar.
It’s more competitive to get in these days. So your LSAT score must be higher than the school’s published average.
You will think like a lawyer, forever. You will argue with friends like never before, find fault with every social situation, and see lawsuits everywhere you look and with every step you take. The world unfolds into something it never was before - a world that either is, or is not. All questions become black or white, as if in rivalry. In other words, you will hurt a lot of people’s feelings, and not even know it.
Studying law is like nothing you’ve ever done, it’s exhilarating, fascinating, confusing, and frustrating. In a word, thrilling. You will be intellectually challenged like you’ve never been before. The law sweeps you off your feet, and you don’t know where you’ll land.
Opportunity to study under an expert. I studied under giants at Vermont Law School - Patrick Parenteau, Dwight Merriam, Marc Mihaly, Yvonne Scannell and other Supreme Court level litigators.
If you’re going to go, go to a school with a core focus. VLS, Lewis and Clark, Pace, Columbia, Yale all have the best environmental law programs in the world. VLS is #1.
Once you finish your second year, you feel a deep sense of incomparable accomplishment.
Once you graduate, you become part of the planet’s elites. Most don’t realize how privileged it is to have a law degree. Less than .001% of all people on earth have a law or PhD degree. In other words, use it well, use it for good.
Good lawyers get paid good money.
You will become an expert writer.
Can you muster the courage to argue facts and case history crisply in front of a judge?
You want to do good. Fine. But for whom? Individuals with a drug habit? A rare frog, or wolf? A river? An entire forest? A corporation? Rich individuals? A county? A state? The Federal Government? International treaties?
Deciding to go to law school involves precision.
Finally, there are masters in environmental law, and environmental policy that may be more suitable, and functional. If you’re into working for NGOs, non-profits, think-tanks, then that’s the way to go. These degrees teach the elements and structures of law, but focus on policy and advocacy.
UPDATE: To be clear, that .001% I mentioned is even less for women.