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.
Free for download, in his paper, “Professional Dishonesty: Do U.S. Law Schools That Report False or Misleading Employment Statistics Violate Consumer Protection Laws?”, argues that lawschools are deceiving prospective students falsely advertising inflated graduation employment numbers. And that lawschools are in fact subject to review under certain federal law. Traditionally, lawschools were somehow exempt from Federal Trade Commission purview.
"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:
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.