Are Law Schools Screwing Students?

Bitter Lawyer just got classy. The following post is from a former Judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. We’re calling the judge “TexJudge.” Also read TexJudge’s response to this piece: Bitter Judge Strikes Again.

Y’all are great. Funny, informative and well-written. Many of the issues you cover need more attention than they have received, especially from the mainstream media.

I attended a top-25 law school (Boston University) and graduated in 1977. My third-year tuition was $7500, and most law jobs paid around $35-40000 per year at that time. BigLaw paid, if I recall, around $60000. Thirty years later, tuition is around $40000, roughly a 550% increase. BigLaw jobs now pay around $160000, a 250% increase, but most law jobs outside BigLaw, pay around $60000, a less than 75% increase.

Clearly, something is out of whack here. Tuition quintuples over 30 years at both top-tier and lesser-tier schools, but pay, for the 90% of grads who have no chance at a BigLaw job, has not even doubled. No wonder new law grads often have student loan debts well in excess of $100000 with little ability to pay them back—much less have enough left over for rent, food, etc.

Why are not law schools, or universities in general, criticized for their excessive prices? People go nuts if gas goes up 10%, but somehow law schools increase their tuition every year far in excess of inflation and totally avoid scrutiny from the media or the so-called consumer advocates. There are far too many law schools. I realize that folks who decide to go to law school need to do more due diligence to determine if it makes economic sense given the employment market for new lawyers (especially from lower-tier schools). However, don’t the schools themselves have some obligation to warn applicants that going to law school may be a very risky financial gamble? Should schools be required, perhaps as a requirement for their students to be eligible to receive government-backed student loans, to make true and accurate (under penalty of perjury) stats public regarding the employment rates of their graduates for the preceding five years?

  • BigLaw Hata

    I agree.  These sub T15 schools pretend your life will be filled with riches if you graduate from their mediocre school.  It’s all a big lie!

  • BL1Y

    This guy for ABA President.

  • Senior Associate

    I agree completely —-to be frank, there are just too many lawyers.  Stop admitting people to law school.  Stop.

  • BL1Y

    Senior Associate: ABA President Carolyn Lamm has said anti-trust regulations prevent the ABA from reducing law school populations.  At the same time, the ABA endorses an increase in government student loans to law students.  But, it’s not like Lamm, who will be returning to private practice as a partner at White and Case, has any interest in increasing the supply and debt load of law students.

  • Syntax

    This guy is a judge?

  • Nobitter special

    Your honor has a good point but I would add the average salary.  Make the salary and employment rate look like the g.p.a. and lsat stats given for an entering class, for instance.  Most schools say X% are employed after nine months of grad. but don’t say what they’re getting paid.  Extending that arbitrary nine months and showing the salary would be really helpful and not too out of line considering tuition costs.  Whether it should be criminal is not something I’m interested in but it also might be needed to get law schools to comply.  If you get the top tiers to do it every respectable school would follow.  It may even weed out some of the shittier schools.

  • Chick Litigator

    The judge makes a good point. But I would point out that it’s not just the cost of law school that has gone, the price of all high education has gone. When my parents went to college (same general time the judge was in law school), it didn’t cost nearly what I spent on college. And I went to a state U, so that’s saying alot. Some say it has to do with the ease of student loans, but I don’t know and won’t comment on that.

    I don’t subscribe to the snotty, self-important BL “if you don’t didn’t graduate from a Top 25 law school, you diploma is no better than the paper I use to wipe my ass” attitude. That being said, I agree that there are two many law schools. My state has 11. We could lose half of them and they probably wouldn’t be all that missed. (And don’t get me started on California) There’s just too many law schools turning out too many grads and not enough jobs to go around. Also why the bar exams have gotten harder – quality control.

  • Anonymous

    I agree.  Now what do we do if the law students are getting screwed?

  • Ace in the Hole

    Couldn’t agree more your honor.  The pitch most schools make to their students is disingenuous at best, and needs to be tempered with the reality that many if not most lawyers make less than plumbers and carpenters but take on six figures in debt to get there and work longer hours.  My sister in law makes nearly as much as the average lawyer working at Safeway, and she has a union, job security and benefits that most lawyers can’t even dream of – something needs to be done.

  • Kate Law

    Of course law schools are screwing people, It’s a business just like any other.  Goal = profit.  Demand = Supply.  As long as there are kids dumb enough to buy into the whole “lawyer dream,” there will be law schools ready and willing to admit them, take their money and spit them out into the jobless world.  Is it just me or has this site’s content gone downhill BAD?

  • JW

    I have a really, really hard time believing this: “…in 1977…most law jobs paid around $35-40000 per year at that time. BigLaw paid, if I recall, around $60000.”
    It sounds like he is talking about starting salaries (that’s what he talks about later on), and no way did Biglaw start at $60k in 1977.  Nor is it easy for me to believe that “most law jobs” started at $35-$40k.

  • Taxmancometh

    Actually, the same has held true for other professions as well. I too, have been perplexed as to the reason. I finally discovered the answer one day when talking to my son, who was using an admissions counseling position in a university as a means funding his Masters program. He said the reason for the explosion in cost is the same reason for the recent explosion housing prices. One simple answer. Sub-prime lending. Up until two years ago, the government was subsidizing sub-prime student loans, some were as low as 1-2%, as a way of bolstering college admissions. The availability of cheap, abundant money for students increased demand on a limited supply of admission slots causing tuition to soar. In other words, with so many applicants, the universities simply charged whatever the market would bear for a full decade or more. The money kept flowing and the students kept coming. Buildings were erected at inflated costs to keep up with the artificial demand. Consequently, salaries and benefits were raised to ridiculous levels for staff, both tenured and untenured. The universities had no incentive to contain costs, and the students who were sucker enough to take on insane levels of debt are now left with the wreckage of bad credit and default. It is a sad legacy and with the looming ‘double dip recession’ facing us in 2011, and national fiscal system that is close to default, the unreported story will be millions of young lives left in ruin by an unstable financial system that ‘promised’ them so much more. <><> We need more workers not more lawyers that are in debt up to their eyeballs.

  • taxmancometh

    Correction to my above comment.

    I meant to say ‘more ‘students’ not ‘more lawyers’. To me it is about the jobs we need more than the type of student. I misspoke.

  • Dick Weed

    I thought this article was about screwing law students.  If so, are there any pretty females that are interested in me?  Thank you in advance.  I remain available for servicing attractive women law students ONLY!

  • Benjamin Dover

    It is true that law schooling is a business, and that as times get tough, people look to go to law school, and they charge more.  Also, the proliferation of law shows on TV make law glamourous.  But this judge seems not to know his much salaries, especially in Texas, where they are not what they are in NY.  I suggest that people be paid in barter; as this is an easier commodity to accept.  KateLaw and Chick Litigator make good points also.

  • Craig

    No.  Graduating from law school does not give you the guarantee to be paid off other peoples clients.  If you are not happy with what someone else is willing to pay you, get your own clients, and start your own firm.  Then you can pay first years $40,000 and let them complain.  Law school was never meant to be a free pass to print money, which it seemingly had been before this mini collapse.

  • JPM

    When I suggested to2 died in the wool Obama supporters that the government’s involvement in the student loan debacle was the biggest factor in exploding tutiion they looked at me like I had 2 heads….they think the government getting involved makes it “more affordable”……..history suggests otherwise.

  • Just Some Guy

    His points are well taken, but his numbers must be off.  I graduated in 1989 and got a mid-big law job starting aroung $65K.  The biggest firms in NY were paying rougly $85K, and that had gone up a bunch recently.  I can’t imagine 12 years earlier anyone was paying $60K.

  • Gunners = Glorified Law Dorks

    We all know that when you are a college graduate (or maybe in high school), you see the glorified lawyers on tv and movies earning six figures and you think, “Wow, if I go to law school I will be so successful!” It takes a special kind of person to go to law school, one that doesn’t like to hear “no,” one who is overly-competitive, and basically, we can all admit, most of us are douche bags. They could raise tuition another $10k (and they will at some point), and people will keep going, regardless of job prospects and whether or not it makes financial sense. Law students are so arrogant to think “that won’t happen to me, i know people, i’ll make it big,” even if they are middle of the road at a tier 3 school.  whatever. i wasn’t going to let anyone tell me I couldn’t do it, so taking away money for loans etc. is only going to increase loans from the private sector and *gasp!*, help private banks. i’ll be paying off my debt until I’m 50. I will probably never make 6 figures. oh well. at least i have a job.
    however, i do think law schools should be more honest with students about starting salaries that the grads are making. my law school boasted that 96% of the grads were employed within 6 months (i don’t know if that’s good or bad), but neglected to tell us that the vast majority of those grads are making between $55–70k instead of the $150k that we all thought we would make going in. This is the southeast afterall, and no lawyer from a bumblef*** law school is going to land the big job in NYC.

  • anon

    Thank you. Law school is turning out to be the biggest mistake i’ve made in my life so far and I’m glad people keep talking about this issue.