This Wall Street Journal story about how lawyers from the lower ranks of lower tiered law schools have a tough time finding jobs has been getting lots of coverage, such as in thiscommentary by Susan Cartier Liebel; a round up of law professor blogs and this discussion at the WSJ Law Blog. As for me, I’m under-whelmed…I can’t understand why this is news to anyone.
I graduated from law school nearly two decades ago. Though Cornell is considered “top tier,” there were at least a handful of students in my class who didn’t have jobs when graduation rolled around. And if that was the case for Cornell, it was certainly even more true for lawyers graduating from lower ranked schools (let me make clear, I don’t agree that lawyers from top schools are better than those from lower schools or that ranking even matters at all. But when it comes to conventional hiring practices, most firms favor students from top tier schools, fair or not). Moreover, 20 years ago, students took out loans; I myself owed $70,000 when I graduated. Though that may sound small by today’s standards, bear in mind that salaries back then were smaller as well: my GS-11 position as a government attorney paid $27,800 (I turned down a law firm job at nearly three times that because I felt too burned out to work that hard); today a GS-11 makes $54,000.
So here’s my own “conspiracy theory” on why the WSJ suddenly shows an interest in law students who aren’t getting the top dollar jobs. If you follow My Shingle, you can see a trend of well credentialed lawyers disatisfied enough with biglaw to leave and start their own firms, or even leave the law entirely. If the trend continues, the future of biglaw will eventually be threatened as individual lawyers leverage technology and start their own firms that can compete with large firms on rates and effectiveness. In that context, I view the the WSJ article not as a caution to law students who attend lower tier schools but as a scare tactic to remind lawyers that as much as they hate their 80 hour billable weeks, life could be much, much worse.
What do you think?