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Good News, Bad News: Less Lawyers in the Pipeline, but Escalator is Broken

New Orleans    I was going to write about the fact that the new health care regulations are still going to suck out 10% of a worker’s pay until he’s making about $15.00 per hour or $30,000 a year, but, hey, there are too many “Debbie Downer” stories in my repertoire, so let’s look at some good news:   law school applications are down to a 30-year low this year!  Now that’s great news!  Finally, we can imagine a future with fewer lawyers!

The law school boys are wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth.  Could it be that the exorbitant cost of law school is depressing the market?  Or, is it the fact that the young grads are lucky to make $40,000 a year these days with $100,000 plus in debt?  Or, maybe they feel like it would just be easier to go straight.  As my comrade, Orell Fitzsimmons, field director for Local 100 United Labor Unions, observed, he had heard talk of a cheaper two-year program, and if they added “an extra year for some ethics training it would do them all a world of good.”  Amen!

But maybe not, since they are dropping like rocks!   Listen to the numbers from the Times: 

As of this month, there were 30,000 applicants to law schools for the fall, a 20 percent decrease from the same time last year and a 38 percent decline from 2010, according to the Law School Admission Council. Of some 200 law schools nationwide, only 4 have seen increases in applications this year. In 2004 there were 100,000 applicants to law schools; this year there are likely to be 54,000.   Such startling numbers have plunged law school administrations into soul-searching debate about the future of legal education and the profession over all.

“Soul-searching debate about …the profession over all.”  Wow!  Now, that would be some good news.  The first mass labor federation, the Knights of Labor, famously welcomed almost all workers to membership, but barred lawyers, not wanting to ruin the union’s reputation.

“Thirty years ago if you were looking to get on the escalator to upward mobility you went to business or law school. Today the law school escalator is broken.”  Times quote of the day from William D. Henderson, a professor of law at Indiana University, on the declining number of applications to United States law schools.

“Escalator is broken.”  Maybe while the “soul-searching debate” is going on, there should be some discussion about law as a service profession rather than a get-rich-quick scheme?  Perhaps there could be a couple of points raised about protecting the little guys and the biscuit cookers, and not just sharp elbowing for corporations and the big timers.

This could be good news all around.  No offense, but I’m for putting a positive spin and the best construction on this report.

  • Doug

    It seemed that the drastic increase in new lawyers during the ’80s resulted in excessive legalization of society and certainly increased complexity in the resolution of disputes. Maybe increased deviousness in legislating too. But our bigger problem since the 90s has been the explosion of MBAs, marketers, and finance experts from our business schools. Now, even our personal lives are all about networking and marketing (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn etc), business is no longer about producing goods or services, but trading in commodities, and finance has gobbled up a shocking portion of economic activity. It’s not just because I’m a lawyer that I say that the bad guys are over there. The bad guys are over there.

  • Wade Rathke

    Amen! Excellent comment — i couldn’t agree more!