Law school isn’t for everyone. There are many individuals who will and should pursue other academic and professional paths. But many aspiring lawyers who are passionate about this field of study and practice have been tremendously frightened by the weaker legal job market, which has been highlighted extensively by the media. I believe that those who are passionate about legal education and the law should continue to pursue their dreams and will find financial and personal fulfillment whether they practice for their entire career or utilize their legal training to become leaders in finance, real estate, the arts, communications, or the non-profit world.
There has been much debate recently over the value of a law degree. The economic slowdown, the rising cost of law school, and the saturated job market in some regions have dissuaded thousands of prospective applicants from pursuing this career path, but has the value of a law degree really plummeted to such a degree? Would it be foolhardy for anyone to attend law school today? In answer to those questions, I have to respond with a resounding “No!”
According to data from NALP, the association for legal career professionals, the employment rate for the class of 2011 was just 85.6%. This is the lowest rate for law school graduates since 1994. In 2007, the employment rate for law school grads peaked at a 20-year high of 91.9%. This data alone is enough to discourage many students from applying. It is no mystery then why the number of law school applicants has declined significantly over the last several years.
THE LEGAL JOB MARKET IS NOT IMMUNE TO ECONOMIC CYCLES
However, as with most industries, the legal field job market fluctuates with the economic cycle. According to NALP’s chart Employment Trends—1985-2011, between 1985-1990 the employment rate of law school graduates ranged from 90.3-92.2%, and between 1991-1996 the range dropped to 83.4-87.4% (about where it is today), only to rise again in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. If one is to accurately assess the value of a law degree, one must look beyond just the current situation and consider long-term trends to make an informed decision by weighing the cost of law school against its benefits. The above trends, in fact, suggest that the employment rate for lawyer could very well rebound with the economy in the coming years (as it did with the economic boom in the late 90’s and early 2000’s).
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs for lawyers will grow by 10% from 2010-2020, which is considered average job growth when one looks across all industries. Therefore, while the recession did hit the legal field hard, it is likely that more jobs will become available to recent law school graduates, thus affirming the value of a law degree. This supposition is further strengthened by the fact that, as I mentioned above, many students use a law degree very successfully to help them excel in other fields by leveraging the problem-solving, negotiation, and communications skills they learned in the legal academy..
IF YOU WANT TO GO TO LAW SCHOOL, DON’T WAIT
For those of you considering applying to law school, I strongly encourage you to do so in the next year or two. As I mentioned, the applicant pool has decreased over the last few years. While some may take that as a sign that they too should forego attending law school, before making that decision, consider the fact that a smaller applicant pool means less competition. Most applicants that I have worked with at Stratus Prep in the last few years have been accepted to top law schools with substantial scholarships. A couple of years ago, these same schools would have likely denied them admission. The second major reason to apply to law school now is that, based on the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is very possible that by the time you graduate jobs for lawyers will be increasing and you will be competing against fewer other new lawyers as many schools, like Pace Law School for example, have substantially shrunk their classes given the economic crisis.