Another year is in the books. And many would call 2014 a year to forget. Law school enrollments continued to plummet, and so did bar-passage rates. Reforms like paid field work stalled. Job placement and salaries stagnated.
Amid the barrage of negative news, there were reasons for optimism. Despite high tuitions, graduates gave their alma maters high grades in areas like teaching quality and professional training, according to Kaplan Test Prep. Big law jobs continued to offer hope of those dreamy six figure salaries. And National Jurist reported that nearly 20 schools increased placement by 10% or more over the past year.
Sound counterintuitive? In an era of segmentation, it shouldn’t come as any surprise. These days, everyone is struggling to find a middle amid the crosscurrents and fissures. And the top stories reflect these ambiguities in legal education. Finding work may be more difficult, but developing job hunting skills also forges more resilient and inventive attorneys. Advocates for traditional and clinic-based education may butt heads, but they’re really debating over a portion of the entire curriculum. While supply may exceed demand now, lawyers are channeling their formidable skills into avenues ranging from public service to comedy. And the public can only benefit as a result.
Without further adieu, here are Tipping the Scales’ top stories for 2014:
1) Why So Many People Despise Law School: Bashing lawyers is almost a national pastime. And we revel in the stereotypes: the smug ambulance chasers who stretch and twist the truth, the hypercompetitive egomaniacs who dwell on minutiae to confuse, complicate, and conceal.
Attorneys have grown accustomed to public ridicule. Most would admit that they invite it sometimes. But the jibes generally came from outsiders who didn’t appreciate the system or science of law. Now, the criticism is being directed at their profession’s foundation: legal education. Worse, it is coming from insiders like faculty and recent grads.
Saddled with $150,000 debts and poor job prospects, many graduates charge that law schools are a poor investment that failed to prepare them for practice. But is that really the point of law school? Decide from yourself in one of our most-read columns of the year.
2) Some Graduates Actually Get Jobs — But How?: We’ve all heard that only 57% of law grads have found full-time, long-term work. If you’re a pessimist, you’re probably carping about a middling recovery and an amended social contract. But if your glass is half full, you’re figuring out how those 57% found jobs in the fist place.
In 2014, Tipping the Scales examined the job hunting strategies used by four law graduates from Emory, Georgia State, the University of Missouri, and Brooklyn Law. From endless coffee klatches with potential mentors to marketing legal skills in unconventional arenas, these four graduates managed to stand out and land jobs. What were their secrets? Check out their profiles here to learn more.
3) Taking the LSAT Cold: Our Intrepid Reporter Does It: Law school admissions is a numbers game, pure and simple. If your score is high enough, you can get accepted into nearly any school you choose. Just one problem: That score is derived from your LSAT, one of the most agonizing standardized tests ever devised. Forget cramming facts and figures. The LSAT tests your ability to dissect problems, simplify data, make connections, apply rules, draw conclusions, and identify flaws. In short, it tests the high-level thinking skills that separate practicing attorneys from failed applicants and dropouts. No pressure at all, right?
This summer, staff writer Maya Itah decided to take the LSAT without any preparation. And boy, was it a learning experience! What did Maya encounter during the reasoning, comprehension and essay sections? How did she score? And what advice would she give to future test-takers? Find out in this captivating essay.
4) Famous Law School Dropouts: Spend the holidays wondering if you really belong in law school? Well, you’re not alone. The first semester is always the roughest. Think of it as graduate-level workload taught in an unfamiliar language. It’s hard enough to let go of old reading and study habits that no longer work. And it’s ever harder to accept that you’re not the smartest person in class. Who wouldn’t have doubts? And you wouldn’t be the first person to walk away – and hit it big somewhere else. There’s no shame in that.
Here are some names to remember: Al Gore, Paul Simon, Vince Lombardi, and Diane Sawyer. You can probably guess what they all had in common: they’re all law school dropouts. From American presidents and comedians to CEOs and authors, many talents who we describe as “icons” decided that their destinies couldn’t be confined to cramped classrooms and casebooks. Here are some examples of dropouts who followed their passions and made a difference outside law.