Worst Case: No Job And $250,000 In Loans

john marshall law school

Only 18.7% of John Marshall’s Class of 2011 was employed at graduation.

Unfortunately, entering the legal field with a diploma from a second-or-third-tier school is a lot like starting a race with weights strapped to your legs. The disadvantage gets worse when jobs are scarce. “I think they’ve been doing okay at best,” Cramer says of her former classmates. “I know a lot of people have been hanging up their own shingles and creating their own law firms, but I don’t know about the success of that. I mean, anybody can go out and start a law firm, but whether it’s successful and profit-making is another thing.”
U.S. News statistics on John Marshall’s Class of 2011 confirm the picture Cramer paints. An alarming 18.7% of graduates were employed at graduation, and just 56.1% were employed nine months later. In February 2012, a group of students even sued the school for misrepresenting its graduates’ prospects, but a judge chucked the suit later that year. Her reasoning? The school might’ve accepted these students’ tuition, but that doesn’t mean it actually promised them jobs.
Though Cramer doesn’t blame older, more established lawyers for not understanding the present conditions, she says their advice is often outdated. “If you’re talking with them, they’ll say, ‘Oh, well, you should apply to such-and-such,’” she explains. “Well, that probably doesn’t do a whole lot of good, you know what I’m saying? You have to use guerrilla tactics to get a job now, and I don’t think that these individuals ever had to do that.”
When asked what law schools could possibly do to help new graduates, Cramer responds quickly and decisively, like someone who has chewed this question over for a long time. “I think they need to be waking the students up,” she says. “I spent $250,000 to get a degree that I have not been able yet to use. I think that if you love the law like I did, it’s great. I’d still go to law school. But I think that I wasn’t given the tools of how to network or how to apply for a job. That was all kind of pushed aside in terms of other academics, and I think that needs to be up there right next to first-year classes.” Her first suggestion: making mandatory seminars on networking. Her second: forcing students to go up to strangers and introduce themselves, business cards at the ready.
Beyond the curriculum, there’s an even bigger issue: the cost. “I think tuition has to go down,” Cramer says. “It’s a totally unsustainable model. I mean, right now, it’s indentured servitude. There’s no way to start to pay back the money if there are no jobs. Something definitely has got to give.”
Though Cramer did eventually hear from John Marshall after graduation, she wishes her school—and law schools in general—would reach out to new graduates in more meaningful ways. “Besides asking graduates for their statistics, like, ‘Are you employed at a JD-required job or not at a JD-required job,’ I think there has to be more general outreach,” she says.
On the subject of improving John Marshall’s reputation, though, Cramer is less sure about what needs to be done. “John Marshall is certainly trying with their new construction project, and I guess that was $25 million,” she says. “I don’t know. I hope it does, because John Marshall was a very good school. It really was.”
And, of course, there are things law school applicants can start thinking about right now, provided they haven’t been dissuaded by stories like Cramer’s. “My advice to law students would be, start networking now—don’t be stupid!” Cramer says. “You’re not going to pass the bar and get a job. You have to start laying the groundwork now and getting your connections.”
Cramer admits that she’d been naïve. But in spite of everything she’s gone through, she doesn’t buy into the idea that trying to become a lawyer is inherently foolish. “People want to become lawyers for altruistic reasons,” she says. “I don’t think that there are a ton of kids who are like, ‘Oh, I don’t know what I want to do with my life, I’m going to go to law school’—I just don’t know if anyone really is that stupid. Unless you have rich parents who are going to foot the bill, you have to really want it, because it’s a lot of work.”
She’s simply frustrated that wanting the career, and putting in the work, and having good intentions isn’t enough. “I’m not out there to make a ton of money,” she says. “I just want enough to get by, and I want to help people in the process. I think there are a lot of young lawyers who feel the same way that I do.”