Law School Graduates Find It Tough To Cash In On New Degrees
Posted By Amy Rebecca on July 12, 2016 at 1:34 pm
The lure of law school never seemed brighter than in the midst of the 2008 recession, when job prospects for college graduates of all types dwindled to a trickle. After all, what could be more recession-proof than a law degree? Plenty, as it turns out. Fast forward to present day and the latest unemployment rate for lawyers, 11.2%, more than doubles the rate for the general population, 4.9%, according to statistics from Trading Economics and Quartz.
It gets worse: Many unemployed law school graduates have been saddled with student loan debt and no immediate job prospects in their chosen field. The problem, according to a recent article in The New York Times, may not just be that recent law school graduates are simply having a hard time finding employment. Instead, there just are not enough jobs out there to compensate for the amount of young law students flooding the market. These graduates are then left to seek out opportunities that do not necessarily align with their chosen career field.
Lawyer Anthony Tuorto, founder of Asheville, NC-based Tuorto Law, argues that the current unemployment rates for recent law school graduates are due to a combination of the financial instability left after the recession and unreasonable six-figure loan debt. Even law school graduates who do find full employment after graduation often face the reality that their beginning salaries do not make up for the mountain of debt they obtained during law school.
Job decline for law school graduates may only be starting
Combined with the advent of online resources such as LegalZoom, where consumers can have legal questions answered at a much lower cost, law school graduates are facing the reality that the decline in the current job market may only be beginning. In 2013, for example, only 84.5 percent of graduates were employed, down from 91.5 percent in 2000, according to the National Association for Law Placement. And slightly less than two-thirds of those who found jobs in 2013 were employed in positions that required passing the bar, meaning they likely are underemployed.
Another issue: Many students enroll in law school because of the perceived financial benefit of being a lawyer, without truly knowing whether they are suited to the profession. Unlike medical school students, law school students don’t have specified prerequisite courses and often enter school without a proper understanding of what is required of them once they get outside the classroom and prepare to go into the courtroom.
That could be changing. Harvard recently launched an initiative called the HBX CORe program, otherwise known as the Credentials of Readiness Program, to prepare students for careers after school. Harvard’s HBX program is an eight- to 10-week course that teaches basic business principles in an attempt to make students more valuable in their future careers.
Efforts such as Harvard’s HBX program could help to reduce the number of unemployed law graduates in two ways:
- Students comfortable with the programs will feel more prepared for their future law careers.
- Students who struggle may find themselves pursuing other professions.
What’s being done to synch jobs and candidates
Other efforts are being made by both the American Bar Association and the law schools themselves to solve the current unemployment crisis. According to The New York Times article, law schools such as Indiana’s Valparaiso University are trying to lower unemployment rates among lawyers by reducing the size of law school classes and limiting full-time staff. It said the school plans to cut its student body size from about 450 today to 300 within the next few years.
Some argue that this isn’t really a long-term solution. According to Staci Zaretsky, an editor for Above The Law, a website that promises a behind-the-scenes look at the profession, a lot of pressure has been put on schools to increase standards for enrollment, resulting in smaller class sizes. “Ten months after the class of 2015 graduated, 59.3 percent had long-term, full-time jobs that required bar passage, compared with 57.9 percent for the class of 2014,” Zaretsky says.
But while it may appear that the employment rate for recent graduates is on the rise, this “improvement” is based on fewer law school graduates entering the market, not more job opportunities. The harsh reality is that while employment prospects for recent law school graduates are down, tuition is on the rise and students are finding that a career in law may not be the ticket to prosperity that they once thought.