A few years ago, the United States experienced a recession (I really hope that isn’t news to anyone…). The legal market—like most industries—experienced a substantial decline as a result of the economic downturn. Many law students found themselves without employment after graduating. In an effort to recoup their losses, some students tried suing their schools.
This post is going to provide a brief overview of those students’ lawsuits; then, it will segue into a discussion of how to maximize employment opportunities in the current legal market.
In 2011, there were at least 15 class action lawsuits brought against law schools. The plaintiffs accused the schools of misleading prospective students about their chances of finding employment by publishing inaccurate job placement numbers. Most of the lawsuits were dismissed outright and, in the surviving suits, the judges refused to certify the classes (in other words, the plaintiffs were not permitted to bring claims on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals; instead, they were restricted to seeking individualized damages for the harm they themselves suffered…my Civil Procedure professor would be so proud of me for remembering that). The judges in these cases seemed persuaded by the defendants’ argument that law schools never guarantee employment and are not responsible for guaranteeing employment in the first place.
Thankfully, the legal market has rebounded to some extent since the recession. Employment prospects are not nearly as dire as they were a few years ago. Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned from the experience of the unfortunate students that could not find gainful employment after graduating.
The most important takeaway is that you should do your research carefully.
Choosing a law school is an extremely important decision. You should think long and hard before deciding where to attend (or whether to attend at all.) There are a variety of great resources out there for evaluating your chances of finding employment. My personal favorite is Law School Transparency (“LST”). LST will provide you a score report for any given school. Furthermore, the American Bar Association provides Employment Summary Reports for law schools (in recent years, there has been much tighter oversight of the information released by schools, so you should have more confidence in trusting this kind of data). Consult these resources to determine whether attending a school is a good investment in your future or a risky gamble that could hamstring your future opportunities.
Furthermore, avoid making assumptions. Despite the overwhelming evidence against it, a lot of people seem to think that attending law school is a relatively easy path to a lucrative career. That is simply not true. People also seem to assume that they’ll easily succeed in law school—that they’ll get great grades and find jobs even if other students in their schools are less successful. This “special snowflake” mindset is a path to destruction. Rather than looking at the outcomes for the top students at a school, look at the prospects for students closer to the median grade range. Statistically speaking, that is where you’re most likely to end up (or at least that’s what I think the math says…I don’t really do math or I wouldn’t be in law school).
Finally, be proactive. Foster connections with people who can help you down the road. Whether you’re in law school currently or thinking about going, your best resources for future employment are often the people you know who are already practicing in the field. Moreover, when you’re in law school, you should consider sending out your application materials as early as possible (and too as many employers as possible). For first-year students, that means getting your applications for summer employment out in early December. For rising second-year students, that means sending out your applications for the following summer as soon as you get your second-semester grades. So-called “mass-mailing” is a great way to both demonstrate interest and to potentially get early interviews before your school’s scheduled recruitment period.
I’ve planned on becoming a lawyer since I was a freshman in high school. But I can tell you with 100% certainty that I would not have gone to law school unless I had either an offer of admission from a top-14 school or from a strong regional school with a full-ride. I was acutely aware of the potential for unemployment associated with attending law school, and I urge you to be similarly mindful of both the positive and negatives of the process.
Law school isn’t what it was a decade ago, and the lawsuits being brought against schools should provide pretty clear evidence of that.