Law Schools and Graduate Programs are Lying to You
Getting in and out of graduate school used to be something done only by the very few, the very lucky and the very privileged however, today that is no longer the case. More people are studying in advanced degree programs ranging from new online degree programs to prestigious programs that have been opened for a couple hundred years. It is thought that an advanced degree is the gateway to a life of early retirement and relative comfort however, many are finding that isn’t exactly true.
In the United States, as with many nations around the world, it has long been a generally accepted idea that lawyers make lots of money. For this reason, it is often assumed that graduating from a legitimate law school will result in a high salary and stellar career prospects. However, especially in situations of general economic malaise, this is not always a safe assumption. In some cases, law schools have been found to fudge numbers for the purpose of attracting students. Such scandalous behavior might seem unthinkable among prominent universities in the United States. However, the unthinkable has actually proven to be true.
Due to the nature of their pedagogy, coupled with perceptions of value when it comes to the degrees they offer, law schools are often able to charge relatively high fees for programs that come at a relatively low cost. According to one New York Times article, law schools across the United States are often used as cash cows for their respective universities, funneling much-needed money to other programs that are less lucrative for the organization as a whole. The Times even identifies one law school dean, Richard A. Matasar of New York Law School, as being guilty of outright hypocrisy in this regard. While Matasar has roundly criticized law schools for their tendency to overcharge tuition and treat students like livestock, as dean, he has only continued in the same general trends of law schools nationwide.
One would think that this tendency to overcharge for a law degree would naturally be balanced out when large amounts of law students graduate and cannot find jobs. However, prospective law students continue to enroll in expensive programs specifically because they see the claims of high employment levels among recent graduates. According to one Slate article, “A whopping 59 of 143 law schools in the 2012 U.S. News and World Report rankings somehow reported more than 90% employment for recent graduates.” The same article mentions a trend among law students graduating during poor economic conditions, they are beginning to sue their respective institutions.
The general defense that such institutions use is that such employment statistics were never meant to be taken as any sort of guarantee. However, for cases in which the employment levels for a particular year turn out to be drastically different from what was reported when those students initially enrolled years before, a case for misleading marketing practices can be made.
Prospective lawyers, as well as anyone else in the process of choosing a school and a course of study, should carefully consider the employment statistics reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other reliable statistical entities before proceeding. While the BLS reports that lawyers enjoy a median income of over $100,000 per year, law students must bear two things in mind. First, there is a high level of variation between the high and low ends of that range, with many law school graduates earning less than $40,000 per year just after graduation. Second, employment growth for lawyers in the near future is expected to track the national average closely, which means that competition for the available jobs can be fierce.
Even when they are part of institutions that are technically non-profit, and while law degrees do result in rewarding careers for many people, law schools are often used by their parent institutions to bring in cash. For this reason, students should be leery of inflated figures in law school marketing materials.