WTF Friday 11/30/2012, Opportunity Costs Edition

Yesterday one Lawrence E. Mitchell, Dean of Case Western Reserve Law School, published an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “Law School is Worth the Money.” It’s pretty funny.

Amongst the gems contained therein:

  • People shouldn’t be so upset about the bad job market – in which only 50% of new graduates are able to get jobs in law firms – because it’s only 9% worse than the worst market in recent memory. (Oh, well, when you put it that way, of course it’s an excellent use of hundreds of thousands of dollars!)
  • On the subject of that 50% figure, the “focus on first jobs is misplaced,” because law schools are educating people for “40-50 year careers.”  (HA.  Good luck having a 50 year career in the law if you can’t get a first job in it within a few years of graduation.  Law school teaches you nothing about legal practice, and that J.D. credential becomes stale right quick.)
  • Law school is an awesome investment because “Many graduates will find that their legal educations give them the skills to find rich and rewarding lives in business, politics, government, finance, the nonprofit sector, the arts, education and more.”  (I’m sorry, did he actually say that students should drop off a six figure sum with his law school on their way to careers in the arts?  That is messed up, yo.)
  • That the “thousands of students” who have been discouraged from attending law school will be unable to find fulfilling careers elsewhere, because “[t]hey’re not all going to be doctors or investment bankers.”  (Guess what, dude?  They’re not all going to be lawyers, either, even if they graduate from law school.)

To our vulnerable young readers, who might be considering law school: Put down the Op-Ed, and back away slowly.  Dean Mitchell wants your money.  Do not take his advice.  For more on why, see here, here, and here.

Amanda Taub


  1. I read the three links and I agree with the points raised, but I do have a few comments: 1, this is the case for most professions – not just Law (try medicine, academia, architecture, planning, etc.) – there are always going to be those that succeed better than others. 2. The key and only real issue here seems to be the fee for law school in the US – which is absurdly expensive, but, from what I have read this is not uncommon for many schools (e.g. Harvard even as an undergrad). 3. Unless they are the best at what they do, why should they be getting top salaries 4. I don’t think going to university or graduate school Is a guarantee of a job – I certainly never expected it. I think that’s unrealistic. Like everything in life there are no free tickets. Why on earth should being a student (book learning, getting the grades) equate with being a working lawyer (a lot of other skills that would need to come into play). A law degree like Any postgraduate specialty is a risk at some point. You apply, you get in you do your best you leave you continue to do your best in an extremely competitive market/world. I must have missed the memo that said grad school was a career path to a certain lifestyle and certain salary. 5. Should it be about the salary? God forbid you all become lawyers for a high salary. Most professions don’t have “high” salaries as the norm – most academic, NGO or development positions, planning, GIS, research, analysis etc don’t. I would have thought that people go to Law school, for the same reason people become anthropologists or architects, etc – because they are passionate about justice and law..and if that’s not the case, I’m glad law school in the US is not a fast track for a career where the main priority is a high wage. Medium salaries are at a par with what most people earn – are lawyers automatically deserving of ext high salaries? I don’t think so. Is a paediatric surgeon? – yes. 6. I know many people that have pursued a law degree specifically To use it in development/conflict context (people with previous degrees in International relations, etc. and that work in this field and have pursued a law degree to remain in this work), as well as in politics etc. Law is the backbone in many ways, and of course people will pursue it as part of other careers. 7. That it’s a 9% rise is a significant point. Unless data is readily available then it would be relatively normal for some Americans to assume it is a 50% rise, particularly given the recession in the US…that with the recession it is a 9% rise gives a far clearer and less negative picture. The initial 50% may have other indicators: do they all want careers in law firms? Are they good enough to have a job in a law firm? I used to be a lecturer at a London university – and I can tell you some people are far less capable than others. The result of, say, a Masters course may be 60 – of which only 6 may be capable or worthy of working in high paying, influential jobs. 20 may be mid level, 15 may have scraped through with help, etc. That graduating is not an automatic ticket to wealth and good jobs is, quite frankly, a key part of enuring those that Are worthy – bright, committed, passionate – do receive the jobs. Which is in turn a key part of ensuring key jobs – law, medicine – are practiced by those that can best serve the public, etc. In these articles (written by law students or law graduates not in their “plum” jobs) There is a notable lack of noting What grades all these graduates who Didn’t receive jobs had when they finished. There is a distinct lack of other factors (having kids), burnout, using the degree in another field, etc. And without this (particularly what grades they received) then the points are meaningless. The high fees are the only real issue as far as I can see – so maybe there should be greater activism on this point.

  2. I definitely see the points in these articles, but I just want to add my two cents as a current law student. In my opinion, I don’t think law school is a bad idea, all the time, for everyone. It depends on the quality of the school you go to. I would say that the top 5 or so schools can be certainly worth it, due to the job opportunities available to you and depending on what you want to do at the end of it. However, a lower ranked school may be less certain. Despite the cost, if you go to a top law school, you can likely either get a corporate law job or a public interest job covered by the loan repayment program. My law school has a great loan repayment plan for ANY nonprofit work – I don’t even have to work as a lawyer. If I work at a nonprofit of any kind, I don’t have to pay much of my loans back. We also have many funded scholarships for those who want to do public interest, government, or international work. I personally love law school and feel challenged and excited every day, so it has been a good decision for me, and for many other students at my school who genuinely love it and find satisfaction in it. My professors are amazing, my classes are interesting, and I think I have a good shot at getting a nonprofit job at the end of it. I just wanted to chime in from my experience, which has been wholly positive.

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