Above the Law’s David Lat was let into the pages of the Washington Post today in an attempt to feed the beast of myth making about law school. This is becoming a bit of a habit at the Post which recently allowed one of its own columnists to mislead the public about law schools as I explained here. Perhaps it’s the influence of their new owner, Jeff Bezos, known to lean libertarian.
Lat implies there are too many lawyers (a favorite meme of the right, of course). Apparently he is ignorant of the laws of supply and demand. Law school applicants have declined significantly in the wake of the credit crisis, continuing a decades old pattern of cyclicality in the market for legal education. If there is an oversupply then the market has a way to deal with the problem. The availability of federal aid has not stopped the steep drop off in applications since the credit crisis anymore than it likely created the steep increase in the several years prior to the bubble’s burst.
He also implies that the fact that “only 57%” of recent law school graduates obtained full time legal jobs is indicative of the oversupply problem when, in fact, that outcome is broadly consistent with the proportion of licensed lawyers actually working as lawyers over the past two decades (according to data from the BLS and ABA). Only about 60% of licensed lawyers work as lawyers. I explored this issue in greater detail here.
While the manner in which law students fund their education can be a problem, the long term value of a JD remains positive for most law school graduates as recent peer reviewed research by Professors Simkovic and McIntyre concludes even when the current cost of law school is taken into account.
When you combine the actual data about what JD holders do with their degrees and what they earn over a lifetime – particularly relative to the alternative of going through life with just a BA as one’s terminal degree – it is not a surprise that law school remains an attractive option to tens of thousands of college graduates.