Among my many administrative duties at DePaul University where I previously taught for 9 years and now at Brooklyn College is that I am one of the pre-law advisers on campus. It is a job that I am increasingly uncomfortable with given the grim job market for new lawyers. At the beginning of the recession, a flood of people went to law school, presumably to ride out the unemployment wave. Law schools benefited handsomely. They hired faculty at a quick pace and built infrustrusture as well to accommodate the increased enrollment. The problem is that as ABA approved law schools were expanding and accepting more and more students, the legal job market was cratering.
There was trouble as the recession wore on. More and more firms and other outlets were lawyers are typically employed cut back on their hiring at the same time that law schools were graduating large numbers of newly minted JDs. Soon, stories like this one in the New York Times asked "Is Law School a Losing Game". The conclusion of that article is "no" given the heavy debt incurred and the depressing job market upon exit. There is now a veritable cottage industry of pundits and law professors who are critical of law school. One of the most prominent critics is Brian Tamanaha, who wrote the book Failing Law Schools, in which he is critical of deceptive practices used by law schools to lure even more graduates.
Responses to this trend have been interesting. Aspiring law students did catch on. As the endless drumbeat of stories on legal jobs drying up and the burdensome student debt people faced, law school applications declined beginning in 2011 or so. The New York Times ran a story at the end of January 30, 2013 about the sharp decline in law school applications, the lowest in 30 years. The legal profession is in crisis, spawning rethinking of the entire legal education system itself by changing the model of legal education.
But colleges and universities need to respond also. At DePaul, my fellow pre-law adviser in the department independently reached the conclusion that it was not ethical for us to be encouraging aspiring law students to go to law school and "go for it" without also warning them of the costs. I've handed out like hot cakes a copy of the New York Time article "Is Law School Worth It" to any pre-law adivsee that walks through my doors and I tell them not to take my word for it, but to do their own research. I advise them of the huge student loan debt they will incur and ask them to ask themselves whether it is worth it.
At Brooklyn College, in conjunction with the career center, we are creating a panel called "Think you need a JD for a cool job? Think again." In my experience of pre-law advising, many students seem to choose law school as a default, because they don't know what else to do with their degree in the social sciences or humanities. We're trying to counter that thinking with a panel of people who have full-filling jobs that do not require a JD. Still, it feels like an uphill battle.