Brian Tamanaha on the Law School Business Model

Over at Balkinization, Brian Tamanaha has a blistering post on law professors failing to take note – or anyway do anything about – the collapse of the job market for students at non-elite law schools in light of the size of law school tuition.  The complaint of the proliferating blogs and other sites from frustrated attorney job-seekers is that

non-elite law schools are selling a fraudulent bill of goods. Law schools advertise deceptively high rates of employment and misleading income figures. Many graduates can’t get jobs. Many graduates end up as temp attorneys working for $15 to $20 dollars an hour on two week gigs, with no benefits. The luckier graduates land jobs in government or small firms for maybe $45,000, with limited prospects for improvement. A handful of lottery winners score big firm jobs.

And for the opportunity to enter a saturated legal market with long odds against them, the tens of thousands newly minted lawyers who graduate each year from non-elite schools will have paid around $150,000 in tuition and living expenses, and given up three years of income. Many leave law school with well over $100,000 in non-dischargeable debt, obligated to pay $1,000 a month for thirty years.

This dismal situation was not created by the current recession—which merely spread the pain up the chain into the lower reaches of elite schools. This has been going on for years.

Like many of the other professors reading this, I am pretty well immersed in the problems, given that I teach at a mid-tier law school … former research assistants, for example, lacking any real employment prospects.  I hold frequent discussions with students both present, just graduated, and several years out trying to figure out what to do, every single week – and I don’t have any very good suggestions.  One of the difficulties for my students is that, as a mid-tier DC school, federal government positions have been a traditional route for them.  But as job pressures have mounted in private firm jobs in NY and DC, more and more elite law school grads have been pursuing those opportunities and as far as I can tell, crowding out my students.

Even if it turns out that increased regulation across a variety of areas – for good reasons or bad, that’s not my point here – whether financial regulation, health care, etc., means increased employment opportunities for lawyers both in government and out over the longer term, it seems to me that returns to law are going to be less than before.