JCougar wrote:I always wonder why people think that getting a certain degree means they are entitled to a six-figure salary right off the bat. When I first considered going to law school, I had no idea that some firms paid $160,000 to fresh graduates. That's unheard of in any other profession except for medical school, where you are spending far more time in school/residencies. I see this as a good thing. In other professions, you have to prove yourself in the real world before you get offered this kind of money, whether it's business, accounting, engineering, architecture, etc. I think law students simply have unreal expectations. They think that working for $60k/year means your life is over. That's what most people make straight out of graduate school (sometimes they don't even make that, even for a PhD).
The law employment market is bad, but so is the employment market in practically every other profession, especially for recent graduates. The real problem isn't the legal employment market, it is the cost of law school. It has risen at a ridiculous rate over the last 15 years. Why does it keep rising? Because law students keep paying full tuition.
I can't think of another profession, either, where students are allowed to sit on their butts and have employers come to their school and seek them out and offer them six-figure salaries. Everywhere else, you have to send out resumes, network, know people, send out individualized cover letters, apply for jobs many months before you graduate, get your foot in the door any way you can, etc. Law students talk about this like it's some sort of degrading ritual, when, in fact, it's simply called "how the rest of the world gets a job." 60k is not a bad salary given you have only sacrificed 3 years of your life. The only way to make a similar amount straight out of school in such a short amount of time is to get a Master's degree in Engineering or Accounting. I know someone who got a near-perfect score on his GRE, got a full scholarship to a top 15 engineering PhD program, and it took him 5 years to complete. Although he was going to school for free and got a small stipend, that's two extra years of lost wages that a law student wouldn't have to incur. And despite doing high-profile research for NASA and being a star student, his starting salary was 98k in one of the highest cost of living areas in the country. That's an awesome starting salary for anyone, but law students seem to think that would be a tragedy if that happened to them. Anyone with good enough numbers to get into a T-14 could easily get the same deal and go to law school for very low cost or free to a lower T1, T2 or the state school where they want to practice, and if they did moderately well, they could expect a similar starting salary.
OCI isn't the only way people get employed, and if you strike out at OCI, there are plenty of other options. More law students get jobs outside of OCI in any given year than they do through OCI. So just because people (even below median T10 or top 10% T2) are striking out at OCI doesn't mean their career is shot. If you can land a 60k job somewhere in this economy without any practical work experience, consider yourself very lucky.
There's nothing wrong with legal employment or starting salaries when compared to the rest of the economy. The only thing out of whack about the whole law school experience is the cost of law school. It's a cash cow for universities, and they raise the cost at will because people are convinced they're going to make 160k per year so cost simply doesn't matter. So just don't go anywhere for full tuition, and set your expectations at making 60k/year. If you happen to do well enough for a six-figure job after only 3 years of post-graduate education without ever having any real-world experience, consider yourself very lucky no matter where you go to school. If people set their salary expectations more realistically and kept this in mind while paying out tuition, schools would be forced to lower it to a more reasonable level, just like in any other free-market. If everyone refuses to pay $40k/year to sit in a large auditorium that requires no special labs or equipment, I'll guaruntee you we'll see law school tuition start to decline. It's not like these universities can't afford it. They're raking in the money right now as it is.
I think this is pretty much true with the cost of law schools being the real issue. However, the other real big issue is just how the whole legal profession revolves around prestige. There's really nothing wrong with starting out at $60K /year in just about any other profession because if you do great stuff you'll be going places. Law is a little different in that if you start out making $60k /year in shitlaw (e.g. personal injury work), you are pretty much stuck there forever and will never make it into a large law firm. Additionally, you get locked out of the exit options that people that formerly worked in biglaw get, such as the gvt organizations and some of the really nice and relatively prestious mid-size firms (so pretty much coming back to my first point -- if you start out in shitlaw, you probably remain there for the rest of your life and the salary there is never really great (e.g. after 5 years in personal injury you still probably will be making less then half of what a 1st year biglaw associate makes).
I actually question when that point will ever come when students decide to just stop going to law school because they feel it is just too much risk and the chances of coming out doing well are too slim. I read something on abovethelaw.com, where they showed University of California (a public school!) planning on phasing their tuition up to around $60K /year by around 2013 (at all of the campuses). Maybe the system high tuition rates just won't break down until it's up to $60k /year at all law schools and the odds of getting into biglaw (and thus, not ruining yourself financially) only go out to the top 10% of t14 grads (analysts do say the future for biglaw is uncertain at this point and probably won't return to where it was during the boom in 2007 for quite a while, if ever). But that will probably never happen, and even if it does, it's pretty questionable whether people would stop paying for it (e.g. just look at all the people at t2 or lower paying sticker to attend, which land them around a 5% shot at biglaw, (in a good economy) and getting out of their debt in the foreseeable future).