by Elliot Ferrell, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
The average law student incurs $125,000 of debt and pays almost twice as much in tuition as a student did in 2001. Law students are understandably concerned with the legal market’s job prospects, and many are vocal about. Students are not the only ones voicing their concerns, as a lawyers (employed and unemployed), professors, employers, and business people add their opinions and observations to the discourse as well. A common theme is to decry the rise of tuition costs and debt and the fall of enrollment and job openings.
The Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology’s publication, You’re Doing It Wrong: How the Anti-Law School Scam Blogging Movement Can Shape the Legal Profession, describes this dialogue with a sense of optimism. According to the article, unemployed and underemployed lawyers contribute to the legal community through the voice of an outsider, facilitated by the openness and anonymity afforded by the internet. These contributions may contain valuable ideas and observations but are often plagued by gripes and vulgarities so common to internet communications emanating from forums or the blogosphere.
Additionally, the online news world is littered with articles espousing reasons for the gloomy outlook in the legal job market. However, many carry the same sense of optimism as previously indicated. One such article suggests that, after using a little math and some average attrition rates, the number of law school graduates per year and the number of job openings per year will equalize by 2016. This result is due to dwindling average enrollment and approximately equal number of graduates getting jobs each year. Despite the apparent logic of this approach, holding onto all of the variables involved staying the course likely requires an ardently optimistic law student.
Several commentators step back from the optimistic approach and suggest reforms intended to curb the cost of law school and increase a graduate’s job prospects. One proposal would remove the third year of law school to cut the tuition debt and hasten a student’s path into the workforce. However, such an idea is not without its pitfalls, such as a reduced readiness for the bar exam. Another idea is to increase practical education through clinical courses and partnerships analogous to medical residencies. Many schools already offer an array of different clinic experiences, but the notion of a legal residency would seem attractive to law students as it would offer an additional path to permanent employment.
What is the role of the student in this discussion? Perhaps, it is to let it run its course and hope for the job market to right itself. Perhaps, it is to chime in and advocate or simply make observations. Either way, there are certainly valuable contributions to be made, and, with access to the internet, there is little standing in your way.