We have received a lot of thoughts both via email and elsewhere about whether a new reporting standard will make any difference if the real problem is a surplus of lawyers. While the market retraction has exacerbated the number of JD graduates who can’t find suitable work, the problem we have focused on solving — how to get uninformed consumers on the path to making better decisions about whether, when, and where to enter the legal profession — is nothing new. Some commenters hope that we pave the way to fewer lawyers by discouraging a significant number of would-be lawyers from ever attending law school. This is not our goal, though it may be one consequence.
As we mention in our paper, better information about where graduates go will highlight law schools that have successfully created a niche. Whether this niche is in a particular region or city, a field of law, or a sector (think Government or Public Interest), the standard provides schools with a new opportunity to publicize their unique placement ability. Displaying where all graduates go post-graduation can help match students to the right programs, minimizing the effect of national rankings on student decision-making. The choice then becomes less about what a school ranks each year in U.S. News and more about how each school can help a student achieve her goals. If it’s clearer where a school fits into the legal hiring market, schools will be encouraged to adapt and innovate. Schools want graduates to be successful and give back to the institution, and figuring out how to recruit and train new lawyers in ways that maximize employment outcomes and minimize debt loads is a burden we fully expect schools are willing (and able) to carry.
Many critics are nevertheless concerned that there are just too many law schools graduating too many law students. They fear that simply providing more meaningful employment information will do too little to stop law schools from graduating a surplus of debt-ridden attorneys, many of whom need not only on-the-job training and mentoring but jobs that permit debt repayment. We think a market retraction is a great time for legal education institutions to innovate. Shutting the doors or shrinking class sizes are just two possible reactions. Some others include increasing scholarship funding and reducing tuition to minimize debt loads, emphasizing niche placement, and developing apprenticeship programs during school or after graduation (more here). Whether schools shrink their class sizes or go away will depend on their ability to meet the needs of both employers and students.
Concerns about how schools should react is appropriately the subject of next week’s annual Tennessee Judicial Conference. LST co-founder Patrick Lynch is participating in a panel discussion about some of these same questions, along with Vanderbilt’s Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, the Dean of Nashville School of Law, and the Dean of the new Belmont University College of Law. We are very excited about the opportunity to present our thoughts to members of the Bench and Bar here in Tennessee, and we expect a lively discussion with the audience.
We will post our thoughts on the discussion after the conference. In the meantime, please send us yours.