I was on a conference call yesterday with a business, talking a little bit about the "law student market." I said that I thought law students were an important market, but that I had some very strong opinions about the boundaries around that market. I found myself up on a soapbox in the conversation, saying something like this:
We in the legal profession don't treat our young very well. We lie to them systematically.
** We tell them "you can do anything you want with a legal degree. It opens so many doors."
** We suggest that they go to the very best school that they can. Even though we know that they won't learn how to practice law there. (We don't mention that.)
** We don't talk to them, seriously, about what it means to one's life and one's choices to take on a hundred thousand dollars of non-dischargeable student loan debt. Does a law degree really "open so many doors" to someone if they will never again be free to earn less than $50,000 a year, if servicing their debt burden means that they'll have to choose between buying a house and having a kid?
** We act as though grades have some correlation to the knowledge a student has about a course.
** We act as though grades are a great predictor of the likelihood that a student will be a productive worker and a good lawyer.
** We act as though law reviews mean something to us as a profession, besides as a marker that a student is a decent writer and can follow the rules and buys into the system.
** We act as though it makes sense to pay law professors very high salaries to teach students, not how to practice law, but about the system of legal thought, and to publish peer-reviewed articles in law journals that clients and practicing lawyers hardly ever read, or even know about.
** We act as though it makes sense to ask young people to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to get a degree that will force them into a type of practice that, statistics show, will very likely make them unhappy.
** We act as though it is not outrageous that after these young people have incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, to pay the salaries of law professors who are not counselling them about the actual practice of law, for the profession to require that they endure two months of misery studying for a test that measures neither what they learned in law school, nor what will really matter when they practice law.
** We act as though it's not outrageous that only one company seems to be offering law students guidance and services in passing the bar exam, which will be required for them to make use of their law degrees and to service their debt.
** We act as though it's not outrageous that that company charges these young people $3000 to play them video lectures and give them worksheets.
** We permit big law firms to recruit on campus and tell young lawyers that the work they do will be satisfying, complex, and intellectually stimulating, when much of it will be tedious, stressful, and mind-numbing.
** We permit young associates to believe that they are somehow worth $125,000 a year, without knowing any law, even though there are smart, experienced, well-trained Indians who can do the same work, better, for far less.
** We do not talk nearly enough about what the billable hour really means.
** We let these young people, with their enormous debt burdens, move into adulthood without real skills in their profession, and with their only hope of servicing their debt the hope that they can command salaries that are way out of sync with what the true value of the services they are able to provide.
** We act as though it is sensible for the "greatest legal thinkers" to have nothing to do with practicing lawyers.
** We don't tell students that lawyers do other things besides practice law. We act like it's not outrageous for a lawyer to conclude that another lawyer might possibly be less capable or professional if he finds time to write.
** We let the myth of "professionalism" make us afraid to be honest with one another, or with clients, about the limits of what we know, about the fact that we make mistakes, our minds wander, we wonder about paths not taken, we learn on the job, and all of the other ways we're human.
Sorry, getting a little carried away here. But I think anyone who wants to sell anything to the "law school market" should recognize that our young people look up to the lawyers who have come before them, and we owe it to them to tell the truth whenever possible.