Law School Deans, You Are the Problem

Look in the mirror!If you haven’t read it yet, take a few minutes to digest Law School is Worth the Money, written by the entirely non-self-interested dean of Case Western Reserve University’s law school. After you stop hyperventilating, please come back…

Okay, so where were we? Right. I don’t know about you, but I was silently yelling, “WTF?!? Are you kidding me?” and trying not to stab my eyes out.

Where to start? I’m tempted to go line-by-line, because basically every single sentence deserves a response (seriously, if this is the sort of unsupported argument they’re teaching at Case Western, God help us), but let’s just focus on the high points. (Most of which I’ve already covered in detail here: Law School Myths, Debunked.)

Yes, Dean, the Debt is a Problem

I know lawyers are supposed to be bad at math, but — conveniently — I went to the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. So I know this statement is ridiculous:

“The average student at a private law school graduates with $125,000 in debt. But the average lawyer’s annual salary exceeds that number. You’d consider a home mortgage at that ratio to be pretty sweet.”

Again, where to start?!?

  • First off, a home is a physical asset. If times get tough, you can sell it. If times get really tough, and no one will buy your house, you can walk away from your mortgage. Does it screw up your credit for a few years? Sure. But you’re off the hook. YOU CANNOT WALK AWAY FROM YOUR LAW SCHOOL LOANS. (Okay, maybe in very, very limited circumstances you can get them discharged, but it’s orders of magnitude more difficult than just not sending your mortgage check and living rent-free while you wait for the bank to foreclose.) And no one is buying your law degree (although I’m sure lots of recent grads would like a return option). It’s not an asset. It has no actual value. None. Without job prospects, or some extreme increase in psychic satisfaction, you just went $125,000 in debt for nothing.
  • You’re not paying off debt at a mid-career salary. Leaving aside the issues with the “average” lawyer salaries (don’t worry, I’ll get to that), when do students start paying off their law school debt? Six months after graduating. When do they reach the “average” lawyer salary? Well, I’m going to guess when they’re an averagely experienced lawyer — say, halfway through their 40-50 year career. So what f**king difference does it make how much an average lawyer with 20 years of experience makes when we’re talking about current graduate debt loads?!? It’s totally irrelevant. And, suffice it to say, the lawyer with 20 years of experience did not have anything close to the average debt load of today’s graduates.

The reality of the situation is that law school debt is an ongoing disaster for many graduates.

To ignore that reality, and just throw up your hands (as the dean of a law school!) and say, “Oh, wait 20 years and you’ll have plenty of money to pay it back,” is insulting and unrealistic.

It’s a problem. You’re partially responsible for creating it. Deal with it.

Stop Misleading Potential Students About Salaries

Given the sloppy reasoning throughout this piece, it’s possible Dean Mitchell is truly unaware that starting salaries for law graduates are bimodal, but I doubt that’s the case. No, he just prefers to talk about the “median starting salary for practicing lawyers” because that number looks better than the reality.

Seriously, if you’re thinking of applying to law school, please take the time to understand this graph:

I’ve discussed it in detail here: Law School Myth #1: Lawyers Make a Lot of Money, and it’s very, very important.

Almost no one makes the median (or mean, for that matter) starting salary. A small subset of new law grads makes a lot more, and most people make less.

Prospective law students, ignore these average starting salary numbers. They’re useless for practical planning purposes.

Before you apply to law school, figure out which category you’re likely to be in (BigLaw, or everyone else). And don’t kid yourself. You’re not a special snowflake. I know it’s tough, but try to play the odds rather than engaging in deluded wishful thinking.

Where’s My 50-Year Legal Career?

I actually agree with Dean Mitchell that we shouldn’t be focused so heavily on first law jobs. However, my reasoning is a bit different.

Let’s take an example. If you look at Columbia Law School’s stats for the class of 2006, I’m a resounding success as a graduate. Federal clerkship, highly paid BigLaw job. Win!

Not so fast.

Interestingly enough, they’ve never once asked me what I did next.

Nor did anyone follow up to see why I “retired” from the practice of law in Massachusetts only four years after being admitted.

Strange, no? What explains this complete lack of curiosity about what’s happening to young lawyers?

No one wants to know.

No one — from law schools, to the ABA, to state bar associations — seems to be collecting data on why lawyers are leaving the profession in droves. (You know who’s actually trying to gather this information? Above the Law. Help ’em out.)

Even if recent grads don’t leave the profession entirely, the odds of staying in a BigLaw job more than a few years are slim. If you’re female and/or minority, the odds of staying in a firm job are even lower. (Making me long for some actual evidence that: “More opportunity will open to women and minorities, too.” Yeah, when’s that going to happen exactly? We’ve been waiting for a generation now, and I’m not seeing much evidence of progress in the BigLaw partnership ranks or other positions of power in the profession.)

The deeper question here is this:

Why are schools patting themselves on the back for getting their top graduates into highly paid BigLaw jobs, knowing that the vast majority of these graduates aren’t going to be there five years later?

What does it say about the profession that the supposed gold ring career path is so intolerable that almost no one can stand to do it for more than a few years?

What comes next? I’m not seeing a lot of institutional interest in exploring that question. What I am seeing is a bunch of “recovering lawyers” who wasted a ton of time and money chasing something that wasn’t what they thought it was.

Newsflash: The “Best and Brightest” Probably Shouldn’t Be Lawyers

Finally, the belabored dean bemoans the idea that “society that may well soon find itself bereft of its best and brightest lawyers.” To that I say, “Thank goodness!”

How much longer are “the best and brightest” (whatever that means, anyway) going to be funneled into meaningless careers as the servants of the global businesses that can still afford BigLaw rates? How much longer are they going to waste their talents and potential dealing with nutso partners and pointless discovery requests? How many hours of their lives are they going to bill to enrich their overlords before realizing it’s all a bill of goods?

What real value is anyone in a typical law firm creating for society? Maybe you can point to a few examples, but most of the work being done is pointless at best and actively harmful at worst (that’s why it costs so much).

If you want to talk about creating value for society, send the best and brightest to go work as community organizers, or solar installers, or social entrepreneurs. Get them jobs in schools, or startups, or hospitals. But, for the love of God, do NOT send them to law school!

(Yes, I know every law school dean likes to point to the handful of esteemed alums who had distinguished careers in public service. Those people didn’t graduate with $125K debt loads. That was a different time, and they had different options. Public interest work simply isn’t an option for most debt-ridden law grads these days, so let’s not pretend the best and brightest law grads are going to be doing it. They’re not. Most of them can’t. And how’s your LRAP, anyway?)

For the record, I think there are plenty of decent reasons to go to law school (“I want to be a lawyer and I’m willing to give up a lot to do that” being one of them). But this is also a profession with a lot of very serious problems.

For law school deans to pretend otherwise — or to imply that anyone discussing the obvious shortcomings of the existing legal educational complex is somehow unfairly dissuading people from going to law school — is simply irresponsible.

You’re part of the problem, and it’s real. Deal with it.

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  1. Amen. You nailed it. I wish his line of thinking was unique, but I think it’s ubiquitous. The second tier school I attended gets very little of its operating funds — maybe 20-25%? — from donations/endowment. The bulk is tuition. The reason? Graduates feel used and abused and would rather burn their money (if they had extra) than give it to the school.

    • That level of vitriol isn’t unique to second tier schools. You should see the Facebook posts that go up when Columbia sends a particularly tasteless appeal for more money from alums.

      • A friend once wrote a screed on the back of a donation request letter and mailed it back. The alumni liaison actually apologized (my friend referenced a number of very specific, very bad behavior by administration).

        But no one bugs her for donations now. I probably need to do the same…

        • One of my law school roommates is officially off their list for similar behavior. I’ve written back at least once, but I guess they still hold out hope I might contribute one day…

          • I’m glad you were able to get off the mailing lists. I sent back a solicitation from my T14 school with a similar screed (I’m unemployed yet you keep asking me for money, etc.), was told I would be removed from all alumni fundraising mailing lists…six months later I started receiving them again, with no appreciable decrease in the number or means of delivery (email, simple letters, fancy multi-page “report” type mailings, etc.). Funny how they can’t be bothered to track down graduates to see what they are actually doing but actually incapable of not asking them for money.

    • Charlie Kennedy says

      Things really have changed for law students, and very much for the worse. When I went to the University of Chicago in the 1970s, tuition was about $2700 per semester. I took out loans and paid them off without much trouble from my salary as a BigLaw associate, at a time when those jobs were fairly plentiful and ordinarily stretched out to seven or eight years, even for those who did not become partners. The second half of my career became much tougher as the economics of the profession deteriorated, but I was at least able to buy a house and raise a family before the wheels fell off. If I were a new graduate today, and if I had taken out loans for the tuition at more recent levels, I would have to defer buying a house and even would have to think twice about starting a family.

      I also have taught as a law school adjunct for many years, and I’ll be relieved to give it up. I see my students working very, very hard, and I can’t assure them that it’s worth the trouble.

    • Francois Brunet says

      Here is my response sent to Dean Mitchell

      Dear Sir,

      I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude.

      Having read your piece, it is only now that I fully understand, semantically, the real significance of the word “chutzpah”. Mr. Mitchell, to be a law dean and to claim, with a straight face, to derive pride therefrom, and to say, without blinking, that “law school is worth the money”, is a rare exploit.

      Now, that really takes cojones. All four of them.

      As far as public relations skills are concerned, Josef Goebbels will henceforth pale in comparison. As to gallows’ humor, you now beat, by far, Jonathan Swift’s “Modest proposal”.

      Incidentally, as a “fund raiser”, your credentials are impeccable. And what prospective student could resist the cute, nay, cherubic smile you are displaying on your pictures shown on your school’s site, especially the one adorning your “Welcome to the class of 2014”?

      To paraphrase that address, it would be unfair to call your article a “breeding ground of platitudes”. The reader is not left “bored and unfulfilled”. Rest assured that your prose belongs in an anthology (I am not sure which one yet).

      One humble suggestion: you should create and teach an LL.M. program covering “the law of second-hand car dealerships”.

      Keep up the good work, and word, and, who knows? you might one day aspire to the presidency of Walden College.

      I do remain, with admiration.

      François Brunet

  2. Darren Hutchinson says

    A law Dean is biased; but an angry law grad isn’t. OK. – A Law Professor – which makes me terribly biased, uninformed, and problematic too.

    • Don’t even get me started on law professors. 😉

      • Darren Hutchinson says

        Or students.

        • Darren,

          A few reasons why your students may be angry:

          – American University –

          Tuition (3 years): $135,288
          Estimated Total Cost: $253,621

          Percent Not Working: 23.2%
          Percent Working Part-Time: 11.4%
          Percent Working in School Funded Jobs: 5.8%
          Percent Working in 2-10 Lawyer Firms: 6.6%

          So 34.6% of all graduates are either working part-time or not at all. And another 12.4% are working at low-paying jobs that probably won’t last long. If I took on mortgage level debt for these kinds of results I would be angry, too.

    • Concerned Citizen says

      Professor Hutchinson – you yourself may not be the problem, but your school is certainly part of the problem. Projected COA for 2016 grads is well over $200K.

      Guess how many of your 2011 grads got full time jobs requiring their shiny new extremely expensive JD?

      Just 36%.

      That’s a real problem, isn’t it?

      And American refuses to release its NALP salary data, so we can’t even get a handle on whether even that 36% have salaries that will come anywhere near close to being capable of servicing their debtloads.

      That’s a real problem, isn’t it?

      Note – this comment is not posted by an angry law grad. I’m a very happy law grad ~ 15 years out. That doesn’t keep me from recognizing pure unadulterated bunk (Dean Mitchell’s Op-Ed) when I see it. I didn’t even know this blog existed, I was just skimming today and bumped into the commentary about Dean Mitchell’s Op-Ed (which I’d already read on NYT yesterday).

    • It’s not the bias itself that is the problem. Everyone is biased by his or her position in the world, though some are better than others at recognizing and trying to correct that. It’s the fact that the Dean’s bias is apparently leading him to make self-serving, false proclamations in the New York Times.

    • Well Darren, the dean’s salary and privilege to put self-serving propaganda into the New York Times depends on the position he’s taking; the other is understandably angry after being sold a bill of goods, but also gets to enjoy sneering commentary from people who seem to identify more with the dean than with the people who have their lives ruined (or negatively impacted) by $125,000+ in non-dischargeable debt. I know who’s bias is more venal and self-serving; the question is why you don’t.

  3. Great rant, but I’ve got one quibble: It’s not at all the case that none of the people with distinguished public interest careers had substantial law school debt. Many consolidated and stretched it out over 20 or 30 years, had assistance from LRAPs, folded their debt into second mortgages (at a better time in the housing market), and so on. There’s a big overlap between the folks who “want to be a lawyer and are willing to give up a lot to do that” and the folks who want a law degree because they want to serve the public good in government or non-profits. Please don’t disparage (unintentionally, I’m sure) their service or their sacrifice. They’re some of the people who should be going to law school, and we should encourage prospective law students of the same ilk to keep going.

    • I guess the main issue I have here is that lots of people say they want to do public interest work (or, more broadly, “help people”) when they start law school. Most of the people I went to school with initially said the same thing! (That’s what I said, too, until I tried to get funding for public interest work my first year.)

      This impulse is admirable, I just want to make sure it’s realistic. Public interest work is hugely important (as is government service), but it involves financial sacrifices. If someone’s aware of that, and has really planned how they’re going to deal with it, I’m all for them going to law school. But, in too many cases, it’s a vague impulse to help, which results in $100K+ in debt and no real prospects.

      In that case, I think they’re probably better off in a different career…but I agree with your basic point that someone with a realistic plan to do good work shouldn’t be needlessly discouraged, if they’re aware of the sacrifices.

      • Darren Hutchinson says

        Have you noticed the recent salary percentage repayment plans? These do not depend upon working for a public interest firm at all. Finally, although I am interested in legal reform, I believe that many of the law school critics are irresponsible — or at least incomplete — because they do not place their claims within the context of the Great Recession. This omission makes these arguments — like your own — shortsighted. Although people in every profession are struggling, apparently, only the legal profession is a waste of time and money. Why?

        • Personally, I’d prefer to be un/under-employed with three years of work experience and no debt (versus $125,000 in debt and three years of school that taught me very little.)

          But that’s just me.

          (Looking forward, I’d also give some thought to structural changes in the profession. Having also been a programmer, I’m interested to see what’s coming down the pipes. I don’t think most lawyers are going to like it very much.)

          • Allison, what are you referring to here about the programming thing and lawyers not liking it? I am a graduate of CWRU law school in 1995 and your commentary about the law is dead on. I have an entire memoir of my time in the law, which I am trying to wind up right now (a novelist, a sales person somewhere, anything but the law).

          • Re: programming, if I were a law school dean (or a law firm head) what would keep me up at night is Moore’s Law, and the implications thereof. What does the legal profession look like when $1,000 buys you the computing power equivalent of every human brain on the planet?

            My guess is it looks very different from today! Sure, there are opportunities, but technology is also likely to displace a lot of the work that’s done by knowledge workers right now. I think that’s going to be a major problem for legal employment. (And it’s already starting to happen – see doc review.)

        • Concerned Citizen says

          Professor Hutchinson – speaking of omissions. Is it fair to tout IBR to 0Ls (as some schools are now actually doing – I am not trying to imply your bare mention here is “touting it”) without providing the appropriate context? Think about what a plan to rely on IBR from the very beginning actually means – it means the school is telling its graduates to expect a life of being in “financial hardship” from graduation on (hardship being a required element of the plan). I also don’t think it’s fair to tout IBR/PAYE without mentioning the monster tax hit at the end. Finally, consider the implications of IBR. Because the schools are paid up front, then the debtor is carried by the public for 20 years of reduced payments and through “forgiveness”, what we are doing with an IBR type program is transferring wealth directly from society to law schools. Is this appropriate?

          Finally, it seems unfair for you to imply that law school critics are saying that “only law school” is a waste of time/money. I don’t think they are. But I do think that people tend to their own knitting – that is, lawyers who detect an issue with legal education will primarily confine their critiques to that arena. But frankly, sir, if you know of any other educational program that runs its average student ca. $150K in debt, but where only half of them will get the job they seek, I’d be interested in hearing about such programs.

        • It’s really pathetic that the best you guys can come up with is: go to law school so you can spend 20 years in a program that qualifies you as in “financial hardship” because of student loans. No wonder applications are plummeting. Get your costs in line and then maybe people will come back to law school.

          We don’t know whether the poor entry-level job market is structural or cyclical. There are arguments on both sides. Some professions weather economic storms, others wither. But with so much uncertainty in the market, it is simply irrational to take on a very certain amount of debt that can never be discharged for a profession that may be undergoing structural change.

        • Enough with the repayment plans, IBR means twenty years of garnished wages followed by a potentially huge tax burden when the remainder of the loan is forgiven. This may make the decision of having gone to law school more tolerable after the fact, but it is not in any way a reason to go to law school before the fact.

        • Fascinating argument! The Great Recession caused the realignment of the legal industry, caused law schools to produce two graduates for every one legal job, and also forced law schools to raise tuition far beyond inflation rates? If so, so what?

          And, as Alison points out, most other professions don’t involve over $125,000 in non-dischargeable debt, while at the same time making misleading claims about “average lawyer’s annual salary.” Do you feel richer when the CEO of Exxon-Mobil joins you in a room? After all, the average salary just skyrocketed!

          I’m puzzled by your insistence on nitpicking at critics, instead of evincing some real interest in “legal reform.” Of course, if you’re advocating that your law school reduce total class size, reduce tuition (or even freeze it), or otherwise do something that will actually help the situation, please let us know!

      • I absolutely agree that all decisions to go to law school should be well-researched and well thought out. We’re on the same page there, without question.

        But the idea that “that was a different time, there were different options” may be true for those who went to law school in the 80s and earlier. But there’s a whole generation of lawyers after them — those of us who went to law school in the 90s — who incurred significant debt and nonetheless went into public interest careers. The disconnect between debt and income in public interest didn’t start with the current generation of lawyers. Has it been exacerbated over the years by the much faster increases in tuition than in public interest salaries? Of course. But on the other hand, it’s been ameliorated by the increasing availability of school-based LRAPs and now the IBR/PSLF combination. Those law schools that did come up with generous LRAP programs in the 90s (including your alma mater and mine — the downtown competition) do deserve some credit for those programs and the grads whose careers they made possible.

        None of which takes away from the more general gist of your rant, which is dead on.

        • Actually, Diane, law school tuition has increased significantly since the 90’s; I graduated in the mid-2000’s and it’s increased significantly since then at my school; some schools have seen a 50% increase in the last 10 years. When it comes to debt load, there really is a huge difference between owing 100k and owing 150k, or 200k.

          Also, IBR is meant as a last resort, and it is the height of rapacious sleaziness to promote it as a reason to go to law school.

          • Actually, UCLA (my alma mater) in-state tuition has doubled *twice* (around $11K in 2001, to about $44K now) in that time frame. Insane.

          • I saw somewhere that UC-Berkeley and UC-Irvine are the two most expensive law schools in the country at the moment (when you look at tuition + expenses). I find that utterly appalling.

          • I think I noted that tuition has risen much faster than salaries, especially public interest salaries. We have no disagreement there — the debt burden is substantially worse than in the 90s, and law schools should continue to be roundly criticized for increasing tuition as much as they have. My point was a small one (a “quibble” I called it): that it is simply false to assume that those of us who graduated with “only” $60,000 or $70,000 worth of law school debt in the mid-90s did not struggle to make do on $30,000/year public interest salaries. We did, and school-based LRAPs, for those of us lucky enough to have them, helped considerably.

            And while IBR may be a bad long term financial plan for those NOT in public interest, I would argue that 10 years of IBR followed by Public Service Loan Forgiveness — even with the tax hit in the year of forgiveness — is a great plan for those who are going to law school specifically to work in public interest or public service. It’s not a “reason to go to law school,” and I never said it was. But for those with a passion to work in public interest, especially those who hope to serve the ever-increasing population without affordable access to legal services, it’s a way to make that public interest plan a realistic and feasible one.

            Which is very different from saying that law schools should be selling their overpriced educations based on the availability of IBR. I’m looking at this from the perspective of those who are considering legal careers and who asking themselves whether it’s a realistic path. For many public interest minded prospective law students, it can be, in part thanks to IBR/PSLF.

      • You can do public service (that is, any govt or 501(c)(3) job) and be in IBR, and get your loans forgiven in 10 years, with no tax penalty on the back end. You don’t even have to be in a lawyer job. I’m not sure that’s efficient for the economy as a whole, and it’s certainly not what I had in mind when I signed up for law school, but at least it’s an option. My colleague who has my same job is in my same boat with that.

  4. I love you when you’ve got a righteous anger going! You are absolutely right. As you know, I deal all day, every day with people who find law meaningless and yet cannot follow their dreams right away, because they are so burdened with debt. As one of those who graduated a while back (’91), the debt load is really, really different now, as are the job prospects. And the grind, being constantly tethered to work, and having 60 hour weeks be a “light” week, are seriously, unbelievably insane and much worse than when I practiced, pre-Crackberry.

    Well done indeed, my friend.

  5. Bingo! I’d also mention (I’m out 5yrs now) that being saddled with so much debt, I am not able to pinch enough pennies to even start any kind of retirement currently. I’m more or less a solo practitioner (I do work within a firm, but am the only person in my city for the firm and am still paid according to what I bring in and if/when the client pays their bill). I can’t wait 20yrs to start some sort of retirement planning and to expect to be able to ever retire. That is what really scares me. Forget ever buying a house, with these loans and the minimal income level? Not gonna happen. Even so, more important is the idea of being able to retire some day and not literally work to death. Unless something significantly changes in the next 2-3 years, I can probably forget such notions regarding eventual retirement.

    • Seriously. I think we’re all going to be working well into our golden years!

    • Forget retirement. A long time before that comes your kids’ educations (if you have kids) — and that’s when you get to see up close that the entire higher education financing system is severely broken, not just law school (in case you had any doubts).

  6. Perfect rebuttal! I hope the Dean’s piece rings hollow to any prospective law students who read it- surely folks signing up for $100,000+ in student loans these days are going to be a bit more cautious than they might have been a few years ago? Sigh, I hope so.

    • I hope so, but I’m not entirely convinced. Hope springs eternal, for better or worse!

      • Hey Alison,

        After a lot more reading/research I came to the conclusion that enrolling will not be in my best interest. Taking on the kind of debt I’m looking at would be incredibly irresponsible of me. Thank you for your email and all the information you have provided on this site.

  7. Disgruntled Grad says

    One thing that isn’t emphasized enough in so many pieces (and that Professor Hutchinson didn’t adress) is that law schools themselves are a business. Law professors and deans and the people that work at law schools are interested in keeping their jobs, cushy hours, summers off, “sabaticle years” and the prestige that goes with all of it. I’m tired of hearing law professors talk about how hard they really work. Be honest with yourselves- almost all of you come from Ivy League schools and could have taken those Big Law jobs if you wanted to- and you didn’t want to because you know they suck. So you found the best option in law- a job with no billables, prestige and yes, albeit at a lower salary than Big Law but also without the 5 year burnout Alison mentions, so in the long run you’re doing just fine. I’m not saying law professors don’t work hard- most do- but be honest- you aren’t killing yourselves like everyone at Big Law, or in Small Law for that matter (for MUCH less money than either academia or Big Law pays). So you have a vested interest in keeping these jobs. Some of you take cases and run clinics- but when it comes to actual practicing most of you have little experience to those of us that do it every day. And to be honest, most of you would make terrible “real” lawyers. I’ve seen a law professor or two in court. It’s not pretty.

    And one more thing in re: the comparison between med schools and law schools- med schools TIGHTLY regulate how many students can practice medicene by the number of availabe slots in medical school, residency and fellowships. This isn’t by accident- it’s by design. There is absolutely no true “regulation” of lawyers. And maybe it’s time there is.

    • Yeah, I don’t think too many people would turn down a job as a law professor, particularly a tenured one. It’s a pretty sweet gig, as long as the whole system doesn’t crumble…

      • By the way, the workload as a law professor is miniscule compared to the workload in other departments at most universities. And trust me, non-law faculty know how little law professors work and how much they get paid.

  8. As an experienced Columbia Law grad and a female, I can tell you what has happened.

    The older women get fired, and if they are lucky enough to go back to legal jobs, they get fired again, and again. The large law firms employ so few older women as lawyers that employers will say “You are not marketable” to older women and treat them accordingly (an exact quote from one of my reviews at a major law firm years before the lawyer glut really hit). “We can pay you what we want.” and they fire, fire, fire (that firm did not fire me, but there is only one survivor out of maybe 40 lawyers – of course a white male . Then there is the matter of in house jobs and “fit”. Older women are not a “fit’ in groups of younger lawyers. While it is not legal to fire on account of age or sex, it is perfectly legal to fire, fire, fire older women on account of “fit.”

    The situation is just as bad with older minorities.

    The EEOC in its ultimate wisdom sides with the law firms. This “up or out” thing is perfectly legal – a bona fide seniority system. The EEOC calls this disparate impact discrimination and they will not touch it with a ten foot pole.

    So if you are a woman or minority from Harvard or Princeton, and then go to Columbia or Penn Law School, you can graduate to being a residential real estate broker after you have worked for years in BigLaw and in house. Chances are no other employer will hire you in a better job.

    • The situation of women (and minorities) in law firms is really fascinating. I still haven’t gotten my head around it entirely, to be honest. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and I worked in some pretty male-dominated areas before law school!

  9. turnip truck says


    I doubt this blogger plans to have a career based on trashing law school; in fact, I doubt much of her income derives from doing so at all.

    You, on the other hand, and the Dean in question, depend on a steady flow of law school students for both your immediate income and the viability of your long-term career.

    So, yes, you are biased in favor of encouraging young people to attend law school over other options. You benefit from it financially.

    To be honest, it blows my mind that a law professor, who is in theory teaching litigators, who spend much of their time picking apart other people’s cases and explaining why their evidence isn’t reliable, finds this line of reasoning too much for him. It’s Source Criticism 101!

  10. The disgruntled law students definitely *do* have a dog in this fight. Wanting someone else to be at fault for your own circumstances is a powerful motivator, and one that appears to be especially compelling to millenials. The same people who rant about how unconscionable it was for law schools to admit them are the ones who’d be bitching about being denied entrance if their law schools had admitted fewer students when they applied. You went to law school because you wanted to, now live with it. If the un/underemployed lawyers writing these whiny rants spent half as much time hustling work as they do blaming their schools/parents/government for their troubles they’d probably be in better shape. But then, unlike blaming, hustling doesn’t seem to be very compelling to millenials. I’m very tired of hearing recent grads tell me about how their jobs are beneath them. Grow up. Some of us are tired of your belly achin’.

  11. Excellent blog post.

    When the NYT article came, to my work email address, I was stunned to read it. So much so, that I’ve read now about three times in attempt to discern whether the Dean is semi delusional, or I am after 20 years of practicing law, or both. Probably both, I suppose, but in my defense the downsides of this career did this to me. I tried to find a way to comment directly on the NYT page, but I’m not a subscriber and was not able to.

    The defects of the Dean’s reasoning are set forth here far better than I could do, but one thing I would note is that the concept that the negative press is somehow depriving society of brilliant lawyers and, by extension, potentially brilliant lawyers are missing out on careers that their talents and nature have made perfect for them is rather patronizing and, coming from a Dean, i.e., a lawyer who isn’t practicing, rather self delusional. Even if that’s slightly true, and I’d think that anyone who is naturally drawn to this profession would be anyhow, chances are far greater that the many more bright, but not directed, people who fall into law and next into unhappiness as a result might be saved from it.

    Put another way, there’s no real risk that we’re going to see shortfall of lawyers, even if 75% of those in law school bailed out, and society would be better off with those smart folks doing almost anything else. For that matter, you really don’t have to be all that smart to be a lawyer, so society would probably be better off with a lot of those average intelligence folks doing something else.

  12. FACTS-
    1) most people go to law school for career oprtunities
    2) law schools can not guarantee career opportunites
    3) law schools can only guarantee an education
    4) law students believe they will enjoy their time in law school, like they enjoyed bieng an undergrad
    5) law school is designed to be torture and is nothing like being an undergrad
    6) students have been persuaded with misleading stats to believe that careers are handed out upon graduation and bar passage
    7) those smart enough to see through the hope of fortune, fame and glory that law schools present to applicants realize that law school is fucked up would probably make good lawyers.
    8)Law school nowdays playing the lottery, aka taxation for the stupid
    9) people who graduated from 2005 – 08 were not warned. you’ve been warned.
    10) if you decide to go, and don’t have full scholarship (or admission to a T12), you are stupid and making a bad decision. moron.

    • The part about “law school” being torture is simply incorrect. Law school is not really that hard compared to undergrad degrees in the sciences and engineering, etc.

      That’s part of the problem here. Law students are encouraged to believe that they’ve obtained a really difficult degree to get, which it is not. It pre-loads a set of unwarranted assumptions.

      • I think that’s accurate. Law school is stressful and can be a real pain in the ass, but it’s honestly not that “hard” compared to a lot of other disciplines. It rewards quick thinking more than deep understanding.

        If you’re clever enough to figure out the system quickly, and disciplined enough to do the work that is required (not necessarily what’s assigned), you’ll get through law school with great grades and without a ton of exertion.

  13. Way late to this party. I just wanted to say: I am awed that you wrote a cogent response to Dean Mitchell. I tried, and I couldn’t do it. His piece was just so awful and so flawed and so…it was just…I don’t even know what to say. I tried to write a response but all I could write was “You should be ashamed of yourself.” Literally (and I’m using that correctly here) every piece of his reasoning was wrong.


  1. […] deserve a justification for years of debt. We deserve answers and solutions, period. For an even more-reasoned analysis on Dean Mitchell’s op-ed, please do check out Alison’s blog via The Girl’s Guide […]

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  4. […] Ottawa Faculty of Law in Canadian Lawyer. You can also read thorough critiques of each article at The Girl’s Guide To Law School and Slaw, respectively. The articles and their responses neatly frame both the enormous challenges […]

  5. […] giving the Dean what-for, included, Alison Monahan, Hamilton Nolan, Matt Leichter, Elie Mystal, Keith Lee and of course, law school critic-supreme […]

  6. […] misleading. [EDIT: For a particularly saucy and accurate discussion of that awful NYT article, see here.]  You may find articles like this, claiming that it is a “good time” to go to law […]

  7. […] Alison of The Girl’s Guide to Law School takes law school deans to task for bullshitting prospective law students about many things, especial…. In so doing she points out something that I did not know: the distribution of starting salaries […]

  8. […] Dean Mitchell should be doing, instead of peddling phony argumentsand flimsy math, is talking about the ways schools like his are – and should be – working to deliver […]

  9. […] Dean Mitchell should be doing, instead of peddling phony argumentsand flimsy math, is talking about the ways schools like his are – and should be – working to deliver […]

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