Paradigm Shift: A Prospective Law Student’s Perception of Law School

27 de agosto de 2017

The lowered numbers of students taking the LSATS seemed to indicate a change in awareness among prospective law students.  However, most of the articles out there focus on the law school tuition bubble bursting, but none really look into the pre-decision process – the way prospective law students have begun to think.

While the following lays out the reasoning of just one student who went through a pro/con list of JD versus MPH and cannot represent the general public at large, it is interesting to see how he analyzes the benefits of law school compared to, for example, my reasoning process of “to go or not go” four years ago.

As a bit of background, the following prospective student graduated from Berkeley and spent a few years working before considering his options.

Q:  So why public health and not law school?

[1] Cost – I didn’t have any debt b.c. my parents graciously paid for undergraduate. But, I couldn’t justify going into debt and not having a strong job prospect post-graduation. The NYTimes articles were eye openers and hearing from my own friends who were law students about their own job prospects also influenced my decision. 

[2] Job Satisfaction/Quality of Life – I talked to a number of lawyers (doing IP at the top U.S. law firms and the DOJ and a Berkeley Law prof) who said that law wasn’t what they anticipated it would be (in a negative way). It’s funny because the Berkeley Law Prof said, “don’t go to law school!”. Unfortunately, most of the lawyers that I talked to would have chosen a different career path had they known what the practice of law actually entailed.   Also, I think I just saw low job satisfaction in the legal field both w/ the lawyers I talked to at work and who I had informational interviews with. The long hours were a huge negative. After graduating from Berkeley, I began to realize that I wanted a life outside of work. 

[3] Practical POV – One of the things that struck me w/ law is the practicality of it.  My boss once told me (this is specific for crim law) that what’s the point of getting a person out of a correction facility if they can’t get a job afterwards. It made think about the limits of law.  I began to realize that I wanted to address the practical side of a person’s needs – specifically economic/healthcare side. Law could help me do that, but the end goal of being able to help with economic/healthcare issues in vulnerable communities didn’t seem to connect to having a JD. 

[4] The Practice of Law vs. Law – I think I began to realize that there’s a difference btw the practice of law and law itself. Law is an amazing subject and lens to use to study different issues. But, I began to be uncertain re the practice of law was for me. As one of my friends said – you go to law school to practice law, not to be a law professor. If you don’t want to practice law, then don’t go to law school! Simple logic! Since I couldn’t be 110% of my decision of practicing (I wanted to be a law prof), I put law school on the table. An analogy I would use is being a NFL player (practice of law) vs. a sports commentator (law prof). Being a NFL player is cool, but it takes a lot of hard work and long hours – kind of like being a practicing lawyer. Being a law professor is like a being an NFL ESPN commentator – odds are against you. Consequently, I decided to be a “law connoisseur” (ie. reading Supreme Court case decisions on my own free time! so much fun! w/no strings attached)

Fascinating.  Notice he didn’t say: “I wasn’t sure, studied Literature in undergrad, so law school seemed like the best/safe thing to do at the time” or “I wanted to have a real impact on health care, and I read law cases for fun, so I figured, why not?”

Has a paradigm shift happened?  Nothing so obvious to be a headline in the news – but a subtle shift in the minds of prospective students.  Are law schools losing a population of strong applicants because of the institution’s inability to adapt and improve?  The prospective student above seems like he would have fit the profile of a strong law school applicant – a love for learning law (for fun even), a prestigious undergraduate education, and a desire to work in social justice.

Yet, law school does not attract him anymore.  His friends and even a professor told him to pursue something else, something with better job prospects, something with a greater chance of helping people that doesn’t include unreasonable debt.  Further, our views, as students struggling to reconcile legal education with the legal market, are changing the landscape of applicants through word of mouth.

Aside from the obvious need for law schools to fix these problems, isn’t it also time for law schools to find a way to satisfy its current student body so that a word of mouth situation would result in current students urging prospective students to apply rather than run away?  The incoming tuition refund plan might provide a bandaid to some of the wounds inflicted, but throwing money at victims after the fact doesn’t seem to fix the underlying weaknesses of the foundation to prevent future casualties.

No more blind sheep following other blind sheep towards the false promises of big money or social justice. Prospective students are catching onto law school’s inability to provide students with a ticket to big money or social justice.  Law schools now only attract the incredibly rich, the severe masochists, or the ignorant idiots, and that sounds like a great population to inhabit the legal world.

Seems to me that the revolution of law school reform has already begun through a paradigm shift in the minds of prospective students.

So now the Million Dollar Questions:

1.  When will law schools catch up to the paradigm shift and save the legal education institution from dying?  

2.  What can law schools do, besides lie about their employment data, to make interesting college grads interested law school?

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