If you regularly read The Careerist, you know I think it's ridiculous to go to a bottom-ranked law school. In fact, I've coined the term "puppy mills" to describe how these schools pump out loan-laden graduates with bleak futures.
So I was surprised that the dean of Thomas M. Cooley Law School's Grand Rapids campus, Nelson Miller, contacted me about posting his editorial on the health of the legal market.
As you might recall, Cooley and New York Law School have been sued by disgruntled students for allegedly posting false employment data about graduates (both schools have low rankings under US News and World Reports). Cooley has also been quite aggressive in suing former students for defamation when they aired criticisms about the school.
Miller told me that he thought some of the "apocalyptic" views about the legal market were "overblown,"and that he wanted to present a view that's "data-based." In any case, I'll let you judge for yourself. Here is Miller's editorial in its entirety:
Lawyer Employment Remains Strong
by Nelson Miller, dean of Thomas M. Cooley Law School's Grand Rapids campus
Recessions are never easy, especially sudden and deep recessions like the last one. Yet despite what critics of the law profession and legal education say, data shows that the recession affected lawyers less than others, and that lawyer employment prospects remain strong.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyer unemployment rose from 1.1 percent in 2007 to 1.9 percent in 2008 and 2.3 percent in 2009 but fell to 1.5 percent in 2010. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of unemployed lawyers grew from 9,000 to 16,000, but only from 12,000 to 16,000 between 2007 and 2010 during the depth of the recession. Contrast these small numbers to 1,040,000 employed lawyers and to much greater job losses in other fields. New law jobs arose even in the teeth of recession. From 2000 to 2010, the economy created another 123,000 lawyer jobs while adding only 7,000 unemployed lawyers. Employed lawyers grew by 39,000 from 2007 to 2010 across the recession.
Lawyers’ 2010 1.5 percent unemployment rate was fourth-lowest among 53 management and professional occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, higher only than dentists, doctors, and veterinarians. Teachers at all levels had higher unemployment rates than lawyers. Software engineers had more than three times and environmental engineers more than four times the unemployment rate of lawyers. News analysts, reporters, and correspondents had a 7.8 percent unemployment rate, over five times that of lawyers. Try making it as an artist, author, journalist, entertainer, athlete, musician, designer, decorator, restaurateur, entrepreneur, or even public administrator, software engineer, or day laborer, where employment rates are significantly higher and risks far greater.
Despite the recession and current job-market conditions, employment of recent law graduates has been relatively strong. Over the past ten years, recent graduates who are unemployed but not seeking employment has run between 1.7 percent and 3.2 percent, with a median of 2.2 percent. When calculating unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics excludes those not seeking employment. Using the BLS approach and data, unemployment rates of recent law graduates were 5.3 percent in 2001 and 6.1 percent in 2002. Those rates then declined to 2.7 percent in 2006 before rising in 2007 to 4.1 percent. In 2008, the rate rose to 5.4 percent and then to 6.0 percent in 2009 and 6.2 percent in 2010.
These figures are all well below the national unemployment rate that reached 9.6 percent in 2010. They are also figures for the most recent entrants into the law field. Keep in mind that lawyer unemployment in 2010 was just 1.5 percent. Probably, no field of recent college graduates fares significantly better than law graduates do. Critics assert that recent law graduates find more work in nonprofessional fields. Yet in 2010, only 1.9 percent of 2010 graduates with known employment status reported nonprofessional employment, up by only 0.6 percent from 2007. Nonprofessional employment varied little in the past ten years, starting at 1.5 percent in 2001 and never exceeding 1.9 percent.
Critics also assert that part-time employment is now widespread among recent law graduates. Part-time employment increased in the recession but still represents only a modest portion of total employment. For 2010 grads employed in positions requiring bar passage, 92.9 percent found full-time jobs. For all recent graduates employed in professional positions, 90.4 percent found full-time jobs.
The national economic downturn hurt the legal profession, but lawyers clearly fared well compared to the general population and other management and professional occupations. Recent law graduates have not fared as well as more experienced lawyers, but they still fare better than the general population.
Lawsuits have challenged how law schools report placement data. The American Bar Association accredits law schools under U.S. Department of Education authority. The ABA has precise standards for how law schools must report placement data. Those standards follow National Association for Law Placement practices. Whether the ABA and NALP should establish different reporting standards has no effect on the above numbers.
Negative media has discouraged applicants from pursuing a law career path that holds good employment prospects. Law school applications usually increase during economic downturns and decrease in periods of economic growth. Indeed, during the recession, applications rose 3.8 percent for the fall of 2009 and 1.5 percent for the fall of 2010. However, with a recent onslaught of negative publicity, national applications for the fall of 2011 nosedived. The preliminary figure is down 9.9 percent.
Another media focus has been on whether law schools prepare graduates adequately for practice. Some schools like mine do. Practice preparation has been my school’s mission since its founding. Our board and faculty members are experienced judges and leading practitioners, several of whom have won bar awards or recognition as superlawyers. My school has the most extensive externship program in the country. It also won an ABA award for professionalism programs.
Yet the core question is not what is good for lawyers or new law graduates. Lawyers are enormously responsible social and economic agents. Lawyers grow the American pie. They form, advise, finance, and govern for-profit and nonprofit corporations, minimizing unwise risk, complying with regulation, paying taxes, and satisfying treaty, custom, and trade law. Lawyers manage the orderly migration of labor. They restore broken families and promote orderly transfer of intergenerational wealth.
Lawyers do hundreds of other productive things for their clients, while lawyers and their firms contribute substantially on their own to the national and global economies. So, let’s stop killing all the lawyers. I strongly suspect that we will continue to need them in a world that every day grows more complex, sophisticated, challenging, and uncertain. The common law that lawyers enable and administer is history’s most powerful engine of peace, prosperity, and productivity.
Readers, what do you think? Did Miller make a convincing case?
Click here to vote: http://www.abajournal.com/blawg100
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