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Blame the Parents

Vivia Chen

June 20, 2012

Father Knows Best_©WikipediaBy now, you know at least 25 reasons not to go to law school. (If you need a refresher, click here for my top five reasons.) Add to that stockpile the latest sobering news from the American Bar Association: For the class of 2011, nine months after graduation only 55 percent of law school graduates got full-time jobs that require bar passage.

Every day there seems to be a new reason why law school is a lousy investment. Those of us who are in the trenches of this profession know this, but here's the big question: Are the people who have the most to lose paying attention?

Sure doesn't seem like it. According to the latest survey of prospective law students by Kaplan Test Prep, applicants put the law school's job placement record as the least important fact in their decision about where to apply, reports Karen Sloan of The National Law Journal.

But this willful ignorance is not limited to the lawyer-wannabes. From what I've seen, parents are the primary enablers of this folly. In fact, I've yet to meet a parent who expresses doubts about whether her child should scoot off to law school—any law school.

At cocktail parties, on Facebook, at the farmer's market, parents often gush with joy that their little Jimmy or Janey is trotting off to law school. Recently, some law schools on their list of pride have included Cardozo, New York Law School, and Brooklyn Law. None of these school, as you know, are anywhere close to the top of the pecking order.

Do these parents (who are not lawyers) know the product they're buying—namely, a diploma from a legal institution with weak job prospects that's every bit as expensive as a Harvard Law School education? I don't think so. Nor do they seem to care. To them, a law degree is validation in its own right, and often they are willing to spend whatever it takes for that badge.

So the willful suspension of reality is a family affair. The parents are happy (maybe relieved) that their darling is dropping the acting/art/cooking career for the safer, grander path of law school. And the child is happy to spend her parents' money on something that will make them proud (and get them off her back).

I'd like to say that I set those parents straight when they tell me the wonderful news about their child's acceptance to law school, but I don't have the heart to do so. I congratulate them, though I might mutter something about the tough job market for lawyers. Sometimes I'll suggest that they check out some of my postings about law schools.

But even if they read those stories, I don't think they get it.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.


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Don't underestimate the wisdom of parents who know that having their mid-twentyish liberal arts grad get his butt off the couch and do something that requires persistence and discipline (other than video gaming), with a decent shot of a very positive life outcome, is a good thing. I love your focus on these topics in this blog though, Vivia.

One of the things that's gotten me about this survey is that most of the reporting on it takes the position that the incoming law students are stupid for caring about prestige more than job prospects, according to the survey. But this is a dumb position to take. What students--and, indeed, most authors knew when they were applying to law school--is that prestige incorporates information about job prospects because it's impossible to disaggregate them. The same is true of US News ranking. So when you say 'prestige' is the most important factor, you're incorporating information about jobs, pride in attending a particular school, and lots of other things. Also, "job prospects" is typically defined with reference to things like nlj250 placement, which isn't a great measure either. Who in their right mind would take Columbia over Yale or Harvard on the basis of nlj250 placement statistics that consistently rate CLS better than HLS and YLS? Nobody--at least, not at sticker. That's because the benefits of graduating from Yale DO result in better outcomes, even if they aren't easily measurable with reference to one headline-grabbing number. So, law bloggers (and I don't mean to accuse you personally, Vivia), quit with the 'incoming law students are idjits' meme; you've derived it from surveys that you law bloggers do not appear to have fully comprehended.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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