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Go to B-School Instead!

Vivia Chen

January 25, 2018

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Oh, that perennial question: Is it worth the time and money to go to law school? (Or if you already did: Did you squander your time and money?) This week, I look at those issues—and more. Here are my takes on the news:

This is why you should go to business school instead. I've always questioned my judgement in getting a J.D. instead of an M.B.A. For a lot of reasons, an M.B.A. is a far less painful route. Let's start with the obvious: It's only two years, and you don't have to take the damn bar exam.

If you're on the fence, there's now an even more compelling reason to go to B-school instead: The money is flowing in the nation's leading business schools. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Top business schools are subsidizing the cost of two-year master’s degrees in business administration by setting aside millions in scholarships and financial aid to lure young professionals out of a strengthening job market.

The advertised price for a traditional M.B.A. can top $200,000 at the most competitive schools in the U.S., but some 61% of this year’s students are receiving scholarships based on merit, financial need, or a combination of the two, according to data from the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the standardized test commonly taken by business-school applicants. That is up from 41% in 2014.

It also translates into real savings. "For the Harvard Business School class of 2019, the average fellowship award cuts tuition to $35,000 from $72,000 a year," reports WSJ.
So why are B-schools so generous? Because people aren't banging on their doors like they use to. WSJ says that "enrollment in full-time M.B.A. programs has fallen by more than a third since 2010, as wages for many workers have improved and shorter, specialized degrees have launched at business schools across the country."
Which brings up another notable comparison with legal education: Law schools are losing students too, but what are they offering? You hear about the crippling debt that law grads incur but you don't often hear about how law schools are opening their wallets—certainly nothing like the 41 percent increase in merit scholarship that B-school students are getting. 
Besides trying to enlarge the applicant pool by allowing GREs for admissions, what else are law schools doing?

They are still young and naive, but not totally stupid. At first, I thought the younger generation has become totally jaded about lawyers. "Law Grads Have Grown Skeptical of a JD's Value," blared the National Law Journal's headline. 

Reporting on a poll of more than 10,000 college graduates, NLJ's Karen Sloan writes that J.D. degrees aren't quite as coveted as they once were. AccessLex Institute (a legal education nonprofit) and the Gallup, which conducted the poll, said in its report: "While a law degree is still held in high esteem, it is now seen as a riskier investment than in the past.” 

So how many college grads are truly skeptical about the worth of a law degree? Are we talking about a majority of them?

No! A whopping 88 percent still consider a law degree to be valuable. In fact, reports NLJ, the J.D. ranks "second only to a M.D. among advanced degrees, outpacing MBAs and doctorates." (Among college grads, 98 percent rate the medical degree as valuable.)

I think most of us can understand the high regard for the medical degree, but an 88 percent approval rate for the J.D.? Where is that coming from?

To be fair, the youngsters aren't delusional or stupid. While they seem to place the law degree in a lofty position (for whatever reason), they're not jumping into law schools. In fact, NLJ reminds us that "first-year enrollment at American Bar Association-accredited law schools plummeted nearly 30 percent between 2010 and 2016, and has remained essentially flat for the past two years."

So maybe it's all good: They have a healthy respect for the legal profession (again, who knows why) but they're smart enough to stay away.

Finally, a Big Law female partner says #Me-Too. Remember how I lamented that none of Alex Kozinski's former female clerks now working in Big Law would comment about the allegations that he behaved inappropriately while he was a judge on the Ninth Circuit? At the time, I wondered if it's just too risky for a female lawyer at a major firm to add her voice to the #Me-Too choir.

Early this year, a former Kozinski clerk did speak out. Katherine Ku, now a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, spoke out loud and clear in n a Jan. 5 essay in The Washington Post. She also spoke with my colleague Ross Todd about her decision to go public.

I don't know how difficult it was for Ku to come out. It's never easy being the first. So kudos to her! And may more follow. 



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About The Careerist

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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