People love Law School. But they shouldn't. Beyond the fact that law practice has a reputation of being boring, a law degree isn't likely to get you a job. As the Head of the Law Society of England and Wales said here (I covered here):
"THOUSANDS of middle-class graduates who spend years trying to qualify as solicitors will never secure jobs in the legal profession and will instead end up saddled with thousands of pounds of debt."
I could go into why the law degree has become so worthless (in short: supply and demand is out of step) and what needs to be done (which I did a little here), but today I want to again explore 'Why everyone wants to go Law School?' - I want to again try and understand why Law School is effectively the default career choice (as I did on this blog previously here). As Max Tucker said:
"At some point in their life, everyone thinks they should go to law school."
Above the Law reported that about 2/3s of parents want their child to go to Law School, and the figure rose to above 80% of households when it came to poorer sections of society. Jeremy Paxman rightly said on an episode of Newsnight that:
"The middle classes are always going to want to go to university."
This is the cult of university: that for the middle-classes it is the original and unforgivable sin to not go to university. Megan McArdle, special correspondent at the Daily Beast rightly called the infatuation with university a 'neurosis'.
And the associated problem with the cult of university is the hierarchy that comes with it. That being that law and medicine sit atop of the university crown. They occupy the perverse position of being better than all the others. You could never do media studies or psychology - because that is to be laughed at. And this is a cultural cliché that has been bedded so deep in the collective mindset that people are still enrolling even though they shouldn't. One among the many reasons being the fact that graduate vacancies at law firms fell 5%. I really could go on. Not of course forgetting the now infamous words of Des Hudson.
In my 'Why does everyone want to go to law school series?' I've written here that it comes down to the craven self-interest of law school staff and student loan companies. After all:
"It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
To further understand why Law School is the default career choice we can look at the analysis of Noam Scheiber who wrote in The New Republichere:
'The security of the legal profession lodged itself inside our cultural imagination. For generations, the law functioned as a kind of psychological safety net for the ambitious and upwardly mobile.'
Then we can look at the analysis of David Lat of Above the Law who said in The New Republichere:
"And why do people go to law school? Often it's a failure of imagination. As a former professor of mine put it, "Law school is the great American default option for smart kids who can't stand the sight of blood." If you're intelligent, ambitious, and undecided about your future, going directly from college to law school is the path of least resistance. Too little resistance, and not enough deliberation--which is why law schools should follow the model of many business schools and require incoming students to have at least two years of post-undergraduate experience."
Yes David Lat quoted his former professor who called law school the career "default option." Andrew Sullivan then wrote a post on this Dish by the title, 'Law School by Default.'
Dahlia Lithwick of Slate Magazine made an interesting contribution here:
"We mainly agree what's wrong with contemporary American legal education: It's all about training hundreds of thousands of brilliant young people to be wildly successful nineteenth-century lawyers. Legal education is about maintaining an expensive cookie-cutter pedagogy to satisfy rigid cookie-cutter accreditation standards, all aimed at populating huge law firms that are a thing of the past."
Mike Kinsley of The New Republic made another great contribution and warning to people considering law school here:
"It's absurd that you can graduate from law school without ever seeing a real client. Some clinical courses ought to be mandatory."
As a former law student and now concerned law graduate of some time I find it's refreshing and encouraging to hear these words. Almost like someone holding up a mirror on what went through my head as an 18 year old. But it needs more. Law school demands a close and concerted critique. Our economy has undergone a massive dislocation and is adjusting, albeit slowly. However minds are not keeping step with these adjustments. (Though privileged young people with parents in high places can overcome this information problem easy as I wrote here.)
The cultural cliche that has lodged law school in the position of default career choice has dulled the mind. Turning young people and polite society into a credulous, unthinking mass. Young people need to think for themselves, look with investigative eye and really make an informed choice before opting to go to university, never mind law school. And we can help.
We need voters, law-makers, community leaders, and other stakeholders to take an interest in this. Otherwise we will see many thousands of ambitious young people eagerly walk down that old law school rabbit hole, only to come out showered in debt, scarred and totally out-of-line with the demands of a sophisticated labor market. And then the "churn" begins...
As the FT said here:
"Its authors [Education and Employers Taskforce] warned that young people risk realising too late that they have pursued the wrong qualifications and experience, leading to a period of "churn" as this group retrain and adjust themselves to the needs of the labour market."