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'It's the Legal Economy, Stupid'

The real world picture of law school as it exists before your face isn't very pretty. The findings are wholly common sense and self-evident to the average observer. And that's not me being harsh, the Sunday Times said the same.

Des Hudson said the self-evident on the UK's legal education in the Sunday Times of June 23: "thousands of middle class graduates... will never secure jobs in the legal profession." Damning. And Mr Hudson is The Chief Executive of the law Society so there's real weight in that damning indictment.

Pretty much the exact same situation exists in America where Professor of the Chicago University Law School said in the title of a blog post for Slate Magazine: 'The Real Problem With Law Schools: They train too many lawyers.'

Des Hudson made his comments as a foretaste to the June 25 publication of the Legal Education and Training Review. A 335 page audit into the state of legal education in England and Wales. It wasn't a pretty picture.

But the real world picture of law school as it exists before your face isn't very pretty. The findings are wholly common sense and self-evident to the average observer. And that's not me being harsh, the Sunday Times said the same.

'Falling in line with lay opinion at long last, the Law Society has announced at last that there are too many lawyers (it's thought that they first discovered this in the mid-1950s, but have only just finished going through the small print).'

I don't want to go into too much detail on what the report actually said because it doesn't actually say anything that we didn't already know. But if you want some reportage on the review I suggest you read the Lawyer Magazine. What Alex Aldridge, editor of Legal Cheek had to say in the Guardian. Or what was said in Legal Week.

What I want to do on this occasion is to cast a critical eye on the middle classes' hypnotic attraction to law school and the self-interest expressed by law schools in the UK who've shown a flagrant disregard to the changing legal economy and the drastic drop in demand for law graduates.

Firstly, the hypnotic obsession of the middle classes with studying law. As it currently stands, 4 in 5 students training to be a barrister and paying big bucks for the privilege will never actually practice as a barrister.

As for those training to be a solicitor and again paying big bucks (£10,000) for the privilege, around 2000-3000 will never actually work as a solicitor. As the Law Society said in the Sunday Times:

"We believe some people who are being sold these courses have no reasonable prospects of being hired to become a solicitor."

Why all the law school love? For many students it's a fatal attraction (employment-wise), but my honest belief is that there is a deeply ingrained belief among the middle class that a law degree and a legal education is a safe bet to prestige and a very well paid job.

A belief so deep that people are enrolling in the face of hard facts that are screaming, "Don't! The employment prospects are exceptionally bleak."

I've talked about this previously in a post 'Law School: The Default Career Choice' and in the American blog, the League of Ordinary Gentlemen where I asked: 'Why does everyone want to go to law school?'

It's all ill-informed irrational exuberance. And to my mind irrational exuberance for law school is the doing of a lingering myth that makes people think they'll be Atticus finch or another legal type you see in the moves. Like Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer.

The most interesting research on this comes from America where it was found that 2/3s of parents want their child to go to law school. Even worse was the finding that when it came to low income households, around 80% of parents wanted their child to go to law school.

It would be perfectly reasonable to suggest that similar figures would be recorded in the UK.

So what are we to do?

We need to smash the law school myth that is making very capable young people waste their time and money. It's a complete waste and absolute and wanton inefficient allocation of human resources.

To smash the myth we need debate. As in America where there is a broad and lively discussion on the problem. But it's also a question of information. I've talked extensively of Educations Information Asymmetry, so we need to align schools, teachers and young people with what is happening in the world of law. We need the steady flow of information from where it is to where it needs to be.

As I said here, we need to break Britain's Hereditocracy and give young people a mentor - information and contact rich people who have the wherewithal to know the sensible economics of employment prospects.

On the second point of law school self-interest. This is a very real problem and my assertions on Twitter were backed up by Lexis Nexis.

There's not much to this apart from the need to stop the deafening silence that exists and allows law schools to enlist so many wannabe lawyers. In America there has been a massive uproar by both the public and the media about the moral malfeasance of law schools.

There is a fantastic blog now closed, but still massively resourceful entitled, 'Inside the Law School Scam.' Then there's fantastic editorials like the Salon piece entitled, 'Law school is a sham.'

We need the same sort of robust debate and discussion in the UK as exists in the US. Law schools have gone on for far too long unchecked. Belching out aspiring, ambitious and highly capable law graduates with the full knowledge that the legal economy and employability prospects are gravely compromised.

I could go on but I will leave it on this. We hear it everyday that the UK economy is rebalancing away from a services-heavy economy to a more industrial, trades and export-led economy. And with every action there should be a reaction. However to date law schools have stood still.

And just as the economy is re-balancing, so careers advisers and minds need to re-balance to align to the new world we now live in. We can't all be lawyers and we should stop blindly holding to some ill-gotten faith that law school is the surefire route to success. As Forbes Magazine said, 'Don't Go To Law School.'

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