Thursday, November 21, 2013

Law Schools at a Crossroad

With tuition steadily on the rise across the country, many students are losing interest in attending law school. Once considered a sure bet for a stable career, students are now faced with the gamble of paying anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 with no assurance of a job after graduation. More often than not, students accumulate a massive student loan debt by graduation and then are faced with a limited job market. Frank Wu, chancellor at Hastings College of Law says that “legal education is in crisis because there are too many lawyers, there are too many law students, and there are too many law schools.”

Last year, 46,000 students graduated from law school with hopes of starting a fruitful career in the field of law. However, nine months after they graduated, only 27,000 of them had full-time jobs as lawyers. At some law schools, such as the University of San Francisco, only one in four students found jobs as lawyers. Not only are these students faced with the burden of not being able to find a job in their field of expertise, but they are unable to pay off the substantial debt they have amassed due to law school tuition. Lila Milford, a third-year Santa Clara University law student said that she has had no luck finding a job: "I have a huge looming debt and no job, so it is really high-anxiety and stressful. I knew it was going to be challenging. I didn't know how challenging." With tuition on the rise and a limited job market, law school applications are drastically declining. According to The New York Times, the number of students applying to law school has dropped by one third since 2010. This is the lowest number of law school applications in more than a decade and applications will continue to decline if tuitions stay at the same high rates.

Early this September, a task force at the American Bar Association claimed that there are significant financial pressures on law schools, students, and “the predicament of so many students and recent graduates who may never procure the sort of employment they anticipated when they enrolled." In addition, the task force called for a number of changes in legal education including more flexibility in law school curriculums and new licensing programs for basic legal services that many Americans can simply not afford. President Obama recently addressed the ongoing issues surround high tuition of law schools suggesting that law school should only be two years long and students should spend their third year clerking or practicing at a firm getting hands-on experience. By doing this, the pay would be low to begin with but it outweighs the cost of paying for a third year of law school.

Charles Weisselberg, a law professor at UC Berkeley says that there is at least one positive change this current dilemma has welcomed: students no longer are going to law school simply because they do not know what else to do. Many Professors are noticing that nearly all of their students have a genuine interest in practicing law. As an aspiring lawyer, I can only hope that law school tuition will be more reasonable in the coming years and young lawyers have the opportunity to pursue a successful career.

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