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by Vault Education Editors | April 26, 2011


 Someone has gone and crunched some numbers that law schools and others have surely collected but choose not to publish. His findings, as you can guess, even come to expect, are grimmer, even, than the stream of stomach-sinking media stories of late. I know, I know: Who wants to feel sad in springtime?

That someone is Paul Campos, a law school professor at University of Colorado at Boulder who was prompted, perhaps, to direct a spotlight at this “professional cartel,” by asking himself: “How many of your recent graduates have real legal jobs that pay enough to justify the tuition that funds your salary, and also involve doing the kind of work they wanted to do when they went to law school?” The answer must not have been pleasing. 

...and so, the professor, filled with guilt and mission, bit his employer’s hand in order to reveal the ugly truth.

Sorry, did we say 95 percent employment?

Until about a month ago, schools once claiming an unemployment rate of one in 500 now report one in 30; those who boasted of 95 percent employment rates now modestly say that one in six are jobless.

Non-legal jobs don’t count

Take away part-timers and the people working non-legal jobs, and the NALP reported number of “employed” law school graduates drops from 88.2 percent to 62.9 percent.

Temporary jobs don’t count

That 62.9 percent is still too optimistic if temp work is excluded (“such as being paid $20 an hour to proofread financial documents in a warehouse, or $12 an hour to do slightly glorified secretarial tasks”).

Campos looked at jobs data from 183 individual NALP forms from one unnamed top 50 school where grads self-reported their employment status nine months after graduation.  He found that one-third of students were doing temp work, while NALP does not differentiate between temporary and permanent positions. (Campos treated federal and state judicial clerkships as full time, and state trial court clerkships as temporary.)

So, what percentage of that top 50 school’s 2010 class had real jobs nine months after graduation? Only 45 percent.  

Can self-reported data be trusted?

Self-reported data is often inaccurate, and law schools and NALP don’t audit that data. But Campos did, using a small representative sample. He found cases of people wrongly describing their status as permanently employed or full-time despite the fact that they were really part-time or temporary. Whether due to embarrassment or for strategic reasons, “this apparently not uncommon practice suggests that the true employment rate should be lowered even further.”

Is getting the Big Law job really winning the lottery?

Even the lucky graduates who go on to prestigious, well paying jobs, quickly learn that working at a big law firm can often “make them miserable,” due to the “insane hours and unfulfilling work” they do in order to pay off their astronomical debt.



Law Schools Entice Naïve Students Onto Campus With Rosy, Misleading Data

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