Prof. Ben Barros, who teaches at poorly regarded Widener University School of Law (median LSAT score 150), has published several provocative posts at the Faculty Lounge arguing that the job outlook for recently graduated lawyers is not as bad as people believe or as the nine-month-out survey data indicates. In fact, according to his latest post “The Coming Lawyer Shortage,” the slight contraction in overall law school enrollment means that the good times will shortly roll. In this post, Barros asserts that “in a relatively short time, we will have gone from an environment where employers received hundreds of resumes for every open position to one where employers might not receive any resumes at all.”
Barros dismisses the far more pessimistic projection as to anticipated lawyer job openings over the next decade made by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS is merely composed of unbiased expert statisticians and economists, and so can hardly match the credibility and reliability of a self-interested law professor whose cushy job rides on the decision of young people to borrow many tens of thousands of dollars to attend his bottom-of-the-barros school.
Commentators at the Faculty Lounge and elsewhere have raised several objections to Barros's thesis:
(1) If the market for new law grads were thawing, we would see it first in rising wage pressure, which we have not;
(2) Most serious analysts believe that legal practice is undergoing structural change due to what Richard Susskind (author of ”Tomorrow’s Lawyers”) deems “disruptive legal technologies,” that create efficiencies and cost reductions for clients to the detriment of employment opportunities for both new grads and experienced lawyers;
(3) Even assuming arguendo that there will be jobs to be had, the anticipated salaries for law grads do not justify the massive debt loads they routinely undertake to attend law school;
(4) As noted, Barros’s prediction hinges on the recent decline in law school enrollment. But if the legal sector perks up, would not law schools respond by boosting their class sizes, and thus the supply of new lawyers relative to demand?;
(5) If the legal job market does thaw, new grads will face fierce competition for those openings from the overhang of tens, or maybe hundreds, of thousands of underemployed JDs who graduated in previous years. Moreover, notwithstanding the negative factor of resume gaps and jobs in nonlaw fields, these candidates will compare favorably in brains and ability to recent grads from schools such as Widener, where the always modest median LSAT score has fallen to the point of absurdity.
Anyway, for those who, like Barros, are panicking over the incipient lack of lawyers, this blog can offer relief in the form of two email dispatches from the trenches indicating that the dreaded lawyer shortage is nowhere on the horizon. The first is from a solo, and is framed as a message to Barros and other lawprofs and law deans. The second is from someone who works for a firm that staffs document reviews.
Contrary to what you would like everyone to believe, there is no lawyer shortage nor is it coming. How do I know? I have been practicing for almost 10 years, that's how. I have never been in academia nor have I ever worked in biglaw. I'm just an average Joe attorney. Since I graduated and passed the bar things have become worse, not better in the legal field. I barely make enough to get by. I am still up to my eyeballs in debt, in a huge part the loans I took for law school. I recently started looking for work in the NYC area because I cannot continue as a solo practitioner, it is simply too difficult and stressful to make a living that way. Sadly, that is what at least half of all attorneys do, they practice solo. I have a lot of experience and I have sent out a lot of resumes. Guess what, I have only heard back from two positions, and both of those were rejections.
I am not one of those few that got their toe into biglaw. I am one of the grunts in the trenches, I represent the majority of law school graduates. And that is what it is like, it is trench warfare. Warfare with your adversary, with your client, with your vendors and with yourself not to loose your mind. I'm not ashamed to admit that I am having a difficult time because it is not a personal failing, I have no ego about my business not making a ton of money, it is simply a sign of the times; too many lawyers walking around looking for jobs for a profession that is vanishing. It is vanishing because many people either do not have the money to hire an attorney, or they simply do things on their own (software/internet). I don't blame them, I would do exactly the same thing. If anything the attorney who charges their client for a municipal court appearance on a ticket that would go exactly the same way, with or without an attorney is acting unethically.
So, the next time you write about how there is opportunity in this crisis to try to entice future students, you need to understand this, you cannot keep fooling people that law school is a great investment, that's some very bad karma. You cannot keep telling people what a great investment it is, you cannot plunge people into monstrous debt and then say that law is not for everyone or claim that they "weren't trying hard enough." I'm not sure if any has actually confronted you as a person as opposed to anonymous tweets and blog posts. Well, I don't give a shit anymore. Lawyers who have recently graduated are not a statistic, we are people who cannot move forward with our lives, stuck in a limbo of being overqualified and yet not qualified for certain jobs. That is on you. Any person who looks at themselves in the mirror and continues to propagate this system has to be a sociopath. Either that or the lies you tell yourself will one day rip you apart.
I'm a big believe in Karma, so my advice to you and all the scamdeans is to get a fucking helmet, because the universe will fuck you equally if not more. All I'm saying is get some extra KY, you'll need it.
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"I work staffing document reviews. We posted this [a document review temp project, details omitted] an hour ago. 89 submissions. 5 positions. That should give you a taste of the NY market."
[Subsequent update from same correspondent]: "We eventually got over 180+ applicants for what turned out to be 8 positions."