As discussed previously, LSAC's new and improved data reporting comes on the heels of a significant increase in applicants for 2019, some 15% more compared to this time last year.
For those who care about the legal landscape, the current market, or the fate of future students, this is difficult to see as anything but troubling news. For the Cartel, happy times are seemingly here again, as we are seeing data that goes back nearly to 2012, compared to the nadir of 2014-2015.
As per usual, the Cartel seems to miss the overall point - people are attending law school for laudable but unrealistic reasons for the most part. And rather that discussing what is realistic (e.g. how many lawyers can the economy support), the conversation goes sideways into notions of the way things "ought to be":
Data show that large numbers of students entering law school say that they hope to work in the public interest, but then end up working for large firms instead — though debate rages about when precisely they defect and why. Debt burden is one explanation, but informal expectation and institutional pressures are probably more to blame. And the realities of this "public-interest drift" fit very poorly with the self-advertised rationales about how legal training in its current form serves social justice.
Debt-burden is the entire explanation, once one is removed from discussions surrounding the first-world problems of Yale or the remainder of the T14. Whether one is working towards social change or something as pedestrian as merely trying to put food on the table, the "realities" are that we live and move and have our being within a market economy. State and local government, to say nothing of foundations, are apparently unable to absorb the costs necessary to engage in the desired amount of public-interest work, which in turn asks struggling students to work for free. While no doubt idealism plays a role, the crushing of said idealism forces many, many law students to do what they have to. Perhaps if law schools charged less...?
To respond to this disheartening situation, law schools will need to consider how to reset their missions for those students no longer able to suspend disbelief about how their ideals and their training fit together. The point is not to reorient law schools entirely. Their primary task will always be the production of lawyers for the bar — a core commitment with which other agendas will necessarily fit uncomfortably. Law schools will never be staging grounds for fundamental social change when they are organized to advise private dispute resolution and administer extant forms of public justice.
And a certain amount of hypocrisy and rationalization is the essence of most people’s ethical lives in all times and places, especially when those people are at the top of unjustifiable hierarchies. "The important thing," a moralist once remarked, "is not to be cured, but to live with one’s ailments." Ethically pure law schools are not an option. An age in which American elites have remedied some exclusions while leaving many others intact or even more entrenched, and in which "meritocracy" is a rationalization for unprecedented elite ascendancy, is one we have to inhabit indefinitely. Sure, it is hypocritical when Yale Law students, each and every one of whom chose to enroll because the institution is at the top of the rankings, indict the school’s proximity to power and prestige. But nobody is above hypocrisy.
This is at least a fair indictment of the situation. We of the scamblog movement, however, have never "suspend[ed] disbelief about how their ideals and their training fit together." That fact falls squarely upon the hypocrisy (recently admitted, above, now that it is late 2018) of the Law School Cartel. In fact, perhaps we scamblogs were too brazenly cynical, but one of the planks of our movement is that law schools have sold pipe-dreams for decades in order to induce a flood of naive students to march to their economic (and perhaps idealistic) doom. Sadly, the above data reflect the beginnings of a new flood, and I expect we will hear more "tsk, tsk" lamentations not about the fact that the gristmill exists in the first place, but that the gristmill is still not sufficiently social-justice-oriented-enough to allow the Cartel to regard itself in the mirror at night.
What if the truth of law schools is that their main social function, aside from producing the next round of elites, is that they buy off those who initially doubt that perpetuating elites is what law schools ought to be doing? If law schools faced this haunting question more routinely, they might resolve to demystify the law as a first step to reinvigorating democratic life. This would matter not just for the ethical conundrums of a handful of elites, but also to the country and the world.
A certainly worrying and justifiable conclusion, but I maintain that this hand-wringing pales in comparison to the thousands upon thousands of law graduates bound to modern-day indentured-servitude with few to no prospects. While this may not occur around the halls of Yale, it occurs on a daily basis at scores and scores of law schools around the country. Let's address the most egregious aspects of this practice first, and then turn our attention to the "elites" and their practices within the Halls of Power at Yale and Harvard and the social-justice-cooling effects there may be.
"Elites," I note, that are themselves complicit in the detestable practices at said scores and scores of law schools around the country. The mal-administered "democracy" of the law student applicant cycle appears to begin anew, with Nothing Learned as to its effects or consequences. 0Ls, pay heed.