Illinois Bar President: The J.D. Production Shall Continue!

Don Dodson, “Thies: Law School Debt ‘Unsustainable’ Over Long Term,” The News-Gazette.

At a University of Illinois College of Law event, Illinois State Bar Association president John Thies said:

[O]ver the long term, that kind of debt for legal education [$100,000 + undergrad] is “unsustainable,” given salaries in the profession.

Jobs that pay enough to satisfy the debt payments aren’t forthcoming, he said.

“I don’t see salaries changing,” Thies said. “What’s got to change is cost.”

This much is true, but the rest is confused. Thies does not believe that law school could be cut to two years, but it should be changed to make lawyers “practice-ready.” President Thies also created a task force to study the effects student debt is having on Illinois’ legal services.

For example, small law firms — those with fewer than 10 employees — may not be able to afford people who have to pay off high law school debt.

It’s strange that President Thies needed to convene a task force when the ABA already tells us how many graduates of Illinois law schools are working in small practice environments. For example, as of a year ago, 14.7 percent and 1.7 percent of Illinois’ law schools’ 2011 graduates were working full-time long-term in 2-10-person practices and solo practices, respectively. For 2010 grads, those numbers were 15.7 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively. Most of these practices were probably in Illinois. Given also that law school graduates can go on IBR, it’s questionable that student debt should matter at all for small practitioners looking to hire in a glutted market. It would appear the Illinois State Bar Association is wasting a lot of time researching a non-problem.

One student in the audience reported hearing a story of someone still paying off law school debt from 1993.

Thies said he didn’t doubt that. He said some have described law school debt as “the mortgage for a house I can’t live in” and “the debt I’ll die with.”

Given that 85 percent of U Illinois’ 2011 grads had an average of debt load of $90,000 in principal at graduation, this student is probably not far behind.

One student asked why, if law school costs are so high, aren’t fewer students applying to law school.

Thies said applications to law schools have dropped substantially the last two years.

Do law students even read the news?? Like, the applicant nosedive can drive news cycles autochthonously. It’s pretty frakked up—just not as much as law students who are clueless about it.

[Thies] said the nation “may have too many law schools.” But he dismissed any notion that there are too many lawyers or law students, saying there’s “a tremendous need” for legal services.

When asked what reforms law schools should make, Thies said he didn’t want to pre-empt the task force’s recommendations. But he said arrangements could be made to match law school students with “aging baby-boomers” in private practice so the young lawyers can eventually take over the practice.

He also said law schools could do a better job facilitating internships and externships for students, recognizing that many students can’t afford to serve unpaid.

So we should pack the same number of students into fewer law schools? The correct answer is that we have the exact right number of lawyers the market can bear, but (a) we need poor people to earn more money to afford legal services, and (b) we have too many law school students and graduates nonetheless. I don’t think there are enough aging baby-boomer lawyers in private practice to go around. I’d also like to know who will pay for the interns and externs. Conscripting law schools into finding these kinds of placements hints of Lysenkoist quotas used in the Soviet Union and the Great Leap Forward.

One comment

  1. Let me make sure that I have this correct, Matt. Despite my use of strong visual rhetoric and aggressive tone, I have a strong tendency to rely on this thing called logic.

    According to the Illinois state bar “president,” “We have too many law schools, but there are not too many law students or lawyers”?!?!?! Does he not read the NALP summary chart every year? How the hell does pumping out 44,000+ JDs each year – into a field that only has roughly 25K lawyer openings annually – not equate to graduating too many attorneys?! Apparently, John Thies has never seen the BLS Occupational Handbook on Lawyers, either. Nor has he seen the numbers from the ABA, which shows that since 1980, ABA-accredited diploma mills have awarded more than 1.2 million law degrees.

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