Current Circumstances Cast a Shadow on Past Decisions

Put positively: Current circumstances illuminate past decisions.

I guess it works.

I flipped through Access Group’s and Gallup’s jointly produced report, “Life After Law School” (pdf), which surveyed a panel of 7,000 recent and not-so-recent law-school graduates of some Southeastern law schools. I don’t have much time or interest in picking apart the study, but I observe that the seven schools it chose are a pretty broad range, from older, established Vanderbilt to recent Elon. There aren’t any for-profits though.

I thought I’d illustrate some of “Life After Law School”‘s tables. There are times when tables are helpful, e.g. lists of law schools, and times when we prefer charts, like when we want to see trends. “Life After Law School” is a time for trends.

Here’s how graduates answered, “If I could do it again, I’d still get a law degree.”

If I could do it over again

“These results could reflect the lack of time more recent graduates have had to realize the value of their law degree or their greater difficulty in finding a good job after graduation.”

You can see growing dissatisfaction with law school among recent graduates.

And here’s, “My degree from LAW SCHOOL was worth the cost.”

My law degree

Again, growing dissatisfaction over the decades. I’ll not chart the report’s debt table because it doesn’t break the numbers down by approximate graduation year. Time is what we’re talking about.

So here’s a question: Do graduates become more satisfied with law school over time, or is this a phenomenon unique to recent grads? Predictably, Access Group believes the former; it says so in the introduction. “While [metrics of near-term earnings and job placement of recent graduates] have merit, they do not provide a holistic view of graduates’ lives or the broader benefits that legal education provides.” If the long-term picture looks good, then we can discount the experiences of recent graduates.

Alternatively, factors outside law schools and law degrees affect people’s job outcomes and happiness. For example, if demand for legal services stagnates, and universities keep opening law schools, and the costs rise without quantified benefits, then we should expect more people to be dissatisfied with law school.

Thus, “Life After Law School” echoes the After the JD study, whose own authors misinterpreted their results, treating survey responses as evidence of legal education’s value rather than the respondents’ perception of their legal educations’ values. Current circumstances feed into perceptions of past decisions. As always, the question is, were there better alternatives to law school when people chose to attend. Recent graduates’ jaundiced perception of law school indicates they believe there were better alternatives in hindsight. But that’s a question Access Group won’t ask.

3 comments

  1. I looked at this report last week and noticed the same trend. But I wondered whether at least part of the explanation might be the rate of response from different age groups and the reasons for nonresponse. Perhaps the people who have a few decades of practice under their belts responded more often if they had a positive attitude toward their careers. Younger grads may have been willing to respond by venting their frustrations while older burnouts don’t care enough to discuss it. Just a preliminary thought

  2. Terrible trend lines, especially when you consider that young people are in general more optimistic and idealistic than the older, jaded, generation…or at least that’s how it used to be when I was young in the 60s and 70s and thought I could help change the world. If that youthful optimism is now disappearing, it’s doubtful it’ll return when they’re older, especially if they’ve paid, or are still paying a huge debt.

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