by Johanna G.
It has become increasingly clear that job prospects for law graduates has been on the decline since the economic bubble burst of 2008. Around five years ago, a graduate would have come out of school with the big possibility of attaining an entry-level position at a firm with a six-figure salary. In today’s market, that possibility seems less likely, especially when looking at the 2011 employment statistics for recent law school graduates. This has made the legal community analyze the reasons behind the trend.
Many analyzing the problem state that legal jobs have decreased because of hiring practices in law firms. During recent years, law firms have limited their hiring numbers. They are almost exclusively hiring law graduates who come from certain top schools, and who have graduated at the top of their classes. The decrease in the amount of graduates hired has disrupted the confidence law students once had in attaining work. The amount of work previously available at law firms was especially important for the majority of law students who needed to incur great debt in order to finish school. The decrease in work availability has also allowed employers to lower starting salaries, which has promulgated the debt problem among law school graduates even further.
When job availability and salary amounts started decreasing, the problem of debt repayment began to surface. The increase in debt with the inability for students to pay it off led to a look at the cost of tuition. According to the American Bar Association’s website, the average law school increased by more than fifty percent in the past decade. (For the complete ABA law school tuition statistics: ghttp://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/ls_tuition.authcheckdam.pdf )
The increases in tuition and decrease in job availability and salary prompted a decrease in law school applications. The 2013 law school application cycle has produced the lowest number of applicants in the last thirty years. (Law School application and hiring statistics: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/01/law-school-applications-are-collapsing-as-they-should-be/272729/ ) This has spurred law school administrations and state courts into action. The New York State Courts are in the process of deciding whether or not to allow law school students to take the bar exam in their second year of law school. This would allow students to start their practices earlier and lower the amount of debt they incur. Law School administrations are beginning to debate whether a third year of law school is necessary, and whether tuition costs can be reduced. The initiative by law school administrations to cut costs and reduce the length of time might have come a little late, but will help the economic burden law students have to endure.
However, these changes will not happen overnight, and in the meantime law students will still be struggling with job prospects and debt repayment. What does this mean for the future of the legal community? The legal community might continue to see a decrease in the amount of people interested in the legal field, which would not necessarily be a good thing. The United States is a very litigious country that already faces problems with unequal legal representation. A continuous decrease in the amount of people in the legal field might lead to a greater inequality in legal representation. Hopefully, the pending changes to the legal field will help rectify this inequality.