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November 17, 2012

Law school grads find supply exceeds demand for new lawyers

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"I'm not sure how well-thought-out a lot of decisions [to invest in law school] are, in all candor," says Mark Medice, national program director for Peer Monitor, a Thomson Reuters unit that tracks hiring and compensation data at large law firms, which traditionally have offered the highest-paying jobs to new lawyers. The market for new lawyers is so weak, says Medice, who himself has a JD and an MBA, that the return on investment is questionable for those at all but the most elite law schools. "If you have to pay $100,000 to do it, is it worth it?" he wonders. "Arguably, no."

Besides, most law schools offer such a broad overview that legal education is "generic" and lacks utility, Medice continues. While most law schools now claim some sort of clinical or practical training, the broader trends may demand more fundamental reform.

Perhaps the structure of the entire system needs to change, with number of JDs graduating each year declining drastically. Medice envisions a new model, built around year-long, hyper-specific skills — such as discovery, regulatory matters and litigation support — that would quickly and relatively cheaply train students for the kinds of legal jobs that are available.

Though down-market compared with the Harvard Law world depicted in the 1973 movie "Paper Chase," this trade-school model "could really benefit the industry in a cost-effective way," Medice says.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of law students are being trained for a profession that no longer has room for most of them.

"It is hard to describe the misery we are generating," says Paul Campos, who has taught at University of Colorado Law School since 1990. "We close our eyes to an entire generation of people we are selling a bill of goods to. We have talked ourselves into believing that what we are doing is defensible, and it's not.

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