I just read an article in The Daily Record discussing the flood of incoming law students at Baltimore City’s two law schools. There are only two law schools in Maryland, the University of Maryland School of Law (“UMD”) and the University of Baltimore School of Law (“UB”), both in Baltimore City. As the economy goes sideways, people flock to graduate school for cover.
The article reports that UB plans to admit 340 first-year students this fall out of 2700 applications. UMB plans to admit 317 students from 4000 applications. Combined, that is 6700 applicants competing for 657 seats. Even a liberal arts grad like me can tell that those are not good odds. These statistics show that a law degree is still in great demand. [Since I wrote this post, interest in law school has collapsed and then make a pretty miraculous return in 2019.]
This is curious because the same publication also reports today on the lack of employment opportunities for recent law graduates. The article confirms what we all know- the top 10% of each graduating class generally has no trouble finding employment, whether in a prestigious law firm or through a judicial clerkship. But for the other 90% of law grads, the legal job market is tough, with many new attorneys getting by on temporary contract work (usually consisting of document review projects that are mind-numbingly boring and could be done by a reasonably intelligent high school student). They have quickly realized that the 100K in student loans may not have been the best idea. This is something law schools do poorly. They don’t do a good job of preparing the overwhelming majority of students who are not in the golden 10%.
There are many successful attorneys who took career paths off of the “law review-top-10%-clerkship-big firm” path. This was me. Often, personal injury lawyers, in particular, follow alternative career paths. In our firm, we have personal injury attorneys (again, like me) whose careers have had stops in big law firms, insurance house counsel offices, and small law firms. Some of us went to law school immediately after college. Two of our attorneys spent several years in law enforcement before pursuing a career as an attorney. One was a nurse.
Academic Success Versus Being a Good Lawyer
If I’m hiring here, I’d rather have a Harvard lawyer than one from UB, all things being equal. Statistically, the Harvard lawyer will be a better lawyer and, almost certainly, a better writer. That is an inconvenient truth. But it is reality.
But there is no one set path to success. Law schools are good at supporting the top students, but not at preparing the average law graduate for the reality of the job market. Academic success is not necessarily a predictor of success practicing law. The skillset required to be a good lawyer encompasses so much more than legal analysis. Organization, interpersonal communication, marketing, writing, personal integrity, professionalism, and a desire for excellence sometimes do not show up in a GPA. To be clear, the skill are usually reflected in a student’s GPA. I’m not a “grades mean nothing” person. But not always.
Most prospective law students will end up in the bottom 90% of the class (90% of them I suppose). These students should persevere- your GPA doesn’t show your potential future success. However, law schools should do more to make sure these students know what they’re getting into before they take out 100k in student loans. There’s not always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
My advice to prospective lawyers is the same advice I would give to prospective any career. Do something you enjoy doing which will lead to personal and economic success. This a such a trope, I know. But it is so true. I love coming to Miller & Zois
every almost every single day.