Deconstructing and dismantling René Reich-Graefe’s pro-law school propaganda, by Juris Debtor (@JurisDebtis)
René Reich-Graefe is a law school professor – a cushy position replete with high salaries, lazy summers, and the tough job of regurgitating essentially the same material to a new crop of high-tuition paying law students each year. Professor Reich-Graefe is a professor at the Western New England University School of Law, which is a rather unremarkable law school business based in Springfield, Massachusetts. Since the 2010-2011 academic year, enrollment at this law school business has plummeted by a third, according to the National Jurist magazine.
For the class of 2012, WNE School of Law was only able to place 33.8% of its graduates in bar-admission required, full-time, long-term work. Keeping in mind that many law jobs such as going solo or working for another solo practitioner pay poverty-level wages and the decision to attend WNE School of Law proved financially catastrophic for many of the law school’s students.
For the 2013-14 school year, this law school estimates living expenses and tuition at $62,802. Assuming tuition doesn’t increase over the next two years (highly unlikely), that leaves the WNE School of Law graduate with $188,406 in debt that is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Considering that many loans carry 6% to 8% interest rates, the decision to attend WNE School of Law can be financially catastrophic. At a minimum, it is financially unwise to do so.
As a business that has elected to file under the non-profit provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, WNE School of Law is forced to reveal how it spends some of its enormous revenue. According to its Form 990, this diploma distribution business pays:
- $293,690 to Dean Arthur R. Gaudio for 40 hours per week
- $296,824 to Prof. William G. Baker for 40 hours per week
- $528,634 to Western New England President Anthony S. Caprio
Prof. René Reich-Graefe sees the plunging enrollment numbers at WNE School of Law and he is concerned that decreased enrollment will jeopardize his means of accumulating wealth for himself. Less students attending WNE School of Law means less money for Prof. Reich-Graefe. So what does he do? He writes! The pen is mightier than uncomfortable facts being disseminated on the Internet!
The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics (yes, Ethics!) decided to accept Prof. Reiche-Graefe’s pro-law school propaganda and published his law school marketing white paper in its Winter 2014 volume. Entitled “Keep Calm and Carry On,” the title of his piece harkens back to a World War II-era motivational poster produced by the British government intended to raise the morale of British citizens after Nazis heavily bombed several cities. British citizens having their lives uprooted and dismantled by war is an apt comparison to law school students graduating with $200,000+ in non-dischargeable law school debt without jobs, working document review, volunteering for free for solo practitioners, and otherwise leading quiet lives of economic despair.
Prof. Reich-Graefe intends to address the obvious conflict of interest inherent when a law school professor who pays his mortgage and buys groceries with tuition money writes a piece encouraging young 20-somethings to hand law schools their money. In the first footnote, the professor notes that he “makes a living as a legal educator” and that he is a member of WNE School of Law’s budget and financial aid committee. Due to his status as a budget committee member, he is no doubt well aware of the pernicious financial impact decreased enrollment is having on WNE School of Law. Any reader with an ounce of critical thinking would stop reading Prof. Reich-Graefe’s paper after reading about his financial conflict of interest. It’s like reading a paper by the CEO of Altria on the health benefits of smoking: the impure, clear, obvious, and unavoidable financial conflict of interest poisons the information.
The professor comes out swinging. He ludicrously believes the New York Times and the hundreds of other media outlets covering the law school industry collapse are only doing so because (a) it’s cheap content; (b) it “maintains” readership that’s needed to sell ads; and (c) lawyers are easy targets. Curiously, he does not admit that coverage of the law school crisis brings in readers because so many law school graduates have had their lives financially destroyed by law schools because, well, where’s the fun in that?
What’s the root of all this negativity about law school? Why, it’s because lawyers dislike change and being wrong, according to the professor. It seems rather self-evident that lawyers dislike being $200,000+ in non-dischargeable debt and making $30-40,000 when law schools advertise that six-figure salaries are the norm. But maybe that’s just me. Except it’s not.
Prof. Reich-Graefe claims the law school crisis is merely a perception because lawyers are inherently negative: “lawyers also often respond to any perceived crisis by means of collective hysteria – rather than by the same measured, pragmatic and productive righten-the-ship-and-proceed-calmly approach which they generally employ so well and successfully on behalf of their clients.” So to the jobless law school graduate with $200,000 in debt competing ferociously for a 60-hour a week law firm job paying $32,000 without benefits? Calmly approach the problem in a measured, pragmatic, and productive right-the-ship-and-proceed method but whatever you do, don’t criticize the law schools who have behaved nothing short of saintly in their job and salary number advertisements to prospective students. Anyone making a pathetic salary after paying $200,000 for a law degree has a right to be “inherently negative.”
The professor calls law school professors “a sociologically important sub-group of legal professionals who function as society’s chosen gatekeepers of, and, thus, command the access monopoly to, the services monopoly that is the legal profession.” Well then! That sounds super important. And extremely credible, since this is a professor writing about how important professors are. I forget when we, as a society, chose professors to act as gatekeepers to the legal profession. Apprenticeship seemed to work fine in Abe Lincoln’s day, but I digress. The law professor’s “sociological importance” isn’t due to society as a whole. It’s the product of aggressive ABA lobbying and law school marketing. Society functioned just fine and dandy before law schools existed in their present form and prior to the law school enrollment boom of the 1970s.
Prof. Reich-Graefe is sick of all the “nonsense” negativity about law school. All those stories about law school graduates being $180-250,000+ in non-dischargeable debt without a job, working doc review, or jobless and living with their parents? Nonsense! The good professor is here to let us know it’s “time – indeed way past time – to stop such nonsense.” (emphasis in original) It cannot be overlooked that the footnote associated with that quote is former Case Western Law School Dean Larry Mitchell’s laughable marketing piece for law school that the New York Times published. Prof. Reich-Graefe begins by attacking the news media’s motives (it’s all about the money!), but then cites to a pro-law school piece that the NYT ran.
The professor next asserts that not all law school graduates “actually wanted” to enter the legal profession and practice law. Funny, it seems that most students who attend a professional school would want to enter the profession. At the very least, they would want to give it a try, but as we’ll see below, many law school graduates don’t even get a turn at the plate to see if they like practicing law. To provide an example of how extraordinarily deceptive law school professors are and the lengths they go to provide sweet-sounding lies to prospective law school students, let’s unpack the professor’s following paragraph:
[T]he misleading math employed in this Washington Post article is further inherently ﬂawed in that it assumes that all of the 132,757 J.D. graduates from U.S. law schools between 2010 and 2012 actually wanted to enter (and, if given the opportunity, would have entered) the legal profession and practice law in the United States. That has never been the case. For the last ﬁve years (2007-2011) of available data collected by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), the number of law school graduates who, immediately after graduation, entered the legal profession in a so-called “Bar Passage Required” position was, on average, slightly less than ninety percent nationally—counting and comparing, for such purpose, only actual, full-time employment positions in only three categories, each with substantial national salary averages (namely, between $60,271 and $96,330). The other approximately ten percent of law graduates actually employed full-time and reporting their salaries post graduation as collected by NALP in either the “JD Advantage/Preferred” or “Other Professional” categories—i.e., those graduates who often become licensed immediately after law school graduation in order to get a bar exam (or two) out of the way but who are not directly practicing their craft—are all gainfully employed. Most (if not, all) of them, however, will not show in the BLS Employment Projections statistics as employed “lawyers.” (underlining and emphasis added)
Like a good law school marketer, Prof. Reich-Graefe plays deceptive games with numbers and statistics with the purpose of making the horrifically-poor investment of law school appear attractive. The professor chose the years 2007 through 2011 in order to bolster his claim that acceptable numbers of law school graduates are entering the legal and they’re earning good salaries.
Here’s what the NALP numbers actually say:
2007 NALP data:
- 41,707 total law school graduates
- 74.5% (31,086) of law grads managed to land “bar passage required” jobs
- Only 71.9% (29,978) were able to find full-time, bar passage-required employment. This is the only metric that matters, as much as Prof. Reiche-Graefe would like to point to law graduates taking multiple bar exams and plotting their next professional move. Do you think any law school graduate would take multiple bar exams if they were able to find a full-time job?
- 576 went to work for solos and 6,461 went to work for tiny firms for most likely tiny salaries that won’t allow them to pay down their debt. That’s 7,037 law school graduates with atrocious employment outcomes that are counted within the FT bar passage required metric. Subtracting these graduates out, we’re left with 55% (22,941) of 2007 law school graduates who got jobs at firms with more than 10 lawyers, which is likely the only chance to earn enough to make reasonable payments on law school debt.
- Tl;dr: 45% of 2007 law school graduates are screwed.
2008 NALP data:
- 41,951 total law school graduates
- Only 72.3% (30,334) of grads were lucky enough to secure “bar passage required” jobs
- Only 68.9% (28,890) were able to secure full-time bar passage required jobs.
- 685 worked for solos, 6,479 went to work for firms sized 2-10 (probably closer to 2 and probably getting horrible salaries). That’s 7,164 law school graduates.
- 51.8% (21,726) were able to find jobs with law firms with more than 10 lawyers. And the graduates working for firms of less than 100 lawyers (most graduates) are likely not earning enough to pay off their law school debt in the near or even distant future.
- Tl;dr: 48.2% of 2008 law school graduates were screwed.
2009 NALP data:
- 42,330 total law school graduates
- 28,901 managed to find “bar passage required” jobs
- 62.9% (26,625) managed to find full-time bar passage required jobs
- Of that 62.9%, that includes 1,058 solos and 6,749 working for firms with 10 or fewer lawyers. That’s 7,807 with abysmal employment outcomes.
- Only 44.4% (18,818) managed to land jobs at firms with more than 10 lawyers, which is likely the only chance to earn even a moderate wage. Although these firms can still pay terribly.
- Tl;dr: 55.6% of 2009 law school graduates were screwed. (Are we noticing an upward trend here?)
2010 NALP data:
- 42,854 law school graduates
- 65.7% (28,167) graduates were lucky enough to find “bar passage required” jobs with their degrees that routinely cost $100,000 to 200,000.
- A whopping 59.9% (25,654) found full-time bar passage required jobs
- Of those lucky 59.9%, that number includes 1,039 solos and 7,160 firms with 10 or fewer attorneys (most likely closer to 2, this number - like much of the law school industry’s promotional efforts - is misleading), for 8,199 lawyers working for tiny firms with tiny salaries.
- Only 40.7% (17,455) found full time work for firms larger than 10.
- Tl;dr: 59.3% of 2010 law school graduates were screwed.
2011 NALP data:
- 42,657 law school graduates
- 63.8% (27,224) with bar passage required jobs
- 58.3% (24,902) with full-time bar passage required jobs
- 1,059 got jobs with solos and 7,570 got jobs with firms with 10 or fewer attorneys. These 8,629 jobs are usually extremely low-paying jobs.
- 38.1% (16,273) found work with firms with more than 10 attorneys.
- Tl;dr: 61.9% of 2011 law school graduates were screwed.
To produce his 90%, Prof. Reich-Graefe only counts law school graduates who actually got full-time jobs. But his sentence is crafted in such a manner that the undiscerning reader would think that slightly under 90% of law school graduates entered the legal profession with “substantial national salary averages.” Which, obviously, is far from the truth. Here’s what actually happened:
As much as Prof. Reich-Graefe’s wishes up were down and 2 + 2 = 5, the raw data doesn’t lie. The number of law graduates landing jobs that will enable them to pay off their sizable debt is getting smaller with each passing year. The law school graduates who did not manage to attain jobs that provide an adequate debt-to-income ratio have had their lives financially destroyed, but Prof. Reich-Graefe has not expressed any concern about this. The foregoing are statistics as reported by the NALP and they paint a grim economic picture that any prospective law school student should study carefully. Prof. Reich-Graefe provides an extremely shallow critique of one Washington Post article’s interpretation of statistics and fails to accept the reality that law school leads to unemployment, poor jobs, and financial devastation for a significant percentage of graduates.
In another misleading and deceptive rhetorical move, he attempts to graft statistical interpretation issues in the WaPo story onto the entirety of criticism directed toward law schools. The small problem with statistical interpretation in one article does not go to the heart of the problems regarding legal education: the vast numbers of indebted, unemployed law school graduates who have had their lives financially destroyed and who have been tricked and duped by deceptive and misleading statements promulgated and encouraged by self-interested individuals like Prof. Reich-Graefe.
The good professor next proceeds to offer six projections (really four, as you’ll find out below) about the future of legal education and the legal profession. He believes these predictions are based on “hard data” and he promises to provide us accurate predictions about the legal marketplace “without the hype or need to sell advertisement space.” But let’s not forget the need for Prof. Reich-Graefe to pay his mortgage and other various expenses with law school tuition funds.
Let’s gaze into Prof. Reich-Graefe’s crystal ball and address each of his claims:
1. Over half of currently practicing lawyers in this country will retire over the next ﬁfteen to twenty years.—
Prof. Reich-Graefe doesn’t think employment for law school graduates are a problem. He believes that we may “safely assume” that during this decade, a large number of lawyers will retire. He makes the breathtakingly ignorant claim that “one can conservatively predict that the total number of lawyers currently practicing in the United States will - a minimum be cut in half over the next two decades.” His basis for this startling claim: more than 61% of practicing lawyers are older than 45. Although the professor already demonstrated his penchant for disingenuous manipulation of statistics, let’s take this statistical claim at face value.
Unfortunately for the professor, it’s not even remotely safe to assume large numbers or even moderate numbers of lawyers. The professor’s argument assumes all lawyers are going to immediately retire when they turn 65 years old. But Americans are working longer into their lives because they’re broke. Because of my $200,000 in high-interest, non-dischargeable law school debt, I expect to work until I keel over and die. Retirement is nothing more than a pipe dream and this is hardly a unique point of view.
A record 7.2 million Americans 65 and older are working – double the number 15 years ago – because “many feel too financially squeezed to retire.” Things like enormous non-dischargeable law school debt, which the good professor helps promulgate, will keep this generation working until death. Richard Johnson, the director of The Urban Institute’s Program on Retirement Policy called the number of older Americans working “one of the most important changes in the labor force over the last generation.” But the good professor finds it convenient to ignore “one of the the most important changes in the labor force over the last generation” because it doesn’t serve his rhetorical intent, which is to convince future generations of college graduates to gamble their financial futures on a law degree.
Like advertising six figure salaries to lure in law school students, the professor is attempting to brush over his unfounded “safe” assumption that older lawyers will retire in droves, opening up thousands of jobs and creating a new era of prosperity for law school graduates but it’s simply not true. Even if a moderate amount of lawyers retire or die from old age, the jobs that these lawyers held are only going to be available to lawyers with several years of working experience. They will not be available to recent law school graduates and law school graduates who have been out of work for a period of time or who were never able to find employment in the legal sector. It is additionally reasonable to presume that the trends of DIY services, technological innovation, and legal process outsourcing will continue and strengthen, leading to a decreased amount of aggregate available legal work.
2. Over the next ten years, the current annual retirement rate of lawyers will double; over the next fifteen years, it will triple
Note that the professor could easily have combined Projections 1 and 2, but five projections just doesn’t sound as substantive (you’ll find out below that Projection 6 is equally pointless, so there are only four actual projections in his paper). Sticking with his mass retirement theme, Prof. Reich-Graefe believes that lawyers will retire in lockstep according to law school graduation year. As any practicing lawyer can tell you, many lawyers work until their deathbed. They might move down to Florida and take fewer clients but they’re still working.
The number of law school graduates exploded in the late 70s and the professor believes we will see a similar explosion in retirements. The only problem: the jobs that these old lawyers leave behind will not be available for law school graduates who graduated within the past few years and have not been able to find legal jobs. These jobs held by the old lawyers will either go to experienced attorneys or the position will be eliminated. With so many law firms laying off attorneys, it’s not hard to see a future where positions are simply eliminated.
Prof. Reich-Graefe seems to base his unfounded optimism on the belief that the amount of legal work available in the United States will remain constant over the next 15 years. The fact is, there is ample evidence the amount of work available for lawyers may decrease dramatically. Companies like LegalZoom are destroying many small practices. Off-shoring is more rampant, loads of free information is available on the Internet for the moderately intelligent to produce legal work independently, et cetera. There are hundreds of extremely smart and well-funded technology companies actively working toward taking a piece of the legal industry’s pie through lawyer-job-eliminating technology such as predictive coding. If Prof. Reich-Graefe thinks a number of old attorneys retiring will offset these negative structural trends, the law school attendees who rely on his statements are in for a rude comeuppance.
3. The U.S. population will increase by over one hundred million people, i.e., by one third, until 2060, thus, increasing total demand for legal services accordingly.
The professor states “law and legal systems are strictly human inventions and artifacts.” (He cites none other than the law school marketing hero Brian Leiter!) Tell that to the doc reviewers who are being supplanted by predictive coding technology or the computer scientists furiously working in the “legal tech” movement to displace lawyers. I suppose the professor is not familiar with machine learning and natural language technologies? Although society will always need a certain number of lawyers, there is a strong chance the amount of lawyers it needs will decrease in the future and we are already full to brimming with far too many lawyers.
The U.S. population is predicted to rise to 420 million in 2060. The professor’s thesis is this: “the more people, the more legal issues and the more demand for legal services.” He believes the population increase will lead to a large demand for “large-volume general-practice legal services.” Of course, these very legal services (wills, trusts, simple divorces, simple contracts, business formation, and the like) are the simple services being cannibalized by online services like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer, legal process outsourcing, the vast swaths of free information available online, and lawyers who offer online do-it-yourself services.
Like his other claims, Prof. Reich-Graefe’s argument is shallow and overlooks many issues that will impact whether this population increase will actually be profitable for future lawyers. Some issues that come to mind: Is the population growth coming from affluent individuals who are able to pay legal bills? How is the oversupply of lawyers impacting the price of legal services? How is the United States’ diminished economic power going to impact the salary and quality of life of future lawyers? And as mentioned above, how are trends in technology and DIY services going to impact the demand for legal services?
4. The two largest generational wealth transfers in the history of mankind— dubbed the ‘Great Transfer’ and the even ‘Greater Transfer’—will occur in the United States over the course of the next thirty to forty years, thus, increasing total demand for legal services even further
A lot of the Greatest Generation is dying and their assets are being transferred to Baby Boomers. There will be a “temporal overlapping” with this transfer and the transfer of assets from Baby Boomers to Generation Y. This is obviously a lot of wealth changing hands. The only problem, and it’s a big one: a very small number of people control the vast amount of wealth in this country.
The wealth inequality issue in America is well documented. It will not take that many lawyers to transfer wealth from one generation to the next when only a small, select number of individuals have large assets. And you can rest assured, for large wealthy families, the lawyers they hire won’t be graduates of Western New England University School of Law. For families with few assets, which is the vast majority, a few simple forms on LegalZoom or its equivalent should suffice. The dying off of some wealthy family members will not generate a vast and broad boom in demand for legal work, as the professor suggests. Rather, the work associated with generational transfers of wealth will be concentrated among a relatively small number of families who will employ a handful of elite BigLaw firms to perform their legal services. Why would a middle class family with $20,000 in assets to bequeath pay $5,000 to $10,000 to retain an attorney when they could pay less than $1,000 to LegalZoom? Since a very small number of families hold a great number of assets, it is not unreasonable to suggest that a relatively limited number of attorneys will handle wealth transfer issues.
The transfer of wealth may create a handful of jobs but it will not sustain an entire career either. Other than associated litigation, generational transfer issues are one-shot deals for the most part. A young lawyer competing with thousands of similarly-situated underemployed and desperate young lawyers will need more than a few wills and trusts to sustain a 40-year legal career.
5. Everything in the law, by definition, will continue to change, increase in volume, and become more complicated and complex—a trend further accelerated by the developments discussed in 3.and 4. above.
The continued trend of more laws and more regulation will mean greater demand for legal services. He cites longer proxy statements as an anecdote to support his claim. Like the transfer of wealth issue, proxy statements are obviously only handled by a select and small number of elite law firms, again none of whom are hiring WNE School of Law graduates. Prof. Reich-Graefe does not provide much support for his claim about increasing regulation creating demand for more lawyers. Surprisingly, he notes that the number of lawyers relative to the total United States population has surged by 250% since 1961, which brings attention to the extreme severity of the lawyer overpopulation problem.
Just because there are more laws and more regulations being promulgated does not mean there will be a greater demand for lawyers. The former does not necessitate the latter. The Affordable Care Act was supposed to create demand for new lawyers, but so far, there’s no evidence that occurred. What we saw instead was the proliferation of “navigators” - non-attorneys providing help and guidance for citizens to navigate the new law. This is a trend seen elsewhere - non-lawyers performing legal work (contract administration, compliance, et cetera) and you don’t need a $200,000 J.D. to do this work. There is no evidence that the vast number of new regulations cannot be handled by non-attorneys. In fact, the indications seem to point to the contrary. Bar associations have demonstrated an unwillingness to push for enforcement of unauthorized practice of law violations and that is unlikely to change.
6. As a result of Projections 1 through 5 above, recent law school graduates and current and future law students are standing at the threshold of the most robust legal market that ever existed in this country—a legal market which will grow, exist for, and coincide with, their entire professional career.
Prof. Reich-Graefe’s sixth proposition is merely hyperbole and repetition of the other five speculative and generally weak points. The professor believes a 50 percent retirement rate is “very conservative” over the next two decades. This assumes almost every lawyer will retire at age 65, which is simply not true. As noted above, a large number of retiring lawyers is also not going to create jobs magically for new, inexperienced lawyers or for lawyers who have been saddled with huge debt and have been unable to find work. In other words, a 2010 law school graduate who has $200,000 of debt and had to work a paper-pushing office job for $45,000 because he or she was unable to find law firm employment will not be up for consideration when the 67-year-old named partner retires.
Moreover, there are a number of aggressive economic trends occurring (technology, off-shoring, DIY, et cetera) that are going to reduce the overall demand for legal services. There is also large growth in “compliance professionals,” “contract administrators,” and other non-lawyer jobs that are supplanting lawyer work. There is little enforcement of unauthorized practice of law rules and it is now commonplace to find BA holders doing work that was previously done by licensed attorneys, but for a much lower salary.
There is no evidence the population growth in the United States is coming from affluent individuals who will demand legal services and pay for them. To assume that the lawyer-per-capita ratio will remain constant when the population growth is not coming from affluent, educated individuals who will pay for legal services is disingenuous and Pollyannaish. Even though the demographics that makeup the new American population is much more diverse and different from prior generations, Prof. Reich-Graefe assumes that this new population is going to demand and pay for legal services at the same rate as previous generations. These are inconvenient facts and tellingly left unaddressed by the professor.
Prof. Reich-Graefe saves this whopper for the end: “over the next two decades, the legal profession market is moving statistically into the direction of almost guaranteed legal employment for all law school graduates.” This is extremely speculative. This is misleading. And this is precisely the type of hyperbole that has brought the legal education industry to the precipitous point at which it stands.
The professor’s predictions depend upon many variables and leaves important problems unaddressed. There will be no shortage of legal jobs. As demonstrated by the NALP numbers above, there is instead an enormous oversupply of law school graduates. The professor notes that not all law school graduates want to be lawyers (true, but all want to pay off loans) and some graduates don’t pass the bar the first time (true, but bar passage is not required initially to get a job offer from many law firms, especially the ones that pay well enough to pay down debt, although it may be contingent).
In conclusion, Prof. Reich-Graefe exhorts lawyers and legal education industry beneficiaries to be “as rational and thorough, as empirical and scientific, and as practical and equitable about it as we can be—which is what we owe society, what we owe our law students (former, current and future), and what we owe ourselves as a profession and as professionals. Hindsight may show that our current collective deflationary treatment of legal education and its value—at least, for purposes of income generation (as opposed to its holistic value for both individual and society)—is only a footnote, and an interesting incident of mass hysteria, in the early history of the twenty-ﬁrst century. The above-mentioned article in the Washington Post speculated, in its opening paragraph, that a ‘perhaps permanent—sharp constriction in the job market for new lawyers’ has occurred. In the end, nothing could be further from the truth.” (emphasis added) We really can’t wait for those rational, thorough, empirical, scientific law school graduate employment and salary numbers. Can you imagine if law schools provided 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year comprehensive salary and job data for all of its graduates? Of course not.
So what do you owe your students Prof. Reiche-Graefe? When only 38.1% of 2011 law school graduates can find employment with law firms of more than 10 lawyers and only 58.3% found any full-time, bar passage-required at all, that’s a scandal and the Washington Post is fully justified to cover it and to criticize an industry that is ruthlessly extracting money from naive (but ambitious and well-meaning) 20-somethings who haven’t learned that adults will lie and say anything to get money. You seem to ignore the lives that have been utterly destroyed by the misleading and unjustified statements made by law schools. Law school is supposedly an “investment” but if the legal education industry were under the SEC’s jurisdiction, law schools would be prosecuted for making material misleading statements about investment returns. Law students are paying $100,000 to $200,000 and more for a law degree that provides less than a coin flip’s chance at earning a decent salary. That’s a disaster.
The essence of Prof. Reich-Graefe’s predictions for a boom in demand for legal services can be distilled into the following:
- Half of lawyers will retire and nearly all lawyers will retire when they reach 65 years of age;
- There will be a great transfer of wealth when the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers die off;
- There is going to be massive population growth in the United States;
- The government is promulgating more laws and regulations.
The essence of the objections to the predictions are as follows:
- Retiring lawyers are not going to open up jobs for the masses of unemployed and underemployed law school graduates who graduated between 2008 until present. These jobs will either (a) be eliminated; or (b) go to experienced attorneys. A 26-year-old law school graduate is not going to take over an old lawyer’s book of business. In addition, many lawyers simply do not retire at 65. They keep practicing. They might take fewer clients but they keep practicing. It’s not uncommon to see old codgers at the courthouse mumbling their way through hearings. It’s not reasonable or realistic to expect that almost every lawyer will retire at 65. A record number of Americans are working well into old age due to the terrible economy. I personally will have to work until I’m dead due to my inordinately large and non-dischargeable law school debt. The amount of legal work available is also decreasing due to DIY services, online and tech services, and automation (predictive coding is only the tip of the iceberg). For many of these old attorneys, they may retire but their absence is not going to create new legal work.
- Large portions of any generational wealth transfers will concentrated in the hands of a few families and individuals, which will be handled by a small number of select, elite law firms. It does not take hundreds of thousands of lawyers to complete a billionaire’s wealth transfer. DIY services like LegalZoom can adequately handle the vast majority of middle class family’s financial transfers. Even if there is a slight boost in demand for wills and estates work, it will be temporary and will not sustain an indebted new lawyer’s career.
- The population growth is diverse and different from prior generations. It’s dishonest to suggest that these new citizens will demand the same level of legal services as prior generations. The proposition that the lawyer-to-population ratio will remain constant is outrageous and not borne out by any data. It’s just pure speculation.
- Yes, more laws and regulations are being promulgated. That’s already happening, but is it creating a big demand for lawyers? The Affordable Care Act was supposed to create demand for new lawyers, but did it? Nope. What we saw instead was the proliferation of “navigators” - non-attorneys providing help and guidance for citizens to navigate the new law. This is a trend seen elsewhere - non-lawyers performing legal work (contract administration, compliance, etc.) and you don’t need a $200,000 law degree to do this work. There is no evidence that the vast number of new regulations cannot be handled by non-attorneys. In fact, the indications seem to point to the contrary.
In short, Prof. Reiche-Graefe’s claims are based on speculation and wishful thinking. He is like an ostrich with its head stuck in the ground pretending there is nothing wrong with the legal education system and the legal profession. It will be enjoyable to review the professor’s claims in five years, 10 years, and beyond to see just how profoundly wrong he was. But in the intervening time, the professor will have earned a solid six-figure salary each of those years by luring in new customers with misleading claims like those in his paper. In 10 years, if the professor manages to hold onto his job, it is, to borrow a description, “very conservative” to suggest he will be a millionaire.
Do not go to law school. The legal field is not a growing industry. There are few well-paying jobs and many, if not most, law school graduates have disastrous economic outcomes. Prof. Reiche-Graefe is a business proprietor attempting to attract new customers with snake oil claims of new jobs and a new era of prosperity, which of course will occur in the unpredictable future. As they teach you during your first year of law school, caveat emptor.
It’s not advertising-funded media outlets that are the catalyst for criticism directed at law schools. Rather, it’s the law school graduates who have had their lives dismantled by enormous debt that was incurred by relying upon the employment and job data misleadingly offered by law schools. Because there are tens of thousands of unemployed, underemployed, devastated, and desperate law school graduates, the media has taken notice that stories about the plight of law school graduates attract eyeballs. The law school graduates who have had their lives financially decimated by the law school industry have parents, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, friends, neighbors, spouses, and some have children. These people see how law school has financially shattered the law school graduate’s life. They are interested in stories like the Washington Post’s timely investigation into the law school industry.
It’s not because the public generally hates lawyers that stories about the law school industry are attracting eyeballs and hits. It’s because law schools are destroying lives and it has reached a critical mass where enough lives have been destroyed and there is an audience for information about the claims made by law schools and law professors like Professor René Reich-Graefe.
Do not go to law school. Do not keep calm and go to law school. Keep calm and find an industry where people don’t have to mislead to attract customers and one that creates value for society.