Sunday, January 09, 2011

The More Things Change ...

A recent NYT article discusses the perils of going to law school, accumulating debts, and then being unable to get the sort of job that will pay them off. Part of its explanation is misrepresentation by law schools of how well their graduates can be expected to do, but it suggests that much of the fault is with the students. Even if they know that most law school graduates do poorly, each student believes that he is the exception, that when he graduates he will end up with one of the handful of really good jobs. Relevant quotes:
"Independent surveys find that most law students would enroll even if they knew that only a tiny number of them would wind up with six-figure salaries. Nearly all of them, it seems, are convinced that they’re going to win the ring toss at this carnival and bring home the stuffed bear"

"“This idea of exceptionalism — I don’t know if it’s a thing with millennials, or what,” she says, referring to the generation now in its 20s. “Even if you tell them the bottom has fallen out of the legal market, they’re all convinced that none of the bad stuff will happen to them."
Which reminded me of an earlier discussion of the same issue:
"The lottery of the law, therefore, is very far from being a perfectly fair lottery; and that, as well as many other liberal and honourable professions, are, in point of pecuniary gain, evidently under-recompensed. Those professions keep their level, however, with other occupations, and, notwithstanding these discouragements, all the most generous and liberal spirits are eager to crowd into them. Two different causes contribute to recommend them. First, the desire of the reputation which attends upon superior excellence in any of them; and, secondly, the natural confidence which every man has more or less, not only in his own abilities, but in his own good fortune.


The contempt of risk and the presumptuous hope of success are in no period of life more active than at the age at which young people choose their professions."
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776.


P.S. Apropos of an earlier post, it occurs to me that the Smith quote could be taken as an early example of behavioral economics.


At 12:15 PM, January 09, 2011, Blogger blink said...

I think the takeaway is that the practicing law is more like playing professional sports or acting than traditional professions. Alas, the social value of the efforts of those playing the "law tournament" is probably less than for entertainment.

At 12:52 PM, January 10, 2011, Blogger Unknown said...

The job market is even worse than that. I hear some law schools would prefer to hire people with PhDs in physics to teach, rather than actual lawyers. :)

At 1:37 PM, January 10, 2011, Blogger jimbino said...

Think how empty the law schools would be if they required competency in math, physics or engineering as prerequisites!

If it weren't for the state-sponsored monopoly, law would be held in lower disregard than it already is.

At 7:47 PM, January 10, 2011, Blogger Andrew Deming said...

I thought about this article, and why people choose to go to law school, in a framework from a book I read 10 years ago while selling used cars.

The Weapons of Influence from Robert Cialdini:

1. Reciprocation – not applicable.

2. Commitment and Consistency – This seems like it could be applicable. Being a lawyer and going to law school is likely something that one would tell friends and family that they are going to do, probably while they are still in high school or undergraduate school. It can be hard to reverse course after publicly stating a preference like that.

3. Social Proof – Apparently many people are still signing up to go to law school. How can so many people be wrong, right?

4. Liking – not applicable, at least not from my personal experience.

5. Authority – If the law schools list off a bunch of metrics about the distribution of employment for law school graduates, you will likely tend to believe them, and perhaps (?) not question their statements as much as you should. They are a law schools, and they are approved by the ABA!

6. Scarcity – There certainly doesn’t seem to be a lack of supply of lawyers or law school students, so this is likely not applicable.

In the end, perhaps this whole process (going to law school and paying off the loans) might be a painful reminder for many of these students to ask good questions and read the fine print.

Or we could continue creating more and more statutes and regulations, thereby increasing the demand for lawyers' talents by the rest of us to get on with our day-to-day lives.

At 3:21 AM, January 12, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why on earth would you want maths or physics as a prerequisite for law!?

At 8:09 AM, January 13, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is only one reason for the abundance of law school students, and that is the economy. Most helicopter parents prefer to pay for law school for their unemployed recent graduated child; it's that simple.

At 12:56 PM, January 14, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Nearly all of them, it seems, are convinced that they’re going to win the ring toss at this carnival and bring home the stuffed bear"

I'm not sure I understand the point of this. Isn' this true of authors? athletes? actors? (And I'm not even out of the As.) Lawyers aren't smarter or wiser than anyone else.


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