Both the house and the education may turn out to be worth less than you paid, but the present-day value of a house has to do with what someone else is willing to pay to take it off your hands. You don't sell your education to someone else. You try to get a job. When you buy a house, you have some expectations about how the market price will change over time. When you get an education you have expectations about what kinds of jobs you may be able to get with it. But so much depends on you. You have to have absorb and process the material the school teaches, you need to present yourself appropriately in interviews, and, once you get the job, you have to perform well. Your services are the product. The education was part of making your services worth buying in the job market. But no one ever purchases your education from you.
Now, why focus on law schools? People buy all sorts of education. It's expensive. And students major in plenty of subjects that are far less likely to result in jobs. Here's where we get to the real meat of the article: Do the law schools trick students into thinking they are buying a bigger boost in the job market than they're really going to get? And it's the old U.S. News and World Report problem. As schools vie for higher ranking, they do what they can to produce statistics that factor into the calculation, and one thing is the percentage of "graduates known to be employed nine months after graduation." Law schools today report an average of 93%, which is 9% more than back in 1997, even though everyone knows the job market for law grads has gotten much worse.
Another statistic that counts in the rankings is median starting salary:
Many schools, even those that have failed to break into the U.S. News top 40, state that the median starting salary of graduates in the private sector is $160,000. That seems highly unlikely, given that Harvard and Yale, at the top of the pile, list the exact same figure....That is to say, the U.S. News rankings are, on their face, unbelievable.
So the glut of diplomas, the dearth of jobs and those candy-coated employment statistics have now yielded a crop of furious young lawyers who say they mortgaged their future under false pretenses. You can sample their rage, and their admonitions, on what are known as law school scam blogs, with names like Shilling Me Softly, Subprime JD and Rose Colored Glasses.It's important for prospective students to know what they're getting into. But are they being tricked into thinking it will be easy to become a lawyer, make a lot of money, and love your job too? I don't think so. The bad economy has made the odds worse, but students aren't fools. The NYT focuses on one particular individual, who seems to have been especially unrealistic. (You can go to the article to see the details on this one guy. I don't know why he was chosen as the star of the article.) I think most students do think hard about taking on loans and training for the legal profession. You've got to search for the truth and think hard about where your decisions will lead you and if you want to go there.
“Avoid this overpriced sewer pit as if your life depended on it,” writes the anonymous author of the blog Third Tier Reality — a reference to the second-to-bottom tier of the U.S. News rankings — in a typically scatological review. “Unless, of course, you think that you will be better off with $110k-$190k in NON-DISCHARGEABLE debt for a degree that qualifies you to wait tables at the Battery Park Bar and Lounge.”
But so far, the warnings have been unheeded. Job openings for lawyers have plunged, but law schools are not dialing back enrollment.... Apparently, there is no shortage of 22-year-olds who think that law school is the perfect place to wait out a lousy economy and the gasoline that fuels this system — federally backed student loans — is still widely available.
Quite aside from the economic issues, many people go to law school only to figure out they don't like being a lawyer. But you have to do something in life. What will it be? What else are you going to do? For far too many young people, law school seems like a specific, sensible choice. Three years of education, and you will be highly qualified for a wide array of respectable jobs. If you're reasonably smart and hard working, you will get through it. But it's not a magic ticket to affluence and prestige.
My advice: Know what you're doing! Think!