Law Students

One Law Professor’s Opinion: Don’t Go to Law School (Unless)
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Law schools are shrinking. Professors and staff are being layed off. Declining applications and enrollment are forcing schools to change their strategy. University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos has been anticipating this moment for years. He even wrote the book, “Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk” on the subject.

Editor for the Denver Post, Vincent Carroll had an opportunity to ask the farsighted professor a few questions. Professor Campos felt that law schools were giving prospective students employment numbers that were distorted from the reality of the job market. He began researching the legal job market when he noticed graduates who weren’t able to find jobs or who were underemployed. From there he started a 19 month long research project. He eventually wrote a non-academic law school guide that intends to be more honest about the employment numbers.


Prof. Campos noted that while law school had always been perceived as a one-way ticket to wealth, or at least a comfortable middle class life, the past decade and a half pretty much shattered that dream as the digital wave swept over all industries. He says, “The information technology revolution has hit the legal services market very hard. That has led to a sharp decline in the portion of GDP that goes to legal services. That’s a decline of a third, which is an enormous relative decline.”

Editor Carroll noted that the number of law graduates who end up in professions that have nothing to do with law must have motivated Prof. Campos to write his book. Campos commented, “There are twice as many people of working age with law degrees as there are practicing attorneys, and half of all law graduates are getting real legal jobs within nine months after graduation. Prof. Campos notes that many graduates aren’t getting jobs in the legal profession, and those who do get tossed out because of the oversaturation of the legal market. He comments, “Unless you are in certain elite sectors of the law, practicing law is a continual struggle as opposed to a stable and predictable career.”

Ironically that contradicts the most basic assumption that Americans have about law school, that going there will give you a stable and predictable career, and that it’s worth the high costs. About the rising costs, the University of Colorado law professor comments that half of law school graduates leave their institutions with $200,000 in educational debt, but they find on average a $45,000 a year job. He considers that this situation has a negative net present value, ultimately being “worse than worthless.”

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Turning the net present value into a positive one is possible. Campos finalizes his opinion by saying that law schools need to tremendously reduce their costs, and that half the number of people should be graduating from law schools. Though not everyone believes a law school degree is worthless or worse, the costs are quite high in these times, and prospective students are encouraged to consider all their options before deciding to take on extreme debt in sluggish times.


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