Would You Rather: Law School or $1000?
I would like to go to law school sometime in the relatively near future. Whenever I tell current lawyers or law school students about my career plans, they tell me one of two things. They either tell me to make sure I take a few years off between undergrad and law school, or they tell me to absolutely not go to law school.
It’s true that having a law degree doesn’t really have the prestige that it used to. As the economy continues to slowly rebuild after the recession, young lawyers are having a difficult time finding employment in their field. Above the Law looked at one of the most recent crops of young lawyers—the class of 2012—only 56% are in full-time, long-term legal employment nine months after their graduation. They are doing slightly better than their predecessors: at the same point last year only 55% of the class of 2011 could report such success. Only about 10-12% of these students are in classic “Big Law” jobs. Furthermore, legal educations are expensive. The cost averages at about $50,000 a year. As a result, it is not unusual for students to graduate with exorbitant debt.
Google “is it worth it to go to law school?”, you’ll get thousands of results. Every news outlet, blogger, and Internet commentator wants the last word on the law school debate. Now a Chicago attorney is putting his money where his mouth is, literally.
Matt Willens, who heads up the Willens Law Offices in downtown Chicago, is offering a $1000 scholarship to students who chose to pursue a graduate degree in anything that is not law. It seems like he plans to make this a repeat offer for at least the next few years. The firm’s website actually has a page for the scholarship where they outline their motivation behind the incentive program:
“Some of you may be wondering, why would a law firm create a scholarship to dissuade students from practicing law? The answer is simple; we currently do not have enough jobs to be able to effectively train the current number of freshly minted lawyers in our profession. To protect the reputation of our profession, Willens Law Offices has created this scholarship to persuade undergraduates to pursue another graduate degree for a limited time.”
Willens himself commented to the Sacramento Bee: “the situation has become untenable. Too many of our best and brightest are pursuing a career where there just aren’t any more seats at the table.” The offer is nice, but $1000 is obviously much more of a statement than a generous scholarship. That being said, it could be nice help for a student who is pursuing a non-law degree.
While I understand the logic, I take issue with part of Willens’s idea. While law school is very expensive, so are most other types of graduate programs. While this scholarship is open to any student who chooses a different field over law school, it clearly aims for students who were considering law school and then instead chose another subject. For example, I doubt the Willens Law Office will receive any applications from people who are attending medical school. Students who are passing up law school tend to stick to the humanities, and pursue a graduate degree in something like Political Science, Public Policy, or English. None of these fields necessarily have better career prospects than law. For example, according to the National Science Foundation, among Humanities Ph.D recipients, 43% reported “no definite commitment for employment or postdoctoral study.” People with a Ph.D in a humanities field are doing better than new lawyers, but not by much.
I don’t think the question of “whether or not a legal education is worth it in our current economy?” will be answered anytime soon. Legal education and the legal field as a whole are clearly going through changes, but we don’t know what will happen in the long term. As for me, I still pretty much plan on going to law school—but if anyone wants to offer me a bit more than $1000 to do something else? Well, I’d consider it.
Anneliese Mahoney (@AMahoney8672) is Lead Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured image courtesy of [Adam Tinworth via Flickr]