Professor Steven Davidoff Solomon published a smart piece in the New York Times last week about “signs of vigorous life in the legal job market.” The article is remarkably balanced, giving equal time to arguments against going to law school. My only problem with the article is that it starts by asking whether now is a good time to go to law school. It’s such a stupid, meaningless question–the only answer one can ever give is “it depends”–and yet it keeps coming up again and again.
Asking whether now is a good time to go to law school is a bit like asking whether it’s a good time to stay at a hotel. In order to provide any kind of helpful answer, I’d need to know a lot more about the person considering hotels: Where are you right now? Where are the hotels you’re thinking of checking into? Which hotels are you considering, and how much will they charge you? What is your financial situation? Why are you thinking of staying at a hotel? Where will you sleep on the nights in question if you don’t stay at a hotel?
Just as there are a lot of hotels, there are a lot of law schools in the United States, and talking about them in general terms makes no sense. There really is never a bad time to attend Yale, Harvard, or Stanford, as long as you want to be a lawyer. Graduates from those law schools have excellent job prospects even in bad economic times.
On the other hand, there is never a good time to enroll in a law school like Cooley, regardless of what its President might tell you. In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available on Cooley’s website, only 308 of the school’s 1143 graduates–that’s 27%–secured full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage. Cooley’s employment statistics vary from year to year, but its placement numbers are never anywhere near high enough to justify paying its $43,540 annual tuition.
There are a lot of law schools–nearly 200–in between Yale/Harvard/Stanford and Cooley. Is now a good time to go to one of those schools? Again, it depends, and it depends much more on why you want to go to law school and what schools you get into than on the current or projected market for legal services.
The consequences of a bad decision to go to law school are much more serious than the consequences of a bad decision to stay at a hotel. Law school can leave a person hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, unemployed, and with little hope of finding a job as a practicing lawyer. In deciding whether to attend law school, prospective students should choose wisely, and that probably means avoiding, or at least avoiding deciding based on, articles on whether it’s a good time to go to law school.