Bar News - March 18, 2011
President's Perspective: A Tough Sell in a Tough Economy
By: Marilyn Billings McNamara
A January 8, 2011 New York Times report by David Segal questions whether going to law school is a losing game and points out that law schools report post-graduation employment statistics without distinguishing between professional employment and any other job, such as waiting tables. This squares with what I have heard at bar conference presentations about the growth of the law school industry and the production of "too many lawyers" for the number of legal jobs available. David Segal’s report sums up much of what I have heard.
|Marilyn Billings McNamara
Law schools have been sharply criticized for their attention to the US News and World Report ratings rather than the development of professionals with sufficient skills to be of service to clients; I have read that the clinics giving students valuable experience with real clients are costly and apparently not considered in the ratings game. Neither are internships, externships and summer placements that provide exposure to the law. The exclusion of these opportunities may lead to decisions at the law school level to focus on LSAT scores, selectivity, academic offerings, employment and bar passage statistics rather than student services, including career counseling. Focusing on ratings narrows the curriculum; in this market, law schools will better serve their students by demonstrating creativity and innovation in course development to prepare students for a very tough sell.
It is true that many entry-level lawyers are struggling to find work and are turning to solo practice right out of school. I have spoken with many new lawyers (and some seasoned lawyers as well) about their choice to go solo; most would have preferred to start in established firms, but could not find employment. Unwilling to "waste" their law degrees, they have opened solo or small firm practices, and now find themselves struggling to stay afloat. A number of those with whom I have spoken wonder if the private practice of law is really where they belong.
These are hard times for lawyers and the competition for clients is brutal. Nevertheless, can there ever be too many people who are trained to recognize fair process, engage in critical thinking, understand the development of the law, identify issues and advocate effectively? I think not, but law schools and bar associations need to work together to broaden students’ aspirations. The practice of law, in and of itself, is not the only highway to success and fulfillment. A law degree is a passport and it should travel well.
We need to re-think our approach and open more doors in more sectors so that students will continue to be attracted to law school, knowing they will graduate with the knowledge and skill to be tomorrow’s advocates and leaders in fields such as commerce, education, governance, science, non-profit organizations, the arts and technology. Law schools need to be honest about the difficult job market and ready to provide genuine career counseling and support that will allow graduates to make realistic career choices.
The future of the profession is challenged by the growth of information technology, outsourcing and the increase in self-represented litigants. I am saddened to see lawyers experiencing a sense of failure because they cannot support themselves in the practice of law. I am interested in hearing from lawyers considering career changes. I’m not sure what the Bar Association can do to facilitate that change, but I would like to know your thoughts on the matter.
Marilyn Billings McNamara is an attorney at Upton & Hatfield in Concord. She is the 2010-11 NH Bar Association president. She can be reached at 603-224-7791 or firstname.lastname@example.org.