NEW YORK (MainStreet)A mere five years ago, parents would boast about how their child was attending law school. A lawyer-in-training could rest assured of economic stability, urban decadence and an office in a glassy high-rise. The world viewed corporate lawyers through a college ranking-obsessed pre-Instagram lens of champagne, inflated bank accounts and unrivaled power.
But this vision existed in a vastly different cultural and economic landscape, one in which consumers purchased movie tickets at the theater and subscribed to magazines on 5x7 cards. One in which gay marriage was but a dream and defense cuts were anathema.
Since 2007, the U.S. government has been a controlling shareholder of AIG, GM, Citigroup, and Fannie Mae. The Lehman Brothers websiteis now defunct, and what was once the 22nd-largest law firm in the world has fallen into the sinkhole of dissolved partnerships.
Throughout this upheaval, however, both legal education and law firm culture have remained stubbornly steadfast despite the fact that law students are graduating woefully unprepared for the legal profession with crippling debt and gloomy-at-best career prospects.
The Law School Problem
Law school is the root of the problem with the legal field, stemming in large part from a disastrous model of personal finance. The calculus of law school has been broken by years of inflated law school tuition and the failure by public and private actors to deal with crushing amounts of readily accessible student debt.
Law school now costs more than $40,000 per year on average, and law students graduated in 2012 with an average debt of $100,433. The placement of law graduates in private practice in 2011 dipped below 50% for the first time in 30 years, and half of all law graduates in 2012 who did find a job earned less than $60,000 per year, the same as a sanitation worker in New York City (after taxes).