According to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, (1) there is no need for law schools because there are no jobs for lawyers, (2) law schools immorally charge tuition that causes students to incur unconscionably high federal loans which they cannot pay because there are no jobs for lawyers, and (3) law schools only teach people to be law professors, not practicing lawyers. As with other overblown public discourse, there is a grain of truth in those claims and reasons to be concerned about the future of legal education. Fortunately, our law school is different.
First, there are jobs for John Marshall lawyers. Consistently, 92-94% of our graduates have jobs within nine months of graduation. The placement rate is measured nine months after graduation to include those whose job offers were contingent on passing the bar, the results of which may not be known for more than six months after graduation. Many of our students do not start work in law firms or hang out their shingle, although they will move into more traditional practice over time. Evening students may keep the job they had in law school for awhile or move into a different position with the same employer after becoming a lawyer. Other graduates take jobs where their legal training is a definite plus. As just one example, a 2011 graduate who had a student externship in the Georgia Tech athletic department accepted a position in the athletic department at a university in North Carolina, a job heavy with legal and regulatory compliance.
Most of the publicity about lawyer unemployment featured the hiring cutbacks at major law firms. While more of them are beginning to consider recent John Marshall graduates, it will be a long time before they represent a major source of jobs for us. The small and medium sized firms which represent people, rather than Fortune 500 companies, continue to thrive, government jobs still exist, and a number of John Marshall lawyers do go solo or practice in small groups with classmates. America continues to grow and will need more lawyers, not fewer.
Second, while the average John Marshall student leaves law school with a large debt load that makes the first few years a struggle, a law degree remains a good investment. Financially, it offers a good return, while equipping the student to succeed in other ways, including civic and political leadership. We counsel students not to borrow more than they absolutely need, but twenty-somethings have difficulty hearing that advice. Our tuition is less expensive than almost all private law schools. (Taxpayers — that’s you — subsidize public law schools.) And, ultimately, tuition is driven by the accreditation standards of the American Bar Association. Many John Marshall graduates paid only a few thousand dollars for their entire legal education in the years before ABA accreditation was mandated by the Georgia Supreme Court.
Finally, John Marshall graduates are trained to be lawyers. In addition to four required legal writing courses, a full range of other courses in legal skills and advocacy, and a huge externship program, our professors — whose practice experience before entering teaching far exceeds the national average — both talk about law practice and model what good lawyers do. There’s nothing wrong with learning legal theory. Our students learn theory, but they also learn how to apply that theory in practice. That’s part of our historic mission and always will be.
Thank you for your continuing encouragement and support. Come see our new facilities, especially if you missed the dedication of the Judge G. Alan Blackburn Conference Center. And, let me know if we can ever be of any assistance to you.
Dean and Professor of Law