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For decades, a law degree was seen as a ticket to success — especially at big firms offering top salaries. But the economic downtown has dampened the outlook for newly-minted J.D.s and prompted a debate over whether law school is still “worth it.” Kojo explores the challenges law schools face in this new landscape, from sinking applications to mounting tuition rates and levels of student debt.
- William Treanor Dean, Georgetown University Law Center
- William Henderson Professor of Law and Director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession, Indiana University Law School
- Daniel Mills Assistant Director, Practice Management Advisory Service, District of Columbia Bar
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. At one time, law school was a path to prosperity with a well-paid and well-respected job awaiting graduates who passed the bar exam.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut the recession has changed the employment outlook for lawyers. Big firms that wine and dine summer associates and then hire them on to a partnership track are fewer and farther between. Demand for lawyers today is more often in places like the Public Defender's Office or low-income divorce courts.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINonetheless, law school tuition continues to climb and students often graduate with huge loans to repay as they head into a tepid job market. It may be no surprise then that fewer people are applying to law schools. The number of applicants for this fall's incoming class is heading towards a 30-year low.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAs a result of this changing legal landscape, law schools are rethinking their mission and looking for ways to adapt. Some are offering internships and hands-on learning for third-year students while others are opening clinics where their alumni can work. Joining me to discuss the future of law school is Daniel Mills. He is assistant director of the Practice Management Advisory Service with the D.C. Bar. Dan Mills, thank you for joining us.
MR. DANIEL MILLSIt's good to be here Kojo, thank you.
NNAMDIAlso in the studio with us is William Treanor. He is dean of the Georgetown University Law Center. William Treanor, thank you for joining us.
MR. WILLIAM TREANORDelighted to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from studios at WFIU in Bloomington, Ind. is William Henderson. He is a professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law and director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession. Bill Henderson, thank you for joining us.
MR. WILLIAM HENDERSONThank you for having me on.
NNAMDIBill Henderson, I'll start with you. The Law School Admission Council reported that the number of applications to enter law school this fall are likely to be at the lowest point in 30 years, down close to 20 percent from a year ago and down 40 percent from 2010. There's been a lot of media coverage about the fact that recent law school graduates are having trouble finding well-paying jobs while tuition and student debt are rising sharply. What's happening here?
HENDERSONWell, several things are happening. You put the trends lines out, I think, appropriately. I think that there's a combination of -- well, let's start with the two biggest things. First, we'll start with simple supply and demand.
HENDERSONLaw schools are coming off a period of time where we've had more law schools come online. We've had about 25 new law schools open in the last 30 years. Law schools, to deal with declining endowments or declining income from endowments, have slightly increased their -- were over the last few years increasing their incoming classes and so the biggest class to graduate in history is going to be the class of 2013.
HENDERSONAnd so we have lots of graduates that have been going out looking for jobs. At the same time, the traditional legal jobs are shrinking. And this actually is not a recessionary issue. The high-water mark for private law firm employment was in 2004 and a lot of this has to do with globalization and technology changing how legal services are performed and changing some legal services into products and processes.
HENDERSONAnd so that's diminishing some of the demand for entry-level graduates. So we have lots of law school graduates looking for traditional jobs that are beginning to shrink through globalization and technology.
NNAMDIBill Treanor, U.S. News ranks Georgetown's Law School number 14 in the country this year and I saw a table showing Georgetown had the most applications of any school. What trends are you seeing both at Georgetown and across the country?
TREANORWell, I think, as Bill said, we're seeing a decline in applications. So for us, the high point, which was three years ago, we had 12,500 applicants. And this year, we'll have 7,500 applicants. So we have an entering class of 570 so there are many more applicants than spots, but still it's a big drop in the number of people applying and that's reflective of a nationwide trend.
TREANORI think we're seeing a big change in employment patterns. And one of the things that Bill said is right is that there are structural changes, but that's really added to by the recession. So when we look at the number of our students who worked at big firms as summer associates, for example, which is the way you typically get a big firm job, in 2008, we had about 72 percent of our students working for big firms during the summer after their second year. In 2010, right after the recession hit, it was down to 34 percent.
TREANORAnd that's reflective of the fact that, because of the recession, big structural changes accelerated. Now the last point that I would make on, you know, what we're seeing is we are also seeing that the market is bouncing back. Not to where it was in 2008, but the numbers that people are reacting to right now are the numbers for 2011 and those are the most recently available for the graduating class.
TREANORAnd what we're seeing is that the class of 2012 did somewhat better than the class of 2011 and it looks like the class of 2013 is going to do better than either of the two. So what we have is, really, it's a combination of structural changes combined with the recession and we're moving somewhat back, but I don't think that we're going to have the same kind of big firm hiring in the near future, if ever, that we had in 2008.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Did you go to law school? What are you doing today and how has the legal profession changed since you graduated? 800-433-8850. Dan Mills, the American Bar Association reported that nine months after graduating from law school only about half the class of 2011 had found jobs that required passing the Bar exam. Can you describe, in your own terms, the job market for lawyers today?
MILLSYes, it's a very tough time to be a lawyer at this point. I mean, there are those graduates coming out of schools that have done very well, that are getting work, but it's not anything like what it used to be. The choices aren't there for them.
MILLSAnd the other thing that's happening is that particularly in this market, in the D.C. metro area, the big firms have been downsizing. I mean, we saw this at the D.C. Bar starting significantly in 2008 with lots of associate layoffs. And so what we have now are, you know, fewer opportunities and a good number of recent graduates and other lawyers with some years of experience deciding to go out on their own and open their own offices.
MILLSSo there's a lot of pressure. I mean, there's pressure on the top down from the big corporate clients on the big firms and there's, you know, pressure from the bottom up, so to speak, with the LegalZoom-type organizations that are out there competing against law firms and particularly small-firm lawyers attempting to do cut-rate legal services.
NNAMDIBill Treanor, one of the biggest concerns for law students today is the high cost of tuition, which tops $50,000 a year at the top schools, one author saying that among private law school grads, the average debt in 2001 was $70,000. Move up to 2012, it was $125,000. Why has tuition gone up so much?
TREANORWell, that's obviously, it's a bit concern for us, the cost of law school education. And one of the tensions that we face is that we're trying to provide a better form of education, this is law schools across the country, and at the same time, we're trying to be cost-conscious. But the better form of education also puts costs on, that pushes the tuition up.
TREANORSo, you know, we at Georgetown have expanded our legal writing program. So that's many more new faculty members. People tell us that the biggest need that law students have when they become lawyers that they don't see is skill as writers so we hired new legal writing faculty and they do a terrific job, but that pushes the price up.
TREANORSimilarly, clinical programs. Clinical programs provide exactly the kind of hands-on education that people need to flourish as lawyers. But again, the faculty, student ratio was very different. So that's really one of the challenges that legal education is confronting today.
TREANORAs we try to prepare people better for the practice of law, that's also pushing the tuition up and that's part of the reason why people have these, you know, really incredibly heavy debts. And you know, again, as we're going through, we've just gone through a budget process and so one of the things I asked each of our units to do was to cut 5 percent of their non-salary expenses. And every time a position is open, we look at whether we can fill it. So we're trying to keep the costs down, but they're incredibly heavy.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, you can also send email to email@example.com How well do you think law schools are preparing their students for the law jobs they'll find when they graduate? You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. The number again, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIDan Mills, you've said that despite the drop in jobs at big firms that you mentioned there's still a huge unmet need for lawyers in this country. Where?
MILLSWell, that's the great irony. As we look at the situation as it is now, the great irony is that there are a lot of unemployed and underemployed lawyers and there are a lot of people who need legal help. They have serious problems that need to be solved and they cannot find a lawyer to do it, or they can't find a lawyer that they can afford to do it.
MILLSSo it's a question of matching those people up, if you will, and, you know, the Bar is making efforts in that regard. I mean, we're changing some of the rules that need to be changed so that lawyers can represent people with no means of paying or low means of paying on a limited scope basis.
MILLSIt's called unbundling legal services. D.C. has really been at the forefront of that. We've had a legal ethics opinion for a long time that allows a lawyer to do limited scope representation with a client. Other jurisdictions haven't been quite so progressive, quite so flexible, but it's really a major issue of how do we connect those lawyers who want to practice, who are looking for work, with the clients, in some cases, that are really overburdening the system.
MILLSI mean, if you go into most trial-level courts these days, the judges are having a very difficult problem with pro se litigants, with people that just come in and file their own cases. And so the effort is to, you know, to match those people so that lawyers can work and people can have their problems solved in a proper way.
NNAMDIBill Henderson, yesterday significantly marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright Supreme Court case that guarantees an attorney for criminal defendants who cannot afford one. But in a lot of states, defendants are still going before judges without a lawyer or after only a brief meeting with a lawyer. Is there a way to connect this unmet demand with the supply of new law school grads? Bill Henderson, I'll start with you.
HENDERSONWell, I want a caveat that I am not an expert on criminal law by a longshot. It is an important case that you brought up and an important anniversary. There is this massive unmet legal need and even when -- and typically it's met by state budgets marshaling the resources that staff public defenders and that's not a particularly popular political cause when state's budgets are under siege.
HENDERSONAnd so those institutions tend to go dramatically underfunded and there are court cases that are active right now, that question whether Gideon is being upheld when the resources to provide effective representation are being starved because the caseloads are too daunting and too overwhelming and the actual lawyer just can't keep up with the workload.
HENDERSONI actually think that we're probably at the end stages of what I call the artisan lawyering, where we have a very expensive adversarial system. It's beautiful. It's enshrined in the constitution. But the idea that somebody is trained for seven years of college in graduate education to basically take up the cause of somebody that's indigent, that's a resource strain that I don't think society is -- they're saying politically they don't want to bear it.
HENDERSONAnd I think we need to be in the search for different ways of -- both in a civil context and potentially in a criminal context, although I think civil's more important -- to leverage technology in that context. And we need to make a choice in the criminal dimension whether we want to live up to the guarantees of Gideon or not.
NNAMDIBill Treanor, your thoughts on that. Any way to connect this unmet demand with the supply of new law school grads?
TREANORWell, it's something that it's a real need. When we look at whether the need for lawyers is being met what we find is that it's being met by people who have, you know, great resources can pay for lawyers but most people can't. So the challenge is trying to figure out, is there a way to make, you know, for the provision of legal services affordable.
TREANORAnd one of the things that we're thinking through and that other law schools are thinking through is, is there a way to get recent graduates to provide what we call low bono service? So not pro bono, not for free, but to provide service and to charge a lower rate. So we've actually -- we at Georgetown, two of our faculty members, Peter Edelman and Tanina Rostain, have been talking to people at D.C. firms about possibly establishing relationships for low bono practice, where they would supervise recent graduates.
TREANORAnd that's something that law schools across the country are exploring. I was talking to Dan before, one of the challenges that we face in D.C. that isn't a challenge in other states is that the D.C. bar practice rules require that in order to appear in court you actually have to be sworn in and admitted to the bar. So that's for people after they're in law school. When you're in law school you can be in a clinic and so you can appear in court as a law student under faculty member supervision. But once you graduate you can't do that anymore.
TREANORSo I think one of the things that it's worth thinking about in the District of Columbia would be, could we change the bar passage rule so that recent graduates under the supervision of an attorney can start representing people and really help us meet this incredibly pressing need.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Kelly in Ashton, Md. Kelly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KELLYYes, thank you. I'm just curious. It is the intend of most young people going to law school to someday, you know, earn millions of dollars and that's their main intent? My own personal family and a state attorney hung her own shingle several years ago after working for a large firm. And she appears to do quite well for herself in all the while, charging very -- what I feel are very reasonable fees.
KELLYAnd I also have family in the Midwest who are telling me that their small communities are crying out for attorneys to provide adoption services, divorce services and other kind of family and estate services. Are there any young attorneys that actually dream of just helping others rather than helping themselves?
NNAMDII'm sure there are, but I'll have Dan Mills speak to that.
MILLSWell, yes, I encounter many lawyers who are far more interested in helping and in doing good than necessarily making money. And certainly I think that's the case across the board. But in some respects it's even a tough time for those lawyers. You know, the economy affected everybody. The recession really made it very difficult for people to afford legal services. And so that's the dilemma. It's really a question of being creative and flexible, you know, getting away from the idea of charging by the hour and charging on a flat-fee basis and doing payment plans and all that sort of thing.
MILLSSo if the small firm lawyer is interested in doing that kind of work, it's there and it's just a matter of figuring it out and figuring out how to communicate with your perspective clients.
NNAMDIKelly, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation on the future of law school. But we can still take your calls at 800-433-8850 or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on the future of law school. We're talking with William Henderson. He is a professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law and director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession. He joins us from studios at WFIU in Bloomington, Ind. Joining us in our Washington studio is Daniel Mills. He is assistant director of the Practice Management Advisory Service of the D.C. Bar. And William Treanor is dean of the Georgetown University Law Center.
NNAMDIBill Treanor, talk about the employment landscape for new lawyers today. The recession hit big firms hard and they're not hiring as many young graduates. Where are today's law school graduates finding jobs?
TREANORWell, it's a combination. So for us the most recent class, about half of them went to firms but there are others who are going into business, into government, into public interest, clerkships. So it's really -- it's the range of different career paths that people are pursuing. I think people are increasingly becoming entrepreneurial and thinking about, you know, working with a small firm or moving into business. So that's one thing that I think we're seeing in greater numbers now.
TREANORBut again, part of the challenge is that it's not just the firms that are really feeling the tension now. There's also government hiring is also not as robust as it was. So those are classically the two big areas, big firms, small firms, government. And both of them are really going through a tight time. Though again, the other point that I made earlier is it's getting -- you know, what we're seeing is that it's getting better, that 2013 is better than 2011.
NNAMDIHere is Rob in Washington, D.C. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBThank you for taking my call. One of -- from the topic of -- I'm actually a recent -- not a recent law grad, I graduated about six years ago and have at this point worked at a big firm, worked for the government and worked for a smaller firm. And I think one of the things that law school doesn't prepare you for is that you will not be guided. And it was one of the things I was very surprised by when I was first starting out, is the lack of interest of older lawyers in mentoring younger lawyers.
ROBI think either you're in a big firm and you get kind of thrown in a basement to do work a monkey could do or you are in a government setting as a prosecutor and you're also just thrown in without any training. Or you're in a small firm where you -- it's pretty much the same thing. And, you know, the managing partner can't be bothered to really, you know, train you to do your work. And I feel like you're doing the young lawyer a disservice, but you're also doing your clients a disservice by this lack of focus on, you know, training and helping young lawyers to be the best they can be.
NNAMDIBill Henderson, care to respond to that?
HENDERSONI'm very sympathetic to what the caller is talking about. I think that if you go back to the original law firm model, it was a training model established in New York and in D.C. and in Chicago, all over the country where there was a demand for specialized legal services that sophisticated business lawyers couldn't keep up with. And the only way they could meet that demand and service their clients was to train other lawyers to have their same skill set.
HENDERSONAnd so that became the basis for the modern law firm where they tried to cap incentives that would encourage the senior lawyers to train the junior lawyers. And the junior lawyers would get training and potential for partnership. And the partners would get the benefit of excellent client service. And the clients would give them more work.
HENDERSONThat has broken down over a period of time. The large law firms today, their name partners were born in 1895 and died 50, 60 years ago. And we have a lot of firms that are living off of kind of their gilded brand. And I'm very sympathetic with what the caller is talking about. The great lawyers were originally made. Now we think that they're born and they enroll at schools that require high LAST scores.
HENDERSONAnd so I think that the pendulum's going to swing back in the other direction. But I think that the caller has a point that the profession as a whole doesn't believe in -- sufficiently in training the next generation of lawyers. And that's something we've got to fix.
NNAMDIDan Mills, can you talk about how the practice of law and the variety of law jobs have changed in recent years? What kind of legal work is most in demand today and who's performing it?
MILLSWell, it depends on, you know, what you want to do. But people are still having problems in spite of all that we've talked about. You know, individuals, families, small businesses still are having problems. So if somebody came to me and said, you know, I want to start my own firm, where should I focus, you know, I would ask them what they're interested in. What they're passion is and all of that sort of thing. But I would also steer them into something like family law or criminal defense.
MILLSCertainly the recession being what it has -- the effect that it's had on people has really put a lot of stresses on families and therefore there are a lot more crimes being committed. There are a lot more people needing, you know -- having to divorce because of financial pressures. And so that's a practice area that is always active. I would caution them, you know, not to look necessarily to the government and to big firms simply because there's just not a lot of activity here.
MILLSAnd on the last caller's question about finding a mentor, we deal with that a lot at the bar and some of the programs we do. I don't know if the caller was a member of the D.C. Bar but if Rob is he should contact me. Because while we can't necessarily match a lawyer with a mentor, because there's a lot of chemistry in that relationship, I can certainly guide someone in the right direction so that they can possibly find somebody that would help them. Because it is a real problem.
NNAMDIBill Treanor, is that a problem -- a changing reality that law schools can adjust to?
TREANORThe lack of education in the firms? I think that's something we have to focus on. And I think Bill put it very well. The old model was that you were trained at the law firm or you do that for three years and then you go into government or you go into the small firms. But the training was at the big firm. And the problem is that that's really no longer economically viable with the model.
TREANORSo at big law firms they're charging $300 an hour, $400 an hour for junior associates to clients. And the client obviously doesn't want to pay that kind of money for somebody who's still learning how to do their job. So that means that the law school really has to step in. And the law school has to provide more hands-on training while the student's are in law school. So that means teaching people through clinics where they're practicing as lawyers while they're in law school.
TREANORWe're also focusing in on what we call practicums, which are seminars that are combined with a field placement. So you take a seminar in white collar crime and then you spend 15 hours a week in the fraud unit of the Justice Department. Or you take a seminar in legislation and you spend 15 hours a week working on the Hill. So what you're really doing is you're getting practical experience while you're in law school under somebody's supervision in a way that provides you the kind of education that used to happen after you graduated.
TREANORAnd then the other thing that we're doing is we're thinking more broadly about what competence these people should have in order to flourish these lawyers. So classically what law schools did was they taught people how to think like a lawyer. So that was what the first year was about, but that was what it was really all about, teaching people to think rigorously and creatively. Now we're focused on how do we teach people other things that they'll need, as well as thinking like a lawyer, like financial literacy or how do we help them learn how to negotiate or write or problem solve.
TREANORSo again, all of these are things that in the past would've happened after they graduate, but now really have to happen in law school.
NNAMDIBill Henderson wanted to -- did you want to weigh in on how the practice of law has changed in recent years and the kind of legal work that's most in demand today?
HENDERSONIf I were -- and I advise my students on this all the time -- if I were going to allocate my time to build a great career today, I would look at the intersection of law and technology. Because law is not a mature industry from the point of view that law is going away. Law in an interconnected complex globalized society is incredibly important. But we need more law cheaper more reliably. And it's only going to be done through technology and law and technology requires collaboration skills.
HENDERSONSo it makes law school not a trade school but a very interdisciplinary enterprise. And I think that the world is going to -- the legal world is going to change very dramatically in the next 10, 15 years and it's going to be an exciting period. And I think society will be made better off and some law schools will come out the other end wonderfully.
NNAMDIWe got a Tweet from someone who said, "Keeping in mind the growing need of technology, is the future of IP law different?" Bill Henderson.
HENDERSONYou know, IP law is at a real critical juncture these days because so much of what the high stakes -- a company's litigation turns on IP issues. And boy, it's really been a driver in the major firms, a real economic driver. But that could change with rulings from the federal circuit, which is the circuit that handles intellectual property issues. It could change through acts of congress.
HENDERSONAnd so IP is going to be important. It's going to be important particularly on a global level. So that's going to be -- that's an area of law that I think is going to be increasingly important in years to come.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Michael in Ellicott City, Md. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELKojo, thank you for taking my call. My question has to do with sort of the paradox between the unmet need that your panelists have described, particularly in the lower income communities and the underserved communities. And the counterpoint of many law school graduates over the last three or four years are looking at the poor unemployment and debt burdens in the tens of thousands. And in many cases into the over a hundred thousand dollars in debt accrued over their three years of law school.
MICHAELAnd so it seems we have this kind of the juxtaposed students who are ready, willing and able to work but are kind of forced to try and find the most profitable, if you will, positions. At the same time, we have an unmet need in many, many communities. The medical community addressed some of these issues over the years with federal support. And most of these loans, I think, are at least, in some level, federally backed.
MICHAELAnd so my question really is a two-part question. One, is there any consideration or option for some debt relief for these students who are carrying federal backed loans...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to have you hold on for a second with that first part of the question, because I have a very specific reference to it in an email from Vince that I'm going to direct to Bill Treanor. Vincent writes, "I'm a 2006 graduate of Georgetown Law. I do not have a well-paying law firm job but I work in a public interest job I love for a very low salary. I'm participating in Georgetown's loan repayment program but they effectively penalize you for trying to work down your loan debt.
NNAMDIThat is, if you get a second job they automatically deduct that amount from the assistance they give you. Has Georgetown looked into revising its loan repayment program to help graduates who want to lower their law school debt?"
TREANOROkay. So let me talk about both of those. So, you know, to start with, the loan forgiveness program generally, one of the things that people have not focused on -- and I have to say in all of the discussion about the burden of law school debt I've heard almost nothing about the loan forgiveness program that the federal government has in place and that was initially started in I think 2008, and then improved by the president last fall.
TREANORAnd what the loan forgiveness program provides is that for your federal loans, which is most of the loans that people are relying on to get to law school, your loan repayment is capped at 7 percent of your income. It's capped at 7 percent of your income.
NNAMDII read that.
TREANORAnd that applies both -- right now it applies both to public sector jobs and to private sector jobs. So -- and that's a new thing, the private sector jobs. So if you get out of law school and you're earning $50,000 a year and you have $160,000 in debt, it's actually manageable because your loan repayment is capped at 7 percent, which for $50,000 would be $3500 a year. And if you're in the public sector after ten years it's forgiven. If you're in the private sector, after 20 years it's forgiven. So that's -- you know, I can't emphasize enough how important that program is because it makes it possible for people to do good in their careers and not to have the terrible burden of debt.
NNAMDIWell, the emailer seems to be in the private sector, but apparently working for a non-profit. Does that make a difference?
TREANORRight. So that still -- it applies to government and 501 (C)(3), so non-profits.
NNAMDIGot it. Got it. Okay.
TREANORNow, and then on the Georgetown program. So the Georgetown program is what we call our loan forgiveness program. So if you have -- so let's go back to our $50,000 a year lawyer.
TREANORSo the $50,000 a year lawyer graduates from the law school, they may have, you know, $150,000 in debt. The federal program now would limit the loan repayment to $3,500 a year, and then the Georgetown program pays the difference. So the $50,000 a year person is actually not paying anything in terms of the loan repayment. Now, the -- in order to, you know, to make that function, you know, we essentially have a phase out. So, you know, as you get higher and higher income, you're loan repayment goes up, you know.
TREANORSo part of the income that you're making is going to loan forgiveness, and so -- and at some point it phases out. So that's what our email person is asking about. And I, you know, I understand. It does put a burden on people, and it does mean that there's a disincentive to earn more money, but, you know, we have limited resources, and, you know, what -- the decision that we made is to target them towards the people who are earning the least.
NNAMDIMichael, you had a second part to your question?
MICHAELYes. Thank you, Kojo. The second part has to do with kind of a reflection on what the medical community, or what the federal government and the medical community did in an effort to put physicians and other health care providers into underserved communities, and that was the public health service like model where you would have your medical school partly or in full paid for under scholarships in return for service in underserved community for three or four years, reflecting one to one or a one and a half to one ratio of payback compared to your years in medical school.
MICHAELSo it would be a four- or a six-year payback. You would draw a base salary, not an extensive salary, but a base salary for subsistence and such, but effectively your medical school would be paid for either retrospectively or up front if you joined the public health service. And it would seem to me that in view of these social needs that you've described and the demand on the part of the many law school graduates to find sufficient work, that there might be a juncture here where you would be able to meet both needs at a reasonable cost.
NNAMDIBill Henderson, what do you think?
HENDERSONThat's the hat trick. That's what we're looking for. I don't -- that's going to be very difficult to pull off because the public financing to make it happen is not going to be forthcoming. But Dean Treanor did have a good point. You know, we do have that subsidy coming in the form of income-based repayment and the public service stipends. That reduces the burden, or makes it more economically feasible to do lower paying legal work, and so the governments say that they've already given.
NNAMDIGot take a short break. Thank you very much for your call, Michael. If you have called stay on the line, we'll try to get to your calls when we come back. If the lines are busy, shoot us an email to email@example.com. What skills do you think today's lawyers need most? You can also go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing the future of law school with Daniel Mills. He is assistant director of the Practice Management Advisory Service of the DC Bar. William Treanor is dean of the Georgetown University Law Center, and William Henderson is a professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law, and director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession. We go now to Talib in Washington DC. Talib, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TALIBYes. Thank you, Kojo, and I really salute you for taking this issue around the head, if you will. I run a small law firm off of K Street, and in fact, I'm on the other line with one of Dean Treanor's Georgetown Law School students who's interviewing with my firm. And one of the issues that we find is that here in DC we have approximately 75,000 members of the DC Bar, and it's estimated that there are probably double those who are working in DC. So we probably have about maybe 150,000 to maybe even 200,000 lawyers in DC.
TALIBAnd DC with only 650,000 people, it's estimated, well, you know, one to two lawyers per people, or for every, you know, for every, you know, basically one-third of the population in DC may be lawyers. With that type of number in DC, we ask particularly the DC Bar Association representative have they ever done anything to particularly serve those increasing numbers of lawyers who are either unemployed or underemployed working as temp lawyers in DC.
TALIBAnd some of them are in very squalor positions, working in, you know, basically sweat factory like conditions in DC. And then to the Dean I'd like to ask him, is have they really considered ever placing a cap on the number of lawyers they're going to, you know, essentially graduate from the institutions. It's good that, for example, at least in Georgetown Law School, and I think in a couple other law schools that have night programs, people can actually work while they're going to law school, you know, thus limiting the amount of debt that they hold.
TALIBBut there are some law schools, even including my alma mater that does not and has not established a night program. So therefore, you know, students come out, you know, with a hundred and fifty thousand to $200,000 worth of combined debt, undergrad and graduate school, and they're unemployed. So I'd like to particularly get...
NNAMDIFirst, Dan Mills, and then Bill Treanor. Dan Mills?
MILLSYes. The DC Bar is doing a great deal actually, Talib, on this particular issue. Back in November of 2008, we began a program in response to the layoffs from the big firms called basic training. We thought we would do it maybe once a quarter for a handful of lawyers, and we did the first one in November of 2008. Tomorrow we will do the 97th program of basic training. So we've been doing it every month. It's gone from a half day program back in '08 to a two full-day program now that we do every month.
MILLSIt's free for DC Bar members. And we've had -- tomorrow we'll top 1700 DC Bar members that have come from the program, and it's all about getting an office up and going in DC. The day one session is the nuts and bolts of doing it, how to handle money, whether you need a business license or not, all sorts of nuts and bolts issues. And then the day two session is a bit more sophisticated.
MILLSIt deals with marketing, client relations, and technology. That program has blossomed into a 12-week program that we started last year. We'll do it again this year, on successful small firm practice. As well, we have two ethics counsel that are available on a free and confidential basis to the members of the bar. So we're really on top of that issue and doing everything we can to give lawyers better skills in terms of developing their practice.
NNAMDISecond part of that question was for you Bill Treanor.
TREANORAnd the -- so the second part of the question was on whether we and other law schools have thought about putting a cap on the number of people that we admit, and we're actually going through a strategic planning process right now, and that's one of the questions that we have, which is, do we shrink the size of our JD class. But I think the -- whatever we decide on that, really the larger problem that we're confronting as a profession is we are turning out more lawyers than we need. So this year I think the number of applicants to the law schools is projecting to be about 53,000, and that's the same number of seats that we have in American law schools.
TREANORSo it's very close to everybody who wants to go to law school can go to law school, and there aren't the jobs for all of those people. But I think what we're going to see is at that there will be a significant number of law schools that will close in the next ten years, and I can imagine 20 or 25 percent of the law schools that we have today will close because there's really no demand for their graduates. And so I think that's probably the major way in which in the years ahead the oversupply will be dealt with.
NNAMDITalib, thank you for your call. We move onto Craig in Silver Spring, Md. Craig, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CRAIGHello, Kojo. I'm a graduate of law school from back in '98, and I was -- I went into the Navy. And so one of your callers had talked about the training and responsibility, I thought my experiences in the Navy were great, but I got tired of moving around and flying, and my spouse is a lawyer, so I'm trying to break into federal government now, and I'm considering going back to law school to get an national security LLM, to sort of try and compete with some of these top law school grants and Supreme Court law clerks that are competing for government jobs that they wouldn't have considered in years past.
CRAIGSo I was just -- I assume Dean Treanor would say that their program is great. I -- I'm considering...
CRAIGI'm considering going there this fall, and also George Washington. So I'm just -- would like to get the panel's thoughts on doing that to -- in an attempt to distinguish myself from other applicants and get...
NNAMDIFirst let me have Dan Mills respond. Is he going to be heading into a crowded field?
MILLSI think he is. I would do some careful study about this to see if getting that LLM, any LLM, is really going to help you in this market. I mean, it may. It may. It certain limited situations it may. But there may be other more practical sorts of things that you could do that would make you much more employable in terms of language, skills in technology, and that kind of thing. It might be just as valuable, if not more valuable.
TREANORWell, I think when you're thinking about graduate education, I think Dan is right. You have to look very carefully about the specific degree and how it will help you. So we started the National Security Program, I think this is its second year, and the indications that we're having is that it's helping the people get jobs in the national security field. You know, that's a growth area, and there are not that many LLM programs, and I like to think that Georgetown is the best, and it's a relatively small program.
TREANORBut I think just overall when people are looking at a master's in law, you have to think very carefully about whether this is a program that will help you get to where you want to go because you're looking at a year of forgone wages and a tuition of about $50,000. So it's a very serious decision. I mean, I think, again, national security we've started. I think tax is one that I would also encourage people to look at. It's really become almost the entry level requirement for a tax job -- a job as a tax lawyer.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Craig. Bill Henderson, you have said to your students that your students came to law school with their eyes open and decided to take a calculated risk. What's the outlook among law students on campus today?
HENDERSONAt least among my students, I've had this conversation very openly and candidly in our first year of legal professions class, and they did say that they came here with their eyes wide open. If you think about going to law school these days, and you compare your opportunity set to say if you were an undergraduate degree in the liberal arts, the world looks pretty similar. Right now because of globalization and technology automation, there's really no clear upward escalator that a young person is going to get on.
HENDERSONAnd so, they're following their interests, and the traditional avenue is they're going to be -- probably going to shut a good of number of them out. I think we're going to enter a period of great intellectual and creative ferment with young people that are really going to build, I think, some new institutions and look at things with fresh eyes. So I'm pretty optimistic that my students are going to be in the main guard of something new and unpredictable in the years to come because they're creative, they're civic minded, and they may not have, you know, opportunities just thrown before them, so they may have to, as Bill Treanor said, be more entrepreneurial.
NNAMDIHere's Steve in Bethesda, Md. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEYes. I had two questions. The first is how much disclosure do these law schools give to potential applicants in their admission materials? Are they up front with them with what they're likely to encounter in terms of employment? And secondly, what thought is being given to either eliminating the third year completely, or making it totally practicum so you have...
NNAMDISo glad you mentioned that.
STEVE...and sort of greatly revise the existing curriculum. I teach as an adjunct for 25 years at Catholic Law School, and I haven't really discussed these things with my students, and it's almost too painful for me to do so.
NNAMDIThat was going to be my next question, yes.
CRAIGBut as I teach, I say to myself, do they really need, you know, some of these courses they're taking, or would it be better to have a totally practicum third year, or just have two years, and I knew that...
NNAMDISteve, we're running out of time. Allow me to have Bill Treanor respond because there is a growing debate about whether law school really needs to be three years. What say you, Bill Treanor?
TREANORWell, it's interesting. There are two big critiques that we're hearing of law schools now. One is that it's too long, and the other is that it doesn't teach you enough. You know, it's a little bit like Will Rogers use to...
NNAMDIDo more with less.
TREANORDo more with less. Will Rogers used to say about a restaurant that the food was terrible and the portions were too small. So that's what we're hearing about law school. And, you know, I think what we should see is really two different approaches. So one of the things that New York is looking at, for example, is to have people sit for the bar, they can sit for the bar after two years of law school, which I think is -- that's a great idea, and I think that would allow people to graduate -- or to get their entrance into the bar, you know, with less debt and charge less.
TREANORYou know, at the same time, in order to be a lawyer, there's a lot that you need to know, and you can't do that fully in two years, particularly because as we've said before, the training that you used to get at law firms, or that you hoped to get at government agencies, it doesn't really happen anymore. So what that means is that we as law schools have to focus in on what the purpose of third year is, and make sure that we're delivering.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Steve, thank you very much for your call. William Treanor is dean of the Georgetown University Law Center. Bill Treanor, thank you so much for joining us.
TREANORThank you. It was a pleasure to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIDaniel Mills is assistant director of the Practice Management Advisory Service of the DC Bar. Dan Mills, thank you for joining us.
MILLSYou're quite welcome, Kojo. I enjoyed it.
NNAMDIAnd William Henderson is a professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law, and director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession. Bill Henderson, thank you for joining us.
HENDERSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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