Law School Applications Down

Apparently, fewer people are applying to law school. That’s a good thing. Working as a lawyer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In terms of how the market rewards you for your J.D. and licensure, it’s pretty much just another white collar job these days. One that pigeonholes your career options down the road. Unless you’re really sure that practicing law is what you want to do, you should probably take a pass on law school. Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of lawyers in the future.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. All I can say is that it’s about time fewer people started applying to law school. Beyond just the universal truth of lawyering being very, very different from the romantic vision that most incoming law students have, as well as the fact that, as you say, it’s mostly just another white collar job these days, it’s going to take years to clear the oversaturation of the market with freshly minted, inexperienced JD’s from the last several years. The number of new attorneys doing temporary document review work these days is only made less staggering by the number of new attorneys who wish they could be so lucky as to at least do temporary document review work.

    • Mark, can I just take a moment to say what should be obvious: you are missed in a big, big way here. I sometimes fear that some of the people who have become fixtures more recently may not even be aware of the contribution you brought to this place when you still had the time to write. And also, that it only goes to illustrate and serve as further notice to people considering entering it of the demands that making a go of it in your chosen profession puts on a person – that it’s made it impossible for you to do something that you clearly valued and enjoyed (and were good at!) for so long a time…

      …Prospective law students: you have been warned!

      • Michael:

        I’m flattered, and I really appreciate the sentiment.

        I will say that my lack of presence around these parts is only partly a result of increased time constraints – much as I’ve made it my personal policy to discourage people from applying to law school, I don’t want to make it seem like I, personally, am miserable.

        In fact, part of why I’ve been less present of late is probably that I’ve been able to get at least some (though by no means all or most) of the same enjoyment that I get from blogging from my career. The other probable explanations are myriad, though I would not say that I’ve made a conscious decision to be away from the site so much as my absence has just sort of happened. For that reason, I keep telling myself that I’ll come back in force at some point when the stars realign. I was really hoping to put together a piece for the 9/11 anniversary that I’d been planning

        If I’m being honest, probably the biggest reason for my absence of late is just that I’ve really been questioning my own beliefs, and even the importance of politics in general. The result of that is something approaching political apathy. I do find the OWS movement intriguing, but for professional reasons, it would be exceedingly unwise of me to write much about it. (The one thing I will say about it is this: the hostility between it and the Tea Party, on the whole, suggests that the differences between Right and Left in this country are much more about culture than about actual politics or political philosophy. I’d not be surprised in the least to discover that a Marxist could provide a useful explanation of this divide).

        The other big reasons are that: 1. It’s football season, and the Buffalo Bills are actually not bad. For a Bills fan like me, this is cause for an obsessive need to spend all free time reading about Those Who Circle Wagons (though apparently not on the 25 yard line with 4 minutes remaining in a tie game); 2. I’ve become a bit obsessed with online Diplomacy (you can thank Mr. Cahalan for introducing me to that game!); and last, but not least, 3. Spending more time with my daughter.

        That said, I’ve been contemplating doing a post reflecting on the League’s past, present, and – to a lesser extent – future, but I keep deciding not to do it out of fear that it would force me to accept reality and formally retire from the blogosphere at a time when I still hold out hope that I will be able to return in full force. I continue to like the direction the site is going (though I haven’t spent as much time in the comments threads, so maybe I’m missing something; it’s one of exactly 4 blogs that I read on a daily basis, and one of those is a Bills blog), and I feel an immense pride in having played such a big part in its creation and development over the years.

        • Mark, I’d love to have you writing more too — selfishly. The voyage of introspection and re-examination of past assumptions you describe could easily be fruitful to all of us. So if and when you are ever ready to jump back in, I’m sure I speak for the whole commentariat here when I say that we’ll all be thrilled. But of course being a good father and moving towards happiness in meatworld must take priority over blogging and I completely respect a decision to focus on those things.

          • Most appreciated, BL.

            On the other hand, if you hadn’t agreed to move your digs over here all those months ago, I’d be reading 5 blogs a day instead of just 4. Besides, half the time, I can even justify reading your stuff every day on CLE grounds.

        • FWIW, I would enjoy reading anything you might care to say about the Bills, Diplomacy and fatherhood if that’s where the passion lies these days.

        • Mark,

          Thanks for the update. It sounds like every one of those changes is extremely healthy – even or especially the political apathy making room for more personal interests. I sort of wondered if something more like that wasn’t going on with you. I’ve been trying to step back as well, but I can always seem to find something here to provoke me when I’m looking for that fix. But I suspect that, like you, if I had something more concrete in my life that commanded more of my intellectual energies, I would be far less in need of the engagement I get here, much as I enjoy it.

          I am happy to hear that you you are naturally finding some measure of new balance among your endeavors, interests, and loved ones, Mark. This is really the process that for me embodies the purpose of life, and it heartens me any time I hear it’s happening for someone – whatever it means for getting to read your thoughts on politics etc. Congrats!

          • Amen to all that.

            Naturally, you will not be surprised to hear that your comment has somehow inspired me to write a damn post, which is scheduled to go up tomorrow morning. This isn’t one of my infamous promises to write something, either – the post is done and actually scheduled!

        • There’s no reason to formally retire for goodness sakes. Actually, there’s no reason to feel you need to blog about politics exclusively either. I tend to think of this place as a former newsletter about politics that developed into a magazine with several different sections, in addition to the original political discussion. If you want to blog about the Bills, fatherhood, or anything else, I’d be happy to read it.

  2. The number of new attorneys doing temporary document review work these days is only made less staggering by the number of new attorneys who wish they could be so lucky as to at least do temporary document review work.

    A year or so ago I was in a coffee shop wearing a sweatshirt of my alma mater and it so happened that another patron of the coffee shop went to the same school (hundreds of miles away). He struck up a conversation. He was a law grad from Tulane (not a top school, but not a bad one either) who was doing the same accounting work that he had been doing before going to law school.

    I felt for the guy, though the whole thing made me glad about my decision not to go that route. My bladder may have been my body telling me what my mind didn’t know.

  3. You guys know about Paul Campos’ blog, right? Freaky stuff, especially for me since my sig. other just started law school.

    (I didn’t have the heart to be the last one to try to talk her out of it in earnest, even though I myself, having often flirted with applying, have found the case against to have become just overwhelming in the environment that has been created for new law grads by this economy. Just about every lawyer I or she knew had advised her not to go, so she did not go in with her eyes closed, and she remained convinced it was the right choice for her. Luckily she got a scholarship that will lighten the debt burden considerably. Nevertheless, I’ve found it to be one of the hardest situations I’ve dealt with in my relationship with her, balancing the consideration of wanting to be sure she understood what she was signing up for with the need to remain supportive of her ambition to become the most she can become, which I so admire in her. Though we talk about her choice to take on a large debt to attain something that is no longer, if it ever was, the ticket to prosperity that it might once have been, I’m not always sure she has internalized the meaning of it quite like I think I have. For example, I haven’t had the heart to show her Campos’ blog, since I discovered it after all the decisions were made, the move had happened, and the papers signed.)

    So I guess for us it’s: Buckle up, this could be a bumpy ride… Wish us luck! (No, really, wish us luck, please….)

    • Good luck. It’s not a bad career choice; there are moments that it’s fun and rewarding and the money isn’t bad. I think better money can be made elsewhere and I would hope that at least the same money could be made with less time away from family and doing the non-professional things that help make life worthwhile.

      If I had it to do over again, in today’s economy, I’d major in history for the fun of it, work in a good restaruant while in college, and pursue a career as at least a medium-level (read: better than Red Lobster) chef. Making good food is something that inspires passion in me, in a way that opposing a motion to compel document production simply does not.

      • Thanks Burt. Life is funny – I’ve had more employment in the restaurant biz in terms of pure years than in any other single field. And I have exactly the same feelings about cooking in a business that you do about law – when I’m doing it, feel like if I could be doing just about anything else I’m vaguely interested in, I would. It’s a job. And I have developed a real interest in some parts of how the law works from afar, both here and now living with a law student. It’s legitimately interesting to me, though it might not be if I had no choice but to live in it 10, 12 hours a day. The grass is greener, I guess.

        The other thing is, I worked in restaurants in college ten plus years ago, and I worked in one again this year before moving, and I think a not-dissimilar dynamic has taken hold there as in law. It seems like lots of people getting into restaurants these days have at least some formal culinary training, and not everyone who has that gets calls back for jobs. That’s just anecdotal and the numbers might not bear it out, but it is striking.

        Also: I totally agree on history. I chose poli sci because when i was choosing, I had more poli sci credits than any other. But in retrospect I feel that with history, you basically get most of what you get in poli sci, though you avoid a lot of the over-developed theorizing (what do you really need beyond Hobbes, Locke, and maybe some Rawls and Nozick? You can get those in like two classes) – but you also get a huge store of actual facts to go along with the ideas. Kind valuable in retrospect, no? My darn Dad is always right – he thought poli sci was a sucker play if real interest and education was the point & thought I should study history, even if the political system was my main interest.

        • If I had to do it over again, I probably would have focused on becoming a professor somewhere, perhaps a law professor (and, of course, there’s still time for that, I suppose) or a poli-sci professor (though the warnings about going that route are even more severe than the warnings about going the lawyer route).

          That said, I don’t really have any regrets about being a lawyer now. But the type of lawyering I do, the type of lawyering I enjoy, turns out to be exactly the type of lawyering (litigation) that I most despised and wanted to avoid before, during, and even for a year or two after law school. If I had stuck with the type of lawyering that I wanted to do (and in fact did for several years), then I’d be miserable right now.

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