Law schools are facing a number of problems at the moment, but most of them boil down to one simple issue: they are training too many lawyers. So says law professor Eric Posner in Slate, tracing the problem back to the rapid growth of law schools in the boom years of the 1990s:
The crisis could have been predicted. Demand for legal services boomed in the 1990s and 2000s. College graduates, drawn by skyrocketing pay and subsidized by government-guaranteed loans, flocked to law school in ever greater numbers. Law schools, rational market actors that they are, hiked tuition. The higher prices people were willing to pay for legal education encouraged universities to enlarge classes and open additional law schools. Not surprisingly, supply overtook demand. The mismatch is now exacerbated by the development of technological substitutes for some legal work, including online services that enable people to fill out legal forms, and a weak economy.The “crisis,” then, is just part of the normal cycle of the economy—familiar to anyone who has held a job as construction worker, software engineer, salesman, or journalist. And the market is reacting in a predictable way. Fewer people are applying to law schools; class sizes are shrinking; some law schools may shut down. The excess supply of lawyers will reduce the price of legal services—a boon for everyone outside the legal sector—and so some lawyers will leave the profession for early retirement or more lucrative pursuits. (We seem to have forgotten the usual complaint about lawyers that they charge too much, not too little.) Demand and supply will eventually equilibrate, and the legal services market will look something like it did 10 or 15 years ago.
Indeed, this equilibration is probably already underway. After a decade of steady growth, law school applications have finally begun to fall.Anyone considering a career in law should certainly take note. Posner’s piece offers a very good primer on the problems the industry is facing.Read the whole thing.[Original image of mortar boards courtesy of Shutterstock]