If you could go back in time, before the bar, before the case books, before the LSAT, would you make the same decision?
More than 40 percent of your cohorts wouldn't. And that's just one of many findings of a report by a State Bar of Wisconsin task force. Other (obvious) findings included recent graduates earning far less than they expected when they went in to school, being so far in debt that they feel like they'll never escape it, and more than a third admitting that they have considered changing professions (though only approximately 1 percent actually did).
What's the solution? The task force has a few ideas, and while the recommendations are well-intentioned, (spoiler alert) they are highly unlikely to make a difference.
Anyone who has been following the plight of the recession law graduate already knows the landscape: no jobs and lots of debt.
Private sector jobs were wiped out with the economy. Public interest and government jobs were wiped out with sequesters and state budget crunches. Any remaining jobs became were fought over by the surplus in freshly-minted attorneys.
Even public interest jobs with low salaries, once the domain of the noble-intentioned and the barely graduated, are fought over by the best and brightest, in part due to job scarcity, and in part because Public Service Loan Forgiveness wipes out your debt after 10 years of serving your fellow man. Nice perk, if you can find a position.
Instead of the six-figure incomes that were advertised when we were pre-law students, grads are moving home with their parents and if they find work, living from paycheck to paycheck, likely not even touching their student loan debt, which comes with 6 to 8 percent interest. The median amount of debt reported by survey respondents was $90,000. The median gross income of respondents with 2 years or less of experience was $47,496.
Is it any wonder that the respondents quoted were mentioning suicidal ideation, depression, and an inability to start a normal life with a family, house, and children?
Yes, CLEs cost money. Reduced-cost CLEs in a luncheon format were suggested as one solution.
But the cost of CLEs are a drop in the bucket of misery that these indebted indentured servants face. Saving them a few hundred dollars on CLEs is great, but you're putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.
The report mentions South Carolina's mandatory one-year mentoring program, and suggests developing something similar for Wisconsin. This is actually a great idea. Speaking as someone who, as a solo attorney, has taken cases fresh out of school, learning the procedural crap (such as the local rules) was the biggest obstacle. Having a go-to person for those types of questions would be invaluable, though again, how does this address the debt/income issue?
Practice Management/Business Training
The report mentions programs provided at local schools and seems to leave it at that. The problem is, when we were in school, we lacked the requisite psychic foresight to know that we'd graduate into nothingness, leaving a hung shingle as the only option.
A combination mentorship/small firm incubator program could help recent grads turn their legal skills into an income-producing business.
Bar Exam and Annual Dues
How much is the bar in your state? Probably more than a grand, right? How about annual fees? When you're making $40,000 before taxes, paying bar dues of $500 can be crippling.
Cutting both down would, again, be a mere drop in the bucket, but an appreciated one nonetheless.
You want to fix the problem? Everything suggested in the report treats the symptoms. The problem is too many schools, with too many graduates, and way too much in tuition costs. Students shouldn't have to spend $150,000 to get a degree, especially when that degree carries little earning potential beyond that of a liberal arts undergraduate degree. And crippling debt is what drives their depression and makes extending their services where there is demand (the poor, the rural, etc.) impossible.
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