What Obligation Does The ABA Have To Law Students?

That’s a loaded question and I’m sure it got your attention.  I don’t have a the full answer but I know they can’t claim they have no clue as to the crisis.

In November of 2009  The ABA Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crises on the Profession and Legal Needs presented a report called  The Value Proposition of Attending Law School. I don’t know who it was presented to and how it was used as the disclaimer clearly says it’s not approved until passed by the House of Delegates.  The report states:

Prior to the recession, starting salaries for associates at large law firms stabilized around $160,000 a year, and many prospective law students expect to be able to earn a comparable amount. In reality, however, only 23% of the graduates of the class of 2008 started with such a high salary, including only 37% of those who went into private practice.  Shockingly, most of the rest of the graduates, about 42%, started with an annual salary of less than $65,000.10

Who was shocked?  Those on the Commission?  Who?

These numbers reflect the employment of the last cohort of law students whose initial employment was relatively uninfluenced by the economic recession. This year, the employment picture is even more bleak. Students are now competing for half as many jobs at top law firms—those most likely to pay $160,000 for first-year associates—as last year.  Recruitment at many levels of the job market is declining by similar amounts. Although numbers are not available yet, many members of the class of 2010 and 2011 may graduate without a job, and those who are lucky enough to find employment likely will collectively have lower salaries than their predecessors. In short, the job market is more challenging than it has been in many years, as well-paying jobs are in short supply.

Why has the ABA been sitting on this document?  Where is their responsibility?  The House of Delegates too afraid to ratify or did they do so quietly and tuck it away somewhere so technically it was available if anyone knew to look for it?  This is an explosive document and should have been pushed out into the daylight as soon as it was completed.

I have proposed on Twitter and my SPU Facebook page that the ABA mandate that all ABA accredited law schools include this document in every single law school application package given to any prospective student.  Each law school should be required to include their graduate employment numbers and starting salaries for the past five years.

If this information is supplied to students at the time of application, half the battle is addressed.  I’m not saying this will stop potential students from applying who still believe they will be one of the lucky ones, but it will stop the students from claiming they were uninformed or duped misinformed by the law schools and the profession as a whole.

My big question still remains, though?  Why hasn’t what I’m suggesting already been done as a matter of common sense, fair play and professional integrity?  (I know the answer…it’s called greed.)

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5 comments on “What Obligation Does The ABA Have To Law Students?

  • What do you think about law tuition clawbacks? Would that work? Allow me to illustrate;

    A student finishes law school and defaults on his/her student loan obligations within the first year. Since the loan is fully guaranteed by the Federal Government, they demand a 100% tuition clawback from the law school.

    If the student defaults in the second year, then the government can demand a 90% tuition clawback. In the third year, the student defaults, and the government demands a 80% tuition clawback, and so on…

    Would this even work in reforming law schools? Vastly reducing the number of law schools? Would it exlcude a lot of students unfairly? Would it alter the law school/law student dynamic, where they are now ‘joined at the hip’ and engage in a ‘partnership’? In such a partnership, the student would obtain a quality and well rounded law school education that not only encompasses the study of law, but the business/economics of law?

    I’m all for solutions; there’s too many lawyers, and un/under-employed lawyers at that.

  • I’m not sure I agree with this. I’m for providing proper information so students are informed. Schools can’t guarantee jobs, happiness and a trip to Disneyland. But they can be honest about the odds.

    I’m also for student loans being treated like any other debt: It can be discharged if certain criteria are met. If a school has too many students discharging debt for lack of employment or poor screening of candidates the school is ineligible for student aid. No student aid, they close their doors because they can’t keep cranking up tuition. If they can’t keep cranking up tuition they have to change their educaitonal model and chances are it would be one that is more affordable for more people. It will stop them from overloading students with ‘free’ money and stop the government loansharking.

    Read: Gateway Drug to Debt Slavery by Lurie Daniel Favors -


    There are many culprits. We have to take responsibility for ourselves but it’s hard to do if we don’t know the truth about what is going on, right?

  • It is not the responsibility of the ABA to warn students that they may not be making high salaries. No one should choose a profession solely on whether it will result in a high income. There are no guarantees in life. In the rural States, private practice will get you a salary in the $60,000s. Students should be realistic in determining how much they can pay in student loans after graduating before signing on that dotted line. It may mean doing what I did which is work full-time and go to school part-time and not looking to attend Ivy League law schools. My clients do not care what school I attended. Graduates should know that not being financially responsible can be a reason to not allow admission into the bar because if you can’t handle your own finances then there is a question of whether you can handle a client’s funds so there is more to this than not being able to pay back on student loans. The salaries that existed a few years ago were the result of a bubble and we will not be seeing those again soon. Students need to do their research on what they want in life, how to achieve it and what they will be able to afford in the worse case scenerio and be honest with themselves about what the worse case scenerio is before spending the money, time and effort to get a law degree.

    • Diana, I don’t disagree with much of what you said. I do, however, disagree that if the ABA saw fit to issue a memorandum based upon a commission they created in direct response to the economic crises, they have given themselves this responsibility, too. Clearly, this memo was addressed to current and prospective students but they never did anything with it. This wasn’t an internal document or a Wikileak. This was written for current law students and those considering law school. Why are you so angry about calls for our ‘governing body’ to be more transparent about information they have about job opportunities and salaries? We all have to take personal responsibility for our actions. Yet, this information can help those considering law school to make a more informed decision. I find no harm if they do and great harm if they don’t. And since they’ve taken on the role of directing all of our educational and professional actions, they should not be absolved of providing necessary information before we enter law school. Once prospective students have this information then they are on their own. And I firmly believe this should be in every law school application package.

  • One of the things I have done in my long & checkered life was to be in charge of client training and employment for a county welfare agency in upstate New York. Basically, it was my job to help get people off of welfare and into employment. Part of my work was getting clients into programs in the two-year state college located in our county. I soon realized that the interests of the college and of our clients were adversarial. The college wanted to fill seats in programs and provide full employment for college faculty. The clients needed programs that led to jobs paying enough to get them off welfare. I would say that the college was ruthless in pursuing its own ends, attempting to get me to shepherd clients into programs (e.g. early childhood education) that had not a prayer of getting them off the welfare system. Educational institutions like to present themselves as allies of their students. At least as often, they are enemies. Full disclosure: our son is a college professor.

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