Wednesday, May 27, 2015

“I spent $134,918 and I don’t even get a lousy law degree?”

I hate it when lawyers mindlessly jabber about "public service" or "giving back" or our alleged duty to "serve the community," as if we have some moral obligation above that of medical doctors, corporate managers, accountants, or truck drivers.  As I’ve written here, this nonsensical blather often comes from highly paid bureaucrats at state bar associations who are trying to put a good face on the legal profession.  And as I’ve written here, other times it comes from judicial candidates who are vying for incredibly high paying judgeships, but need to offer up a more palatable reason for why they want the gig.  But now it’s graduation time, and the law school industrial complex is minting thousands of new JDs.  And along with the graduation ceremonies comes commencement speakers who spew out creative new twists on this worn out public service mantra.  The most creative twist this year goes to the Northeastern University commencement speaker who told the graduates that their degree doesn’t really belong to them; instead, it “belongs to our whole community.”

Do the Northeastern law grads really need to hear this kind of nonsense?  They already rank among the most indebted of any law school at $134,918.  Probably not uncommon, however, is the Northeastern law graduate with over $200,000 in debt.  And if a prospective student was to start law school at Northeastern this fall without a scholarship, Law School Transparency estimates that this unlucky soul would graduate with a total dead load of $236.615.  (These numbers vary because some might not include living expenses, accrued interest on the money borrowed, etc.)  And job prospects out of this school — as is the case with most non-elite schools — aren’t exactly great.

The commencement speaker’s claim — that the law graduates’ educations belong not to them but to the entire community — is indeed novel.  But one thing about it that’s not surprising is its source: this offensive twist on the public service mantra is brought to you by the state’s attorney general — yet another government employee earning well into the six-figure range while lecturing about public service.  In fact, one website indicates that, way back in 2010, the predecessor attorney general earned $133,644 plus the usual smorgasbord of government benefits.  To me, that sounds more like taking from the community than "giving back" to the community.  

The newly minted Northeastern JDs who are lucky enough to find jobs should compare this number to their own salaries, and then see how they feel about sharing their degrees with their community.    

7 comments:

  1. Recent JD here (not Northeastern). I wanted to say I don't think it is fair/logically sound to discount the speaker's message based on her salary without providing context for the speaker's career path and the state of legal salaries in general.
    Becoming a state AG usually means spending many years in the public sector, collecting salaries far below that which the individual's resume could garner in the private sector. A strong resume 10 years post JD could earn hundreds of thousands per year. Just based on opportunity cost alone, the AG could be forgoing $100K compared to in-house legal, or $400K+ compared to even the poorest big-law partners.

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    1. Are you sober? It could garner the vast sums you suggest, but it likely garners much less. And certainly the hours are better than the poorest big law salary.

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    2. A subset of the legal profession (mainly BigLaw and successful plaintiffs lawyers) make the money you describe, but I would bet the vast majority of small firm and solo practitioners make amounts comparable to or less (especially when benefits are taken into account) than prosecutors.

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  2. It is a massive assumption to think this person could hack it in higher paying positions in the private sector.

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  3. Try again. She used to work at Wilmer Hale.

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  4. Michael
    Excellent post! This just reinforces the engrained mindset of denizens of the Ivory Tower. It reminded me of the equally clueless and even more infuriating Emory Law School Professor who in 2011 addressed the graduating class facing a glutted law job market with the following 'inspirational' words: "Get over it. The only thing standing in the way of your happiness is a sense of entitlement." Offensive stuff like this spewed by the financially secure and the comfortably situated gives credence to Francois de La Rochefoucauld's, "we all have strength enough to endure the misfortune of others."

    If you want to read more about entitled Emory law professor Sara Stadler's hypocritical shed-your-entitlement speech, here is the link:
    http://abovethelaw.com/2011/05/possibly-the-most-hypocritical-commencement-speech-ever/

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    1. Great call, Mo. I just read that post. Unbelievable! The Emory situation was, in some ways, even more offensive because the nonsense was spouted by a professor.

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