Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Blog

Myth-Busting

This blog was originally published June 3, 2013.

Cooley’s President and Dean, Don LeDuc, is publishing commentaries on the Law School, legal education, and related topics. In this commentary, President LeDuc takes on a variety of misstatements about legal education that abound across the Internet.

The Internet abounds with misstatements about law schools and lawyer employment. Uninformed commentators and bloggers make the statements, and the media republish them without support, analysis or context, creating the impression that they are true. Here are some of those assertions.

leduc-3.jpg1. MYTH: Unemployment among lawyers is widespread and severe.

False. According to U.S.  Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics data, legal occupations have the lowest unemployment rate among the 10 recognized professional and management occupations. Employment of lawyers is nearly the best among all individual professional and management occupations.

2. MYTH: Law schools continue to admit increasing numbers of students.

False. Nationally, first-year enrollment fell by 4,000 in 2011 and again in 2012, and will likely fall by at least that much again in 2013. First-year law school enrollment at Michigan’s five law schools is down over 30% over the past three years (2010, 2011, 2012), and will likely decline significantly again in 2013.

3. MYTH: Law schools will drop their standards to keep their enrollment up.

False. Michigan’s law schools kept their entering class profiles relatively stable over the past five years, reducing class size rather than lowering their admission standards.

4. MYTH: Law schools are charging exorbitant tuition.

False. Law school tuition is comparable to tuition charges for other professional schools and for doctoral programs. At Cooley, a typical May 2012 non-scholarship graduate would have paid about $97,000 in tuition for his or her legal education. The typical scholarship student at Cooley would have paid about $75,000. Approximately 57% of Cooley students receive scholarships.

5. MYTH: Law school graduates are experiencing alarming default rates because of the student loan debt.

False. Default rates among law school graduates are quite low, about one-third of the national average.

6. Myth: The current admissions practices among law schools have led to a glut of lawyers.

False. Admissions to practice in Michigan have decreased in each of the past three decades and by 10% since 1973.

  • 1973 to 1982:  average annual admission to practice = 1,178
  • 1983 to 1992:  average annual admission to practice = 1,137
  • 1993 to 2002:  average annual admission to practice = 1,095
  • 2003 to 2012:  average annual admission to practice = 1,061

7. MYTH: Young lawyers, burdened by debt, are forced to take on cases that they are incompetent to handle, causing them to behave unethically.

False. State Bar of Michigan data suggest that recent law school graduates contribute relatively little to the work of the lawyer disciplinary bodies. And the annual report of the Lawyer Discipline Board shows comparatively few competency-based disciplinary actions overall.

8. MYTH: The law schools do a poor job at training students to be lawyers.

False. The quality of legal education, from the substantive, doctrinal courses to the practical, clinical courses, has never been better. Teaching is outstanding, facilities are the best in history, libraries are more comprehensive than ever, and technology has been employed in all parts of legal education. Focus on practice preparation by the nation’s law schools has never been more intense.

9. MYTH: Big Law – made up of the ultra large international and national law firms, is the core of the legal profession.

False. Almost two-thirds of all lawyers in private practice work in solo practice or in law firms of from two to 10 lawyers in size.  “Big Law” has no relationship to the real world faced by almost all of our nation’s lawyers.

10. MYTH: We don’t need more lawyers.

False. Maybe there are plenty of lawyers charging $600 an hour and up to represent the largest corporations, but there clearly are not enough lawyers to serve the interests of the middle class, much less the indigent in society. Many rural counties, in particular, are severely lacking lawyers.

March 01