It's become increasingly popular to say that the world doesn't need any more lawyers. Any cursory glance at the employment statistics for new law graduates would seem to back up the point.
But just because lawyers are struggling to get high paying jobs at pricey law firms doesn't mean America is over saturated with attorneys. People still need lawyers, it's just that the people most in need of legal representation can't pay their lawyers...
Quartz has a new post up, the headline blares: "The US lawyer bubble has conclusively popped." The thesis sentence states: "Technology, a shift to flat-fee contracts from billing for time, and globalization have shifted the salary and employment math for students considering law school forever."
Quartz isn't wrong. Debt financing your education at an expensive law school which can't even crack the top-50 is probably more stupid now than it ever has been before.
That is in part because paying off $100,000 or more of law school debt is impossible unless you get a good, well-paying legal job. And those jobs are harder than ever to come by. Fortune 500 companies want their law firms to cut costs by outsourcing junior work to India. They don't want law firms to train new associates on their dime.
But Fortune 500 companies, rich people, and accident victims aren't the only people who need lawyers. Right now there is somebody getting bullied out of rent stabilized public housing who could use the advice of counsel. Right now there is a poor woman who is terrified of what her husband will do when he comes home. Right now there is an immigrant seeking asylum, an artist who doesn't have a will, and an innocent man in jail who could really use some competent legal advice.
We don't have too many lawyers, we have too many clients who can't pay.
And the problem isn't that all these lawyers out there are "greedy." The problem is that all of these lawyers have massive educational debts that can't be serviced through poor clients.
Every doctor in the country could open up a free clinic out of a food truck in a poor neighborhood and have patients lining up around the block. And thanks to Medicaid, doctors can, more or less, make a living doing that. Not a big time, Doctor Charles Nichols living, but you can pay your bills if you were inspired to get into the medical profession to help the poorest among us.
But there's no "Lawaid" for poor people in need of legal representation. And so even the lawyers truly motivated to service poor clients can only do so if they have independent means, or if they have a good paying gig and can work pro bono on the side. Legal Aid cannot employ enough lawyers to service all of the clients who need help. Neither can the Public Defender's office.
So sure, law school — especially a poorly ranked law school — is a terrible bet if your plan is to debt finance your education and then make a lot of money when you graduate. Prospective law students are catching on to the fact that the economics of legal education don't add up, and that's why we're seeing a massive decline in law school applications.
Let's not confuse rational economic decision making with the overall societal need for qualified attorneys. Do you want to be a rich lawyer with a gold-plated client roster? Sorry, we have enough of those. The way is shut.
But if anybody has the will and the means to represent poor people with a questionable ability to pay, by all means, we need you to go to law school... for free if possible.