JACKSONVILLE – Justin Medlock is a typical first year student, or 1L, at Florida Coastal School of Law. After finishing his bachelor’s degree in biology and deciding his grades were not medical school material, Medlock opted to take the LSAT and enroll in law school. Initially optimistic about his prospects in the legal market, he soon saw signs that the future may not be as bright, starting with orientation.
“They welcomed us all there, told us we were great and fed us, but I swear [the dean of the law school] smirked when he talked about our future in the legal community,” recalled Medlock, who noted other speakers conspicuously avoided the topic of employment: “My friends from college who are unemployed say I’m going to find a lucrative career, but at the early attorney-student mixers the lawyers would pat me on the back whenever I’d talk about eventually working with them.”
Medlock is not alone. At law schools across the country, members of the new class of 2014 are beginning to notice a palpable sense of dread regarding their future job prospects. With the exhilaration of orientations and welcome weeks wearing off, a number of these 1Ls report that various comments and signals from upperclassmen, lawyers and even some professors seem to paint a less than rosy picture. Interviews with these students reveal a growing aura of concern over whether law school was the right choice for attaining gainful employment.
After taking out loans to attend Ave Maria School of Law, located somewhere in Florida, 1L Mary Fanucchi began to question her decision to become an attorney regardless of the cost. In her view, the entire legal industry appears to be fundamentally changing:
“Growing up it seemed like law was one of those fields where a person could get both respect and a job that couldn’t be seriously devalued,” Fanucchi explained, “but with stories I hear about people from even the top law schools fighting over low-paid contract positions and the outsourcing of legal work to other countries and I think this is turning into the next auto industry. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always wanted to become a lawyer, but what exactly have I gotten myself into?”
Students at Charlotte School of Law were recently greeted by a crude, hand painted sign over the school’s main entrance proclaiming “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here! Thou art cash cows being led to the $laughter!” The sign was hastily taken down by the administration who quickly attributed it to advertising for the law school’s upcoming law student musical. Upon further investigation, the law school, which achieved full accreditation from the ABA in June 2011, has no stated plans for any musical. The school refuses to comment further on the incident.
A number of incoming first years at an unnamed law school in Lansing, Michigan were surprised to see their law school recently named in a potential class action lawsuit by disgruntled recent graduates unhappy at what they feel were deceptive employment figures. In fear of being counter-sued or expelled by their law school (possibly losing their loans) these individuals spoke on condition of anonymity. On the whole, they described their situation as being like “rats on a sinking ship” and feel that their career and school choices would have been different had they known their school was going to be accused of such activity.
Denise Montgomery, 1L at Western New England University School of Law, did not initially pick up on the palpable sense of hopelessness in the second and third year students because of their straight-faced sense of gallows humor: “For the first few weeks I was excited because all the 2Ls and 3Ls were saying was how ‘great’ the job market was and how ‘we were all going to get jobs in BigLaw’ or just hang our shingles, but then I started regularly seeing a number of 3Ls crying uncontrollably in the bathroom and realized they might have meant it sarcastically –that’s a bit new for me, I’m from North Dakota.”
Professors, for the most part, continue to maintain an aura of cool indifference towards the future prospects of their pupils, although with notable exceptions. Students in first year civil procedure at Western State University recorded an outburst by Professor William Brower, who halted his class mid-lecture and exclaimed: “Oh sweet criminy, why are we sending even more of you out there? Even I can’t find a better job.” He subsequently left the classroom and resigned from the institution. The video has since become a YouTube hit.
Still, not all 1Ls find employment concerns as their greatest worry. Chuck Liang, in his first semester at Phoenix School of Law finds his choice of institution added another issue: “I spend more of my time explaining to people that I don’t go to the University of Phoenix than worrying about how I’m ever going to get a serious job.”