The Bad Job Market and the Law Schools’ Responsibility

Here’s excerpts from a message I sent last December responding to a article about the difficulty law school graduates are having finding
a job.

Hi Jessica Dickler,

As you read what I have written, consider that for decades the percentage of those who are dissatisfied with their careers in the law has been extremely high – higher than that of most occupations.


There are SO many other stories contained within your article about the tightening of the legal job market; for example:

“Employment opportunities for legal professionals have traditionally been plentiful – and lucrative.” To what extent did these legal professionals want this employment? What did these positions offer other than being “lucrative”?

“And last year was the sector’s strongest showing in 20 years, with 92% of graduates finding jobs in their field, according to the National Association for Law Placement. But that’s beginning to change.” What does it mean that 92% found jobs “in their field”? Are there majors in law school? Do law schools prepare their graduates to practice in a field? What do law school surveys show about what law students want to do when they graduate?

“Which means the 150,031 students who were in enrolled in law school last year face a job market that is contracting for the first time in recent history.” Most
lawyers practice in firms of 5 or less lawyers. Do we know that that market is contracting or is it primarily in the large law firms?

“That means recent graduates not only face experienced competition for limited jobs.”There may be limited “jobs”. What are the law schools doing about that? Did their graduates want “jobs”? Don’t they want to be on their own? Will law schools begin to train lawyers to practice law so they can represent clients upon graduation?

“but also hefty student loan bills. Recent grads are going to have a hard time,” What are law schools going to do about these hefty student loans? What are the law schools doing to reduce the cost of law school? Why is the cost increasing? What are the additional services being provided that justify the increases? Why don’t they simply eliminate the wasted third year and reduce the cost by one-third?

“Every day I send out resumes, both electronically and through the mail, and every day I receive responses that the law firms are not currently hiring, ..Roughly 300 resumes have landed me one job interview.” Where did he learn that the way to find a position is by sending out mass mailings?

” ‘I do think the jobs are out there, you just have to look harder for them. You have to dig,’ she said.” Is that what is known as career planning? “Dig”? Is that the same thing as reviewing your history, your goals and your values, looking at your options, narrowing down to the one that will give you the most satisfaction, finding out who practices in that area, marketing and promoting yourself to that network and accepting a position whether that is a”job” or a position as an independent contractor or sole practitioner?


After practicing law for 20 years representing individuals and developing programs to deliver legal services to low and middle income people, in 1984 I became the public interest advisor at Harvard Law School. While there and while working with career staff at law schools around the country, I came to the conclusion that traditional law schools provided a service to large law firms and the law schools while ignoring the needs of its students and the public. From surveys I learned that few law students entered law school hoping to be associates at large law firms but year after year law schools “funneled” their graduates to these law firms. The law schools accomplished this by:

Failing to teach law students the skills they needed to practice law (the MacCrate report says that lawyers need 10 skills and law schools teach only 2 and don’t teach them that well);

Failing to teach them the values of the legal profession; i.e., the obligation to promote justice and the obligation to take positions consistent with their personal values and professional goals;

Failing to teach them the wide range of options they had in the practice of law; i.e., not letting them know that over 66% of all practicing lawyers were in firms of 5 or less lawyers;

Selling the job placement system to large law firms through the highly negative on-campus interview program while at the same time;

Failing to teach them career planning: the process whereby students look at their goals and their values, explore their options, make a decision and then look for appropriate positions where they are likely to find career satisfaction; and

Charging exorbitant amounts for tuition for minimal services (recognizing that they do not teach their students what they need to practice law) and continuing to increase tuition (while most agree that the cost of law school could immediately be reduced by one-third by getting rid of the useless third year of law school.)

So we have an “educational” system that starts with at least half of its students interested in representing individuals or representing small businesses or hoping to be entrepreneurs. Through a three year program, it fails to teach its students what they need to know, puts them heavily in debt, pressures them to take positions in large law firms that for many are boring, meaningless and incredibly time-consuming. The law firms are happy because they get laborers. The law schools are happy because the loans get paid. The graduates are unhappy and the middle and low income members of the public get no one to help them with their personal plight issues.

Have you ever looked at the annual ranking of law schools by the US News and World Report? If you do, it will take no time to realize that there is NO category – NO column ranking a law school based on which one best prepares its students to practice law!!!!

Since I left Harvard Law School in 1990, I have been an adviser to thousands of law students and unhappy and dissatisfied graduates. The one characteristic most of them share is a lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem. Their “expertise” is narrow and they know of no options. They feel trapped.

I invite you to contact me if you would like to discuss any professional development issue relating to lawyers.

Thank you for your attention to these issues.

Ron Fox

Ronald W. Fox, Esquire
Career Planning for Lawyers
(781) 639-2322