08/24/2005: Stunning indeed.....
At Brian Leiter's Law School Reports (his specialized law and legal education "blawg"), he posted an interesting article discussing a proposition by law professors Andrew Morriss of Case-Western Reserve and William Henderson of Indiana--Bloomington that non-elite law schools interested in improving the academic caliber (as measured by LSAT scores) of the students in their incoming classes, they should consider dropping their tuition prices drastically. Given the high cost of securing a top flight legal education, they posit that many students would have a degree of price elasticity of demand for legal education. Professor Leiter left comments open on that post, and Professor Henderson weighed in with a comment that contained a "stunning statistic" (Henderson's own words).
Before the statistic, an observation. Many legal laypersons, on hearing that I left the legal profession, come to the conclusion that I'm certifiably batshit crazy (that may be a correct observation, but if you're basing that on the fact that I left the legal profession, you may have come to the correct conclusion for the wrong reasons), thinking that I've foregone millions of dollars in legal income.
The truth of the matter is that the stereotype of the rich corporate lawyer is mistaken. That's the elite of the profession, which very few lawyers achieve. Many more lawyers are slaving away in fairly low paid (by "professional" standards) positions as solo practicioners or partners in very small firms. With that in mind, Professor Henderson's observation:
Here is a stunning statistic: in 1975, the median Chicago solo practitioner earned approximately $99,000 (in 1995 dollars) per year; by 1995, that number plummeted to $55,000, and 32 percent were working second jobs compared to 2 percent in 1975. See Heinz, et al., Urban Lawyers (2005). This economic reality is why, in our study, students with marginally higher LSAT scores are favoring lower-priced law schools.The really scary thing about that statistic is, of course, that "median" is by definition the halfway point, and as many solo practicioners in Chicago are earning under $55,000 as are earning over that figure.
[The "Heinz" cited by Prof. Henderson, incidentally, is John P. "Smiling Jack" Heinz ("Smiling Jack" being the nickname our class tagged him with) who taught me everything I've since forgotten about the Illinois criminal code, and who was pursuing his sociological studies of the Chicago Bar back when I was a student of his.]
Len on 08.24.05 @ 08:24 AM CST