The benefits of a recession for legal education

A few months ago I wrote about the need to teach morality in law schools. Now according to the latest LSSSE survey, we see that more law students are shifting towards public interest work, and more importantly, they are learning more about “integrity in personal and professional settings.”

This is the good that comes from a recession.

For too long, many of the students who entered law school were seeking the high paying salaries that law schools were only too happy to advertise. It was a rush to greed. And many of these wealth-seekers were sorely disappointed when they failed to land the $160,000 job.

To be fair, some even failed to land the $40,000 job and now have $100,000 in debt breathing down their necks.

But the larger point is that law schools were filled with too many students who were too focused on a good return on their investment.

We now have blogs feeding this disenchantment. Check out Jims Blog and Third Tier Reality, to name just a few.

What we need are lawyers who want to be lawyers to help the common good, to bring justice and fairness to the world, and not to land a cushy career.

The LSSSE survey results show that we are now seeing a modest shift in that direction. But, it’s still not enough.

Law schools need to put away the high salaries when advertising themselves, and focus on the quality (and happy) lawyers that they produce.

They need to amp up their ethics training — it is disappointing that 1/3 of students report “that their legal education places little emphasis on acting with integrity in personal and professional settings.”

Finally, law schools need to continue to find ways to help students who enter lower paying jobs pay their burdensome loans. And not take steps backwards like the shameful act we saw at Harvard earlier this month.

The recession has helped everyone rethink their priorities. Now is the time to take action to show support for these priorities, and not to just complain. Legal educators need to focus on creating an army of lawyers who want to do good in this world, and not an army of lawyers looking to make a lot of money. 

 -Jack Crittenden, Editor In Chief, National Jurist and PreLaw magazine