Leiter on the New Economic Realities of American Law Schools

American Law Schools: The New Economic Realities
Brian Leiter
The Huffington Post
December 29, 2013

Lawyers produce the invisible infrastructure of life in all modern societies. This home ismine, that car is yours, you can't take that property, she is entitled to that dividend, heearned that wage, your doctor can not disclose that condition, the police can not examinethe contents of that car, his insurer must cover the treatment, they have a right to bargain collectively about their working conditions: all those claims presuppose legal rules, rules that lawyers typically wrote, and rules that they help enforce. Civilization does not exist without lawyers, however mundane their tasks may often be. 

In the United States, law schools offer a three-year program of post-graduate education leading to the J.D. degree, which permits students to sit for the bar examination, and be admitted to the practice of law. The American system is only one approach, even in the economically developed, Western democracies. Most European countries, for example, offer law as an undergraduate degree, followed by a period of apprenticeship with experienced practitioners, and then full admittance to legal practice. Salaries for newly minted law graduates are quite low -- lower than in the United States -- and then rise, and most who study law at university do not actually practice it.

By contrast, until relatively recently, most newly-minted lawyers in the United States found employment in the legal or related professional sectors, and those who graduated from the ten or twenty leading national law schools, or who graduated at the "top of their class" from the more regional ones, earned very high private-sector salaries early in their careers: six figures at least, climbing within 15-20 years to seven figures for those particularly successful.

Brian Leiter