It was a great Star Trek episode, and not just because one of the most famous trial lawyers of his time, Melvin Belli, played a villain who tried to take control of every child on planet Triacus. The episode reveals the potency of two great powers: youth and truth.
The moral of the story endures, as I realized while reading an article in the National Law Journal earlier this week. (http://www.alliancealert.org/2010/04/20/law-students-push-schools-for-better-employment-numbers/)
The best prospects for improving the profession will come from new entrants who refuse to settle for answers that others would like them to accept. So it’s gratifying when youth seeks truth as law students start asking the right questions.
Two Vanderbilt students have realized that most law school information about graduates’ employment and compensation is incomplete — and sometimes misleading. Law schools tend to mask reality in aggregate statistical compilations that make them look good. (See Mark Twain on the three kinds of lies: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.”)
For example, when a school reports to US News that 95% of a recent class was employed at graduation, what does that mean? For jobs that involved temporary research for a professor because nothing else was available, not much.
Likewise, when the median salary at a first-tier school is also the top of the range because many graduates went to big firms, isn’t the overall distribution meaningful? And two or three years later, what happens to the young attorneys in those firms? For too many, nothing good, according to NALP’s associate attrition data.
So two Vanderbilt students are trying to build and publish their own database of detailed information about individual students. The most encouraging aspect of the initiative has less to do with trying to collect what the law schools probably won’t divulge. Rather, it’s the fact that these students — and hopefully many others — are thinking in concrete terms about what their legal careers will actually be like.
Moving away from statistical aggregations and abstract images that don’t educate anyone about life as a real lawyer, they want specific information about their options and prospects (or lack thereof). This initial inquiry — how much individual graduates earn and what happens to them — should lead immediately to a second: what type of work are young attorneys performing and do they enjoy their jobs?
If undergraduates started this deliberative process before they took the LSAT, the profession could begin curing its worst problem: growing attorney unhappiness.
How? The profession is filled with too many lawyers who never should have gone to law school in the first place. If only they had known the truth…and then thought about it…