In a recent Wall Street Journal article about the difficult job market for 2011 law school graduates, Dean Rudy Hasl of Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego said the following: “You can’t measure the value of a law degree in terms of what your employment number was nine months after graduation.” He urged prospective students to think of their law degree as a long-term investment.
As a former teacher, a part of me is taken in by Hasl’s characterization of law school. I agree that employment should not be the measure of the worth of any education, even law school.
I frequently told my students that education is not a means to an end but an end in itself. This conversation usually occurred when they would gripe about having to read “The Odyssey” or a similar book in my class under their theory that reading the particular book in question would not have any practical value to their lives. I don’t know that my message to my students always sunk in, but I tried to help them see how stories like “The Odyssey,” if they paid attention to them, actually did have something to teach.
I immediately thought of these interactions with my former students when I read Hasl’s quote. But I should admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that I thoroughly enjoyed law school. When my colleagues hear that, one of them inevitably chuckles or guffaws and says, “Oh, so you’re the one.”
As I have written in this space before, what law school taught me in terms of how to think and how to approach any problem that life throws at me was so total that I cannot recall how I thought or solved problems prior to law school. So, in that regard, I believe that Hasl is correct — employment has nothing to do with the value of the law school education.
However, from the same perspective, the second part of Hasl’s quote — that a law degree is a long-term investment – is somewhat troubling to me. Clearly, Hasl is not approaching this issue from my perspective and instead is trying to spin the fact that nearly half of all law school grads will not be gainfully employed nine months after graduation even as most will have significant monthly bills to repay in the form of student loans.
In the end, I don’t know what to think. There is without a doubt significant value in a law school education. It is also clear that the cost of that education has made the decision of whether or not to attend much more difficult than it used to be.