Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, June 28, 2013

I really hate to be breaking someone else's rice bowl, and in this particular case it is even more awkward because it involves the friend of a friend. Even so, I'm collecting useless law schools, and I just came across another. The other day I pointed Outside Counsel readers to an excellent piece written by UB law professor Lucinda Finley and  John G. Culhane, a professor of law at Widener University and director of its Health Law Institute. As it happens, I'm sort of familiar with Professor Culhane's work:  he is doing interesting stuff. (See, e.g.)

I was not familiar with Widener University however, so I did a little poking around. Widener, it turns out, has two campuses, one Harrisburg and one in Delaware. Citing a website called The Faculty Lounge (which may or may not be a credible source--) Wikipedia reports that 38.7% of the Class of 2012 was employed in full-time, long-term positions requiring bar admission. Widener's Class of 2010 graduated with an average debt of $111,909, which places Widener in the mid-range of student loan debt compared to Pennsylvania's other private law schools (Villanova, $122,410;Dickinson, $117,989; Penn, $105,297; Duquesne, $88,908, Drexel, $32,260) -- slightly above the national average.
So, a student who attends Widener has a 1 in 3 shot at a law job. That's any law job-- not a fancy law job-- and the average debt load-- non-dischargable debt-- is north of $100k. Now consider this: law school-- any law school-- does not prepare any one to enter the business of practicing law. Young law graduates who pass the bar (Widener does okay on bar passage rates: 80%) really are in no position to hang out a shingle. The culture of law in the US expects that young lawyers will serve an apprenticeship of sorts. At one time this meant that lawyers in the top 10%-20% of their classes-- the law review students, with the high end skimmed off to do judicial clerkships and become academics (1%? Not as much as 5% I'm sure)-- going to large firms and making significant salaries. Remember-- even for those young lawyers this is still a process. The majority will not become partners at their white shoe firms. Also, the white shoe firms that pay the sorts of salaries that we read about really don't hire from schools like Widener. Even UB doesn't place very deeply in the places that are paying six figures to new hires . Smaller firms pay less-- quite a bit less in many or most instances. Used to be that public sector gigs were a good place for young lawyers who were below the top 20%-- but those jobs used to cycle open pretty regularly. Now they don't. People in the top 20% are glad to get them-- they are stable-- and they tend to stay in them.

One other point. Students who go from undergraduate programs directly into law school know nothing-- nothing-- about anything. They simply have no experience to impart any value to the legal advice that they are licensed to dispense.

With rare exceptions going to law school is more like playing basketball at a D III school in the hope of catching on in the NBA than it is like any other career path. So even though Widener has a faculty member who is doing good, valuable work in an important field, I really have to question whether this is a necessary law school.

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