Promises of big futures aren’t paying off for many law students

by Jessica Morgan

At the age of 27, Holly Halpin began her 3-year law school degree at the University of Utah.” At the time I viewed it as a huge step forward for my future,” said Halpin. But what was promised to be a sound investment in her future will likely delay financial stability and will likely not come with the elite title and job security promised her.
Halpin graduates in a few short weeks from law school and will soon become a lawyer. However, whether she will actually practice law upon graduating is uncertain. What is often an exciting time for many has turned into a dubious future for Halpin.
Not only will she be graduating with debt of $25,000 in books and tuition alone per year, she is left without a job to help repay the monetary investment of her education.
Yet surprisingly, Halpin is only one of many who will be graduating law school without a law job, or a job all together.
As of 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of new lawyer positions available is expected to be fewer than 60 percent of the number of graduates out of law schools.
Anneliese Booher, Director of Professional Development at S.J. Quinney College of Law, attests to this statistic. “I would agree that there are more graduates than jobs right now. Many people have been attending law school in the past few years. Add that to the state of the economy, and law jobs aren’t as accessible as they once were. However, Utah has a surprisingly high record of graduates immediately entering the [law] job force,” said Booher.
According to a 2009 annual report of the Association for Legal Career Professionals, Booher isn’t far off. The ALCP reported that approximately 45 percent of all graduates said that they were working. But this low statistic is often not what law schools around the country promote.
“When I started law school, and even before, when I was looking into the prospect of becoming a lawyer, what was really appealing to me was the fact that I would not only have job security, but receive great pay as well,” said Halpin. And the law schools she looked into, and the one she eventually attended, all promised her this luxury. “Every school you apply to paints this picture of working bliss after graduation. No one tells you that you might not be able to find a job.”
This unsettling situation of empty promises is happening at many law schools across the country, leaving many students with high hopes and dreams with little return.
In fact, some students have been so outraged by false advertising by law schools that they took the situation in their own hands by ironically using the education gained from their institutions.
In 2011 a class action lawsuitwas filed by Anna Alaburda, a graduate of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, against her school. The lawsuit was seeking damages for misrepresentation and fraud regarding the school’s published employment statistics and salary information.
Although Halpin will likely never file a lawsuit against S.J. Quinney, she understands the frustration of being misled.
86 percent of the lawyers interviewed in the ALCP poll reported that their start dates for work were pushed to more than 6 months after passing the bar. This statistic rings especially true to Halpin. “I am part of the vast majority of my graduating class that will be leaving law school with no job,” said Halpin.
However, there are still plenty of students graduating with jobs. Garreth Long is one of them. “I have been lucky when it comes to the job front. I not only have a great job, but have had options: a luxury that I know many of my fellow students haven’t had,” said Long.
And although Halpin is without a job, she might soon be joining those who have law-practicing jobs. “I am not going to let the fact that I don’t have a job hinder my dreams. In fact, I am thinking of starting my own law firm. It may be 6 months down the road, but I’m not going to let time or intimidation stop me,” Halpin said.
So although she was given false promises, Halpin, like many lawyers across the country, is letting her dreams and ambition pave the way to financial and professional success, something her institution failed to provide her.