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No ‘caveat emptor’ for law school

The dean of one of Virginia’s eight law schools has rejected the idea that law school recruiting materials need to carry a disclaimer about job prospects.

“We are going through the worst legal job market in anyone’s memory,” William & Mary Dean Davison Douglas told the Norfolk-Portsmouth Bar Association yesterday.

“It’s a tough time to be a law student,” Douglas said. “The cost of legal education has increased dramatically,” which may lead to a new cost-benefit calculus for prospective students.

Douglas recently fielded a law school staffer’s inquiry about whether school marketing materials needed to include a cautionary note about job prospects for school applicants, something to the effect that getting in is no guaranteed ticket to the big-firm big time.

The dean understands the concern. He has heard one law student sued his alma mater because he graduated from law school with a mountain of debt and no job. Still, Douglas did not see the need for a disclaimer.

He may see the market at work.

During recessionary times, applications to law school typically go up, as students figure law school is a good place to sit out three years, until the job market picks up again.

This year, however, applications to law schools are down 10 to 15 percent, nationwide, Douglas said. “It’s the high cost of legal education, coupled with the bad job market.”

Shortening the time spent in law school is another way to address expense. Douglas sees W&M students loading up on regular semester and summer school classes, to hasten their graduation dates.

Although law schools are adding more skills training to their curricula, Douglas doesn’t think that will add to the time and expense of a legal education.

“We’ll see two-year law schools before we see four-year law schools, but I don’t think we’ll see that soon,” he said.
By Deborah Elkins

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