I never thought I would see the day where a plumbing degree from Ashworth College (an online institution for the non-erudite) carries more value than a law degree. I recently paid my plumber $425.00 for 45 minutes of his time. Clearly, this handy chap makes more money than most working attorneys in this nation.Two points: one, he heeds to get out more. The potential top income for a lawyer has been (and remains) quite high, compared to the population as a whole (if not compared to, e.g., investment bankers). But the mean is usually rather lower than the commentator seems to realize. Every year some law grads go off to be parole officers, high school teachers, whatever--some willingly, some because it is the best alternative on the table. And even now as we stand here, some lawyer is "practicing law" in a terry cloth robe at the kitchen table. Again, that may or may not be a bad thing, but it's not the kind of thing that deans and alumni offices like to hype, especially not when they are trying to reel 'em in for $40,000-a-year tuition.
Two, he needs to take the long view. The blip in time during which a law degree was a road to riches--that blip is about the same length as the blip during which a guy like Homer Simpson could support a wife and 2.3 kids in a nice home in the suburbs on a factory wage.
I think the inflection point was the moment I started law school--fall of 1963--when the dean who welcomed us offered congratulations because we were moving into (as he said) an underpeopled profession. He was right: law hitherto had just not been that dazzling a choice. You really had to want to be there.
Sepecificaly: lawywers often had to scrounge for work in the Depression. There was more work after World War II but also more lawyers. In the 60s, wo things changed all that. One, biglaw jacked up its compensation schedules for beginning associates, enriching the associates themseves and setting off a ripple that rolled through the market as a whole. Two, the Federal government started to fund legsl services for the poor.
[A third factor that drew a new wave of applicants to the law schools was the civil rights revolution in the South, which added an aura of prestige and respectability to law which it had perhaps never enjoyed before. This surely increased demand for places in law school, although it didn't affect compensation directly.]
One unhappy consequence was that for a generation now, we've had a lot of kids in law school with no special vocation to be there, but who were looking for the big bucks. Surely that motivation is gone, or at least severely constrained. The Pope has been neard to say tht he wouldn't mind a smaller and stronger church. Who knows, the current uproar may induce just such a revision in the practice of law.
For a much more fully informed discussion, go here.
Three things changed