WARNING: J.D. Ahead – Warning Labels for Law Schools?

Would law school consumers benefit from warning labels? With 14 class actions against law schools, the launch of scamblogs and LSAT takers referred to as suckers, perhaps it’s time that law school applications come with warning labels.

That’s what Abnormal Use’s Frances G. Zacher contemplates in Warning: Your J.D. May Not Be Worth What You Paid For It. Zacher builds her case by citing several sources that demonstrate just how inherently dangerous a law school degree can be and suggests the following warnings:

WARNING: You may not be able to pay these loans back during your lifetime.

We would argue, however, that this warning might not be adequate. Instead, consider this stronger, more accurate warning:

WARNING: Go to law school, and you may wind up bankrupt and still liable for the student loan debt.

And these are a great start. However, if we’re going to warn college graduates about “all” the dangers of getting a law degree, we probably need to go a bit further. Over at Legal Blog Watch, Bruce Carton brainstorms some additional warning labels for legal education:

WARNING: Go to law school, and a disproportionate number of your friends may be lawyers.

WARNING: Go to law school, and you may someday introduce yourself at parties as a “recovering lawyer.”

WARNING: Go to law school, and you may end up as a legal blogger.

But my personal favorite, thus far, has to be BL1Y’s entry:

WARNING: Go to law school, and a disproportionate number of your friends may be barristas.

This certainly isn’t the first time the law school warning label idea has been proposed. Back in November, 2010 over at The National Law Journal, Ari Kaplan explored who is to blame for what ails legal education. WARNING: unless you’re a LexisNexis subscriber, you can’t actually read Mr. Kaplan’s article.

Personally, I’m not big on warning labels. Like disclaimers, I’m skeptical that warning labels actually protect the public from being misled. This is primarily because I don’t think people read them.

But, if we’re going to warn folks about the inherent dangers of buying a law degree, and ultimately becoming a lawyer, here are two more labels for consideration:

Warning: Keep out of reach of children. – Perhaps a better warning for law school admissions counselors, this one will go a long way to increase the competence of the licensed.

Warning: May cause mental illness, substance abuse, divorce, suicide, poor physical health, and general unhappiness. – In Should Law-School Applications Include a Warning Label (.pdf), The Honorable David L. Baker explores law school warning labels of a different sort.

What say you Lawyerists? Looking back, what warning labels would you have liked to see on your law school applications? Would law school warning labels make any bit of difference in solving some of the problems facing the profession? With all the information out there about the climate for law school graduates, can today’s law school applicants reasonably claim to be misled about what their futures are likely to look like?



  1. Avatar Susan Gainen says:

    Warning Label:

    There are no guarantees for your life as a lawyer.
    1. Whether you get a ridiculously expensive or just modestly high-priced law degree, it does not come with a guarantee that you will earn a particular salary, get a particular job, or have a predictable career path.
    2. There is no breath test, blood test, smell test or genetic test that can predict or guarantee that you will like working as a lawyer.
    3. A law degree does not come with a guarantee of success, happiness or job satisfaction.
    4. Good grades are not enough. They may get you an interview, but they are not enough. If you are unwilling to try to understand why grades are not enough, please seek graduate education and employment elsewhere.

    Before applying to law school, please:

    1. Talk to a lot of lawyers about what they do. “Two” is not “a lot.”
    2. Ask specific questions about their daily activities, about the relationships among their colleagues and all of the players who are engaged in solving their clients’ problems. Ask about the technical skills that they have acquired and that they wish that they had before beginning to practice. Do not ask “tell me about a typical day.”
    3. Ask about the characteristics of the candidates that they would like to hire. Ask what it would take to fail at their organizations.
    4. Ask yourself whether you want to spend your working lifetime reading, writing, talking on the phone, and going to meetings. If there are specific issues that you might want to work on for a lifetime (or part of one), consider yourself lucky.
  2. Avatar Jon D. says:

    Maybe warning labels work given the lower number of people taking the LSAT. The prospect of a 6 figure loan with no guarantee of a job is frightening.

    Even if you get a coveted job in a swanky firm, you have to work crazy hours. If you’re not willing to work those hours or can’t get one of those jobs, you have very limited options which isn’t good when you have to pay back a mortgage-sized loan.

    It’s interesting to see the number of legal blogs and other blogs / online businesses owned by former lawyers (or lawyers trying to get out of law). Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media is a former lawyer (to give one example).

  3. So, here’s the deal: half of all law graduates now will not be hired by anyone to do anything. Of the other half, a disproportionate percentage will experience depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide. We leave law school knowing little or nothing about how actually to do the job of a lawyer in terms of the interpersonal skills required to work with human beings who are in conflict. Clients with personal disputes fear and loathe lawyers to the point that pro per/pro se filings are clogging court dockets, while those who do hire us frequently refuse to pay the bill. And don’t even get me started about the courts: Friday court holidays, the vanishing trial, courts that require litigants to purchase paper and pens for the clerk’s office, on and on. Could there be something fundamentally wrong here?

    I’ve recently made a shift from work primarily as a collaborative lawyer/trainer, to director of the new Integrative Law Institute at Commonweal. ILI’s mission is to reclaim law as a healing and helping profession. By summer/fall 2012 we will be offering CLE and certification programs in integrative law, and intensive weekend programs for mid-career lawyers focusing on reclaiming vision and purpose in the practice of law. These are not the usual kumbaya coaching programs. IlI focuses on integrating emerging understandings from neuroscience and positive psychology with client-centered conflict resolution methodologies, body/mind self awareness and mindfulness practices, sophisticated communications skills training, and more. We include strategic planning for how to build a practice consistent with your values, and we re-examine received beliefs and habits about the job of a lawyer that are long overdue for updating.

    Our website is under construction but during that process ILI offers blog posts you may find interesting, translating discoveries from the natural and social sciences into tips and perspectives of immediate use to lawyers.

    Also, you may want to sign up for a training workshop I’m offering on June 14th in New Hampshire, under the sponsorship of the New Hampshire State Bar, on developing “neuro-literacy” as conflict resolution professionals.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      These are not the usual kumbaya coaching programs.

      Maybe you aren’t describing it very well, then, because that’s exactly what it sounds like. Well, that plus pyramids and power crystals.

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