Merely going to law school is no longer a guarantee of gaining an entry level job in the legal profession. The Economist, one of the most trusted reliable news sources has felt obliged to weigh in and report what has become a very embarrassing and unprofessional facade in the North American professional law school community. Law schools are guilty of fudging figures and manipulating reports to make it appear as though their graduates are getting full-fledged entry level professional placements with law firms when it just isn’t true.
Attend a domestic law school and you’ll be assured a law firm placement that will lead to articling. Pursue international legal education and you’re at a disadvantage in having to secure a law firm placement on your own.
That’s one of the most powerful marketing tools utilized by Canadian law schools to induce students with high GPAs and corresponding international professional aspirations, which would qualify them for top tier international law schools with global rankings and reputations, to forego the opportunity to study abroad and stay at home. Canadian law schools fill out annual placement reports and file them with the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) that routinely report that 90%+ of their graduates are placed in the “legal profession”. As the Economist article points out a placement in the “legal profession” is a far cry from actually securing an entry level paid position in a law firm. Law schools are guilty of providing graduates with a combination of part time and contract positions within their law schools and subsidized or unpaid placement in external agencies for the proverbial six month period that are in turn duly filed in their NALP report as placements in the legal profession. A series of class action suits filed by disgruntled U.S. law graduates who claim they were induced to attend these law schools based on what has been proven to be fabricated NALP placement reports that border on falsification has caused considerable embarrassment within law school academe and damage to NALP’s credibility as a reliable source of reportage.
The truth is that over the past five years the emergence of a global legal services market has done serious damage to the traditional legal profession and law firm practice of law model. So Long, Big Law, Hello New Law is the headline for an insightful article in the March, 2014,Globe and Mail Report on Business (ROB). The Canadian legal profession and law firms are in a fight for their professional lives as a new breed of information technology and “creative class” providers offer consumers a combination of preferred cost effective professional services as an alternative to the billable hour practice of law model. Law firms are downsizing and the ROB estimates the unemployment rate for recent law school graduates at 20%. Other sources suggest it may be has high as 30%.
Prospective law students needn’t be disheartened by this. The nascent global legal services market is opening a number of new professional career doors for lawyers, particularly those who embrace the notion of “multi-disciplinary professional service provider”. However, what they need to do is think strategically and act smart when it comes to making a decision about whether its to their advantage to choose domestic or international legal education as their preferred route to open doors to opportunities in the global legal services market. The right law school can provide a student with a professional education that they can use to launch an innovative legal services or related multi-disciplinary professional services career. But when all is said and done it’s the graduate not the law school that can and must take on the responsibility of launching their professional career.