What One Law Professor Thinks Her Former Students Should “Get Over”: Apparently, Not Having a Good Job after Paying Her Colleagues’ Salaries

Prof. Sara Stadler’s recent commencement address at Emory law is one for the ages.  At least, Emory (still) thinks so, since the home page of its website has a button that connects to a video of it.  In the address, Stadler tossed out a gem, telling newly minted Emory grads to “get over it,” it being their “sense of entitlement” to highly-paid legal jobs. 

I’m all for pragmatism and giving prospective law students honest advice about the market.  This blog includes posts saying that if what you want is a big salary and a “sexy” job but have no clear desire to practice law (or don’t know what the practice of law entails), then a six-figure investment in law school (and six-figure average debt at private schools like Emory) is unlikely to be your best option. 

Timing is everything.  In less charged language, I spend a lot of time advising pre-law students about themes similar to Prof. Stadler’s.  Prof. Stadler gave that advice, none too softly, to students who had already spent the money.  I search in vain on Emory’s website for warnings to prospective law students.  Instead, I see a link to an article that Emory leads all Georgia schools in getting their graduates law firm jobs (translate, the highly-paid jobs that Prof. Stadler just told graduating students, on what should be a celebratory day, to get over). 

To me, the most irritating language in Prof. Stadler’s address was the use of the classic blame-the-people-who-are-hurting-word “entitlement” (although the profession of “being honest” in the name of “love” ran a close second).  “Entitlement” is the same term that the dean of Rutgers-Newark used last year in a similar statement.  Do law schools share insult your students talking points? 

To what do law students, who have incurred significant debt, invested a lot of time, and spent substantial cash, feel “entitled”?  A job that can pay off that debt, reward their time spent with a good career and replenish their savings.  Call me unreasonable—something wrong with that I’m not getting? 

To be sure, reaction to Prof. Stadler’s address has not been all negative, including from some Emory graduates.   Maybe more graduates should think more about joining small firms, being givers, or even moving to Nebraska (I’m from Wyoming originally, so I understand the attraction).  Maybe that would make them happier.  But wouldn’t it have been nice if Emory had counseled its applicants about that? 

This is really not that hard.  The time to deliver realistic career advice, create realistic expectations and have serious talks about “entitlement” is before students have laid down a single dime, including their application fee (or for my services).  I regularly discuss with prospective clients the uncertain (at best) state of the market, the difficulty of obtaining top-paying jobs from most law schools and class ranks, and discuss how familiar they are with what lawyers in various practices actually do.  Sometimes, that costs me business, sometimes it doesn’t, but I think (hope) that regardless of the outcome, people generally appreciate up-front disclosure and analysis.  And I’m no moral paragon—you just don’t want to sell goods in which there’s a significant risk component without being straightforward about what those risks are.  

So, I’m all for Prof. Stadler’s basic message (though not its harshness).  And I hope we’ll see real employment disclosure from Emory, regardless of what the ABA eventually does or does not require.  Right next to the link to the article touting its employment successes, I hope soon to see articles about the Emory graduates who can’t service their debt, can’t find a job and, at the moment, are feeling anything but entitled.  You want to show your love and commitment to something other than your students’ pocketbooks and loan money, those would be good places to start.   Will Emory Law demonstrate that commitment?

Law schools are not charities, and they’re not admitting you because they’re your friends.  Many people who work at law schools are very nice people, to be sure, and many work hard, and are good at, what they do.  But they are part of institutions that will continue to take money as long as people are willing to give it to them, and the fewer questions those people ask, the better.  What law schools want and what prospective law students want converge at certain points but they also diverge considerably, especially in tough economic times.  This is why having a first-rate admissions advisor, who knows the market as well as the law schools—and has your long-term interests at heart—is crucial.  And good advisors will almost always start with the fundamentals—Why law school? Why now?

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on June 7, 2011.

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