“Don’t go to law school.”

After a couple gasps, several nervous laughs and a few grimaces silently asking “are you serious,” we got the message.

My LSAT instructor uttered these very words the last day of a five-week preparation course offered through the University’s Career Center. And the suggestion was, indeed, genuine. This meant a lot coming from a current student at the University’s Law School. Apparently my instructor isn’t the only person echoing this sentiment. Google’s eerily accurate suggestions feature, also finishes the words “don’t go to” with — yes, you guessed it — law school.

Almost every profession in every field has borne the brunt of our current recession. And, in the midst of our economic milieu, people tend to seek shelter under the roofs of graduate programs and the particularly paradigmatic “safe bet” that is law school. The fact of the matter is, quite frankly, that the legal field is evolving — rapidly.

As students, we often have the old, familiar “it won’t happen to me” notion that embodies a naïve sense of optimism. Unfortunately the adage all too often turns into “I never thought it would happen to me.” Since 2008, 15,000 legal jobs have vanished to outsourcing, restructuring and cutbacks, yet the total number of students enrolled in law school is 20,000 more than it was just 10 years ago. And about 40,000 law students graduated last year.

The failure to take note of the sign of the times is evidenced by the fact that law school applications and admissions have soared the past few years. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of students taking the LSAT rose 20.5 percent. The University of Alabama Law School saw it’s applicant pool grow by 70 percent last year.

In light of the changing nature of the legal market, and students’ apparent refusal to consider market trends, I suggest that the University integrate more blunt, “in your face” dialogue between prospective law students and students or young professionals who hold views similar to my LSAT instructor. A decision informed by all relevant perspectives will be a better one.

There are certainly a wealth of campus programs and literature about polishing essays and penning the perfect personal statement. A cursory glance at the semester list of University-sponsored pre-law events confirms this. But genuine, off-the-cuff commentary may be the most valuable of all. While it’s certainly encouraging to hear people’s success stories, it’s equally valuable to hear stories of those who’ve become disillusioned or regret their decision completely, as to assist future generations from committing the same mistakes.

Though my instructor’s suggestion shocked me initially, it was oddly refreshing. It was stimulating to hear someone honestly tell the “other side” of the story — a story told directly from the front lines, as opposed to a counselor or a seasoned professional.

It almost seems as if, in the academic setting, stories of strife, struggle and brute failure are discouraged, as are routes that stray too far off the beaten path.

Last year, at a presentation about what the same LSAT course would entail, a Law School student suggested that we take a year off before going directly to school. The counselor conducting the session shuddered at the suggestion and swiftly recommended against it. Frankly, some counselors may be out of touch with the stark reality and changing nature of their respective fields. Or they base suggestions upon sheer numbers and statistics, and in this case, the supposed higher likelihood of acceptance for students who do go straight to graduate school.

But using numbers as a strict guide isn’t necessarily the smartest route — specially in the midst of what many have begun to call the “law school scam.”

Law schools willingly present statistics showcasing the employment successes of their recent graduates, which typically looms at about 90 percent. A recent New York Times article says that law schools tend to hold themselves to “Enron type accounting standards,” manipulating data in any way they see fit in order to boost rankings, ratings and appeal.

And it doesn’t take much research to find legions of disgruntled law school graduates turned renegade bloggers who feel betrayed by the system, and in some cases, their own personal misconceptions of what schooling and the afterlife would entail.

A few dedicated events, or perhaps a lecture series from the “I wish I’d done otherwise” camp, might rightly avert students on the fence about their decision. Or it would at least force them to introspect if law school — or any other professional program for that matter — is truly right for them.

Julian Toles can be reached at jaytoles@umich.edu.

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