In New York suits have been filed against 14 law schools on behalf of alumni who have been unable to start the legal career they had set their hearts on.
It would be easy to sneer at what looks, from a certain angle, like the plaintiffs’ sense of entitlement - or for me to quip that 18 years after securing a history degree, I still haven’t found that elusive job as a full-time consulting historian.
But the sight of people like me, who went through higher education on a full grant, tuition fees paid, judging young people who are some £80,000 in debt is not a very edifying one. When I left full-time education the economy was terrible, but then I only owed £720.
Among the plaintiffs are graduates who have taken jobs in Starbucks, or as bartenders and labourers. Again, ‘more barista than barrister’ is not a very worthy joke when you think about all that debt that many of us did not have. (Do leave a message after my high moral tone.) Still, I do not think I would join such an action were I in their unenviable shoes. What does strike me, though, is that for some the gap between a fulfilling career in the law and a low-skilled job has turned out to have no options in between.
Law, and its students, seem to have a confidence problem. Which makes me wonder if law schools and university law departments are any good at helping students understand what it is they are good at.
It is an issue I have heard general counsel discuss in a different context.
A few years ago I interviewed several general counsel who had completed MBAs at the likes of Insead and Harvard.
They all related the same general observation - that in the early days, they were quite intimidated by the high-powered investment banker, entrepreneur and financial wizard types who were now their classmates.
It took perhaps three months or more for the lawyers to recognise what their own strengths were compared to the others. But, they found, they were substantially better at identifying, defining, and then refining, the problems associated with any situation. They outperformed the non-lawyers at clear communication (central to good commercial leadership), and they would range widely when it came to finding solutions. Eliminating extraneous information came fairly naturally.
Those are skills that should stand people in good stead in any industry or sector.
The GCs I interviewed came to those realisations in their mid-30s. It strikes me as a great shame that so many law schools are clearly so very bad at conveying to students what else a legal training, and lawyerly skills, might be good for.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor
Follow Eduardo on Twitter