November 10, 2011

Striking a Balance in the Legal Media

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When I first told my family and friends that I was going to law school, their main comments were, “Sweet!  You’re going to be loaded!” and “Have you watched Suits?” I admit that when I first decided to apply, I assumed that the job prospects coming out of any law school would be great, despite the economy. I also secretly hoped that practicing law would not be completely unlike an episode of Franklin & Bash. As I went through the admissions process and actually did some research, however, I quickly realized that much of what I thought I knew about law school and the law in general was based on mere speculation and fiction.

Needless to say, I never looked back once I discovered the legal news website Above the Law and the law school-themed sites Law School Transparency and Top Law Schools. While I never posted any of my own questions on these sites (since I don’t really enjoy being trolled), I found the answers I was looking for regarding law school and what to expect after graduation. What I discovered was that no one is guaranteed a job and that, unfortunately, being a lawyer in real life usually isn’t what it looks like on TV (shocking, I know).

Maybe you’re wondering how I could’ve been naïve enough to assume that job prospects were still good in spite of the current state of the economy or how I could’ve assumed that the life of a Biglaw lawyer is remotely glamorous (unless you’re a partner, of course). Well, I have no excuse, other than that I made the same assumptions that many people make based on the misinformation that is routinely mistaken for the truth.

For example, at one point or another, the majority of prospective law school students need to decide whether or not to spend over $100,000 on a law degree. Unfortunately, many students choose to make this investment based on misinformation that stems, in part, from law schools that present overly favorable statistics to encourage enrollment. By this point, you’ve probably heard about Thomas M. Cooley Law School (the same school that ranked itself number two in the country, right below Harvard) and the 17 other ABA accredited schools currently facing class action lawsuits for intentionally inflating their post-graduation employment statistics, leaving their graduating students both shocked and jobless.

While this story appeared in some major news outlets, it was also published on Above the Law and Law School Transparency. However, unlike the mainstream media, these sites have continued to provide coverage on these lawsuits, which not only keeps current law students informed, but may also make potential law students think twice before making their deposits.

Alternative legal news websites like Above the Law are beneficial to the law school community because they provide coverage of stories from a more realistic point-of-view. While the site covers a wide range of legal gossip (Who wouldn’t want to watch a video of a guy named Lawyer Mike, the self-proclaimed “only rapping lawyer on the planet?”), it also covers the types of stories that are often underreported yet inherently valuable.  For example, Above the Law recently published an article about a lawyer who chose to leave the fabled world of Biglaw to work in a small firm and has been happy with his decision ever since.  In a field that tends to overemphasize the importance of a six-figure paycheck, this is the type of story that offers a new, refreshing perspective.

Similarly, the information found on Law School Transparency and Top Law Schools is also valuable, especially for prospective students. The former is a nonprofit website aimed at providing prospective students with accurate information about the actual value of a legal education. The latter, apart from providing information such as school rankings and tips on how to apply and prepare for law school, features a forum where members can post any (and I emphasize “any”) question, comment or thread, ranging from how to study for the LSAT to how to negotiate with schools to receive better scholarships. The forum is particularly useful because it allows participants to remain anonymous, which encourages the free expression of ideas and flow of valuable information without compromising anyone’s reputation.

These sites and others like them strike a necessary balance in a time when the economy is lagging and prospective law students have few places to turn for information and advice apart from U.S. News, the ABA and law schools themselves, all of which have their own motivations to present information in an overly favorable light. This isn’t to say that most law schools lie about their numbers or that the mainstream media doesn’t also help bring important, controversial law-related issues to light. However, these alternative sites present honest and enlightening perspectives that other sources are simply unable (or unwilling) to deliver.

Cristina Quiñones is a second-year law student at Cornell Law School. She may be reached at cmq5@cornell.edu. Barely Legal appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Cristina Quiñones