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法学院为什么这么招人恨?

Maya Itah 2014年02月27日

法学院一度是社会精英的摇篮。但如今,随着法学专业毕业生就业率不断下滑,法学院已经成了千夫所指的对象。法学院到底犯了什么错?它为什么一夜之间就从云端跌落,陷入了四面楚歌的尴尬境地?

    当你询问一位法学院院长持续遭受抨击是什么感觉,而他反问了一个问题的时候,你就知道,这些院校确实碰到了大麻烦。

    “你所说的‘遭受抨击’到底是在说什么?”芝加哥约翰•马歇尔法学院(John Marshall Law School)院长约翰•科克里反问道。“我们讨论的到底是来自哪一方面的抨击?”

    大家不能责怪他对准确性的追求。事实是,近些年来,随着就业机会日益稀缺,新鲜出炉的法学博士毕业生的失业率不断飙升,法学院的境遇已不仅仅是“失宠”二字所能形容。这些院校已经成为最被人看不起的大学院系。

    一提到律师,大多数人总会想起一些痛苦的经历:一场不公平的诉讼,离婚等等。但至少以前的攻击来自行业之外,而近年来涌现的大量批评声音则出自业内人士,基本上以法学院教授和毕业生为主。不少教授承认,法学院培养的律师数量供过于求,远远超出了市场的消化能力;大量的毕业生现在背负着高达六位数的债务负担,而且找不到专业对口的工作。

    科克里所在的法学院已经因涉嫌美化就业前景被该校毕业生起诉。不过,当我问科克里是否认为自己的处境很艰难时,他话锋一转,说道:“我正在思考的批评意见是,现在上法学院的学生比以前少多了。”

    科克里首先列举了一个困扰法学院、而不是毕业生的问题,这的确耐人寻味。但有一件事他倒是说到点子上了,那就是:法学院正在疲于应对来自四面八方的猛烈抨击。

    过去的三年中,媒体针对法学院发起了一波又一波攻势,而且乐此不疲。《纽约时报》(The New York Times)曾经报道过一位背负25万美元贷款的毕业生,还为这篇文章起了这样一个标题:“读法学院是一场注定要失败的游戏吗?”谈到这位毕业生时,《纽约时报》写道,“他的秘密(如果用这个词合适的话)是,每天基本上忽略来自十几位债权人的电话和信函,这些人现在整天追着他讨债。”财经新闻网站《商业内幕》(Business Insider )最近一篇报道的标题则更加犀利:“我认为上法学院纯粹是浪费生命,大把大把地烧钱。”尽管这篇文章刻画的主人公毕业于一所排名位列前20的法学院,但他现在也被沉重的债务压得痛苦不堪。“我还没有成家,没有挣到体面的工资,令人愉悦的生活方式更是遥不可及。这一切全是当初选择上法学院惹的祸,”他写道。“我甚至都不忍心诅咒我的死对头遭遇我就读法学院的经历。”

    为什么大家专挑法学院说事?毕竟,最近这波经济衰退给美国人留下了太多太多值得抱怨的事情。(科克里漫不经心地指出,新闻学院毕业生的日子也不好过。)

    有一种理论很简单:法学院毕业生招人嫉妒。加州大学欧文分校(University of California, Irvine)法学教授布莱恩特•加思曾经撰写过一份研究报告,探讨法学院毕业生为什么产生“购买后悔症” (buyer’ remorse)。在他看来,憎恨法学院的那些人仅仅是希望看到领跑者最终遭遇失败的那一幕。

    “在这个国家,法律学位一直是青年才俊的不二选择。走出校园后,他们要么经商,要么从政,要么独立执业。总之,法学院毕业生拥有非常广阔的人生舞台,”加思说。“几乎每一位雄心勃勃的年轻人都会考虑要不要去读法学院。”现在宣称这些学霸的专业选择自始至终都是错的,或许会让人感到非常惬意。

    You know law schools are deeply troubled when you ask a dean what it feels like to be under constant fire and he answers the question with a question of his own.

    "When you say 'coming under fire,' what are we really talking about?" asks John Corkery, dean of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. "Which fire are we talking about?"

    You can't blame him for seeking clarity. Truth is, law schools have not merely fallen out of favor in recent years, as jobs have become scarce and unemployment among freshly minted JD graduates has soared. Law schools have become the most despised part of the academy.

    Most people associate lawyers with misery: an unfair lawsuit, a divorce. But at least previous attacks had come from outside of the profession. In recent years, plenty of criticism has come from insiders, mostly law school professors who acknowledge that schools have supplied far too many lawyers than the market can absorb, and from graduates who now carry six-figure debt loads and can't get jobs in law.

    Corkery's school has been sued by its graduates for embellishing employment prospects. When asked if he considers his position difficult, though, he deflects: "The fire I'm thinking of is that there are a lot less people going to law school," he says.

    It's telling that Corkery first lists a problem that afflicts the schools rather than the graduates. He's on the mark about one thing, though: Law schools are trying to put out fires from all directions.

    For the past three years, the media has picked up the attacks with relish. The New York Times, in an article on a graduate with $250,000 in loans, put it this way: "Is Law School a Losing Game?" Referring to the graduate, the Times wrote, "His secret, if that's the right word, is to pretty much ignore all the calls and letters that he receives every day from the dozen or so creditors now hounding him for cash," writes the author. Or consider this blunt headline from a recent Business Insider article: "'I Consider Law School A Waste Of My Life And An Extraordinary Waste Of Money.'" Even though the graduate profiled in the piece had a degree from a Top 20 law school, he's now bitterly mired in debt. "Because I went to law school, I don't see myself having a family, earning a comfortable wage, or having an enjoyable lifestyle," he writes. "I wouldn't wish my law school experience on my enemy."

    Why are law schools being singled out? After all, the recent recession left Americans with an endless supply of things to complain about. (Corkery casually noted that journalism school graduates aren't doing that well, either.)

    One theory is simple: everyone's jealous. Bryant Garth, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine who helped author a study on buyers' remorse among law school graduates, suggests that law school haters just want to see the frontrunners fail.

    "The law degree has always been, in this country, the default degree for ambitious and talented people, who've then gone into business, have gone into politics, gone into law practice, gone into a whole range of areas," Garth says. "And basically everybody who is ambitious thinks about whether or not they want to go to law school." Perhaps it's satisfying to proclaim that those know-it-alls have been making the wrong choice all along.

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