We got a lot of traffic last week due to our post on the bi-modal salary distribution. Many readers observed that Class of 2006 non-respondents are probably disproportionately lower earners because (a) they are reluctant to divulge embarrassing information, perhaps because they blame themselves, and (b) law schools are not particularly anxious to get salary information that will pull down their averages. So, as bleak as the picture looks, it may be even worst. I think this is a reasonable interpretative point.
Richard Matasar, the Dean at New York Law School (and author of the terrific essay "The Rise and Fall of the American Legal Education"), has an even better vantage point to evaluate these issues. In an email exchange, Richard made the following observations [which he permitted me to post]:
The problem you highlight is significantly understated by two additional things. First, the debt loads for the students in the two parts of the distribution are nearly identical and depending on how "merit" money is distributed, the debt may actually be higher for those in the bottom of the salary pool. [This is because at each school, higher credentialed students are more likely to (a) get merit aid, and (b) get the grades necessary to get a large firm job. WDH].
Second, NALP also has longer term data that reveal that the gap widens over time. This is confirmed in part by the [After the JD Study] that talks about initial difference, ties it to schools, and then looks out over time. And, as you know, the distribution looks similar at schools throughout the hierarchy outside of a very small group at the top [i.e., national law schools, which will likely have a single mode that is very high, such as $160K].
This is serious stuff. In Rise and Fall, Matasar observed that "we may be reaching the end of a golden era for law schools, beginning a period of decline, and putting many schools' survival at risk."