PI is only a naive fantasy for people who aren't at the top of their class at top schools.
The suggestion to work in policy is a good one. The vast majority of PI types would better fulfill their goals by getting a job in state/fed legislature and building a career in policy. I guess law school must just feel safer to them somehow.
I still think if you look at these types of policy positions (in environmental orgs or otherwise) a JD will serve you just as well as a MEM, MS, etc in "building a career in policy." Just because a position doesn't require a law degree does not mean that someone with one of these master's degrees would have a competitive advantage in seeking employment over a graduate from a good law school with internships, coursework, etc. in environmental law or policy. I don't understand your bias toward master's in environmental policy-type programs. Maybe you, or someone else of a similar persuasion, could further explain your position? I understand that going to L&C or VLS and banking on immediately finding a job in a prestigious PI org or the federal govt is not realistic, but I still feel your degree of pessimism toward all "people who aren't at the top of their class at top schools" is overdramatic at best and thoroughly wrong at worst, especially in light of the some of the other discussions on TLS about environmental law careers and hiring practices for these positions, such as guimoman's posts in this thread: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=102006
A JD is an awfully expensive way to get a small edge. Getting to work and making connections and learning the contours of the field is probably a lot more valuable.
I would agree. I do know of one organization where (as a rule) they only hire lawyers to work in the policy department, but they are hardly the norm (and you have to work as a lawyer somewhere else before they'll hire you to do policy). Obviously if you want to be doing litigation for a group like Earthjustice you need the law degree, but for policy work it's more important to gain experience, build relationships with people who trust your judgment, and go from there. For me, law school actually gave me the experience/relationships I didn't already have, but I went to a small law school with a great environmental journal and only a handful of students interested in entering the environmental field. It was presumably much easier for me to utilize the connections our profs had than if half my class were gunning for the same type of jobs.
Also, I was reading what Guimoman had to say and I think (s)he drew some bad conclusions based on what (s)he heard. For starters, there are very few environmental jobs where the employer does not have competitive applicants from top law schools who ALSO have significant environmental experience and a proven track record of being dedicated to practicing in the field. If you have two similarly-ranked students who both have enviro experience, and one is at Pace while the other is at a top program, the Pace student will unfortunately not have the edge absent their own personal connections. That's not to say you can't build those connections during law school, but you face a lot of competition among your peers that simply doesn't exist at schools where everyone isn't so dedicated to practicing one type of law.
Additionally, holding out the opportunities these grads had 6 or 7 years ago is incredibly unhelpful. Nobody needs to hire someone straight out of law school these days. Most organizations don't have room in the budget to do so, even if they wanted to. Historically, there have always been enough problems with training new grads that organizations (like NRDC, or SELC) have required a few years of private practice litigation experience before they'll take a look at you. That requirement certainly doesn't go away as more experienced attorneys are on the market for a job and are eyeing PI work. Where these NGOs are able to make new hires and don't mind taking on new lawyers, they can be extremely selective (as in, someone with a T6 degree, top grades, significant clinical experience, background in enviro policy, internships with major enviro organizations, and personal connections).
The entry-level legal market is just bad in general across the board right now, which is why you need to ask the schools for information on where the Class of 2010 is going. If you can land an unconditional scholarship at one of the enviro-focused schools and you know you want to work on something specific, like doing conservation easements in some rural area where there are a lack of attorneys willing to do the job, then I think it's an excellent opportunity. But if your goals are more general and you can't get into a program with a better likelihood of a job post-graduation, you need to assume the worst-case scenario and then see if there's something better to do with your time. I say this knowing full well that E-Law is a growth sector, and that there will be plenty of jobs out there in the near future. The gamble is just too high once you see what the job statistics really look like. Which gets me (finally, and per usual I apologize for the lack of brevity) toJob Stats
If you read the statement's Pace's Career Services Dean recently submitted to the ABA on why the school can't collect better employment data (see here http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education.html
), I think you'll find some interesting comments on the nature of the job market. Of note is the fact that many Pace grads don't secure permanent work until up to 1.5 years after graduation. She also states that current and prospective students "have either unreasonable expectations or no expectations about what it is they will be doing after law school and how much money they will make." It's odd that she says their expectations are unreasonable, given how Pace presents its job statistics. The school advertises an 88.1% employment rate 9 months after graduation, a median starting salary of $62,000 for private sector grads, and a very respectable $50K for public interest grads (http://web.pace.edu/page.cfm?doc_id=36040
). These statistics probably look decent to graduates, but they're only based on about a third of the class reporting. The kicker is they don't tell you that only a third of the class reported, leading many prospectives to assume this must be the whole picture. She also laments that there's a limit to the jobs her office can get for their graduates, given that career services officers "have no say in who is admitted to the law school." This presumably is an admission that the school doesn't bring in the type of talent her office needs in order to help them find jobs, which is an even stronger argument for going to a school where employers are more likely to take a serious look at you.
That said, all is not lost. I think if someone were to contact Dean Littman asking for more detailed job placement information and expressing your concerns about how the data is currently presented on the website, you might convince her to provide you with better info. She has gone on the record calling for improved disclosure methods, so now it's only a matter of seeing whether or not she is sincere about it. If she can provide you with a list of employers, you can contact those employers before enrolling and see what qualifications they want to see. Then you can really start to formulate your plan for gaining experience/saving money, and it won't feel like you're doing it just because some people on TLS told you to. G'luck.