Chad links to an interesting article in the NYT about the relative decline in prestige and fulfillment accruing to law and medicine. A number of reasons for the growing dissatisfaction are given, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that it misses an important one: doctors and lawyers are both heavily protected by professional associations and state licensing laws.
Licensing restricts entry into the professions and raises the returns on education for the people who practice them. But by putting up barriers to entry, they also allow the gatekeepers to subject aspirants to arduous training often disconnected from their true needs. For lawyers, this means an imposing law school entrance exam, three years of difficult, stressful, expensive study, tests that have little to do with lawyering, an even more difficult bar exam, and then, for many, years of tedious work as an associate. The med school education of doctors is probably more worthwhile, but it’s followed by extremely stressful and arguably dangerous (for patients) years of internship and residency in which lack of sleep is practically a form of hazing. Without the protection of licensing and groups like the ABA and AMA, I very much doubt that these forms of education would persist.
In other words, these professions still earn good money but are now largely composed of people who have self-selected as willing to put up with years of mandated drudgery. Is it any wonder that self-expressive work and entrepreneurship now hold so much more cachet?
This, anyway, is my uninformed outsider’s opinion. My many friends who have recently or will soon graduate law school are welcome to step up and defend the system.