Are the legal and medical professions ‘falling down’?

Apparently it’s not cool to be a doctor or lawyer anymore. Of course, this assumes that it ever really was. In fairness, law and medical schools turn down thousands of applicants every year and this provides at least some supporting evidence of each profession’s coolness or at least its relative popularity. The New York Times reports that people are rapidly becoming disenchanted with these two professions and are looking for something “cooler,” namely something more on the creative side of the occupational spectrum.

In a culture that prizes risk and outsize reward — where professional heroes are college dropouts with billion-dollar Web sites — some doctors and lawyers feel they have slipped a notch in social status, drifting toward the safe-and-staid realm of dentists and accountants. It’s not just because the professions have changed, but also because the standards of what makes a prestigious career have changed.

This decline, Mr. Florida argued, is rooted in a broader shift in definitions of success, essentially, a realignment of the pillars. Especially among young people, professional status is now inextricably linked to ideas of flexibility and creativity, concepts alien to seemingly everyone but art students even a generation ago.

“There used to be this idea of having a separate work self and home self,” he said. “Now they just want to be themselves. It’s almost as if they’re interviewing places to see if they fit them.”

Coupled with some of the recent insights on the income distribution of the legal profession which suggest that there are discernible sets of “haves” and “have nots” among law school graduates, this trend of ‘uncoolness’ may lead to a downturn in admission applications for law schools.

Indeed, applications to law schools and medical schools have declined from recent highs. Nationally, the number of law school applicants dropped to 83,500 in 2006 from 98,700 in 2004—representing a 6.7 percent drop between 2006 and 2005, on top of the 5.2 percent slip the previous year, according to the Law School Admission Council.

The article reports a similar dip in applications for medical school. So, this leads me to wonder – if, in fact, the legal and medical professions are getting fewer applications and perhaps suffering professional attrition, then what cool fields are these former applicants turning to? Also, if the legal and medical professions are no longer cool, then where does that leave academics? It doesn’t look good – we don’t even have (very many) cool shows like Boston Legal or Grey’s Anatomy to help us out.

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