The Legal Dollar is a great blog. For those of you who sometimes (or often) think the "Scam Busting" blogs are too filled with hyperbole for your taste, TLD is less geared towards law school bashing and more towards personal financial decision making for lawyers/law students. (Though the best financial advice would probably be don't go into debt in the first place to attend law school.)
Recently, the blog had a good post about the financial risks associated with enrolling in law school. One thing that caught my eye was the following anecdote:
When I mentioned that I worked with a lot of young lawyers and the job search was becoming more difficult, one of the potential students interrupted me and said very loudly and bluntly "That's not true." (Wilson's outbust of saying "You lie!" during an Obama speech had happened not too long before, so I got a little sense of something like deja vu.)
I assured the student that I had been working with recent graduates for several years and the task of helping them get jobs had indeed become more difficult in recent years. They countered by saying that my comments were not in accord with what they were seeing in law school admission materials. To this I suggested that they might want to drill down a little with regard to what a "90% employment rate after graduation really meant."
They also preferred to believe the numbers put out by the law schools with regard to starting salary. They did not even want to believe the NALP median numbers and started trying to suggest to me reasons why the NALP numbers must be wrong.
Ah, the arrogance and naivete of the prospective law students. How sad that one day, with their hopes of living a stable lifestyle thanks to an advanced degree dashed, they too will lash out at the scam only to be admonished for their "lack of research" and "entitlement mentalities".
Nonetheless, I can only be so harsh towards these sorry lambs being led to the slaughter. You see, sadly, I too was once like them. I don't think I ever thought that six figures was in the bag just because I was able to sign my name to the check for my seat deposit (and a subsequent promissory note). I did, however, believe the data about the median starting salaries. I thought the employment figures were accurate. I even believed that my law school was interested in providing practical training and that its proximity to many large firms and businesses would give me numerous employment options.
Most embarrassingly, I even believed that my school's career service office had any real interest in helping me actually secure a career.
It's really a good thing I'm not a woman. Otherwise, I'd probably take every half soused goon at his word that he's really an internet-start-up tycoon even though he drives an '85 LeBaron and lives in a studio apartment on top of a bowling alley.
More than just accepting the distorted marketing materials produced by the schools (and industry publications), I also never really liked the occasional naysayers that popped up on discussion boards like Law School Discussion.
Back when I was applying, there wasn't nearly as much anti-law school information as there is now. It wasn't until after I started school that the infamous Wall Street Journal article came out where Law is 4 Losers and Loyola 2L were quoted and where a number of law school administrators admitted their statistics were based upon partially reported data.
In fact, I don't think it was until after I was already enrolled and taking classes that anti-law school advocates starting aggressively encouraging students not to attend law school (particularly the TTT's). This is when I was exposed to the infamous chart I printed earlier (reporting high salaries for some, low salaries for many, and middle range salaries for few). This is when I first heard about students from tier 2 and even tier 1 schools struggling to find substantive legal work (pre-recession). This is also when I first heard about the subterranean document review sweat shops.
As I mentioned, I was pretty incredulous of these claims. Surely, I thought there couldn't be that many students who resent going to law school. Those who were in document review must have just gotten in over their heads with debt and/or wanted an easy way to make some quick cash. It couldn't be true that so many students who missed the OCI cutoff had few other options for permanent employment other than toilet law or abandoning the field altogether. Surely, those people who took low paying, miserable firm jobs were people who were unwilling to leave the greater NYC metro area.
Moreover, the few anti-law school advocates with whom I came into contact did not come across well. One poster on Law School Discussion who went by the moniker "Wiimote" (referring to the Nintendo console) repeatedly posted on the message board that anyone who goes to law school is going to get hosed. I don't really disagree, but he never bothered putting his remarks in context. (Did he even go to LS?) He also never bothered engaging anyone who had any serious questions for him.
I don't know if 0L's currently deal with people employing similarly ill-advised tactics. Perhaps some of them see current anti-scam bloggers that way. When I've (rarely) ventured into the pre-law forums, I have tried to be as non-combative and charitable as possible. Nonetheless, like a sober man trying to deter an addict from continuing in his vice, I've been swatted away by the very people I'm trying to help.
Despite my differences with the OL's, I recognize that I was once like them. Still, for those of you considering law school, please realize that you can one day be like me.
It's easy to be incredulous of the idea that law jobs are hard to secure outside of OCI. You may be convinced that you'll never end up in document review. You might believe that you'll have the skill and savvy to go solo from the start, and of course, if all else fails that you'll know how to spin your law degree to help you land a solid non-legal job.
It may seem that way from where you're currently sitting. I thought so too.
Now, however, I know that going to CLE's and receptions gets you at best "well wishes" and at worst brushed off - certainly not solid leads for jobs. I've diligently scanned the job boards finding plenty of positions for legal assistants but precious few for practicing attorneys (and almost all at pay well south of $50k). I've personally investigated going solo from the start only to realize the expense of starting a legitimate practice and the difficulty of independently learning the necessary law and procedure while making enough to survive.
I've been referred to attorneys only to either get blown off or to learn that they simply can't/won't hire additional associates for their small firms because it's not economical. I've been unable to work with other contacts because their firms/organizations simply won't hire me because I didn't go to the right school or make the top 10%.
Right now, I'm even being strung along by temp agencies with the possibility of getting hired for JUNIOR document review positions.
Of course, I've sent reams of resumes and cover letters to non-legal employers with nary a response. Not only do I have an undergrad business/econ degree and a tech background, but I also worked for two years. I've applied for a number of positions that were actually related to my responsibilities at my former job and couldn't even get interviews.
Also, if you think I didn't have much of a candidate profile before law school, you're wrong. As I've mentioned before, I only searched for jobs for a few months post-college and had a number of interviews, multiple offers, and accepted a job for a position in which I was one of a hundred candidates. I don't say this to brag; I say this to assure you that the "x-factor" here is my law degree/three year experience gap.
Obviously, when I "open up" like this, I'm inevitably going to get a comment about "whining". I don't say this to elicit your pity. I say this because this is the frustration I (and many, many other law graduates) have experienced first hand. I didn't believe the warnings before or even during law school. Now I have no choice but to believe them. I'm living them.
Unless your personal goal is to also have an anti-law school blog on blogger.com one day, trust me this is a warning, not whining.