I don't know much about relationships, and I'm not going to pretend that I do. Maybe what I do know is based upon watching too many sitcoms when I was younger. Nevertheless, it seems that one problem that frequently arises is a situation where a person enters a relationship that most of his (or more likely, her) friends believe will end in disaster. The person, however, is so enamored with the new boyfriend that she is unwilling to listen to her friends' warnings and ends up distraught and emotionally scarred.
Maybe this scenario is just the byproduct of the crummy (and seriously wussy) TV shows I watched as a teenager. Nevertheless, I think it's a good analogy for the relationship between anti-law school advocates and the hordes of 0L's that have been seduced by the law school marketing machines.
Like a good looking "prince charming", the law school deans whisper sweet nothings about their great educational programs and the abundant career options that await the starry eyed 0L's in three years. This seduction even continues once the students are enrolled in law school.
During my 1L year, I remember professors telling us about what awaits us when we become associates in large firms - as if landing such positions was a given. One legal writing professor even urged us to be kind to our secretaries because they hold more power than they're given credit. Who would have thought that the reason they "hold more power than I do" is because they're actually gainfully employed, and I'd be lucky to get a sales position at Radio Shack?
Like the friends of an enamored teenage girl, however, the scam-bloggers can't get through to these infatuated pre-laws. "It's not true!", the 0L's cry. "They wouldn't lie to us!", they protest. No, it's us - the "losers" - who are the enemy and just out to sully the good names of these fine institutions of academic excellence because we couldn't hack it.
Sadly, when their three years are up, they finally are able to recognize the truth - once it's too late. Just like the girl who spurned her friends' counsel and has learned that "prince charming" has been dating three other girls and is indifferent to her feelings, the new law school graduates are cast out from their delusions only to realize they've been conned by some of the most duplicitous characters in higher education.
I mention all of us this to help explain why it's so refreshing to speak with 0L's who are actually willing to seriously consider the problems associated with attending law school.
Recently, an 0L sent me an e-mail asking me my opinion on whether attending LS this coming year is a good idea or not. With his permission, I have published his inquiry and my response. In order to protect his identity, I have omitted certain identifying information:
I have been accepted to [a good tier 1, but not T-14, law school] with a scholarship. It will essentially cost 65k (that includes living expenses). My Stafford loans will cover it all, so no grad plus. I have about 40k in savings as well. [A number of my relatives] all work in large firms and said they would help me out. Do you think it would be a mistake to go? Law school has always been my dream but with the market the way it is right now I don’t know if 65k in debt would be too much. Any advice would be appreciated.
-A Responsible 0L
Dear Responsible 0L,
My advice about whether one should attend LS is almost universally "no".
Because I recognize that such a direct response is unhelpful, let me pose some questions to help you think through your decision.
1) Is the 65k you plan on borrowing truly going to cover ALL expenses from the day you enroll until the day you graduate - including summers?
Remember, all sorts of attendant and unanticipated costs arise during law school. You still need to pay for insurance (including health), car repairs/maintenance, and transportation costs (just to name a few). You should not anticipate making any money over the summers when calculating the COA. Sure if you do get a big firm SA, you'll be able to cover many expenses, but many students work unpaid over the summers - even from good schools.
If your firm doesn't pay for it, you'll need to pay for bar prep, and you'll also need to take into account living expenses during that time period. If you can't find a job well after you take the bar (like me), you'll also have to have cash reserves. Do you honestly think you'll still have $40k in savings when law school is over?
2) How much help will your contacts actually be?
If you're banking on their connections, you'd better know exactly how much assistance they can provide up front. Are they partners? Are they involved in hiring decisions? Sit down with them and tell them that you're taking the risk of going to law school, and you need to know if they can get you into their firms if you're in a bind (e.g. wipe out at OCI). Can they just hand you a job? Will you need to have a certain class rank in order for them to get you in? Get as much concrete information as possible.
3) What do you mean when you say law school is your dream?
Does it mean that you dream about making six figures and working in a skyscraper? If so, recognize that only a sliver of students attain this goal - and many who do eventually "make it" find such positions stressful. There are other paths to becoming a well-to-do professional.
Do you dream of being a Jack McCoy-esque advocate in the courtroom? If so, realize that most lawyers don't spend that much time in full blown trials. Big city DA positions are also pretty competitive and don't pay that well. Also, much of what you'll do for a number of years will be fairly routine hearings and the like.
If you think that LS is going to be interesting, know that most of it deals with reading cases, pulling out rulings and then applying those rules to fact patterns usually involving subcontractors, landowners, and negligent workers. If you enjoyed the political/theoretical aspects of law in undergrad (e.g. critical legal theories, law and economics, constitutional philosophy), know that this will have little to do with your 1L courses and will usually only be covered by electives such as "Jurisprudence".
If you truly will only have $65k in debt and you'll be able to either use your school's rep (and a high class rank) or your family connections to land a good, firm job, then it could be worth it. Just realize that many attorneys are unhappy, and transitioning out of the law can be difficult later on.
Based upon your e-mail address, it seems like you have a good job. If you're bored at work, I'd look to try to find a new position or maybe enroll in a program (preferably part time) that will enhance your business or technology credentials.
Remember, being bored and unfulfilled at work is something you can change. Being in heavy debt and unemployable (as is my position) is a hole that is very hard to climb out of. I have received letters from distraught readers with T-14 degrees who are in the same position.
Also, right now even people at the best schools aren't guaranteed good jobs at graduation. The economy could be better in three years, but it's also possible that the legal market has been changed forever and that the economy could double dip into another recession. Don't attend if you're banking on a better economy.
If you do go, don't be too proud to throw in the towel. If your class rank is low and your contacts aren't working out after the first year (or even first semester), get out and try to get back into the business world.
I would urge other prospective law students to also spend time seriously considering all the potential consequences of (and alternatives to) going to law school.
The letter writer informed me that he is taking the time to consider the questions I posed in my response.
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