Monday, April 19, 2010

A Responsible 0L

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:

Esq, Never,

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.

-EN


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.

10 comments:

  1. Good advice; I still would not do it. I graduated from a T14 and have never, ever been employed in law since graduation a few years ago. My grades were OK, middle of the road. I agree, if she/he is bored at work, look into a part-time program to give her/him real skills to improve on the job and DON'T quit for law school.

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  2. Yeah, I recall that my crim law prof in the first semester at my TTTT law school Texas Southern was talking about how we would all be driving Benz' and Lexuses, etc et.
    Cram it, professor walker. Cram your law school enticements up yer bunghole. I am now povertystricken thanks you

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  3. EN, thank you for posting this. Regarding your comment on working at Radio Shack, here is a Pace Law grad who is working as an assistant manager at this place of business:

    http://www.wnyc.org/news/articles/153087

    "But for 27-year-old Mike Kremen, a law degree landed him a job as an assistant manager at Radio Shack.

    Kremen graduated from Pace Law School about two years ago – right when the recession was picking up and the legal industry started to hemorrhage jobs. He’s still waiting for his first full-time legal job offer. He says he might be the only employee in the history of this White Plains Radio Shack who’s passed both the New York and Connecticut bar exams."

    Yeah, law school is a GREAT investment, huh?!

    To Responsible 0L, I went to a third tier piece of garbage/craphole on a full-tuition scholarship. I ended up with $37K in additional debt and no goddamn legal job. I would NOT do it again. Hopefully, you will make the best economic decision for yourself.

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  4. Unless their relatives actually run the firm, do not put any stock in any offers to "help you get a job."

    In law school, I worked for someone who kept telling me about this friend and that friend who were in positions of ultimate hiring power and all I would need to do is mention their name in my cover letter, and that I would magically find a job.

    Did it work? No! Sadly, in one case, I thought it finally worked in that one employer replied by email to my resume and telling me that they knew my previous boss, and asked if I would like to interview.

    Four months after my "yes" reply, here I am without even a time or date for an interview. I presume they hired somebody else, but what I do know that they didn't even extend the courtesy of sending a follow-up telling me that they decided not to interview me at all.

    Anyway, it's gotten to the point where if people forward on names or promises that magic will happen, I cynically scoff and realize I made a huge mistake in not trying to get work for an attorney that works in general practice. That way, I could have at least had a base of skills in family law or something that is marketable to most of the employers out there.

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  5. dupednontraditionalApril 20, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    Ha Ha, ironically funny. I did the Radio Shack thing years ago, briefly, because they were hiring. Thank God, too, because legal avenues were non-existant at the time. At least RS recognized that I had some education and some smarts - problem is, there was no way to pay loans off working there.

    Sweet Jebus, looking back it's amazing what a hole Law School can put non-connected students into. You could literally be worlds better off being a Radio Shack manager with little to no debt from school, than a law graduate with a degree, loans, and no career prospects. It is completely unfair relative to the effort and costs students put in.

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  6. This is a very good response to all the issues that might concern this 0L.

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  7. I like your analogy. These law schools do seduce 0Ls. I was just at an orientation day for a top-100 law school and the first thing the associate dean said is that they currently have a "95.1%" placement rate. When we toured the campus, the student guide brought that down to "85%". When we heard a talk about the Career Development guru of the school, he said the rate for this year had not been calculated yet.

    Law School deans not only lie, they lie down to the first decimal point.

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  8. Wow 40k in the bank? WTF is wrong with this person? Take that money and go start or buy a successful business. Wish I had 40k in the bank I would go buy a successful laundromat and sit on my ass for the rest of my life. Just go once a day and collect the change.

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  9. So I had a sobering moment yesterday when I remembered something from my first year of law school that I had almost completely forgotten about. At the end of my first year of law school, desperate for some kind of legal employment that everyone told me was so important to get, I was ready to take an unpaid internship for a (shitty) solo. To pay the bills, I applied to several retail stores hoping to pick up part time hours. I had experience working in retail throughout college so I figured I could find employment relatively easily. I was right. I got a phone call from a store I had interviewed at. They liked me so much when I interviewed for the part time sales position that they offered me a full-time managerial position making $60K with health benefits. I was stupid enough to turn it down because it would not allow me to work my idiotic unpaid internship (which turned out to be a useless farce in the end, of course.) I thought that I would be making so much more money when I graduated from law school that turning down the job made sense!

    Fast forward 7 years. I struggled like crazy when I graduated from my Tier 1 school to get a job. I am employed now at a small firm making $70K, with no health benefits. I work long, grueling hours and have to deal with tedious work, pissy bosses, irate opposing counsel and stressful hearings. And to think that if I had dropped out of law school to be a retail manager I would probably be making decent money with health benefits by now. Maybe my intelligence would have even been valued rather than constantly judged and criticized.

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  10. I agree with your advice. Statistically speaking, this person is not going to end up in the top 10-20% of his or her graduating class, which is where you need to be in order to make a decent salary after graduation. By "decent," I mean enough to justify the loans taken out to cover tuition and expenses. Unfortunately, many people (attorneys, actually) advised me against going to law school, but I didn't listen. I think I was blinded by the thought of being the first in my family to have a professional degree. If only I had a time machine (or $80K to repay my loans)...

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