Let me be blunt: If you've just completed your 1L year and you've learned that you are not in the top 25% (save those from the top 3 schools or who have some incredible family connections), it's probably time to start looking at other options.
In fact, let me be even more blunt - If you're in this situation and you're even considering signing another promissory note with Aunt Sallie Mae and heading back to your TTT this fall, you, sir or madam, are insane.
If people who have the logical reasoning ability to crack 160 or even 170 on the LSAT can't recognize that pursuing entry into a glutted field with anything less than stellar credentials is a bad idea, then I have to agree with the critics of standardized testing: There must be something seriously flawed with the exam.
While the willingness of 1L's to hang around doesn't negate the wickedness of the law school cartel, it certainly does make these students seem like less sympathetic characters. What else do they need? A front page story in the Wall Street Journal with the headline, If You Stay in Law School, You'll Be Unemployed and Living in Your Mom's Basement in Two Years?
Unfortunately, the WSJ hasn't been kind enough to run such an piece, but we have something that's pretty darn close in the US News and World Report article entitled, Law Jobs Will Be Harder to Come By.
In this article, the law school cartel's court statistician, James Leipold (of NALP) admits that's it's going to be ugly for the class of 2011, and he's not exactly ready to predict a return to normalcy in 2012 either. (Though he does leave just enough room for hope so that 1L's and prelaws can talk themselves into going down with the ship.)
If people like Leipold can't come up with optimistic things to say about the legal market, then you know that happy days aren't here again.
How is this particularly relevant to rising 3L's? Well, while any sane member of the class of 2012, who isn't law review bound, should be preparing for his law school exit interview, members of the class of 2011 are in a far more difficult situation.
After all, as the conventional wisdom goes, if you realize after 1L year that LS isn't for you, it's time to cut your losses and move on, but if you've already invested two years into law school, you might as well stick it out and at least get the degree.
I respectfully disagree. Yes, walking away from two years worth of intensive school work (particularly when the third year is the least difficult) with little to show for it is not appealing. Nevertheless, one needs to keep in mind the sunk cost fallacy - it is irrational to make future decisions based upon costs that have already been incurred.
For many people having a law degree and a license is of absolutely no help. They can't find (or really don't want) legal jobs. The J.D. does nothing to help a person find non-legal work. Even trying to bail yourself out with doc review work isn't really an option anymore.
The cost of completing a third year is also prohibitive. At most private schools, tuition alone is between $30 - $50k. Throw in living expenses and the total cost could easily exceed $70k. Upon graduation, the fallacy of the sunk cost can become even more enticing. If you've completed law school, you "might as well take the bar exam". Of course, this little intellectual exercise can cost thousands more in test prep programs, exam fees, and even living expenses.
What's more there's still the opportunity cost of forgoing yet another year (and a summer) of wages. Add up all these costs - plus the interest on the amount you'll need to borrow - and you'll see that "just finishing up your degree" is hardly something you can do on the cheap.
Now, I know the psychological barriers to pulling the trigger and bailing out at this point are high. (To say nothing of the peer - and likely parental - pressure.)
Therefore, let me pose some more modest steps you can take.
It's still summer and the law school beast won't be demanding it's feast of your tuition dollars at least until August. Use this time to search for a job. If you can land something that pays decently and seems interesting, dump your law school faster than the average law school dean dumped his or her sense of decency.
While landing a half decent job that quickly may not be the easiest feat ever, you do have some advantages when compared to the average law school graduate. For one thing, you're only two years removed from either college or full time employment. Moreover, nobody is going to be afraid that you'll just run off and take an attorney position when the economy improves because you won't be eligible to even sit for the bar.
If employers seem skeptical about your decision to drop out, you can at least reply that you had hoped that law school would help prepare you for a variety of fields other than law, but once you realized that it had little application outside of practicing as an attorney, you decided to withdraw. Plus, a little lawyer bashing will warm the hearts of more than a few prospective employers.
If you can't bring yourself to drop out and you don't land anything over the summer, you should dedicate yourself to using your 3L year to find a job. By this, I don't mean occasionally applying for something. I mean putting in as much effort as those of use who are out of school. Network, try to get internships (non-legal), send out a ton of resumes (learn what works and what doesn't), etc.
Pretty much devote as much time as you can without failing out of school. Don't worry about law school. What do you think is going to be more important to your future? Getting a serious jump on finding a non-legal job or getting a "B+" instead of a "B" in Complex Litigation or making the "Octo-Final" round of the "Moot Court Tribal Indian Law" competition?
You guys didn't listen when you enrolled in law school. Now, you have an opportunity to mitigate the damage you've already done to your careers. If those who have already graduated are any indication, those who fall for the fallacy of the sunk costs are, well, sunk.