Wednesday, November 18, 2009

But I Have a Law Degree!

When I tell people about my educational background, most of the time people are favorably impressed. In some cases they may just be acting nice, but I've seen different reactions to people who went to "less impressive" schools. Also, I got even better reactions when I lived closer to where my undergraduate and law schools are located.

Honestly, I'm not particularly impressed with the names on my degrees, but many other people (at least those who didn't graduate from the truly elite schools) seem to hold a different opinion. I was recently waiting for a train, and a guy who was involved in international business struck up a conversation with me and went on about how my education was going to let me do really well. If only I had decided to move away from the law at that point, I could have groveled for some assistance in my job search. (I guess he would have been less impressed.)

Many of us who follow law school and legal websites, blogs, and message boards really live in a bubble. For many of us, we know plenty of people who went to elite schools. We're often times are less impressed than we are jealous of those people. We often see them as kids who just so happened to solve some inane puzzles on a standardized test one Saturday morning. As for schools like Pitt, GW, Florida, Penn State, BU, American, etc., graduates of these institutions are a dime a dozen (at least in our circles).

We often forget many people end up at local no name schools. Plenty more don't even go on to college. We also seem to forget that most of these people go on live perfectly normal if not successful lives.

C's to Degrees, had a good post about people who had great careers despite their lack of higher education. I have a few examples of my own of people who didn't rack up the mass student debt for the "prestige" of an elite undergraduate degree or an advanced graduate degree. (I've changed the names to help preserve their/my anonymity).

1) Bridgette actually did get an undergraduate degree from a private college. I would call it a "no name" school, but chances are you've actually heard of it. I'm not going to name it to avoid any related controversy. (I also don't want to be responsible for any drastic actions readers may take after learning just how much better off this person is than are many of them.) Oh, and the school is unaccredited.

I believe she started out living at home after college and had to use her parents old car. Eventually, she ended up getting a job for a small company in an interesting field (at least it is for girls). By the time I met her, she lived with a roommate in a nice apartment. She was able to buy a car and go out with her group of friends on a regular basis. Eventually, both she and her roommate were able to rent a pretty nice house. She always wore pretty fashionable clothes. By the time I left for law school, she had been promoted to a managerial position. Not only that she actually had marketable skills and knew how a growing industry worked.

Last I heard, she ended up getting married and bought a house (or condo) with her new husband. She's about thirty years old. We actually lived in a pretty expensive area. Of course, she has no undergraduate debt.

But I have a law degree!

2) Kevin's story is even more depressing. This guy could start the rebuttal blog to Angel's - It would be called, "I Did Everything Wrong...But At Least I Didn't Go to Law School." My mom was somewhat friends with his mom. I suspect my mom secretly liked bragging about my "achievements" over his shortcomings. If she did, I agree that wasn't very nice. Nevertheless, he's presently beating me in the game of life.

Kevin was the sort of guy who struggled in school both academically and personally. He always got into trouble and received very poor grades. I believe he ended up dropping out of school and got a job delivering and stocking shelves at supermarkets for some food vendor. Oh, did I mention he got his girlfriend pregnant as a teenager?

Well, it turns out, he ended up marrying his girlfriend (who had their child). He now is able to afford his own home and lives their with his family. I, on the other hand, am writing this blog from my parents' guest bedroom and have too much debt to even consider getting married or having a family.

But I have a law degree!

(This also poses the interesting question: What's the worse move in life? Knocking up your high school girlfriend or going to law school at full price?)

3) Finally, there's Brett. Brett actually went to law school. How does this make him different than any of us? Well, for one thing, he never went to college. Yes, you see, he went to an online law school, which didn't require an undergraduate degree. Now, before you yuck it up over his attendance at a TTTTT, recall that he didn't have to pay for or waste time taking undergraduate courses, and the price of an on-line law school is a pittance compared to the price of an accredited school.

Okay, so his debt was less, but how on earth can somebody with such a crummy degree and no college diploma have a shot at a legal job when the rest of are struggling to find any legal work? Well, he didn't just sit at home learning law online. He also got involved in politics and actually ended up working in a pretty high ranking position. Afterward, he used his political connections to a land a job at a law firm WITHOUT even being licensed in the state.

Like the others, he's been able to afford a house and has gotten married. Oh, and if you think "real law schools" prepare you better than their online counterparts, he passed the CA bar on the first time without taking BarBri and studied WHILE he was working.

But I have a law deg...oh, yeah, he does too. Nice. Well, at least I went to a tier 2 school that may one day become a low ranked tier one. You can't say that, Brett. Oh, and if you happen to be reading this, do you think you can lend me a couple bucks?


  1. Hilarious post! I can see that you vividly remember your first-year professors and dean telling you during orientation, "You can do anything with a law degree."

    When I think of that day, I want to scream into a pillowcase. Gawd! What a terrible decision this was.

    My wife has mentioned to me how she knows plenty of people with no education who have owned nice homes since they were 22 or 23. Many of these same people can afford insurance, some nice toys, and they seem to be happy with their lot in life.

  2. Thanks for the shout out! I wish I knew you before you decided to go. At least you're in good company. I can't lend you a coup of bucks because I'm unemployed and I went to a Tier One law school. Can you ask your parents if they can give me a few dollars or a couch to sleep on?

  3. I live in my sister-in-law's basement. Whee! Law school was such a great investment, right?!

  4. Angel, I certainly wish you could have warned me before hand as well. I'd see if my parents would let you move in, but I don't want to deprive you of living in NYC with all of the wonderful No Fault/PI chop shops and document review projects. :)

  5. I knew a couple guys in high school. They were brothers actually. Total stoners and slackers. They did manage to graduate high school (barely). I don't think they even went to college.

    They got into construction, eventually learning a trade. They own their own businesses now. They have houses and families.

    But I have a law degree!

  6. Great blog - I landed here this morning and haven't left. As a sort-of economist, I especially liked the recent post on the economics of federal student loans. Here is my response to this post (I need to vent):

    Despite landing a good job with a decent salary after receiving my MA, I find myself barely able to meet my husband's and my expenses for our 1-bedroom apartment in the 'burbs in the HCOL metro area where we live (we live here because there is "more opportunity" here). This lack of cash flow is because of my graduate school loan payments. Of course, my husband's law school loans are currently in forebearance because he is unemployed.

    My officemate, aged 55, ignorantly suggested last week that my New Year's resolution should be to save up a downpayment for a house by October 2010. HA! I can barely support us on my income, and I don't think I was very polite when I told him flatly that we don't plan on buying for at least 7 years.

    Meanwhile, my husband and I have been together for over 7 years and would like to start a family soon. However, my eggs will be dried up by the time we can afford to if my husband doesn't find a job fairly soon.

    Our friends back home in Michigan (yes, Michigan of all places), though? They're doing fine. One of my friends, a single mom, owns a lovely 3-bedroom home near Lake Michigan and has been working a good job since before she even received her BA.

    But my husband has a law degree.

  7. I did everything right as well. I have a BA and JD both from Top 25 schools. Everyone told me I'd end up more successful than the "losers" who had bad grades in high school and went to less prestigious colleges. WRONG. Some of these folks got married, had kids, bought a house, and worked up the career ladder while I was wasting time and money in law school. Now I'm home with my parents trying to start the life they started three years earlier.

  8. I really feel this pain. Really. My husband and I (well, just me) got pregnant during school (he was in law school and I'm working on a PhD), which really turned up the heat, especially for him. Despite having graduated cum laude in May 09 and having solid corporate work experience before that, he's not finding a legal job. I don't have time for full personal disclosure here but I wanted to let you know about IBR program - the Income Based Repayment program for federal student loans.
    It basically caps your student loan payments to 15% (or 10?) of your "discretionary" income. I'm not sure how they figure it but once the Dept of Ed processed our application, my husband's monthly student loan payments dropped from $900/mo to $30/mo. Seriously. Best of all it doesn't extend the payback period. After 25 years of payments (10 if you work in the non-profit/gov sector) your remaining loan debt is forgiven. (Here is the link: On a related note, I remember hearing Michelle Obama during the campaign saying that the two of them had only paid of their student loans a few years ago, and that was only because of Barack's book! At least we are in good company. Good luck to all.


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