Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Don't Hate My Law School

When the subject of law school rip offs comes up, there are number of schools that consistently get named: Seton Hall, Loyola (LA), Brooklyn, and Drake. Most of the New York schools ranked lower than Fordham have gotten their fair share of bad press, and I've heard critical reports about law schools across the country ranked from the first tier down to the fourth. (Some of the famous posters/bloggers such as Lawis4Losers, Loyola2L, and Thirdtierreality have helped make their schools' misdeeds even more public.)

In many of these cases, I think it's fair to be angry with one's school. Seton Hall's reported employment figures are laughably absurd. They claim that people who go into business will (on average) make in excess of $100k. There are legitimate MBA programs that don't promise that. Fourth tier schools that charge nearly $50k a year to students with low LSAT scores who are just dying to be accepted to any law school are nothing short of criminal enterprises. There are plenty of stories of soulless deans, administrators, and professors outright lying to their students.

Nonetheless, as angry as I am about my decision to go to law school, I personally don't hate my law school. During good times, the top 20% of the class had pretty strong employment opportunities. Everyone in the top 50% (at least if they were willing to remain in the area) could get a decent job. Those in the bottom half would struggle a bit more, but they could actually pick up some practical skills and alumni connections and eventually land some legal work (albeit not exactly in the downtown area of a major city). Yes, some did end up in document review, but I didn't hear too many stories about that from alums or students. If you end up in the bottom part of your class at a tier two, I don't know how reasonable it is to expect to make $70k+ a year outside of doc review.

Of course, when then the economy tanked, the house of cards that was the legal industry came crashing down, exposing the vulnerability of having second tier credentials. The elite schools have been hit hard, and it's been a disaster for those of us lower on the food chain. It wasn't like my school asked for the economy to collapse, however. Prior to the recession, I would say my school was a respectable, regional institution where someone could launch a decent legal career (albeit with a high price tag).

This isn't to say that I like everything about my school. The employment statistics were (and continue to be) exaggerated. Many of the professors were condescending and arrogant (who didn't care that the students paid their salaries). While they urged people in the bottom of the class to take remedial measures to make sure they could pass the bar (and thus protect the school's US News ranking), they never informed anybody about possibly dropping out to avoid a difficult job search. There were more than a few buffoons in the administration and there were a bunch of dopey diversity and "inclusiveness" initiatives.

At the end of the day, however, I had no business being in law school. The best thing my school could have done for me would have been to reject me. All of things I mentioned above could really be said for almost all but the best law schools. The problem really lies in the nature of the law school industry. Moreover, it also rests in too many budding law students entering law school with unrealistic expectations (usually largely influenced by misleading data).

While bashing individuals schools may be fun (and even justified), the bigger issue is trying to encourage future students to be very careful about what they're getting themselves into. Even at the schools that are generally honest and responsible, it is still easy to graduate with massive debt and be either unemployed or underemployed. If law school isn't for you, it will be three years of misery. The study and practice of law aren't like social science classes or what's shown on TV. It's tedious, stressful, and rarely glamorous.

I don't hate my law school. I hate that it's part of a system where distortions and charging obscene tuition are common practices. I hate that it's hard to get a full understanding about what law school is like before you go. I hate that the legal market is saturated and abusive of entry level and seasoned attorneys alike.

I absolutely regret my decision to attend law school - just imagine how I'd feel if I were a Seton Hall alumnus.


  1. It seems to me that law schools are worthy of contempt inasmuch as they (generally speaking) charge far more in tuition than it actually costs to provide their services.

    Which is completely reasonable for a for-profit organization. A for-profit corporation can ethically charge as much as it can get away with.

    But a not-for-profit corporation enjoys many special privileges and should be held to a higher standard in my opinion.

  2. Law school is a terrible gamble for most. The schools charge so much because the student loan industry, i.e. higher education industrial complex, allows tons of people to apply for law school (and undergrad also).

    Would a bank lend an 18 year-old kid with no credit history $30K-$50K to get a degree in Music, if the loan was not guaranteed by the government? This guaranteed loan scheme further corrupts for-profit corporations (including private schools), as demand is artificially enhanced.


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