Monday, November 30, 2009

I Never Thought Going to Grad School Would Ruin My Life

I've touched on this tangentially in other posts, but I'd like to address the issue directly in this post: Why did I go to law school if I don't really like the law or have any interest in actually practicing? It's a fair question. The simple answer was that this wasn't actually my attitude when I first enrolled in law school.

Before going into more detail, let me say that I accept that I wasn't blameless in my decision. I've noted before that I fell for a scam a la one of those late night get rich quick infomercials. I'll concede some pride and greed played a role in my decision. I was naive and should have looked into the decision more.

That said, my decision to pursue law school wasn't entirely illogical. I didn't just decide to go on a whim.

Before going to law school, I worked for an organization that did a lot of business oriented research. I was bored at work, and I knew that the people who received the more interesting assignments and had greater seniority all had graduate degrees. Many had law degrees. I thought getting such a degree would enhance my employment opportunities. In the area of work I was once interested, I felt having a legal education would really be an asset.

I also was under the impression that if I did well enough, I had a good chance of getting one of those coveted summer associate/big firm offers. I believed a JD would also open a bunch of doors for me. Additionally, there were aspects of the law that interested me. I really enjoyed legal/political/constitutional theory. I thought I would also find some intellectual satisfaction in law school. Furthermore, I was curious about practicing law: actually going into a court room, dealing with clients, and being an advocate.

On top of this, I thought that even if I didn't end up working as an attorney or in another legal oriented position, law school would still pay dividends. I would have a graduate/professional degree. I thought that it would be helpful in securing employment in other fields. I would learn critical thinking and research skills. I would meet new friends in my age bracket and make new contacts. It would a great experience and would pay off in the long run.

Disagree if you want, but even though my life long goal wasn't to be a practicing attorney, I think I had a pretty sound plan. Now, it turns out most of my assumptions were rather unrealistic and unfounded. That's why I use this blog (in part) to stand as a bulwark between 0L's and law school misinformation.

It turns out that the field I was in does hire attorneys, but the positions are usually very competitive. I have some connections that many other people do not. I don't want to move at this point, so I can't really try to even get back into my old company. The big law option was largely illusory. The employment/salary figures were misleading if not fraudulent.

Listening to some walking corpse drone on about the Penoyer decision wasn't exactly intellectually stimulating. (Apparently, discussing the efficacy of law and economics or debating originalism is for political theorists not budding attorneys.) Surprisingly, despite the dry and formulaic instruction we received, none of it was actually very practical.

Practicing law is also pretty disappointing. Appearing in court can somehow be both boring and tedious. Much of small firm practice is just pushing paper and dealing with procedural minutia. Clients are aggravating and in many cases not very admirable individuals.

A law degree is of no real use outside of the law (despite what the law schools often tell us). Having a graduate degree is not really that impressive to employers. (It and a strong back can get you a job stocking shelves at the local Piggly Wiggly.) Nobody pays for critical thinking and research skills - especially when college graduates with degrees in economics, political science, etc. can say the same thing.

The people in law school are amazingly arrogant, duplicitous, and unkind. Most professors do not care enough about their students to serve as useful contacts. I've found the same to be true about many practicing attorneys.

To be fair, there were some exceptions to my criticism of law school, but overall, most of my expectations were dashed.

I didn't enjoy learning about the law. I haven't found any practice area particularly compelling. (Not that it matters since there aren't any jobs.) Even trial practice gets old quickly. My law degree isn't opening doors in other fields (in fact, it may be closing them). With few exceptions, I didn't make any lasting connections from law school. The only thing I have to show for my three years is a diploma that's holding me back and a ton of debt.

This is why I'm looking to get out of law, and this is why I don't want others to make the same mistake.


  1. As a disillusioned lawyer (in his 20th year of practice), I was reading your blog and enjoying it. But I think that you have now said enough and are repeating yourself somewhat. Maybe it is time for you to just move on, get a non-law job, and never look back. While warning others not to go to law school is a noble mission, there's no need to sacrifice your own mental health. You need to move on and never look back.

  2. I agree this post was repetitive, but I had a comment or two earlier on wondering why on earth I ever went down this road. I was merely trying to clarify this point for anyone else who may have been confused.

    I appreciate your concern, but while I am looking for non-legal work and learning some new computer skills, I still have plenty of time to devote to this blog. I certainly hope that one day, I actually do have real work to keep me more occupied.

    I think I actually have some unique posts coming up, and I definitely want to spend more time actually providing more insight into my non-legal job search.

    Anyway, thanks for reading and the advice.

  3. It seems to me that the critical thing here is the "ton of debt" you mention at the very end of your essay.

    Ten or fifteen years ago, it was entirely possible to graduate law school with $50-60k in debt. Which is substantial but not a life-ruining amount of debt.

    Of course, big law firm jobs paid a lot less back then. Which was fine, because there wasn't a sharp line between hitting it big and failing miserably.

    But nowadays it's pretty easy to graduate with close to $200k in debt. With that kind of debt, you need to get a high paying job or you've got a big problem.

    While you make valid criticisms of law school, the bottom line is one of costs and benefits. Is it worth the money?


  4. By the way, I think most good blogs are at least somewhat repetetive. Variations on a theme I suppose.

  5. I agree the debt is a huge part of the problem. There's a big difference between getting out of law school, not wanting to be a lawyer, saying, "Well, that was a waste" and moving on and doing the same while being forced to pay for it for eternity.

    That said, even if law school is free, if you don't end up liking the law, there's still the hurdle of getting a non legal job with a JD and a three year gap on your resume. Plus, if you didn't like law school, you had to endure three years of misery.

  6. I'm going to dealer school starting sometime this week. Going for a career in management.

    Law school was a blast and free. The first two years of solo practice were enlightening and fun and I really came out of my introvert shell. I regret the last year and a half. Solo practice really needs to have a time limit. unfortunately its hard to get sucked in to ignorant family expectations who think they know more about attorney job prospects then you.

    I took a career aptitude test that recommended management. I'm thankfull i graduated no debt and after the difficulty securing an entering management position I think the law thing will pay off in differing me from the proles probably better than a 4th tier mba.

  7. Glad to hear the experience went better for you. It's interesting that somebody who found both law school and the practice of law somewhat rewarding is still interested in moving on. Best of luck in your new career. I hope that maybe one day my JD will pay off as well.


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