Monday, December 7, 2009

The Greatest Sham on Earth

Today I am ending my self-imposed moratorium on law school/industry bashing, and boy, have I been waiting to post this one:

At the beginning of Godfather III, Michael Corleone is being honored by the Roman Catholic Church for his "generosity". As we all know from the earlier movies, Michael's criminal deeds make him an odd candidate for such an honor. I personally couldn't stand to watch too much of this unworthy sequel, but I did make it to the part where his ex-wife confronts him and declares that the church ceremony was nothing more than a sham.

I recently felt like making a similar outburst . You see, in my jurisdiction, the state bar/court system doesn't stop tormenting and teasing you once the bar exam results are released. No, they've decided it's necessary to make us appear at a special, ceremonial court session to formally induct us into this "noble profession".

The day started off with us receiving eight different directions (all of them wrong) on how to line up alphabetically. We were then paraded into the auditorium where we were surrounded by family and friends who stood by to share in our "achievements".

The main event was the actual swearing in of the new attorneys. This didn't exactly work too well. It was kind of hard to raise our right hand as we were packed in like sardines. It must have been funny to see this hoard of new attorneys, feebly lifting up their hands like elementary school students who aren't sure they have the right answers. This awkward session made it difficult to properly swear the oaths, but I guess whatever we mumbled to ourselves counted. I think I heard the guy next to me accidentally swear that he would file frivolous law suits and then rattled off his lunch order.

The speeches were boring. Most were either self promotions or advertisements for the industry. The law schools already have our money, guys - no need to keep selling us on it. There was, of course, the obligatory moon-bat judge waxing poetic about our need to work for social justice. (I'm sure that the ABA/Law School cartel is exempt from such ethical obligations.)

As the ceremony wound down, the cracks in the facade became apparent. We were informed that this filled to capacity ceremony was one of only nine. Each session would dump hundreds of new attorneys on the state. As soon as each participant's (judge, speaker, MC) role was over, he or she bolted for the door.

In order to formally record our status as attorneys, we were supposed to sign the "roll of attorneys". All this meant, however, was that we essentially signed an attendance list - kind of like what your 1L legal writing teacher passed around to make sure you didn't miss out on a single thrilling Blue Book lesson.

Finally, after all that, we were invited to come up to receive our licenses. The process was orderly but not formal. Pretty much, it was just a chance for a parent or spouse to pose with the new attorney and get a picture taken for this year's Christmas letter*. It was kind of the barrister equivalent of getting your photo taken at Santa's village. There was even a cop, who looked like she moonlighted as a North Pole elf, to move the line along.

Once we had our certificates, we were free to leave. We exited the building and there was no more fanfare, just the cold reality that (aside from the fortunate few with jobs) we now had to find some way to make a living and keep Sallie Mae from seizing our newly acquired licenses (not that it really matters). The only future step is waiting for the bar to come to pick our pockets once more for our annual dues.

This was really all this ceremony was - a circus paid for with our bar exam fees. It's kind of like when a local police officer comes to a school assembly and let's the kids take turns playing around in his cruiser, turning on the siren and pretending to be police officers. For a day, we got to pretend we were something important, officers of the court. It was nothing more than a fantasy camp.

I assume after months of unemployment, many of my fellow inductees felt the same way, but what was sad was all of our family and friends were there beaming with pride. You see, few of them realized that this was just a ritualistic activity meant to portray the legal industry as some sort of select profession. They might as well have been swearing in Subway's certified sandwich "artists".

Here they were, parents, spouses, and children, all exchanging hugs, kisses, and handshakes with their new lawyer family members. What a scam. How many of these people will ever even practice law? How many will bounce around temporary document review projects? How many will work in dingy, disreputable offices while scrounging for clients?

My dad shook my hand and said he was proud of me. I could barely look him in the eye. My guess is that he'll be significantly less proud in nine months when I'm still at home and am responsible for organizing the Dorrito display at the local 7-11.

I opened with a reference to a bad movie, so let me close with one as well. Logan's Run is a crummy, old sci-fi movie. It takes place in a Malthusian inspired future in which the population is able to enjoy a life of ease and pleasure. The only catch is that in order to maintain this system, the population is strictly controlled. As I recall, nobody lives past 30 (making law school an even worse investment).

Those who attain the age of 30 are required to attend a ceremony known as "Carousel". The friends of those who have come of age shout "Renew!" at the ceremony in hopes that their departed comrades will regenerate rather than simply be incinerated. While some resist this fate, for most part, the promise of reincarnation (and the forfeiting thereof by those who disobey) lead most to attend the ceremony and hope that the promise is true.

Of course, the reincarnation is just a myth. It just lets everybody feel better about the situation: the onlookers, the victims, and the administrators. So too was the bar ceremony. Family members could swell with pride, admitted attorneys could gasp one last breath of dignity, and the court officials could rationalize that they at least sent us to our demise with a pep rally. At the end of the day, however, there was no reincarnation in the domed city of Logan's Run and there's no future in the law industry in this world.

* "This year has been great. Timmy finally graduated from law school and received his law license. It's too bad he has to sleep under a bus and compete with Mexican day laborers to work odd jobs to make ends meet."


  1. So true, just went to an admission ceremony a few months ago. The legal profession is simply a scam. Make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy now!

  2. your post made me laugh. looking forward to more :D

    mexican day laborers (the ones at home depot) make 50-70$ a day.

    most of them have decent sized houses and a family to support back in mexico though

  3. so sad, but so real.

  4. Not saying that I disagree with you on the current state of the legal market, but why would you even go through the trouble of taking the bar if you never intended to practice in the first place? Sounds like there are some parental approval issues here, but almost all lawyers live to please their parents so no surprise there...

  5. Read the previous sunk cost post...I was behaving irrationally until shortly after the bar. (i.e. "I went through all of law school, so I might as well go through with the bar and look for a legal job.") Also, in my first post, I explain my conversion to becoming "Esq. Never" while trying to build my credentials for a legal job. (Additionally, I wanted the license in order to do doc review if I have trouble finding a job and money gets tight.)

  6. CONGRATULATIONS ON PASSING THE STATE BAR EXAM AND GETTING SWORN IN AS A LAWYER!!!!!! I hope you got some valuable networking done while you were there.

    When I passed the bar and furnished proof to a prospective law firm employer, he told me to come back after I got sworn in. So I couldn't miss that ceremony for the world!

    I went through the motions just as you described above and went back to his office the same week only to be met by a low ball starting salary of $10,000 a year.

  7. It really has nothing to do with not wanting to go to law school. I'm a second career attorney with a plethora of professional experience prior to law school, and I graduated at the top of my class. I entered law school with a booming economy and just the hopes of being able to maintain my mortage and student loans when I graduated. Now that I have also been sworn in I need to work three jobs (all in the legal market) just to be able to not even come close to being able to pay all my bills (no frills here just the basic necessities).


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