Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Was Once Like You

The Legal Dollar is a great blog. For those of you who sometimes (or often) think the "Scam Busting" blogs are too filled with hyperbole for your taste, TLD is less geared towards law school bashing and more towards personal financial decision making for lawyers/law students. (Though the best financial advice would probably be don't go into debt in the first place to attend law school.)

Recently, the blog had a good post about the financial risks associated with enrolling in law school. One thing that caught my eye was the following anecdote:

When I mentioned that I worked with a lot of young lawyers and the job search was becoming more difficult, one of the potential students interrupted me and said very loudly and bluntly "That's not true." (Wilson's outbust of saying "You lie!" during an Obama speech had happened not too long before, so I got a little sense of something like deja vu.)

I assured the student that I had been working with recent graduates for several years and the task of helping them get jobs had indeed become more difficult in recent years.
They countered by saying that my comments were not in accord with what they were seeing in law school admission materials. To this I suggested that they might want to drill down a little with regard to what a "90% employment rate after graduation really meant."

They also preferred to believe the numbers put out by the law schools with regard to starting salary. They did not even want to believe the NALP median numbers and started trying to suggest to me reasons why the NALP numbers must be wrong.

Ah, the arrogance and naivete of the prospective law students. How sad that one day, with their hopes of living a stable lifestyle thanks to an advanced degree dashed, they too will lash out at the scam only to be admonished for their "lack of research" and "entitlement mentalities".

Nonetheless, I can only be so harsh towards these sorry lambs being led to the slaughter. You see, sadly, I too was once like them. I don't think I ever thought that six figures was in the bag just because I was able to sign my name to the check for my seat deposit (and a subsequent promissory note). I did, however, believe the data about the median starting salaries. I thought the employment figures were accurate. I even believed that my law school was interested in providing practical training and that its proximity to many large firms and businesses would give me numerous employment options.

Most embarrassingly, I even believed that my school's career service office had any real interest in helping me actually secure a career.

It's really a good thing I'm not a woman. Otherwise, I'd probably take every half soused goon at his word that he's really an internet-start-up tycoon even though he drives an '85 LeBaron and lives in a studio apartment on top of a bowling alley.

More than just accepting the distorted marketing materials produced by the schools (and industry publications), I also never really liked the occasional naysayers that popped up on discussion boards like Law School Discussion.

Back when I was applying, there wasn't nearly as much anti-law school information as there is now. It wasn't until after I started school that the infamous Wall Street Journal article came out where Law is 4 Losers and Loyola 2L were quoted and where a number of law school administrators admitted their statistics were based upon partially reported data.

In fact, I don't think it was until after I was already enrolled and taking classes that anti-law school advocates starting aggressively encouraging students not to attend law school (particularly the TTT's). This is when I was exposed to the infamous chart I printed earlier (reporting high salaries for some, low salaries for many, and middle range salaries for few). This is when I first heard about students from tier 2 and even tier 1 schools struggling to find substantive legal work (pre-recession). This is also when I first heard about the subterranean document review sweat shops.

As I mentioned, I was pretty incredulous of these claims. Surely, I thought there couldn't be that many students who resent going to law school. Those who were in document review must have just gotten in over their heads with debt and/or wanted an easy way to make some quick cash. It couldn't be true that so many students who missed the OCI cutoff had few other options for permanent employment other than toilet law or abandoning the field altogether. Surely, those people who took low paying, miserable firm jobs were people who were unwilling to leave the greater NYC metro area.

Moreover, the few anti-law school advocates with whom I came into contact did not come across well. One poster on Law School Discussion who went by the moniker "Wiimote" (referring to the Nintendo console) repeatedly posted on the message board that anyone who goes to law school is going to get hosed. I don't really disagree, but he never bothered putting his remarks in context. (Did he even go to LS?) He also never bothered engaging anyone who had any serious questions for him.

I don't know if 0L's currently deal with people employing similarly ill-advised tactics. Perhaps some of them see current anti-scam bloggers that way. When I've (rarely) ventured into the pre-law forums, I have tried to be as non-combative and charitable as possible. Nonetheless, like a sober man trying to deter an addict from continuing in his vice, I've been swatted away by the very people I'm trying to help.

Despite my differences with the OL's, I recognize that I was once like them. Still, for those of you considering law school, please realize that you can one day be like me.

It's easy to be incredulous of the idea that law jobs are hard to secure outside of OCI. You may be convinced that you'll never end up in document review. You might believe that you'll have the skill and savvy to go solo from the start, and of course, if all else fails that you'll know how to spin your law degree to help you land a solid non-legal job.

It may seem that way from where you're currently sitting. I thought so too.

Now, however, I know that going to CLE's and receptions gets you at best "well wishes" and at worst brushed off - certainly not solid leads for jobs. I've diligently scanned the job boards finding plenty of positions for legal assistants but precious few for practicing attorneys (and almost all at pay well south of $50k). I've personally investigated going solo from the start only to realize the expense of starting a legitimate practice and the difficulty of independently learning the necessary law and procedure while making enough to survive.

I've been referred to attorneys only to either get blown off or to learn that they simply can't/won't hire additional associates for their small firms because it's not economical. I've been unable to work with other contacts because their firms/organizations simply won't hire me because I didn't go to the right school or make the top 10%.

Right now, I'm even being strung along by temp agencies with the possibility of getting hired for JUNIOR document review positions.

Of course, I've sent reams of resumes and cover letters to non-legal employers with nary a response. Not only do I have an undergrad business/econ degree and a tech background, but I also worked for two years. I've applied for a number of positions that were actually related to my responsibilities at my former job and couldn't even get interviews.

Also, if you think I didn't have much of a candidate profile before law school, you're wrong. As I've mentioned before, I only searched for jobs for a few months post-college and had a number of interviews, multiple offers, and accepted a job for a position in which I was one of a hundred candidates. I don't say this to brag; I say this to assure you that the "x-factor" here is my law degree/three year experience gap.

Obviously, when I "open up" like this, I'm inevitably going to get a comment about "whining". I don't say this to elicit your pity. I say this because this is the frustration I (and many, many other law graduates) have experienced first hand. I didn't believe the warnings before or even during law school. Now I have no choice but to believe them. I'm living them.

Unless your personal goal is to also have an anti-law school blog on one day, trust me this is a warning, not whining.


  1. When are people going to wake and realize that law school is for the vast vast vast vast majority simply a safety valve for CHILDREN without marketable skills and who aren't good at anything. Law School is for a small percentage of adults, not kids who spend their formative years most likely getting wasted and hooking up on the weekends during undergrad.

  2. Probably around the time the student loan pipeline is shut down

  3. Esq. Never you have the ability to express yourself in words that few posess.

  4. EN, thanks for writing this! I was on a CLE podcast yesterday, and the moderator was a semi-retired lawyer. He said that law students should view law school PRIMARILY as a financial decision. And from his standpoint, most pre-law students do not do so. They only look at the potential upside of the degree.

    They don't take into account opportunity costs, the business side of practice, marketing themselves to clients and firms, and the schools gladly take advantage of this situation. Law is a big industry, and law school clearly does not prepare students to hit the ground running.

    EN, law schools take advantage of young people's idealism and then, worse, they supply incomplete, false, and inaccurate employment and salary figures. This makes the decision to go that much easier.

    To be fair, a non-monetary factor is the "prestige" element. If only the public had a better understanding of this system. THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO GRADUATED IN THE TOP TEN PERCENT OF THEIR TTT/TTTT WHO ARE UNEMPLOYED OR UNEMPLOYABLE.

  5. I went to a job fair today and was told that even Army JAG is so flooded with applicants that they can barely keep up.
    Just so you know, in Army JAG, they put the lawyer in a Hummer in Iraq and have them ride around with the troops. There is no cushy desk job in the states or the ability to hole up in the fortress that is Saddam's former palace. They are at risk of being the victims of IEDs.
    That's right: people who probably went to law school without the slightest thought of being a moving target and who probably skipped right over their table during career day at high school because they were going to be big shots in a high rise are now thinking that this is a pretty good gig.

  6. great post.

    As for the idea that some of the scam blogs are too hyperbolic and angry, you may be right. But each to his or her own. We need a spectrum of blogs and a variety of approaches.

  7. Great post, EN. You are clearly intelligent and I think that eventually, you will land on your feet.

  8. Sounds all too familiar, Esq. Never. I was once that naive kid, too. But boy do I see things clearly now.

  9. Law school is like the The Matrix. And the bloggers are like Morpheus trying to open people's eyes to the truth. Unfortunately, a lot of kids don't want to listen. Until it's too late.

  10. I'm in the exact same situation as you, Esq. Never. I feel like you're writing my life story.

  11. I'm a 2008 grad and I'm still unemployed. People like to call me underemployed but that seems like the same thing to me. I knew I didn't want to be a lawyer so I initially searched for non-legal jobs myself, but that didn't work out. So now I am sort of a lawyer--I barely make any money and certainly not enough to pay back my loans, and I don't see this changing anytime soon.

    Your story is almost exactly the same as mine a year ago. Hopefully for you it starts turning out better and quicker than it has for me. Most people I know from 2008 did get jobs though, although people tell me they are all miserable that's gotta be at least something. If I had skipped law school I'd probably be working a government job with a very short schedule and very solid pay right now, without any debt at all. Or I'd be at a managerial level in the corporate world. The law degree has ruined me entirely, and in fact each successive year obviously made it worse. Fortunately I don't have any work tomorrow, so I'm sitting here reading these blogs even though I wanted to go to sleep hours ago.

  12. Thank you, esq. never. I just found your site and you cannot believe how good it feels to know there are other law school grads out there having the same problems I've gone through for the last year. You are doing a great service for college students deciding whether they should attend law school in the fall because at least it would be something to do in this economy. People who are deciding to go back to school and wait it out until the economy gets better are fooling themselves. Things won't get much better and by the time they graduate there will only be more people unemployed or underemployed searching for the same entry level jobs they'll be too "overqualified" for. I am certain the JD has ruined my chances of finding an entry level job right now. College grads have a better chance of getting an entry level $40k/year job than I do. It's very difficult to spin the JD and the three year gap, trust me. I've tried to do it and my classmates have tried to do it. The only thing I can hope for is that someone will be nice enough to give me a chance so I can start my career in a new field even if I have to make $10/hour to do it. At least it will be a stepping stone to something better in a few years. The JD does nothing but help you get a law firm job for those who graduated from a top school or in the top 1% of their TT school. Everyone else is pretty much screwed.

  13. Esq. Never - Thanks for the great comments about the post!

    With regard to the students, I have to admit that I also was a believer in the law school statistics at first, but then I also checked out NALP and spoke to some attorneys in the field. My recollection was that the law schools seemed to be sugar-coating it or "spinning" it by about 10-15% at that time. Thus, it seemed the information that they gave was generally accurate, just a little on the high side - this was in the early 1990s.

    However, now the information being set out by the law schools seems to be almost decoupled from reality - spins of 30-50% seems pretty common - and that's just not right. The ABA is failing in its duty to monitor the law firms by allowing them to misrepresent the value proposition to prospective students to such a great degree. The ABA and law schools also pupport to teach "legal ethics" - unfortunately, their example leaves a lot to be desired.


Web Analytics