Friday, January 22, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune can easily blow it by going to a TTT law school."

Okay, well, maybe that's not how Jane Austen's most famous literary work begins. I wouldn't know. I was assigned to read this grandmother of all chic lit back in high school in my senior year English course, but I never actually got around to completing the assignment.

Why am I telling you this? Well, the senior year English course in which I enrolled was an AP course. This was the last time - prior to law school - I both overestimated my academic aptitude and the benefit of being in a "prestigious" program.

For those of you who think this blog entirely ignores the consumer side of the law school scam, this post is intended to address the 0L mindset's role in this national debacle. I've written in the past how law school admittees can be compared to infomercial scam victims - sympathetic characters, but not entirely without blame.

I, of course, am not excusing the conduct of the law schools and company. As I've mentioned in the past, even if law school students are as unsympathetic as drug users, this doesn't absolve the schools from their culpability in taking advantage of the situation.

Returning to my English class example, as I mentioned, there are some parallels that exist between my decision to take AP English and to enroll in law school. I was under the impression that just because I had done well in previous English courses (including honors courses) prior to my senior year, I would do well in AP English. After all, I thought I was a good writer, liked to read, and had a robust lexicon.

Sadly, I was unprepared for the rigor of the AP course. The class required us to read full English novels and write 10-15 page papers on alternating weeks. This was in addition to the regular vocabulary, grammar, and other lessons we had to keep up with in the class. Of course, this was also on top of my course load of calculus and other AP courses as well as the little diversion of the college application process.

I'll be honest, folks; I had bitten off more than I could chew. This led me to hand in some*ahem* perfunctory papers and often fall behind with my reading (leading to some equally impressive reading quiz scores). Hence my failure to ever actually read the titular book associated with this blog post. (Hint to high school students: Trying to bypass reading the book by watching the BBC mini-series = a BAD idea; trying to sit through that sucker is worse than actually reading the darn thing.)

Now, of course, this post isn't really about that dreadful book. (So long female readership...) No, the title instead refers to a key problem for 0L's and law students: Pride. (I'm not sure where the prejudice comes in - maybe I should insert some Polish jokes.)

If you don't like my mangled quote from Jane Austen at the beginning, how about this verse from the Old Testament?

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov. 16:18)

Just like I thought my modest success in pre-AP English courses meant that I was prepared for the rigors of the class, I arrogantly felt that my undergraduate success, decent LSAT score, and interest in the social sciences would make me a successful law student. I would make the top 10% of the class, and even if I didn't, I'd be able to work hard in my internships and extracurricular activities and build an impressive resume that would afford me great employment opportunities.

If you've been reading this blog, you probably know this story turned out more like a Greek tragedy than an Austen novel where everyone lives happily ever after. It's not exactly "Oedipus marrying his mother" bad, but I'd say "I'm probably going to work doc review until they toss my corpse aside to make room for another coder earning $13.50 straight" bad is bad enough.

But I digress. You see, just because you earned a 3.9 in anthropology from a second tier liberal arts school where they wouldn't give a bag of lettuce less than a B+ in any given course, doesn't mean you're going to dominate your torts class. We're all real proud of you booking your "Feminist Mythology in Ancient Multicultural Societies" class, but I'm afraid that isn't going to prepare you for writing top notch law school exams.

For too many pre-law students, pride gets them into the law school mess in the first place. Everybody thinks they'll be in the top 10%. Even at schools where everybody is smart (save the truly elite institutions), only the best students will get the "good" jobs.

Another aspect of the pride principle is the average 0L's lust for prestige. Just like taking an extra AP course may have given the impression of a more elite transcript, earning a law degree from a good school is seen as quite the accomplishment by many. Sadly, getting a "C" in an AP course kind of takes the luster out of being in the top English class and being a permanent temp worker kind of tarnishes the old "Esq." title.

On virtually every pre-law message board, "prestige" is the key word. Everyone seems to think that going to a good law school (usually anything in the first two tiers) and eventually becoming a licensed attorney is the path to professional respectability. To be honest, many equally clueless people do regard law school and the title of attorney to be impressive. Trust me, they'll be less impressed when they learn that you're living under a highway overpass and the only thing between you and starvation is Burger King's recent decision to sell double cheeseburgers for a buck.

Of course, the problem with pride isn't limited only to the decision to go to law school. It also usually rears its head when it comes to the decision to stay in law school. To once again analogize LS to my ill fated enrollment in AP English, I actually had the opportunity to get out of my class.

There was an honors class that met at the exact same time my AP class met. I wouldn't even have to adjust my schedule, but I was stubborn and didn't want to face the indignity of being demoted from an AP to an honors class. (Though, in my defense, the students in the honors class had to perform in a play in front of parents and classmates. I don't have any problem with public speaking, but acting is another story. Esq. Never is also Thespian Never.)

Too many people in law school also fail to read the writing on the wall. Even though they're miserable, aren't in the top 10%, and don't even have much of a desire to become attorneys, they continue to plod along. This is part of the reason why the fallacy of the sunk cost is so powerful. Nobody wants to be labeled a "drop out" or "quitter". It's tough to give up on the idea that one may go through life without a coveted graduate degree. Nevertheless, that's simply pride talking. Ignore it. Pride may encourage you to move forward, but it's not going to be able to help you pay back those loans later on.

Worse yet is the idea that so many people think that they're the ones who can make it without top grades or great connections: I'll be on moot court; I'll be on a journal; I'll be on trial team; I'll flirt with the interviewers. Even if you do any of these things (and the last option isn't even available for graduates with 'Y' chromosomes), nobody is going to care. Law students with great extracurricular activities and internships are a dime a dozen.

Of course, if you do land a (non-OCI) legal job aside from document review after law school, it'll likely be for a low level firm that won't pay well or offer much opportunity for advancement - to say nothing about the lousy and unprofessional working conditions.

Here. once again, pride can play a role in making a ruinous decision. Everyone knows you're a lawyer, and everyone "knows" that lawyers are hotshots who make the big bucks. Clearly, you need to forge ahead and take any attorney position you can get just to save face.

Sadly, I haven't been able to check my pride until getting to this point and already doing some serious damage. Sure, working in a cubicle may not be fun, but it's certainly better than appearing in court during the day while living in a cubicle at night...and by a "cubicle", I mean a cardboard box near the subway.

Pride can take you to law school, keep you there, prod you into a depressing career, and eventually "throw" you off the GW bridge. I don't want to see that happen to any of you. Please quit while you're ahead...or at least before you entirely sink your life.


  1. Thanks for the public service announcement, Esq. Never. You could just as easily have titled this entry, "Pride and Ignorance." Pre-law students (and their parents) are so damn proud of their "achievement." Pride also keeps these suckers in law school - even when it becomes evident that they have no shot in hell of ever getting hired by a law firm.

    However, equal blame (on the consumer side) should be placed on ignorance. These kids really think that law school is a ticket to a better life. Their parents and undergrad professors are also guilty of ignorance. Law schools feed off this combination of pride and ignorance to reel in more victims.

    IF YOU ARE A YOUNG MAN OR WOMAN CONSIDERING LAW SCHOOL, do not go to law school UNLESS you have some great connections and a job lined up before law school, a full-tuition scholarship, or get into a top law school. Otherwise, you are wasting your time, money, and energy on this futile pursuit.

    You are better off working your crap job; busting your ass; making connections at your company; displaying competence, diligence, and leadership; and earning promotions. You are at an age when you should be saving money (to buy a house, for retirement, investing, or simply to build up a small reserve).

    You can do this by working overtime and making your own lunches. Impress your bosses and customers with your work ethic and productivity. If this is not an option, get a second job. You can rent a cheap apartment, or possibly sponge off your family (God knows how many recent JDs are doing exactly this). Be smart! Look at law school solely as a financial decision.

    You will not be better off paying off $140K in student loans on a $35K salary!

  2. Just watch Penn & Teller's episode on "the best" for all you ever wanted to know about "prestige."

  3. Pride also comes in when you graduate college and discover that you are qualified only for low paying low prestige jobs.

    Another area where pride is a problem is that your parents like to tell their friends that their child is a law student / lawyer.

    Aside from pride, another problem is laziness (sloth?). Going from college to law school lets you postpone dealing with a lot of uncomfortable issues such as making loan payments; finding work; and so on.

  4. Anonymous at 7:38 a.m.

    You are dead on about the college graduate thing. A lot of this problem is rooted in educating too many prestige hungry people with too many worthless undergraduate majors. Graduates realize having a 3.9 in English or Gender Studies will get them high academic honors, but it isn't going to take them anywhere prestigious career-wise, so they decide to tack on a J.D. to their list of credentials and assume that they'll nail it.

  5. Some idiot at a kegger in undergrad was told by someone who doesn't know anything about law school, "Oh you are PoliSci major? Hey, go to law school!"

    This is how it starts. No humility. Just insecurity and love of self. "If I don't get a JD, then something is wrong with me." Blah blah blah. That or the kids in the B School got some Consultant jobs lined up while the humanities major has nothing, so in a desperate attempt to "go places and make 6 figures!", the humanities major makes the awful decision to take the LSAT (sometimes as many as 4 times!) and the snowball that was rolling down the mountain is suddenly an avalanche.

    Anyone with an ounce of humility would have told themselves: I'm 21 yeara old. I'm supposed to be at the bottom and work my way up little by little. This whole "big company" going around blowing smoke up a bunch of college kids with the case interview is all a front to raise the company's profile - not to advance the "career" of any CHILD out of school.

  6. Dead on, Esq. Never. I was guilty of pretty much all of the above before law school. I see things quite clearly and differently now, but it is too late.

  7. It depends: what will you gain in going vs. not going? Do you like where you live or do you want to go someplace else? How will a law degree actually HELP you? In short, don't go to law school b/c you don't know what you want to be when you grow up or to put off real life.

    I don't regret going to law school & would certainly be living in a region I hated if I hadn't gone; also had parents living in a trailer park so choosing b/t a certain miserable future & an uncertain future was easy. If you're taking the LSAT more than twice to get more than a 140 or only got into Thomas M. Cooley, it's time to forget it.

    I've told people not to go unless they've got the $ to pay loans since there's no entry-level work. I tell people about the downsides but it's their lives in the end.


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