Wednesday, June 30, 2010

PSA: Rising 3L's Cut Your Losses

Let me be blunt: If you've just completed your 1L year and you've learned that you are not in the top 25% (save those from the top 3 schools or who have some incredible family connections), it's probably time to start looking at other options.

In fact, let me be even more blunt - If you're in this situation and you're even considering signing another promissory note with Aunt Sallie Mae and heading back to your TTT this fall, you, sir or madam, are insane.

If people who have the logical reasoning ability to crack 160 or even 170 on the LSAT can't recognize that pursuing entry into a glutted field with anything less than stellar credentials is a bad idea, then I have to agree with the critics of standardized testing: There must be something seriously flawed with the exam.

While the willingness of 1L's to hang around doesn't negate the wickedness of the law school cartel, it certainly does make these students seem like less sympathetic characters. What else do they need? A front page story in the Wall Street Journal with the headline, If You Stay in Law School, You'll Be Unemployed and Living in Your Mom's Basement in Two Years?

Unfortunately, the WSJ hasn't been kind enough to run such an piece, but we have something that's pretty darn close in the US News and World Report article entitled, Law Jobs Will Be Harder to Come By.

In this article, the law school cartel's court statistician, James Leipold (of NALP) admits that's it's going to be ugly for the class of 2011, and he's not exactly ready to predict a return to normalcy in 2012 either. (Though he does leave just enough room for hope so that 1L's and prelaws can talk themselves into going down with the ship.)

If people like Leipold can't come up with optimistic things to say about the legal market, then you know that happy days aren't here again.

How is this particularly relevant to rising 3L's? Well, while any sane member of the class of 2012, who isn't law review bound, should be preparing for his law school exit interview, members of the class of 2011 are in a far more difficult situation.

After all, as the conventional wisdom goes, if you realize after 1L year that LS isn't for you, it's time to cut your losses and move on, but if you've already invested two years into law school, you might as well stick it out and at least get the degree.

I respectfully disagree. Yes, walking away from two years worth of intensive school work (particularly when the third year is the least difficult) with little to show for it is not appealing. Nevertheless, one needs to keep in mind the sunk cost fallacy - it is irrational to make future decisions based upon costs that have already been incurred.

For many people having a law degree and a license is of absolutely no help. They can't find (or really don't want) legal jobs. The J.D. does nothing to help a person find non-legal work. Even trying to bail yourself out with doc review work isn't really an option anymore.

The cost of completing a third year is also prohibitive. At most private schools, tuition alone is between $30 - $50k. Throw in living expenses and the total cost could easily exceed $70k. Upon graduation, the fallacy of the sunk cost can become even more enticing. If you've completed law school, you "might as well take the bar exam". Of course, this little intellectual exercise can cost thousands more in test prep programs, exam fees, and even living expenses.

What's more there's still the opportunity cost of forgoing yet another year (and a summer) of wages. Add up all these costs - plus the interest on the amount you'll need to borrow - and you'll see that "just finishing up your degree" is hardly something you can do on the cheap.

Now, I know the psychological barriers to pulling the trigger and bailing out at this point are high. (To say nothing of the peer - and likely parental - pressure.)

Therefore, let me pose some more modest steps you can take.

It's still summer and the law school beast won't be demanding it's feast of your tuition dollars at least until August. Use this time to search for a job. If you can land something that pays decently and seems interesting, dump your law school faster than the average law school dean dumped his or her sense of decency.

While landing a half decent job that quickly may not be the easiest feat ever, you do have some advantages when compared to the average law school graduate. For one thing, you're only two years removed from either college or full time employment. Moreover, nobody is going to be afraid that you'll just run off and take an attorney position when the economy improves because you won't be eligible to even sit for the bar.

If employers seem skeptical about your decision to drop out, you can at least reply that you had hoped that law school would help prepare you for a variety of fields other than law, but once you realized that it had little application outside of practicing as an attorney, you decided to withdraw. Plus, a little lawyer bashing will warm the hearts of more than a few prospective employers.

If you can't bring yourself to drop out and you don't land anything over the summer, you should dedicate yourself to using your 3L year to find a job. By this, I don't mean occasionally applying for something. I mean putting in as much effort as those of use who are out of school. Network, try to get internships (non-legal), send out a ton of resumes (learn what works and what doesn't), etc.

Pretty much devote as much time as you can without failing out of school. Don't worry about law school. What do you think is going to be more important to your future? Getting a serious jump on finding a non-legal job or getting a "B+" instead of a "B" in Complex Litigation or making the "Octo-Final" round of the "Moot Court Tribal Indian Law" competition?

You guys didn't listen when you enrolled in law school. Now, you have an opportunity to mitigate the damage you've already done to your careers. If those who have already graduated are any indication, those who fall for the fallacy of the sunk costs are, well, sunk.


  1. Drop out and work as a paralegal; your employment options will be about the same as if you graduated from law school.

  2. I've gone through law school, paid for bar review, taken the bar, and paid my registration dues. I can stick it to the industry by not paying my license renewal fees. There's nothing illegal in that. A useless degree and license is all I'm maintaining.

  3. I recently stumbled upon the scamblog movement and I must say I enjoy reading the posts here and on another scamblogs. This is my first post so here's some background to get my perspective. I just recently graduated from a T25 school and thankfully had a full tuition scholarship so my debt load isn't too bad. Even still I've come to have disdain for the student loan industrial complex/racket that operates in this country.

    I've had the good fortune of landing me a solid job with pretty good pay and benefits. However, I got this job by pretty much employing the advice from this post. People ask me how I got the job and simply say I "networked" at "bar events". By
    "bar events" I literally mean being a regular and talking to people at the bar a few blocks from my apartment. Another regular was able to get me on with his employer.

    I started during my 3L finals and some of my fellow 3Ls had the audacity to suggest I take "time off". As if job opportunities in this awful economy are just waiting to be plucked from a tree. Also, I'm not even bothering with the bar exam as my job doesn't require much less care if I'm licensed. Again some of these fellow 3Ls look at me as if I have 3 heads for not shelling out thousands of more dollars on an exam that will not add a dime to my current salary.

    The part that kills me about all this is I'm one of the lucky ones with a job and most them don't have anything lined up but act as if I'm the one doing the idiotic thing. Its as if they think getting a bar license will magically make job opportunities rain down like manna from the heavens. Lemming behavior like this is one of the many reasons why I'm doing my part to actively discourage people from going to law school.

    I encourage all of you scambloggers to keep up the good work!

  4. I hate to admit this, but I actually withdrew the first semester of my 1L year before class even really got underway because about a week into lectures I had the gnawing sensation that everything I was being told was BULLSHIT.

    Then like a lamb to slaughter, I came back. If only I could turn back time... Oh well. I hope some people listen and get out before it's too late.

  5. "...making the "Octo-Final" round of the "Moot Court Tribal Indian Law" competition."<---- Literally LOL'd.

  6. I graduated from college with a degree in Business Economics and I worked in inside sales as a contracts manager for a couple of years. I got laid off when the recession started in 2008 and luckily I got the BOGW waiver here in California.

    The Board of Governors Waiver qualifies you for some free education at a local community college. I did an ABA approved paralegal program and I have been sending out tons of applications for jobs. I have been on interviews and found nothing.

    I don't regret doing my paralegal program, but I can't imagine how terrifying it must be to graduate law school with 150k in debt, zero job prospects, and a degree that makes you overqualified for other jobs.

    I learned a lot in my paralegal program and at least I don't have loans, but I tell everyone who is thinking about law school to really do a paralegal program first to see if its for them. Its better than falling into this scam fueled by false employment statistics and glossy brochures from law schools nationwide!

  7. I feel stupid for not leaving after the first semester of my 1L year, but I've made the decision to postpone 2L for at least one more year on a leave of absence and see if I can't segue into a job first. I wanted to "stick it out" and see if I couldn't bring my grades into the top third (and this is at a T-14).

    Here's the thing: you would not believe how naive about 90% of the students enrolled in LS right now are (at least 1Ls and 2Ls). They are simply OBLIVIOUS to the state of the market. Boy, are they in for a shock.

  8. I talked to a woman who just graduated from law school. She has no job and is studying for the bar. I asked her why she was bothering. She said "the dean from my law school said 85% of the grads got jobs this year?" All I could say was, And you believed him??

  9. Including living expenses in your analysis weakens your argument. Both the law student and the non-student need to live somewhere and eat. Unless you suggest living with parents, these costs are a wash, certainly not the $20,000+ you have in the post above.

  10. Sort of reminds of the Nirvana song, Heart Shaped Box:

    "Hey! Wait! I've got a new complaint.
    Forever in debt to your priceless advice."

  11. 10:11 - Fair enough point, but students tend to be reckless with borrowing - I know people who didn't have great summer jobs who paid for top of the line cable packages, always ate out, and bought fancy game systems simply because they COULD borrow the money.

    My school allowed about $20k+ over tuition to be borrowed for living expenses.

    Even if $20k is high, take $10k - $60k for the extra year isn't exactly a steal.

    It's true that living expenses will be incurred regardless of whether you're in school, but while you're in school, you're borrowing the money; if you have a job, you're paying it out of present income.

    This could be a rational move IF you expect higher earnings as a result of your J.D.; however, this will most likely not be the case.

  12. Geez, I took out $2000-3000 bucks a semester for living expenses, and I felt really guilty and like a wastrel.

  13. After 15 years toiling away in an unfulfilling practice of law, I left the "profession" and got totally hooked into a great Fed job by a friend from my former career (and it did not hurt that my friend was a senior GOP type who wanted to make sure that GOP-friendly persons were left in place inside government right before Barry came to power). I actually went from hating life to the point that it endangeared my marriage, to one in which I am happier than I have ever been in my life. And why is that? Because I no longer practice law. Oh, and I just owe $8k in my student loan.

  14. Know this from someone who has been in the profession for many years....the good times are over, they ended around the late 90's and the new millenium has been dismal for lawyers, even for those with experience who are rainmakers.

    The other thing is if you have some idea that you are a creative person and have a John Grisham type career path lurkinginside of you where you will lawyer for a few years and than create your work of art having already taken care of your financial security
    with the proceeds of your legal career, think again.

    By the time that ever happens, if it evendoes you will be so tired and burnt out from your life as an attorney that you will have neither the time nor energy nor inclination to create that work of art.Practicing law, hell I think even studying it has a tendency to leach out whatever creative juices you ever possessed. Try getting those back again when you are a 50 something burnout.

    Time and how you spend it is everything. Opting for security is the easiest copout and as has been discussed above, the legal profession can no longer even offer that.


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