Friday, June 11, 2010

Response to a Commenter

[Note: This comment appeared in the comments section to my last post. I've decided to address it as a separate post because it raises some important issues.]

Just a question: What exactly is "toilet law?" It sounds like you are saying there is "Big Law" or "Toilet Law" or "Non-Profit/Public Sector Law" and that's I getting that right?

I'm only asking because I will be attending law school (on a scholarship) and would not work in so-called "Big Law."

Don't bother telling me not to go to law school--I've weighed everything and am going, at least as long as I maintain the scholarship.

And on a side note--why WOULD anyone think that a JD would help with a non-law job? I think anyone who would go to law school based on that (or give that any weight whatsoever) is kind of foolish to begin with. The purpose of a JD is to practice law. Of course a job that gains no benefit form that isn't going to pay a premium for you (or even hire you) based on that! Instead, I'm sure most employers look at that and think that you'll just want more money either now or down the road while a "less educated" applicant will not want as much.

Gerald T. Studebaker

Esq. Never's Response:


Thank you for providing an intelligent comment from a pro-law school perspective. I'm sorry that you can't be talked out of going to law school, but I certainly hope that you're somehow able to succeed.

"Toilet law" generally refers to small firms that are not very pleasant to work for. They have low starting salaries particularly when weighed against the average starting salaries depicted in the law school marketing materials. (See some of the links from my last post for examples.)

Moreover, there is very little room for advancement, much of the work involves tediously filling out forms for different courts, and the time one spends in court usually takes place in some of more depressing court rooms in the jurisdiction. I urge you to take a look at Big Debt, Small Law's "about" section also linked in my last post.

I know that you probably think that you'll just work for a mid-law firm or a "good" small law firm. This is not quite as feasible as you believe. Many of these boutique and mid-sized firms don't hire law school graduates straight from law school. In most cases, you actually need to work for Big Law and then lateral over to these firms once your time as a big firm associate comes to an end.

Some of these firms may hire a handful of recent graduates, but in those cases, the graduates will likely have the same credentials that most Big Law starting associates have (either very high grades or a degree from one of the top few schools).

You may believe that you're a shoe in for ending up in that category, but just remember there are currently plenty of unemployed T-14 students, and even if we assume that the end of the recession will take care of this "anomaly", even before the recession, plenty of good law students were in tough shape. (Hence the topic of my last post.)

If you don't believe me, Angel the Lawyer of "But I Did Everything Right!" graduated from a top 30 school with a scholarship (pre-recession). Big Debt, Small Law graduated in the top 1/3rd of his class from second tier, Seton Hall. This was also pre-recession. Both of them ended up in "toilet" law making only slightly more than many college graduates are able to make. They didn't even have real benefit packages (e.g. no real health coverage).

The reason why so many bright students who miss the cutoff for Big Law but are still able to find firm work end up in "toilet law" is because those are the firms that tend to hire. Many small firms are small for a reason, and if they are going to expand they either want attorneys with a pre-existing book of business or at least somebody they don't have to waste time training.

The law firm "mills" that make money on the volume of cases they are able to churn out tend to be the low level personal injury and insurance defense firms. Because they just need warm bodies to keeping pushing the clients and settlements through, they're willing (or at least were willing, pre-recession) to take on inexperienced recent graduates and continue hiring them as older associates burn out and can't endure working for these firms anymore.

As for your query about non-legal jobs. You are correct that there is no reason to go to law school if you don't plan on practicing. Moreover, I'm glad you're going into school recognizing that getting a non-legal job after graduation isn't really an accessible option.

Nevertheless, plenty of law students enter law school every year under the assumption that if that can't make it law, they'll at least be able to market their skills in another field. The law schools certainly do nothing to persuade law students against believing this fallacy. They often highlight the ostensible versatility of the J.D.

Regardless, many students do eventually end up never practicing either because they hate the law or can't find work as an attorney. At my decent, second tier school, the school's own statistics indicated that almost 20% (1/5) of the students went into "business" after graduation! This was also based upon the Class of 2007, who graduated before the market crashed.

The problem with the legal field is that there are so many attorneys and only a limited number of jobs. As I mentioned, before the recession, many of the surplus J.D.'s could find mind numbing temporary jobs working in document review. Now that those jobs are largely unavailable (at least to recent graduates), the only exit for many students is to try to find non-legal positions.

Moreover, a good number of people end up going through law school and realize that being an attorney is not for them.

Once again, I regret that you seem unwilling to listen to some of these warnings, but if you do end up in a position where you either lose your scholarship or don't have the grades to get a good job, I urge you to remain open minded to the possibility of dropping out.

Best of luck,

Esq. Never


  1. Well, we can't win them all, but this guy, for a change, seems to have spent some time actually thinking about what he might be in for after graduation.

    I fear this is another one of those folks who "has always dreamed of being a lawyer" (yeah, I've seen "Legally Blonde" too), or "loves to argue" or "is passionate about law". As long as there is a scholarship, great...but again, by the time they take you in, it's usually too late to turn back.

  2. Yep. He "loves the law." Has a real "passion" for it. He's probably read "The Nine," "One L," and some random turd of a book from Richard Posner by now.

  3. You bloggers are correct about the scam but are too harsh on victims who make the same mistake we made. There's more info out there now (thanks to you), but we all knew long ago that there were too many lawyers. What else are prospective law students supposed to do? I often regret my decision to go to law school, but I don't know what else I should have done. Many recent grads with "in-demand" degrees in nursing and teaching can't find jobs, and I'm sure potential carpenters, plumbers, etc. are having similar trouble. My view is we're all in this hell together, so let's try to find a solution. Many blogs expose the law school scam (kudos to you for warning others), but none mention the obvious lawyerly solution: SUE. If you're sure that the schools mislead on employment prospects, why not sue for fraud (or unfair trade practices)? Can't the real numbers be accessed by subpoena or FOIA request? I'm considering starting a law firm practicing in this type of practice and would appreciate your thoughts.

  4. Many criticize the schools and the Obama Administration for failing to bring change. Success is measured by action not words. Are you willing to take ACTION to bring change? Instead of complaining on the internet, why don't you sue the schools for fraud (or unfair trade pracites)?

  5. If anyone would like to bring suit against the schools, I am all for it. Nevertheless, I don't believe that's my role.

    My goal is to help provide a counterpoint to the law school propaganda machine. I hope that the collective efforts of the "scam blogs" will eventually make it so it is impossible for prospective law students to evaluate their decisions without seeing the dark side of the law school industry.

    I'm also skeptical that the judicial system would ever permit a successful suit against their buddies in the law school cartel. It's essentially the foxes guarding the hen house.

  6. lol law is such a farce. Decisions are never made because of "justice" or a bunch of intelligent people using "high level reasoning."

    It's almost always political. Either that or it is random. But the chances of winning a lawsuit against law schools is about the same as winning a civil rights case 150 years ago for a black person. Hell even now, I remember in con law laughing at how racist these decisions were. That is, when they'd even deign to decide something, half the time they'd run and duck for cover by making up an excuse on standing or using the political question doctrine or anything else they can come up with to avoid having to make a difficult decision.

    I guarantee you that all that will happen if you bring a lawsuit against the law schools for fraud is that the media and the general population will turn you into a laughingstock and call you a loser a million times over, and mention your greed and stupidity. The general public loves to bash lawyers, the general public is pretty stupid in general but they do have some power.

  7. To those who keep reiterating "Why don't you sue the law schools" please see the response at 12:51. This person nails it on the head. Court decisions are political. If that is a surprise to you, then you SHOULD drop out as you are clearly too naive to be a lawyer. Suing the law schools would be as futile/productive as trying to persuade your cat to make breakfast.

    Want to see proof? Check out Todd C. Bank v. Brooklyn Law School

    97-CV-7470 (JG)


    2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16180

    "OVERVIEW: Plaintiff read in U.S. News & World Report that the class of 1992 graduates of defendant law school working in the private sector earned an average of $ 60,328. Based in part on that information, plaintiff attended defendant school. Plaintiff claimed that the $ 60,328 figure was false and misleading. Plaintiff filed a complaint that charged, inter alia, that defendant violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C.S. § 1961 et seq., in association with other entities and individuals. The RICO claims were dismissed for failure to adequately plead a RICO enterprise. Plaintiff failed to plead participation in the operation or management of the enterprises claim. The claim was also dismissed because it was not sufficiently pleaded. Plaintiff's conclusory allegations failed to establish any conscious behavior giving rise to an inference of fraudulent intent. Further, the allegations failed to show that a conspiracy existed. Nor was there any basis to retain jurisdiction over the other state law claims."

  8. Any suit brought aginst a law school would be unsucessful. Judges may be dumber than a box of rocks, but they all look to retire to a law professorship teaching "trial advocacy" or some seminar. The law school wins, the judge wins, the firms win, the cannon-fodder is fucked.

  9. The whole "but every profession really sucks as far as employment opportunity so I should go to law school anyway" argument was run by me once. I let it drop for that person just because I don't want to start a ruckus, but for anyone who really cares about listening...

    It's a difference of not getting a job while just a few thousand in debt vs. not being able to get a job while being $100,000 in debt. Obviously, you are working from an assumption that magic pixie dust is going to land on your head and the law degree is going to put you ahead of the bread line once the recession is over. That, or you just don't truly grasp the reality of the situation and you still harbor a belief that the law degree will rescue you when it failed to do anything for others.

    I will assure you that just about everybody who is serving lattes with a law degree figured that they would have a good outcome.

    I will let the circumstances speak for themselves. I know people in other fields who are receiving all sorts of perks and privileges that absolutely do not exist in 95% of legal jobs. I know a run of the mill nurse who attended a run of the mill school, and who is getting tuition reimbursement in exchange for staying with the hospital for two years. I know people who get their travel and moving expenses reimbursed.

    Out of the 200-300+ jobs I have applied for (and the handful of interviews I have received as a result), I have not ONCE had an offer for any sort of reimbursement for any expense I have incurred going to an interview. If they scheduled me early in the morning, I had the choice of getting up freaking early and driving in, or paying for my own hotel room so that I won't act like a deranged zombie in the interview from lack of sleep. There wasn't any offer of lunch or dinner or being taken out to see "Cats." I think one or two of them offered a beverage while I waited in the lobby.

    If any of that does not scream "we don't give a fart if you canceled the interview and decided to stay in bed and watch Dr. Phil," I don't know what does. They've got about 100-200 other able-bodied people in their resume pile who could do about as an adequate job as I can. While I would like to think that I add a special value that most of the applicants do not, the employers understand fully what is necessary to complete a task in SHITLAW that will make the client happy enough to pay the bill and will be adequate enough to keep the state bar off of their asses.

    (Of course, many employers do not care even about those minimal standards, but oh well. They just putter along until somebody yanks their license, after which they will continue their substance habit while fooling some member of the opposite sex enough to let them crash at their house for a while).

  10. Well, thanks for the response, EsqNever.

    I do find it a bit laughable that some of the commenters assume this or that about me and about my motives/rationale for going to law school though. As educated men/women, they should know that the moment they assume such things their bias and emotions are ruling them, but I suppose they just wish that anyone considering law school just MUST be some sort of mental defective. Fine, fine, fine.

    Yes, I will drop out if I lose the scholarship. The way I see it, I chose the best school I got accepted into that would cost me basically nothing to give it a go. If I can't meet the requirements to hold on to the money, then I'm going to assume that I'm not cut out for going any further.

    Who knows...maybe that will be because I just am not smart enough, maybe it will be because others "want it more," maybe it will be because it's a giant setup where a majority of scholarship recipients are meant to lose out, or maybe I actually will hold on to the scholarship and continue.

    If I end up keeping the $ and staying, who knows where it will lead. Maybe I'll be blogging in a few years. Maybe I'll be satisfied to work in the Legal Aid Clinic at my church. Whatever... but there is absolutely no reason not to go for a year on the law school's tab.

    For me, the opportunity cost of NOT going is greater than going, so off I shall go.

    In addition, everyone shouldn't be such a defeatist and be afraid to sue the law schools. The fact that many of you are so beaten down that you just assume you are powerless and will remain powerless is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    You'll never win if you can't even motivate enough to stand up for yourself.

    G.T. Studebaker

  11. Dear ESQ Never,

    Thanks for your brilliant cartoon series, which helped inspire me to leave law school.

  12. Mr. Studebaker:

    Five years ago, I had the same attitude as you. It cost me 14K total to attend law school, and I was able to practice at a medium size law firm for a year afterward.

    But now, I can't take my undergraduate degree in science and escape the law. Non-profit's won't take me because I wasn't able to get two years of non-profit work during or before law school. I didn't spend a lot of financial capital to attend law school, but I've never been to Europe (or had a paid vacation). I gave up a promising relationship with a woman I loved to attend law school. I gave up three years of my life to take the classes, I gave up the next summer of my life taking the bar exam, and I gave a year of my life to a firm that honestly didn't need me or want me once the economy took a hit.

    Looking back, I'd rather have my ten grand back, my three years doing something else, and (hopefully) four years in a scientific or engineering position. Practicing law is interesting, but it's not what I want to do with the rest of my life, and it takes three years of law school and some amount of time in law school to learn that. That's a huge sunk cost, and if you do finish law school and start living in the 6 Minute World, you'll learn that your time is worth a lot more than just money.

    (Also, you admonish people for not pursuing lawsuits against law schools. Unless they can find someone willing to take such a case on contingency, suits aren't exactly cheap. Even if you win eventually, it'll be years down the road, and most lawyers are barely making their Sallie Mae payments and able to eat.)

  13. When you're thinking of scholarship, you aren't thinking of the missed opportunity costs of actually working in a job. You're missing AT LEAST three years of full time income (even if you were taking something akin to poverty level, you're missing somewhere around $100,000 from the time you start school until the time you find a job). Plus, I also assume that your scholarship doesn't cover living expenses for those three years, so you still have to borrow money. Such a missing cost would be worth it if you could have a much better paying job with a law degree than without it.

    I know that things aren't "guaranteed" in life, but there are jobs with much more job security than the law. Instead of thinking of your work environment as being like "Boston Legal" where the same cast of characters are starring week after week and everybody sits at polished oak desks in a high rise and has allegiance to every last quirky and difficult person who gets hired in that office, you should think of it being akin to a cross between "Kitchen Nightmares" and "The Gangs of New York."

    Currently, your definition of a "bad job" is working at the drive-thru at McDonald's. You'll find something out fairly quickly:

    Your paychecks from McD's don't bounce.

    You know that you will be paid based upon the hours of work you put into your job. You may spend weeks, months, or years working on a case, lose, and never see a dime from it.

    The customers from McD's are out of your life the second you hand over the hamburger. In the legal profession, they may call you up at all hours of the day and night to tell you about the latest head game that their future ex is engaging in.

    If the customer orders a hamburger, but drives off before they pull up to the window, it's no big deal. You just sell the hamburger to somebody else. If your client jumps bail or won't return your phone calls, then you have to jump through all sorts of hoops like sending certified letters and setting court hearings to convince the judge to let you out of the case.

  14. Hey guys,

    Thanks again for the additional input. Definitely food for thought, and should I not really enjoy my first year this will help motivate me to quit.

    By the way, I did take living expenses into consideration when choosing the best school for the cheapest ride and chose a local school.

    And in reality, I really would be working a minimum wage job if I decide not to go to school. So yeah, I will be losing out on that potential income as long as I'm in school, but for me, I really am not ready to settle down at McD without at least trying out law school for my low up front cost.

    Hey, maybe I'll end up Asst. Manager at my local McD during the week and in the legal aid clinic one day a week as a side hobby as I find time to type my own blog.

    But thanks again--I hope things improve for all of you, even if you are still stuck in law!


  15. The people encouraging fast food work have clearly never worked in that industry. I have numerous friends who've done that & let me tell you, it's awful. Lots of physical labor, smelly odors on your person when you leave, crazy customers (some of whom are regulars), etc. At least lawyers can get away w/being nasty to clients; the poor McDonalds cashier has to be smiling at all times. Lawyers generally don't have clients complaining to their bosses for "attitude" like people in minimum wage jobs do. I think stripping or prostitution would be better than fast food considering you're treated just as badly by the public & would make a lot more money.

  16. Is it legally necessary to attend law school in order to take the Bar exam in the various states? If not is it practically necessary to attend law school in order to pass the bar? I'm just curious. I'm not interested in a law license. I have a career and I'm too old for idealism.
    Somewhere along life's bumpy road I heard that one didn't need a law degree to take the Bar. If this is true and you had the interest, brains, focus and discipline to pull it off wouldn't this make you more marketable? Future employers might want to just touch your robe. Could any of your readers pull it off?


  17. I honestly have never seen such a bunch of ignorant whiners in my life.

    Sue the law schools, go ahead. At any school, I can guarantee that the top grads landed jobs. So all the school has to show is that you weren't a good enough student to get a good job after graduation. Who wants to hire #127 out of a class of 185?

    As for the people who lament their "lost summer studying for the bar", or that they didnt get to go to Europe, or they lost the love of their life b/c they went to law school instead ... good Lord Almighty! So what are you now, 26 years old? Yessir, your life is over, Over, OVER cupcake. There is NOTHING left, zip, nada, curtains.

    There are too many lawyers, and there have been too many since the 1980s. Too bad you didnt notice what everyone else already knew.

  18. Always fun when a law school apologist steps in with the standard "talking points".

    While arguing with you would obviously be fruitless, I guess it's a good time to reiterate the goals of this site.

    The fact remains (even by your own admission) that law school is a bad investment for most students. Students should therefore be made amply aware of the (significant) dark side of attending law school.

    Furthermore, if (as you concede) only the top part of the class is successful in securing employment, then there certainly is no benefit to having so many students enrolled in law school. The number of schools/law students should be significantly decreased.

    There is no reason for there to be such excessive law school enrollment...except for greedy universities to make some extra money.

    While my life is far from over; it would be significantly improved had I not taken on such debt in exchange for a degree that has actually made it more difficult for me to secure employment. The same is true for many other students - plenty of whom received good grades and/or went to well ranked schools..."cupcake".

  19. I am a law professor at a 4th tier law school. First, I know people that chose to use their JD degrees outside of the law. For example, one law school classmate used her JD to get a job with a large non-profit and is now a Vice President in the organization. I would not recommend a JD for someone not interested in the law, but for those that have graduated with a JD there are non-law opportunities. Some people realize after law school that they don't want to be lawyers, but how is that any different from the person that gets an engineering degree and decides they don't want to go into that field? Four wasted years. My sister has an education degree and figured out after graduation that she did not want to be a teacher. Everyone needs to figure out what to do with their degrees, and those outside of their disciplines have to work harder--no shame in making the decision that the law is not for you.

    Second, anyone going to law school for the money is going for the wrong reason--even for those that graduate at the top, were on law review, and have the best opportunities. A person should go to law school because they want to become a lawyer and practice law, whether that is for $30k or $230k. I struggled with a large student loan working for the government for eight years, and was unable to purchase a single family home. Then I came up with the idea of teaching at a law school, and took a 50% pay cut (almost everyone that teaches at a law school takes a significant pay cut when they make the jump--the legal aid people are an exception). I enjoyed working for the government and I enjoy teaching law students. My decisions were not motivated by the amount of money I could make.

    We are in a recession. When I graduated in the mid-90's, there was a mini-recession and I could not find a good legal job, even with a degree from a top 10% law school. I did document review for a while, until I was able to get a job with benefits. Document review was brutal, but I made it. The key is to keep trying and not give up. As I heard some years ago: a person's greatness is not measured by wealth or intellect, but rather by what it takes to discourage them. Thankfully Thomas Edison kept experimenting until he found a light-bulb that would work for a long time. It is no different for recent law graduates. It may take some time to be successful, but keep trying. Don't give up.

  20. 1. There are not many people who can use a JD outside of the law. Yes, there are some who do manage, but they are few and far between. Most of the scamblogging community is actively looking outside the legal field too, and their experience has been generally negative.

    2. It's true that someone shouldn't go into law making a fortune. But if that's so, why are the law schools fudging their employment numbers and starting salary data? If law's not about the money, shouldn't the schools be forthright about employment numbers?

    But even that misses the point somewhat. We're not talking about people who can't make $160,000 starting salaries, but about people who can't pay their bills and are begging for ~$13 per hour jobs (60 hours per week for $40k). It's about people who cannot find work and are scared they cannot pay their bills. Surely, this isn't what the law schools had in mind either.

    3. Yours is a good story and I wish you well. Bear in mind, though, that there are fewer jobs, more graduates, and deeper oversaturation than in the 1990s. On top of that, there is much deeper, paralyzing debt than in the 1990s. On top of that, the legal industry is restructuring, eliminating starting BigLaw salaries, hiring more temps, shuttering huge firms. In that climate, good legal jobs are going to be about as scarce as good American manufacturing jobs.

    If you want real improvement in the legal industry, forgive the debts and deprofessionalize the law.

  21. Many of these boutique and mid-sized firms don't hire law school graduates straight from law school.

    That is a critical point people need to understand.

  22. I am a law professor at a 4th tier law school. admitted that even he or she had to do document review, could not find better work.

    They said more than they realized, I think, in admitting that even with the credentials they had that was the best they could do at the time.

  23. "I think stripping or prostitution would be better than fast food considering you're treated just as badly by the public & would make a lot more money."

    Most lawyers and law students are not attractive enough to make a living stripping or hooking.


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