Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Five People You Should Not Listen to When Considering Law School.

Ah, the good old summertime! It was only a few short years ago that I spent these few glorious months boning up on law school and preparing myself for the academic crucible of first semester 1L year. Looking back, I was an idiot, but I certainly didn’t know any better. A big problem for me was a lack of accurate, meaningful advice about just what the decision to go to law school entailed. Scambloggers and other disaffected lawyers have been trying to get through to prospective students that law is a shitty career, law schools lie through their teeth to get you in the door, and that legal hiring has been a bloodbath for some time. Sure, some of the class of 2013 will get jobs. A lot—and we’re talking many thousands—won’t get legal jobs at all. Maybe half of them will get temporary jobs or jobs they hate, just to pay the loans. In any case, the realities upon graduation will be a far cry from whatever expectations most people had during that last, glorious summer before they entered the abyss.

I received a lot of stupid advice from a lot of uninformed people, although I didn’t know it at the time. When you’re a wet-behind-the-ears 20something, it’s hard to ignore and disbelieve practically everyone who surrounds you and has guided you. Ultimately, the decision to go to law school is your own, as it was for me. However, when weighing this extremely perilous decision, there are a lot of people whose advice you should not heed. Thus, I give you, The Five People You Should Not Listen to When Considering Law School.

1. Your parents and relatives.

Your non-lawyer relations are, in a word, stupid. Every parent, even those who could never be described as “helicopter parents” likes the idea of their kid being a lawyer. Outside of born-to-the-purple sons of billionaires, a respectable professional job like doctor or lawyer represents the height of middle-class achievement for most people. Unless your family knows struggling lawyers, they will encourage you to go, and also resist your attempts to reconsider. Fight them. They will probably give you a few examples of a few acquaintances of theirs, fellow boomers who have built a successful small practice of some sort. You will probably get a line about how, “My friend Barb went to law school, and now she doesn’t even work in the law and makes $_ _, _ _ _ doing some bullshit.” Ignore this as well.

Your family is well meaning. They want you to succeed and are using their limited knowledge and susceptibility to occupational prestige to try and encourage you the best way they know how. The disconnect between your average layperson’s idea of lawyer salaries and the reality is huge. Unless you have lawyers in your immediate family, you’re not going to get the cold, hard facts. Many people trust and rely on their families, even long after leaving the nest. There’s nothing wrong with that… they’ve always looked out for you, and are still trying to, albeit misguidedly. This is one area where you must not let their good intentions get the best of you or color your decision to go to law school. It’s easy to feel complacent and that you’ve made the right choice when you’ve got a bunch of people cheering for you. Don’t fall into this trap. If need be, think of how hard it will be explaining to your loving, na├»ve family why you are still unemployed after graduation in a few years. Your family cares about you and loves you, yes. Most of the time, however, they are not footing the bill and won’t have to grapple with the personal consequences of going to law school for the rest of their lives.

2. Your friends.

Your 20something friends are probably even stupider than your parents. If they didn’t run to graduate school right after undergrad, most of them emerged from college and found some shitty job that doesn’t pay enough and that doesn’t require a degree of any kind. Because of this, they are all itching to get into grad, med, or law school in hopes of finding an actual job. Most haven’t yet started the journey, but they still entertain ideas of law school being a great way to advance in life, get a real job, and eventually make some real money. Don’t listen to their admiration or encouragement. You’ll get lines like, “It’s great that you’re going to law school and will make some money, I’m going to take the LSAT next fall!”

Do not fall victim to the groupthink that infects underemployed 20somethings. Everyone believes graduate education will save them, after sadly realizing that a mere bachelor’s degree could not. In fact, every single one of my friends with an undergraduate degree is either in grad school, enrolling this fall, or gearing up to go. Every last one of them, including those few who landed decent jobs as engineers or federal employees. If EVERYONE is going, how are the supposed benefits of continually-higher education supposed to materialize, when the value of the degree is so diluted? Our generation has swallowed the higher ed myth hook, line, and sinker. These aren’t the people you want to take advice from when deciding whether to gamble $100k and your future on law school.

3. Undergraduate professors or career counselors.

Your undergrad professors have likely been ensconced in academia for decades and are quite insulated from the realities of the job market in general, and the legal market in particular. If you’ve ever sat through an undergrad reception where the profs can smile and share cookies with a room full of English majors whom are all soon to go off into the economic melee like lambs to the slaughter, then you know that these old duffers don’t know shit about the consequences of their enterprise. Doubly so when they are asked to write letters of recommendation to law school, or give you wise counsel on your career prospects. For every honest prof, there are going to be 100 who are happy to write the letter and get you out of their office.

Career counselors are typically younger and more aware that law school is career suicide. They are usually a lot like you, but were lucky enough to find a position with their alma mater in which they shuttle hapless humanities graduates off to some other form of higher education. My own experience with these “counselors” is that they are woefully uninformed and unprepared to give it to you straight regarding law school. Law school is the number one escape hatch for an uncertain humanities undergrad, so they’ve dealt with hundreds if not thousands of prospective law students. Often times, they will recommend local TTTs rather than a first tier toilet because that’s where most of their confused counselees end up. By and large, these counselors are 20somethings themselves and are asleep at the wheel. It’s like how door-to-door salesmen who work on commission don’t really know or care about whatever they’re’s the same basic concept. These people probably don’t get a direct commission for every soul they send off to law school, but they might as well.

4. Anyone from a law school forum.

Scambloggers have already covered the many, many problems with pro-law school forums like top-law-schools, Autoadmit, or Lawschooldiscussion. Long story short, these sites are full of 0L cheerleaders who have never spent an hour in law school, but will bury you in advice about how to succeed in class, how to “land biglaw,” and other fluff. Disregard all of this nonsense, as these troglodytes are unwilling to listen to reason and are all 100% positive that all 100% of them will end up in the top 10% of their class. (See the problem?) Also, if you’re wondering why you never see any cautionary tales or anti-law school rhetoric on these sites, they censor and ban anyone who has a negative opinion about legal education, job prospects, or schools’ cooking the books on their employment and salary stats.

5. Yourself.

I know what you’re thinking: I always listen to myself, I never let me down! I am the same way, and that’s in part why law school has screwed me over so much. In general, law school attracts and preys a lot of ambitious and self-confident people. I certainly had dreams of doing well for myself, getting a good job, etc. So does everyone else in your class. It may well be that between all of the ambition, hype from the media, your fellow 0Ls, and rigorously preparing yourself for school, that you’ve exaggerated the benefits of law school while ignoring its massive, gaping faults. In my case, I was under the impression that a J.D. would offer a chance to make some money, or at least find employment. Expectations have since been lowered.

Conquering these expectations now will save you from a lot of headaches in the future. Take a big step back and forget everything you’ve read on USNews or TLS. Forget all of the “successful” lawyers you may have crossed paths with. Forget the idea that a comfortable salary is just three years of hard work away. Convince yourself that there will be no job for you, crushing debt, and a general sense of disillusionment with the world. It’s hard to do when you’re on a 0L high, but aim low…really low. Maybe picture taking $150,000 and betting it all on black at a roulette wheel.

Once you’re comfortable with that idea, and if you still want to go to law school, I can’t stop you. There are serious benefits to assuming the worst possible outlook on your law school experience. Not only will it be realistic, in this economy, but you can’t come out saying that you expected something else. It’s like all of those times I was positive I got a C+ in a class, but really came out with an A-. If you condition yourself for the worst possible scenario, you can’t be disappointed. Let’s stress again that “worst possible scenario” is in fact “most likely scenario” for the majority of law grads. Get yourself thinking like this, and you might reassess the entire decision to go to law school. If not, you’ll at least have properly conditioned yourself for three years and $100,000 lost, as well as a long bout of shameful un/underemployment upon graduation.

And there you have it, folks. Five of the most common people you’re likely to hear from regarding your decision to go to law school. All of them completely clueless, delusional, or unwilling to tell it like it is.


  1. 1. Parents = my father was probably the biggest factor for me. I had already failed to achieve the med school dream, and I desperately wanted to please him. It didn't help that they were paying my bills, because I felt that law school was my way of returning the favor.

    2. Friends = my peers were talking me up and saying shit like "I'm gonna call you at 3 am when I get arrested" or "we're all gonna get bottle service at the club when you're a big time lawyer."

    3. My prelaw advisor and poly sci professor = he gave me false hope by saying, "based on your performance on my (political science) exams, you should be in a Top 30 law school."

    4. Law School Forums = I never researched these. There wasn't too much information on the truth of law school years ago. Only shill publications existed.

    5. Myself=worst of all, I tied my entire worth to my education and degrees. I desperately wanted the prestige and respect of all.

  2. Amen brother. Prospective OLs should be wondering why people don't comment on the Class of 2011 or 2012 threads on toplawschools. The few comments on those folders concern scared 2Ls and 3Ls that have no job lined up. I think TLS makes money from the law school scam so of course they will ban the dissenting voice of reason. I was banned for posting an article that appeared on USNWR about the bleak job market for 2Ls and 3Ls. At this point, I say fuck the OLs and let them learn the hard way.

  3. I'm retweeting this one!

  4. Wonderful post!

  5. On law school forums, I've noticed that too. They tend to attract a lot of arrogant law students and even pre-law students who get off on pretending that they are extremely knowledgeable.

  6. Great post! And here is just one of the people you SHOULD listen to (wish I would've): The 20-plus year practicing "nice guy" lawyer who was honest enough to tell me that I was messing up my life, I was still young and should do something worthwhile and that he regrets becoming a lawyer. And this is from a person who was relatively successful, had a nice big house and graduated law school back in the day when jobs were plentiful. I was working as a paralegal and getting off to bragging to everyone about my law school acceptances and was just too STUPID to listen to good advice. I thought everyone was "hating on" me because I got into a top school - ha! The joke's on me! If a lawyer who you think is "successful" ever questions your decision, kids - listen to him/her!

  7. Great post! The fact is that many delusional lemmings do not want the cold, hard facts; they don't want to hear about the realities of the legal job market. Instead, they want to hear how great they are - and how wonderful their decision is.

    I would add that a pre-law student should take any advice from older lawyers with a grain of salt. I talked to several older attorneys - and they all encouraged me to go. Then again, when they attended school, you could go to a TTT and have a chance to find a job or start your own firm. If you must talk to a lawyer, talk to a recent JD. You *might* receive some candid advice.

  8. Yes, I agree that older lawyers aren't the ones to talk to. They are from a completely different time and never faced the same problems current grads are facing. Especially if you're talking to a "successful" lawyer from an older generation, they will make it seem great, because it was for them.

    I did talk with two "old" attorneys: one who did family law for the county, and one who was a content editor for a legal database. Both of them cautioned me not to go, but I chugged obstinately ahead.

  9. Very excellent post in terms of some of the truths and realities of going to law school and becoming a lawyer. I guess what it comes down to is having the proper information to succeed. Basically you want to research as much you can on even the best law firms and the life of their employees to see if its something you will end up enjoying.

  10. I think you come down too easy on the parents. While they might seem like they have your best interests in mind, odds are they're acting on their own interests.

    They want to feel like they did a good job as a parent, and having the "My son/daughter is a lawyer" line on their life resume makes them feel like a success, even if their child is miserable.

    They're also generally very concerned with how they're perceived by their neighbors, coworkers, friends, and their siblings. Do your parents have guest towels in the bathroom nearest to the front door? Do they have a formal dining room with a table that's always decorated, but only used once or twice a year? They want you to have a career that will impress the Joneses. "My son is a litigator at a big firm in NY" wins them more points than "My son is happy."

    If your parents pushed law school on you before even asking "What do you enjoy doing?" they aren't really trying to look out for you.

    And you're definitely right about not listening to older attorneys. Hiring is different now, the jobs junior associates do are different (electronic discovery didn't exist when they were in school), and the whole economic model has changed. Unless the older attorney has given you a written promise to hire you upon graduation, don't listen to anything they say.

  11. I hit the 'Like' button on this one.

  12. Out of curiosity, how old (or how many years out of law school) do you have to be to be an "older attorney"?

  13. Anon: It all depends on what type of info you're looking for. I'd say anyone who's been out for 15 years is probably out of touch with what junior associates are doing these days.

    But, you can get out of touch with the market much faster than that. Someone who graduated from TTT and opened a solo shop in Podunk, Flyover State has never been in touch with big law hiring and has no idea what a junior associate at Cravath does all day.

  14. one point i disagree with you on is number 4. Almost any question or comment I have made on TLS regarding a T3 or 4 law school has been shot down. Rather than offering any kind of helpful suggestion, I have been advised 9 out of ten times to: "wait until the following cycle and retake your LSATS. No point in going to xxx law school." While this may be true for a large percent of incoming students, it certainly is not the case 100% of the time. I do appreciate the 1 out of 10 responses where someone does reply with helpful feedback.