Friday, June 11, 2010

The problem with law school forums

For many prospective law students, online law school forums provide their first glimpse behind the curtain and opportunity to learn what getting a J.D. might really entail. Recently, the law school scamblogosphere has discussed the failings of these forums, nearly all of which are packed with bright-eyed 0Ls rather than battle-weary students or lawyers. Most posters on sites like, autoadmit, or lawschooldiscussion, possess an outlook on the legal industry and job market that is quite different from the perspective of current law students, lawyers, or casual readers of newspapers. Sites like these are replete with thread titles like: "Where should I go: Seton Hall (sticker) or Florida State (sticker)?" and "Is my 168 enough to get me into Vandy?" While they are not completely full of law school cheerleaders, the overall effect of these forums is to allow 0Ls with no experience to gas each other up about going to law school. Even given the current massacre in the job market, the majority of the posters have a certain...irrational exuberance...about the entire prospect of a legal education.

Nine times out of ten, any lawyer or current student who shows up on these boards and tries to dissuade prospective students from matriculating is greeted with skepticism at best. More commonly, jeers and personal attacks get thrown out. To be honest, I probably would have reacted the same way as a 0L, or at least told myself “this guy is just a bitter failure,” which is a fair point. I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m bitter as hell.

The problem is that there are a hell of a lot of “bitter failures” these days. A lot of us who have been through the meat grinder would sincerely like to save potential future victims from such a fate. 0Ls who lash out at anyone who dares to sully their legal dream aren’t the type to take bad news well. They probably aren’t the types to rationally approach spending $150,000 on a degree of questionable utility. I say let these types go to law school. Fill it on up. Those who are so full of themselves that they are sure they'll all make top 10% and law review, can only be dissuaded by hitting the brick wall of reality head-on. Nothing is going to cause these 0Ls to abandon ship, short of actually hitting an iceberg.

What all of these 0Ls fail to realize is that we were all like them, not long ago. Starry-eyed, self-confident, and positive we were going to show that damned law school curve a thing or two! I even was a member of one of these boards before I matriculated, and it sure made me feel smug knowing that all of my fellow 0Ls were stoking each others' dreams and sticking our heads in the sand. We had it all figured out.

Recently, a few noble scambusters took it upon themselves to venture over to TLS and make a direct appeal to prospective law students asking them to reconsider. They were greeted with sneers and insults. As a second attempt, primo scambuster Locke decided to double down and see if he couldn’t get at least one 0L to re-evaluate his decision to attend.

Let's take a look at how these 0Ls handled a little friendly advice to reconsider going to law school:

“Obviously you're unhappy with your own legal career, and you're compensating for that by telling ambitious 20-somethings that they will fail. You seem to get some kind of gratification out of all this, which is bizarre.”

Admittedly, some of the anti-law school types who show up on these boards are blunt and visibly angry with the law. Do these 0Ls truly all believe that they are going to be immune to the depression, burnout, and attrition that plagues the legal profession? As they all self-identify as “the elite” who are all destined to be at the top of their class, then perhaps they are.

Hell, I used to be an ambitious 20-something. I still am a 20-something, although law school has aged me terribly. (But you should see the other guys!) I don’t want to see any law student fail. My jaded outlook has nothing to do with wishing others ill. I’ve merely been hit head-on by the law school scambus and dragged beneath it, against the pavement, for several miles. Scambusting bloggers would really, truly like to see that as few people as possible suffer similar fates.

Many forum members are proud they bypassed the T14 and received a “good scholarship” from a crappier school. This is swell, if true, and if they can really go to law school for dirt cheap, more power to them. They will only be out three years of lost time. However, I’m willing to bet that more than one excited 0L hasn’t investigated just how hard it will be to keep the scholarship. Some schools can be fair with the minimum GPA required to stay on scholarship. Many others set the bar ridiculously high with the intention of yanking students off scholarship after their grades come in.

In the end, these 0Ls mount a valiant defense of their decision to go to law school. They are articulate and moderately well-informed about market conditions. They realize that the job market sucks. However, no matter how many of them cite their “actual desire to become a lawyer,” or “lack of expectations for biglaw anyway,” it’s clear many are in denial about their decision to gamble $90-150k on the off-chance that everything turns around by 2013 or 2014.

A 0L speaks:

“The regular posters…are extremely well informed, we've done the research on this. We know the economy is shit and that the legal profession is not likely to recover any time soon. If anything, maybe you could say we are cautiously optimistic that things might be better by the time the class of 2013 is looking for jobs. But there is NOBODY here that thinks everything is great and we're all going to get jobs.”

I must ask: then why the hell are you all going to law school? (“Because it’s not going to happen to ME!”) Yeah, bro, I thought the same thing just a few short years ago.

More from 0Ls:

“Most people on this site, it seems, are either getting substantial scholarships at riskier schools, or attending schools with decent odds. Is it gambling? Sure. Are many of us already faced with years of unemployment/underemployment due to our undergraduate degrees, many of which were sought simply to proceed to the JD? Absolutely. For a lot of us, this situation blew up after we were dedicated to this track. It's hard, Junior year of undergrad, to decide that you're suddenly going to become an engineer, or a Doctor.”

Dedicated to this track? As in, invested perhaps 100 hours studying for the LSAT, buying a few Powerscore books, maybe plunking down for an actual prep course? Consider that a fee for having learned to avoid law school. I know it’s hard as an undergrad seeing your plan torpedoed and not knowing what to do. Many of us felt like law school was the only thing to do given our undergraduate degree. The time and money you have “invested” in your law school dream is insignificant compared to how much precious time and money you are going to light on fire chasing that J.D. Write off what you’ve done so far as a learning experience, but don't let it color the future and make you think you have to keep chugging along.

As for deciding you’re suddenly going to become an engineer or doctor? How is it any harder than deciding you’re going to be a lawyer? In every case, you’re deciding to take on additional schooling and debt in hopes of getting a professional job. It’s exactly the same decision-making process involved in choosing law school. The economy took a dive after you decided you wanted to go to law school. Schools outside the T-14 are seeing double-digit unemployment rates. Even some qualified grads from the very top schools are working for free or not finding real, full-time work. I can’t emphasize enough how bad it is out there. 0Ls' optimism and self-confidence would, in other circumstances, be admirable. Having been there ourselves, we can say: please listen to the bloggers and disenchanted lawyers out there! No one has to stay on the track to law school just because it has been their plan. Things have changed; perhaps we all ought to as well. Is this really a radical proposition?


  1. Welcome to scam blogging and thanks for the link to mine in this article. Be happy that you're still in your 20's.

    The first person who told me about the perils of law school was a lady who didn't hold a bachelor degree. I immediately dismissed her on those grounds and I was dead set on law school. Now I wish I had listened. I wasted a good part of my youthful period in law school.

  2. Welcome Scammed Hard! I am always glad to see a new scamblog up. You will find that blogging about your experience is very rewarding, even if you only dissuade one person from making your mistakes. You saved someone a life of grief. It's crazy how honestly is killed by the OLs. If the internet existed when I went to law school, I might have appreciated blogs like ours. I would like to think I wasn't a dumb lemming... just uninformed.

  3. Welcome, Scammed Hard!

    And thanks for the props!

    Our ranks our growing, and we need as many diverse voices out there calling into the TLS wilderness! I look forward to your future posts!

  4. I once read that when you have a lot of hardcore drug addicts in an age cohort, there will typically be a much smaller percentage of hardcore drug addicts in the group that is five to ten years younger. In other words, seeing your older brother self-destruct from heroin use can cause you to choose a different path.

    Lots of the today's 0Ls have NOT had the experience of seeing an admired older sibling or cousin or neighbor come out of law school with up to a quarter of million dollars in debt combined with a volunteer position at the public defender's office. This will change over the next five years. In the 60s, if you graduated from a good college with a good grade point average, you had lots of opportunities, even if your degree was in art history or German, etc. By the late 70s, so many people had college degrees that you needed to get a double major: Italian AND accounting, etc., unless you were attending a prestige school. By the mid-80s, people were leaving school with ever-higher amounts of student loan debt, and sometime in the 80s they made it much toughter to discharge student loans in bankruptcy.

    I really do believe that we have hit the end of the road with pricey educations that leave people indebted AND underemployed. Don't worry about the new ABA-accredited law schools springing up. The campuses will still be bright and shiny when the school goes belly up. I also think that the ability to discharge student loans in bankruptcy will liberalized within two to five years. If legal research can be done in India for 50 cents an hour, most judges are going to be open to the idea that six figures in debt cannot be paid off.

    A J.D. degree will be a supersized equivalent of a bachelor's degree in womyn's studies.

  5. Very interesting take on the law school debate... having been through the "meat grinder" myself, I would half agree/half disagree with the posters on this forum. I believe that law school (and the practice of law) is the correct career path for some people.

    However, the problem is one of preparation and inexperience, combined with a value system focusing solely on $. More specifically, a standard law student simply assumes they will like the law, they go to law school because of the $, respect and prestige (or becuase they have nothing better to do). They put ZERO effort into exploring and doing their "Due Diligence" as to whether or not the practice of law will match their personality or life goals. Further they make no efforts to explore what a lawyer ACTUALLY DOES.

    Then they proceed through law school, accept the highest paying job they can obtain out of law school (with no consideration for the type of law that might suit them). Then they get married, get a house, have kids and wake up one day realizing they hate being a lawyer. Too late GAME OVER!

    If they put 5% of the effort into planning a law career pre law school vs studying for the LSAT they would probably find a type of law that suited them, satisfied them emotionally, and become more financially successful in the long run.

    I hope this helps some pre law candidates out there!

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