Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The "plan" : undergrad to law school

I couldn't help tearing out my hair while perusing this article on skyrocketing college costs that recession-squeezed families are having to bear. While the anecdotes of average, middle-income Minnesotans shelling out $24,000 a year for undergrad, or planning to pay $120,000 for their kid's degree because "you absolutely need it," are heartbreaking enough, there is one portion that is sure to have any scamblogger reaching for the Rolaids.

Mike Bridgeman of Minneapolis said that with an annual cost of more than $20,000 once all expenses are factored in, he wouldn't be comfortable paying for his daughter to attend the University of Minnesota Duluth if she didn't have a post-graduation plan to attend law school.

"A lot of kids graduate and still don't know what they want to do," he said. But since she is focused, he willingly paid the $6,000 yearly family contribution out of his paychecks. This year, he's tapping her college savings account. She also borrowed a small amount of money via federal loans, which he plans to help her pay back.

How common has the "epic life plan" of tumbling directly from undergrad to law school become? Judging by the flood of cheesy news stories documenting directionless undergrads, and my own personal acquaintances, every other undergrad who can't find a job is trundling off to law school. How pathetic is it, that after shelling out tens of thousands for an undegrad degree, we've come to accept that it's necessary, acceptable, and a good idea to immediately start paying $30-50k a year for another degree?

In a way, it makes sense. It certainly was what motivated me to go to law school. Can't find a "real job" with your liberal arts degree, better go back to school and get a real skill. Granted, this was before the worst of the recession set in and I might have had a fighting chance of finding some crappy entry-level job. Alas, ambition and that higher calling of "the law" rang, and it was off to hit the casebooks for me. Only when the prospective students themselves also hit the wall will everything become illuminated.

What really bothers me is this parental notion that "other kids don't know what they want to do, but my special little guy/girl is off to law school! They're going to be someone and are on the road to success in life!" Sadly, this couldn't be farther from the truth. The vast majority of people in law school are there because they have no clue what to do with the rest of their lives, they have some vague notion of what being a lawyer entails, and they are led to believe that lawyers make decent money. They take the LSAT, swallow the fraudulent employment statistics from their school of choice, and send off their tuition deposits.

Here is my sad and law school scam-embittered prediction for our young Minnesotan subject, currently studying at regional undergrad campus University of Minnesota-Duluth. Judging by the student profile at this school, our subject is most likely going to remain in Minnesota and will target at least one of the four law schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, three of which are TTT/TTTT. (Mitchell cracked top 100 this year, big deal, it is and always will be TTT.) Odds are our student is going to be looking at Mitchell or St. Thomas. Because job prospects are so miserable, even for T-1 University of Minnesota graduates, our hapless student finds herself unemployable (at least for actual paid work) during her law school summers, but shrugs it off as "the recession" and soldiers on.

Upon graduating and finding herself some $100,000 in debt, she and her family are shocked to find that, like many of the 1,000 new lawyers looking for work every year in Minnesota, she cannot find anything. She hangs on for a while, perhaps getting her already-generous dad to shell out for "solo practice" supplies, advertising, and the like. Eventually, her debt sources and soul exhausted, she moves back home, seven years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the best years of her life down the drain. Her well-meaning but dumbfounded dad sometimes wanders into the basement of his Minneapolis home, where his daughter has taken up residence. As he glances over at the broken figure of his once-happy little girl, hunched over the computer and sending off the day's dozen resumes into the abyss, he gets a little misty-eyed. "What happened to 'the plan?'" he sometimes cries out.



  1. wow, that's really all I can muster. It's good she has a "plan" but a lot of colleges students end up changing majors, finding out thats not what they want to do. She's so young as it is, I don't think she really has any clue what she wants to do with her life. Hell I'm 27 and I still don't have a clue. I was lucky my parents paid my undergrad, but I also went to an instate school where it cost less than 7,000 a yr to attend. I couldn't imagine my parents shelling out 24,000 a yr for my undergrad.

  2. Strong post. Love this blog.

  3. "The vast majority of people in law school are there because they have no clue what to do with the rest of their lives, they have some vague notion of what being a lawyer entails, and they are led to believe that lawyers make decent money."

    If that is true, it’s rather sad that these people are influenced so greatly by familial and societal expectations. I’d venture that these same individuals never considered a life that diverged substantially from what their parents expected of them. In its own way it’s a form of provincialism--that attempts to find illusory shelter in an ever-changing world.

  4. I'm sure her Dad will be thrilled to put "She followed The Plan" on his daughter's tombstone after she commits suicide with $150,000 in non-dischargeable law loan debt and no possible way to get even a horrific Minnesota shitlaw temp job with no benefits.

  5. I am neither an attorney nor a law student but I have been following the law school scam blogs. I read this Star Tribune article this morning and was initially shocked that Bridgeman was OK with funding his daughter’s UG debt simply because she has plans to go to law school. Then I remembered that the general population is utterly clueless as to the scam of law schools. So keep blogging about it!!

  6. The unique problem with law is the stigma issue. You are CHAINED to that JD once you obtain one, unlike other degrees. NOBODY CARES if you have a mere BA in Economics and apply for a sales job, but woe to you if you have the dreaded JD. You will catch hell for not "practicing law".

    Civilians really think law school teaches you things like how to represent a drunk driver, how to set up a trust, close a real estate deal, etc. They don't know you get taught instead a bunch of 17th century bullshit and Palsgraf-like crap having no bearing on 99% of what you are trying to actually do.

  7. The post-World War Two trajectory of the U.S. economy is flattening out. The powers hat be tried to stretch things out a little bit, first with the dot-com bubble, then the real estate bubble, now overlapped by the graduate school bubble. It is all an attempt at avoidance. Avoidance of the reality that the U.S. is now just like a bunch of other countries, one among many, as we were prior to the Second World War.

    Most do not realize that prior to December 7, 1941, much of the U.S. Army rode horses and wore canvas leggings--we were not always a dominant world powerhouse. We stepped into the breach provided by our physical remoteness in that conflict and helped our allies produce, and fight, their way out of trouble. Lend-lease, then actual involvement in the war.

    Then, in the aftermath of a wrecked, devastated Europe and Japan, we enjoyed decades of robustness in industrial and consumer production. Now, that has playd out. Everyone is running for the perceived safe haven or shelter of "higher education", but to what end? Lacking the physical side of the economy which once held everything else up (autos, steel, appliances, textiles, etc.)we teeter about playing economic shell games and inventing financial instruments which mask the true extent of our debt.

  8. @ 8:41 - You speak the truth my friend!

    I have tried to explain exactly that to so many people, but to no avail. People seem to think that the US really is some special place that has been "blessed" by the hand of god or something.

    Truth is, we were just really, really, lucky and a beneficiary of fortunate circumstances that came to be precisely due to the confluence of events you already mentioned.

  9. Most law grads "can't find jobs" because deep-down, they don't know where to work, or, eek!, whether to work. The reality is that many, many students go to law school because they didn't have a clue what to do in the first place and *poof*, three years and $100k later, they STILL have no clue - surprise!!!

    So after e/mailing 1,000 resumes to law firms in Punkdedunk, Idaho with no idea anything about the firm, these folk decide that they don't really want to practice...or better yet, "there's no jobs." That's a nice one. Tell me more.

  10. NALP themselves noted that between layoffs and the depressed economy, only ~20,000 lawyer jobs were available in 2009, despite there being the same ~45,000 number of students graduated. I'm sure that half of the nationwide graduating class just needed to try harder and will themselves to a job. Networking and getting yourself into the top 25% really can create jobs out of thin air.

  11. Tyson-

    Seriously bro, your schtick is beyond tired. Bring some stats, anecdotes, ANYTHING other than some clearly illusory notion that "legal services will increase by 12%" yadda yadda yadda.

    You immediately assume all people struggling or screaming about employment have no networking skills, practical money making skills, or Tyson-like hustle. Bad assumption. Backed up by nothing from you (to date).

    Keep convincing yourself every scamblogger is a whiny baby. Just remember that you are the only one you may convince, and it seems you are failing at that as well....

  12. 12:33 pm: There's only one problem with your construct:

    Law School doesn't teach yo to DO ANYTHING.

  13. oops, sorry Scammed Hard: meant 1216 am, not 1233 pm

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