For the love of all applicable deities, do not go to law school.
This morning I log in to Facebook and see an article shared about the local attorney factory, Cooley Law School, offering a two year law school education. A similar push is going on in the state of New York. Two year law school isn’t the problem. I honestly don’t think the legal education you get in your third year is that much more superior to the learning you get on the job. What is the problem then? All of the damn extra lawyers this will produce. Cooley has already saturated the market round these parts.
Don’t go to law school because you’re good at arguing. Go join the debate team and get that out of your system.
And don’t do it because you want to help people.
Of any random sampling of ten people who want to go to law school, only three of them should. In this economy, really only one should–and that’s the full time professional who can use a legal degree to climb the ladder in their current industry.
I’m going to be Buzz Killington here for a minute, so bear with me.
Picture it. Detroit. 2003.
Young, bright eyed college grad takers her totally useful degree in French and Political Science and embarks on the law school journey because she feels she can “help people” with a law degree. Hell, she even gets a partial scholarship. Deep in her heart, she knows she wants to teach at the college level one day but thinks that she should have a legal career “helping people” first. She dives in. Her first year is hard. Really hard. She decided to go at night and work during the day, so her grades are a bit lower than she is used to. But despite all of that, she finds a law clerk job, starts doing moot court competitions and even wins awards. She’s also involved in the student bar association and other organizations that get her all kinds of great shit for her resume.
And then she gets what she thinks will be a dream job working for a law firm that represents labor unions. Helping people, indeed!
In the two years she is there, she realizes that this job is far from the dream she anticipated and closer to a mental breakdown. Perhaps if she were making more money she could afford all of the therapy she needed to make it through the day. Perhaps if she had a bit more support in the form of true mentorship, she would have known what was needed from her. Instead, she flails until she hits a massive depression, questioning every move she has ever made and deciding that she will never again work as an associate in a law firm.
Now, not everyone has the same experience. But of the hundreds of people I met in law school, I can only think of three who can stand what they do in a way that they’d choose it all over again if they had to. And each month that passes, that number dwindles.
I try to be kind when people ask me if they should go to law school. I try. But now, I think I’m doing them a disservice. I wish someone had pulled me aside and really explained what law school would mean for me and my life. I might have still gone, but it would have been nice to have a choice made with full knowledge.
Here is why you should NOT go to law school.
1. There are too many lawyers for the available jobs. In some states, like Michigan, there are at least two unemployed lawyers for every one job. Probably closer to 5. Good luck finding a job.
2. The education costs too much. And even if you get a partial scholarship like me, you’ll soon realize that all they did was give you a small discount to sink their hooks into you. It costs over $200k to go to law school. No kidding. The cost keeps growing. That’s the kind of burden only people with grand treasure chests of money or a good escape plan should commit themselves to using.
3. There are too many areas of the law that are shrinking for most people. The only area of law where you’ll find a job no matter what? Patent law. And you have to have a science or engineering background for that and pass a separate bar exam.
4. If you’re a woman, just don’t bother. Yes we need more women in every profession and especially the legal profession as it’s a springboard to political office, but good god think twice if you want a career and a family. Because all of your bosses will be men with stay at home wives and they will not understand the need for you to take the afternoon off to go to your kid’s dance recital or doctor’s appointment. They just won’t. And, oh, by the way, blatant sexism is alive and well in the legal field. You will be given more work, far less credit, less money and fewer chances for being thanked. Meanwhile your male counterpart will get the verbal equivalent of a hand job every time he submits a motion on time. It’s soul crushing.
5. The jobs that are out there suck. They are thankless lots of life where you work insane hours (60-70 hours per week), are judged not by the work you do but how much you do it (billable hours) and, oh, by the way, you can barely afford to pay your student loans, eat dinner and pay for the alcohol, therapy or combination of both you’ll need.
6. Oh yeah…lawyers have the highest rates of alcoholism and depression of any profession. Associate in a law firm was rated the most despised job of them all. Think about that for a second. People are happier cleaning other people’s feces up for a living than being an associate attorney.
7. You won’t end up helping people. Every once in awhile you will. And it will feel amazing. But those times are few and far between. Soon you’ll realize that even representing the most amazing organizations means doing a lot of grunt work and representing them no matter what they do. And even the best orgs make horrid decisions. So have fun with that. There is no right and wrong…there are varying shades of gray. The other thing…when you work with people who think they’re doing god’s work, they kind of think of themselves as martyrs. Have fun working with them.
8. Every vacation you take will be insufficient and potentially ruined. In my second year as an associate we took an awesome Jamaican all inclusive vacation. You know what I did? I sat around all day most days and then fell asleep at 7:30 at night. The Mister tried to wake me up to go do something. I fell asleep and could not be moved for a good 12 hours because I was that tired. And when we came home I was still exhausted. if you like to travel and not vacation (meaning you like to explore places and really immerse yourself) forget it. You’ll need a beach holiday.
9. You will end up settling for less in your second job. I jumped into the next job as a way to escape the first. And I got stuck. I have a better work life balance, but my pay is horrid and stagnant. I couldn’t payback my student loans right now even if I wanted to. But I’m just employed enough to be considered solvent. Rock. Me. Hardplace. And there are far too many of my peers in this position. Don’t think you’ll escape it either. The second job is better, but it’s not great.
10. Truth be told, you’d rather be scooping ice cream. My first year legal writing professor used to joke about this. I now realize it wasn’t a joke but the kind of cry for help she had perfected over the years. There are days when I dream about doing something like scooping ice cream. But that won’t pay the bills. Moreover, no one will hire me to do something like that because I’m overqualified. Oh, you’re still there rock and hard place? Honestly, there are days when you’d rather be the garbage man because he gets better pay and benefits. And when one of the noblest professions of all time makes less than your average garbage man, I would rather ride on the back of a smelly truck.
And the two reasons you should?
1. Your parents will be proud of you. Every parent wants to talk about their kid the lawyer.
2. You will meet lifelong friends. Honestly, that’s the only thing keeping me from inventing a time machine and doing it all over.
Fellow attorneys? You feel me? What about other professions?