Ten Reasons To Not Go To Law School

by kim on June 6, 2013 · 21 comments

in adulthood, Career and Work

For the love of all applicable deities, do not go to law school.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

we have to go back

 

Fellow attorneys?  You feel me?  What about other professions?

 

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Megg June 6, 2013 at 11:21 am

If I could go back, I would have quit after the B.S. in Biology. Perhaps gone back for an M.S., but would not have gotten a Ph.D. knowing what I know now. The number of unemployed and underemployed science Ph.D.s is staggering right now. Jamie can’t find a new job to save his life – he’s applied for 10 and heard back on 0. With a Ph.D. for shit’s sake. I have employees with bachelor’s degrees that make more than Jamie does right now as a post-doc, and they even have retirement plans. That’s the big fucking kicker right there – who can afford to pay into a retirement plan while in grad school, or while post-docing for peanuts? No one, that’s who. I didn’t even start a 401K until I was 32 goddammit. So, yeah — get a 2 year degree from a community college and be an ultrasound tech or something. Cheaper, and you earn *immediately*, and you’re in demand.

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kim June 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Here’s what I find interesting…you are one of the smartest people I know and one of the people that I feel should have PhDs in this world. But even you think the whole thing is overrated. Obviously something’s wrong with the system in general then.

i think graduate degrees are still important. but different ones. the days of getting a law degree or even an mba as a booster to any job path are over. it sounds like that’s true in your field as well. Ms. MEPS decided not to do her PhD and just stuck with the M.S. for similar reasons.

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Allison @Insomniac Lab Rat June 19, 2013 at 11:02 pm

*sobs* I’m almost (err…”almost”) done with my PhD, and really wondering if I’ve wasted the last four years when I could have been making a lot more money…I’m not feeling completely down about it just yet, though, because it seems like everyone who graduates from my program DOES end up with a job. It might take more applications than it used to, but it seems like graduates from our program do pretty well…

I do fear greatly for a friend of mine who is going to a lower tier law school, paying a gazillion dollars a year…

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kim July 3, 2013 at 10:24 am

a lower tier law school isn’t worth it these days unless you are going to be something really specific and have other credentials. other wise, might as well go home.

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Stacie June 6, 2013 at 11:38 am

So I dropped out of law school after my first year (and working and a small firm). Ended up teaching high school for two years before I went back to graduate school. I’m in the dissertation process and know that it’s possible I won’t ever get a job as a professor — mostly because we have now moved to where we want to be and I’m not really willing to move across the country for a job. (We are lucky that my husband has a great job and we can be ok with this for now.) So I might end up back teaching high school one of these days. And that’s ok — great even — I loved teaching. I think my grad school experience was necessary for my psychologically after I dropped out of law school. But, yeah, PhDs (if you can get a job) often involve a willingness to relocate, so there’s that to consider.

And I wanted to tell you my whole life story apparently, lol.

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kim June 12, 2013 at 3:28 pm

I love that you told me all of this. I often thought about dropping out in law school and doing something different. But I thought I was trapped. I wish I had been bolder. Even if you don’t use the PhD as initially intended, it sounded like it was necessary for you. So that’s worth it in the long run.

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kim June 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm

and by the way, i’m still laughing about Luke saying he killed mufasah.

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magnolia June 6, 2013 at 11:51 am

here’s my real, balanced, non-tantrum stance. it was the best choice for me to go to law school and then on to my LL.M. i could not do my job without that set of credentials, and i do the job i went to school to do. i wanted to be a tax lawyer; i am a tax lawyer. (the specific people employing me, now, that’s another story.)

NOW. would i suggest this to ANYONE else? NO. NONONONONO. NEVER.

so where does that put me? don’t know. it’s hard. it’s not a comfortable life. but i did what i set out to do. i got what i wanted. for better or for worse.

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kim June 12, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I think where you and I differ is that you knew what you wanted your end result to be in a more specific way. I was all “I want to help people.” Well, great, go be a nurse or something, then. But you had a very specific job in mind and to me that is a big difference. So for you it was the best choice. I just fear that far too many people are playing the Kim Roulette of Educational Choices and not the more balanced approach you took.

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Jane June 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Your experience is eerily close to my husband’s (although he left a low-paying law job to become a police officer).

In my area, at least, the money is all in very highly specialized tech jobs. So be an engineer or computer scientist, I guess. You’ll still probably work with assholes, but you’ll make a lot more money.

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kim June 12, 2013 at 3:43 pm

and if i were making that money i think i could at least do that for a few years, save up and then go do something i loved. but there’s no money in the law for 99% of the people anymore. as you know quite well.

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amy August 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm

because all women want to have families and babies and run home to take care of their kids. please I’m a woman and I be damned if I’m going to go out and find love and affection and pop out a baby. No, I’m thinking about myself and my career. No time for kids or husband and I don’t care either. bye

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kim August 11, 2013 at 4:29 pm

I think you missed the point entirely. The investment is not a solid one regardless of marriage and children plans or wants. That’s only one small part of it, the burden of which is placed on women and the legal profession is horrible for making the necessary adjustments to have a diverse workforce.

I think you glossed over the bulk of the piece.

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amy August 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm

No, I read the entire piece, I just didn’t like that part the most. It really bothered me that he assumed that the burden for women would be oh don’t because you know a family and its’ just really hard for society to change and the labor force…etc etc and its predicament with accepting women. I don’t think that people should just sit back and quit because people just aren’t going to see most women as credible. heck no. where would we be, if all of us said ; well you know we don’t really perceive Irish as credible with drinking problems, or immigrants as credible because this societal expectation or not seeing black people. And you’ve missed my point , I see. You’re talking about necessary adjustments as if all women have to make adjustments as if all women just want to get married and have children and as if all women will be in relationship where there is no stay at home dads. Stay at home dads are increasing rapidly in the United States and you know what that means, men are handling emergencies for kids, not the women…this article suggest, well it won’t be easy women, so don’t even try women…stupid.

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kim August 11, 2013 at 7:29 pm

1. This article is written by a woman. Namely, me. And if you read anything else on my site or other pieces I’ve written, you’ll know how I’m well aware of (and study academically) the things you discuss above. Not that my credentials prevent me from saying something stupid, I just want you to know what you’re dealing with here.

2. That’s NOT what the post suggests at all. What the it says is that the men who are in power in law firms and other legal institutions are of a generation where parental duties are not shared. They were able to be fathers and work those jobs because they had partners who stayed home 75-100% of the time. The fact that they didn’t have to sacrifice means that anyone’s sacrifice–man or woman–is frowned upon in the traditional firm set up. When society and biology has placed the burden of child bearing and rearing on women, there is no good way to go. Women are not only fighting that we are also fighting very overt sexism in direct career aspects as well. Thus, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
The statistics bear this out. It’s not because women aren’t strong or “want it all” it’s that the balancing act is that much more difficult. Hence, you’ll see law school graduation rates have been 50/50 or better for women for at least 15 years, but partner and managing partner levels are still 10-15% across the board. There’s something else going on.

3. You’re right…not all women want a husband or kids. But my point was that if you do, you might want to think twice because despite the platitudes of better work life balance and supports, there is nothing actually there.

4. No one is saying women should quit. If you read that comment in the context of the entire piece, you’ll see that law school is not a good financial move for 90% of the population. Yet we have more people going into law school than ever before and racking up more debt than ever before. It’s a bad bargain that doesn’t pay off. Take that and add in the outmoded gender norms then you have even more problems for women than men.

No one said law school or the legal profession was bad for everyone. It’s just bad for 90% of the people choosing to go into it these days.

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Sam August 17, 2013 at 5:17 am

Kim, I have a dilemma and possibly you can help me out with some advice! So I recently completed my BA in Criminology from a pretty good Canadian university. I’m not sure about the situation in the U.S., however up here in Canada, the admission rates are pretty terrible…anyways, I was considering, like many other Canadian students, to apply and go to the U.K. for a three year LLB program, and hopefully (after writing some qualification exams), article, write the bar exam and eventually practice in Canada. However, I never really knew about things such as “60-70 work hours per week” along with the quality of environment (not that it largely matters). Nonetheless, after reading your article, along with many others, I’m really questioning rather attending law school, in this day and age, is “worth” $120,000 investment or not. In business, there is a term coined “ROI”, which stands for your “return on investment”…so, do you think there is really any return on such an investment of time, energy, and more so, money? Let me know your honest thoughts! Thanks.

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kim August 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Sam-I’ve been thinking about your question for a few days now because I wanted to come up with a really good answer.

But all I have is more for you to ponder.

Do you know what area of law you want to go into? Do you even want to practice or do something else with that education? Is that area of law in need of practitioners or not? If the market is over-saturated, you’ll never be able to pay off your student loans and then it’s not worth it. But if there is demand in your chosen subfield, then it might be worth it.

The 60-70 hours a week is an estimate of what I saw my friends working as associates in law firms. Everyone differs some. But I know that many law firms frown upon people working anything under 55-60. The goal is to bill 40-45 hours a week. To do that, you have to work at least 55 at first. Again, it varies. But the quality of life isn’t good.

Of course, this is the American experience and I have little idea as to the Canadian experience.

First thing you need to consider is whether what you ultimately want to do requires a legal education. Next thing is to consider whether that field is in need of new people or whether it’s already turning people away. Like I said, there are subfields in the states that are constantly in need…it’s just not things that people typically like to do. Finally, consider whether you’re willing to put in 5-7 years of extremely hard work in order to get to a stable point of being able to put in 50 hours a week and go home.

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Sam August 20, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Hi Kim,

Thank you so much for your reply. I am constantly thinking about it like you mentioned, and it is really hard. The other day, while speaking to a friend of mine, I mentioned to him that “I just want to earn a stable income to start my life (e.g. get married, get my own place, etc), and he said “for that, you don’t necessarily need a law degree or any professional degree for that matter”. Likewise, I am constantly in an internal war with myself trying to figure out what is best for me.

To answer your question, I was considering to focus on IP (Intellectual Property) law, as their is a large boom in social media (leading to copyright infringements, lawsuits of that nature, etc). Of course, this is just my own theory. My back-up plan was always family law. Are there any good career options with a Criminology degree? Any suggestions would help so I could make the right choice and not become depressed, with a large hole in the pocket alongside the banks “literally” owning me as I would owe them 150K.

- Sam

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kim August 25, 2013 at 8:17 am

IP is one of the few growing areas of the law. if you really want to do that, then you might be able to find a future in it that you enjoy.

the criminal justice system needs more than just lawyers. depends on what you want to do. study the system? get your graduate degree. work with prisoners? social work or psychology. there’s plenty to do but you need to figure out your role in it.

also, your friend is right. you don’t need a law degree or license for a stable income. they’re not giving many people that right now.

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Meeeh August 26, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Trailing spouse to a postdoc here. It’s like 4 am and I’ve been bawling my eyes out because of the career vs. kids thing. You hit the nail on the head; and many of us begin our careers without any plans of going down the wife/mommy route, but when life throws that fun curveball you just wish the law profession was set up in a more supportive way. But it’s not. And it’s still highly sexist. Thanks for putting out there. Thanks for this reminder why leaving law behind is not really something to bawl over.

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Sam1 December 25, 2013 at 7:28 pm

I’d like to think that, while these points are something to consider, law school and the law profession may work for some. I, personally, know at least a dozen lawyers that are happy with their jobs, some own private practices and a few work for corporations. That may not be a lot, but I think it says something to the affect that not every lawyer is miserable in their chosen profession. Personally I think a JD is like any other degree, if you like it then it wasn’t a waste. I received my Masters in History 3 years ago- that’s a pretty worthless degree to most people, but I found a full-time job, with benefits, in less that 2 months after my graduation. I don’t get paid much, and I will be paying student loans for the next 6-10 years, but I have never regretted attending graduate school. I loved my experience there and I think most of my fellow students did as well. I am now in the process of applying to law school. I’m pretty sure I will enjoy it. Will I make a lot of money? Probably not. But I am aware of that and have accepted it.

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