Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fall Is Coming, And With It, The Return Of 'Don't Go To Law School' Season

As thousands of college seniors return to campuses across America this month, many are facing that oldest of nagging questions, certain to be discussed late at night prompted by binge drinking and freshman year nostalgia: what in the hell am I going to do with this liberal arts degree now?

For too many graduates, the answer continues to be, "I know, I'll go to law school."

I consider myself - along with fellow blogger Amber Taylor - to be among the few, proud members of the "Don't Do It" club. The "Do It" club is large and popualted mostly by parents and well meaning adults comforted by the thought of a child insulated from unemployment and want by a J.D. and a Huxtable-level Brooklyn Brownstone future. You know these people. The ones who say, with chins ever up, how useful a law degree is, even if you don't practice. It's a valuable certificate. A ticket - and a golden one at that. A law degree is versatile. It teaches you to think. To reason. A law degree will save you. Haven't you seen Erin Brokovich? Nevermind that she wasn't a lawyer, it's the professsssssion, you see. Noble. It wins. It's about truth. Justice. The American way.

And debt, kids. Massive, opportunity strangling, piles of debt. And weight-gain. And spending 3 years in a pseudo-intellectual environment created as the world's most pretigious barrier-to-entry to keep our rates up (well, some of our rates), swapping the sensible apprentice-based model for the current faux-collegiate attitude that drives true scholars mad and elevates mediocre memorization specialists to new, $100k+ heights.

Nay, that's too dark a rendition of the law school reality, no? Knowing my employer reads this from time to time to ensure I'm not sinking the mission duty-binds me to include a disclaimer that I do, in fact enjoy my job. I do. I'm not lying. But I don't think anyone needs to go to law school. Certainly not you, uncertain and scared college senior. Certainly not, unless you are damned sure you want to practice law. And to be that sure, you have to know what it is to practice law and I'll tell you right now, kid who rushes home after Gov 82 each day to watch 5 hours of L&O (classic, not sex-addled SVU), that ain't it and you haven't got a clue.

How about some empirical data about what your future might look like? Here's some good stuff. See that big bump at the left of the graph? That's probably going to be you. Unless you work you ass off to get into the top US News ranked schools, you can kiss that right-hand hump good-bye. It does matter where you go. Better is better. Period.

See, that's the thing with the decision to go to law school - it is based on such deceptively simple questions and truths. Only go if you want to practice law. Go to the best school possible. Easy, right? Wrong. Oh so wrong.

Somewhere, as she reads this, my mother is cringing and feeling both sad and angry. She hates, hates, HATES when I say that law school was a bad choice for me. She hates that statement because, as with "only go if you want to practice law" and "go to the best school possible," its length belies its complexity. Law school led to many good things for me. I probably wouldn't have met my fiancé (not that he's a lawyer or law student, thank god). Obviously, I'd go to law school 3 times in a row rather than trade him for avoiding the experience. I also wouldn't have my current job which, as mentioned above, I do genuinely like.

But you must realize, eager, bright-eyed senior, that a law degree is not a good credential to have, the way having passed the CBEST can get you substitute teaching gigs when you feel like getting extra cash. You will be condemned to taking jobs that can support your degree unless you have the ability to pay for most of it upfront. And if making a comfortable living is one of your main career goals (and if it is not you are either stupid, lying, deluded, or the beneficiary of a trust), you can do it without a law degree.

I have a good friend whose career I use to track my own. He's not much older than I am. I don't know exactly when he started in the Capitol, but it wasn't too long before I did. He stayed there, working in a policy area I love and worked damn hard. He recently left for the private sector. But before he left he was making more money than I am now. And he has no law school debt to pay off. Didn’t have to take out extra loans after his education to pay for the prep class that would enable him to pass the exam he needs to use the professional degree. He's doing A-Okay. I think that's so wonderful he should be trucked to college campuses around the state as a motivational speaker.

I've made this argument, or some version of it, frequently over the life of this blog. I'm not confident it will sway a single student from the wrong path. Truly brilliant mentors didn't sway me from mine. Because I was dumb. And I felt lost. And despite what I will forever contend was the best college education ever, I still lacked enough self-confidence to feel finished by my B.A. All of those are my failings alone - and no one else's.

So I will remain the Cassandra of senior-year planning. Don't do it. At least take some time first, see if you can survive out there. Try to figure out if practicing law is really what you'd like to do everyday. Try to figure out what practicing law is. Try to figure out if you're comfortable living in a world without much truth - at least in the professional sense. Then think about it some more. Law school will always be around - your chance to make a mistake by attending won't disappear after your senior year.


Anonymous said...

I feel like I've made similar speeches dozens of times, but never that well. I may have to start referring people to this blog post instead.

And yes, I am a lawyer who most of the time likes his job too.

Anonymous said...

Are you calling me a mediocre memorization specialist?

Party in Sactown in October!!!