Friday, January 30, 2009

Don't Go To Law School Unless You Want To Be A Lawyer

How many times should we go over this simple bit of advice? Oh, how about one more time since people continue to make the same, wrong-headed arguments in favor of law school. Note, in particular:

A surprising number of people answer "no." A really, really surprising number: probably at least 50%. And of the rest, at least another 50% say "well, I'm not sure...I don't think so...but maybe." And these people are not asking my advice idly: they have usually taken the LSATs, and sometimes have already applied to schools. When I ask them why they would got to law school if they certainly-or-probably do not want to practice law, they always give the same response: "Well, it's such a great, all-purpose professional degree."

Memo to all of the people out there who might be thinking the same thing: do not go to law school. Seriously. I know that you have heard that a J.D. is a "great all-purpose degree," but it isn't. That's a lie put about by parents who are trying to trick you into middle-class professionaldom and law schools who are trying to take your money. A J.D. is not an all-purpose degree, it is a law degree. It does not qualify you to become a diplomat, a "senior policy advisor" to anything, a politician, a banker, an aid worker, a political operative, or any of those other jobs that seem like they might be a fun way to satisfy your West Wing fantasies. It qualifies you to be a lawyer, and it doesn't really even do that -there's still the pesky matter of the bar exam. . . .

Imagined J.D.s come with their own proprietary magical thinking, in which dreams of a high salary appear whenever you are feeling broke, and images of skipping a few rungs on the career ladder hover tantalizingly above your mean boss's head. You delight in the potential "security" of having a highly-paid career as a "backup option," while imagining that you would never sell out and stay at a corporate firm; you revel in the prospect of an exciting career scripted by Aaron Sorkin, without wondering how all those legislative aides can live off of $40k a year while servicing their six-figure debts. Imagined J.D.s can be everything you want them to be.
That about covers it.


Anonymous said...

I agree 100%, with one exception: there's one other group that could appropriately consider law school a good follow-up to an undergrad education: trust fund kids.

Otherwise, with the debt load you'll build up while in law school, you're going to practice law, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Once you've paid off your loans and made partner, then the "senior policy advisor" etc become possible, but look carefully at how many people finish law school versus how many make partner. Scary!

Anonymous said...

I'd even tell a trust fund kid to save it - there's better things to do with one's time and money, even if money is no object. (It's always an object.)

Law school also undoes all that lovely brain expansion you've undergone in college. All that fancy thinking and comprehending the world? Forget it and start memorizing these elements and learning these rigid analytical structures. Doubly so for the bar.

I became less interesting and less thoughtful in law school. Not more.