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Am I making a big mistake?

July 9, 2010

YES … if I wanted to believe the numerous negative blogs out there. Believe me, if you are looking for reasons not to go to law school, there are plenty of online resources who will reinforce your fears. One of my favorites is the choleric liberal Elie Mystal from Above the Law. Every other post of his contains, at minimum, a snarky comment on why anyone would be stupid enough, or at best, apatheticuninformed and full of hubris, to go to law school these days. Look at the horrible job market! he warns. The 2010 grads can’t get jobs! he hyperventilates. The investment isn’t worth it! he doubles down with negativity.

Clearly, the man regrets his own decision to go to law school and is now projecting his disappointment and negative perspective on everyone else. Basically, unless you are going to be in the top 10% of the class of one of the Top 10 schools, you’re wasting your time (and more importantly, your money). Even then, you’ll likely hate your job.

He’s not the only one who talks like this; as I said, there’s no shortage of doomsayers running around the internet. Many of them have some salient points, and I agree that one should not go into law school uninformed and optimistically blind. It’s true: the job market for lawyers isn’t good right now.

But tell me, which job market is good right now? Medicine? Engineering? Even those have been hit to some degree. The truth is, there is no good job market right now. The whole country is in a depression, and every field is tough to break into. Should we all throw up our hands and give up?

My degree is in English (a truly completely worthless degree), and my work experience is in technical writing and editing, so I figured I’d conduct a little experiment. I did a job search for “writer,” another for “editor,” and yet another for “attorney.”

The “attorney” jobs available–and this is only a cursory search–far, far, FAR outnumbered the writer/editor jobs here in the Denver Metro Area. Moreover, it became clear to me that because I’ve been out of the loop for several years, I would have no choice but to take an entry-to-mid-level job in the writer/editor fields (think $30-40K/year). According to Elie Mystal logic, I should settle for this.

One reason I chose to pursue a JD was that it is somewhat versatile (more versatile than, say, a PhD in English, anyway). I may or may not be working as an attorney in the future; I’m keeping my options open. Yes, it is an expensive degree, and that does concern me somewhat. But then, so is every other degree. I also agree that tuition reform is needed, as well as student loan reform.

But am I making a big mistake by going to law school, as many would suggest? I suppose I won’t know for sure until three years from now. However, given my options, I’m confident I’m doing the right thing. I’m excited about starting school and a new career path. My old career path is even more forbidding than law, not to mention the crap pay, the lack of upward mobility, and job dissatisfaction. I plan to work in Denver, not NYC or DC–and definitely not in BigLaw–making DU, a tier 2 school, an appropriate choice for me. Everything has been falling into place, and I feel good about what I’m doing and where I’m headed.

Besides, I’m optimistic that Obama will lose his job in 2012 and the economy will begin to recover shortly thereafter. :-) See? It’s not all doom and gloom.

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54 comments

  1. I wouldn’t put too much stock into anything ATL posts. It’s entire modus operandi is drama and hyperbole. There are plenty of legal jobs out there, but all the low hanging fruit is gone and the competition to get what remains is tough. But if you have determination, are willing to bust your butt, and network like hell – you can get a job. Maybe not a $150,000+ job right out the gate, but who cares? If you are making a salary you are comfortable with and enjoying yourself then I think you’re in a good place.


  2. I agree Keith. ATL is fun to read for entertainment value, but I find myself rolling my eyes more often than not. But it’s a great example of what NOT to read when you’re considering law school.

    I never assumed I’d make $150K out of the gate, or even close to it. I had researched what an entry-level lawyer makes and I believe I have a much more realistic expectation than that. It’d be great to make a lot of money, sure, but I’m more interested in a career I can love, even if it means making less. I’m certainly not “crazy” for believing that it’s possible!

    Thanks for the comment, Keith.


  3. Regret and mistake are relative terms, but then again so is optimism. The fact is, you have made your decision and it is too late to turn back now. Law school is a unique experience, so like my yoga instructor advised – embrace the discomfort and get inside the pain.


  4. Elie here: I’m glad your reading, and I know it’s easy to pass off my warnings (and the warning of the numerous people warning you to avoid law school like the plague) as me (and us) projecting a bad experience onto others. For my part, I’m really not. I hated law school, but not for the reasons I write about on ATL. (See, e.g. ATL commenters, understand that they are not in the minority when you go to law school).

    What job market isn’t in terrible shape right now? The career that you love. That’s not a platitude, it’s a reality. Writing (my second career) is in terrible shape right now. Terrible. Nobody would “advise” me to get into writing for money, career stability, or anything like that. But I really really love writing, and so I’m happy with my career.

    You don’t *love* the law. How do I know? Well, I read your “why law school” page and it contained literally every horrible red flag that every frustrated attorney has ever thought before they embark on a 3 year journey of enormous debt.

    You listed four possible career choices. 2 of them you nixed because of “pre-requisites” another you nixed (smartly) b/c you didn’t love it. Here’s why you claim law school one (i’m gonna paraphrase):

    1. Easy to get into (no pre-reqs)
    2. Skills that translate into THE LAW
    3. Good job prospects.

    Let’s break that down.

    1. By your 30s, you really should have learned by now that if something seems easy to get into, there’s probably a horrible catch. It should proactively *bother you* that there are no pre-reqs to get into law school. B/c either the school is saying “it’s so easy a caveman can do it” — and that should make you think critically about why an employer would ever pay you a professional premium to do something anybody can do. OR the school is just telling you what you want to hear so they can take your money. The only pre-req for law school is the ability to put yourself in six figures of debt. That’s a bad sign.
    2. Analytical skills help you in law school, but they’re pretty ancillary to the job of an actual lawyer. Maybe at the very highest levels, they matter, but for the first 5 – 10 years of your career, the skill set you need is organization, not analytical. Now, maybe you are a great organizer, maybe you have an excellent attention to detail. But tell me, does it really sound like the “good” job if the difference b/w a good lawyer and a great one has nothing to do with analyzing, arguing, or writing, and everything to do with organizing, proofreading, and footnoting? Many archeologist get discouraged when they realize that instead of running around the world like Indiana Jones, they spend most of their time wiping dust off a rock with a toothbrush. Same thing happens to lawyers.

    3. Good job prospects do not exist. But you read Above the Law so you already know that. The question is do better job prospects exist in the law than in other fields. Your experiment fails b/c A) attorney is a much more specific than “writer” so every job looking for an attorney will contain that word while not every job looking for a writer will have that keyword. And B) most writers get their jobs through networking even in a good economy.

    Look, the law is a great career for people who are really passionate about it. And if you have that passion, you’ll find your way regardless of the larger economy. But unfortunately the law (and especially law school) attracts way too many people who are there just because they couldn’t come up with something better to do.

    That doesn’t happen to, say, Jazz musicians. You don’t see blogs by saxophonists who say “I decided to start playing in clubs b/c there weren’t a lot of pre-requisites and it opens so many doors.” Instead they tend to say things like “playing the sax is the only thing I’ve ever truly enjoyed.”

    That’s why I rail against going to law school. It’s terrible to see people set themselves up on a life path b/c it was the best thing they could come up with as opposed to the one thing in this world they really want to do.


  5. Oh, one more thing. Re your: should I settle for the $30-$40K entry level editor job. LOOK at the bimodal salary distribution that every single legal business scholar agrees accurately represents salary opportunities in the legal profession. Just look at it.

    http://abovethelaw.com/2010/05/nalp-2010-nalp-executive-director-james-leipold-talks-to-the-lost-generation/bi-modal-salary-distribution-curve/

    Understand what that means. It means as many lawyers are earning under $72K as over it. But more shockingly, the biggest “hump” on that graph is between $30-$60K. Only a very small percentage of law students have a shot at the left salary spike around $160K. Does that mean that if you fall just short, you’ll be making low six figures? No. It means that if you fall just short you have an excellent chance of making between $30K and $60K. But for the chance at $160K (a chance you claim you don’t even want), you going to be pay or borrow six figures over three years. You could get that supposedly crappy $40K editor job right now, with no additional debts and with the time value of 3 years of your life.

    Most professions have a bell curve salary distribution, the law has a bimodal one. That’s a huge difference; a difference that renders means and medians and “average starting salary” meaningless.

    If you want to have the debt of a lawyer and get paid like a writer (like I do), you better really, really love what your doing.


  6. Ok, I think Elie is being a little harsh. Here are my thoughts. You’re not going to walk away right now so you might as well go into it with your eyes open. The reality is even if your on scholarship law school is really really expensive and you shouldn’t bank on finding a job that will necessarily pay more than $50k. Depending on your background, it’s not always the most inclusive environment and it may or may not bring out the best in you.

    Don’t look at law school as a golden ticket but if you’re really excited about a job that a JD is going to make you qualified for (and the debt is worth it to you) then go for it.


  7. I just finished my 1L year and I learned that law students are best skilled at whining about law school…try not to take it too seriously.

    Good luck this year!


  8. All right, all right, I’m finally back.

    Lindsey, I appreciate your insight. You made me laugh. :-)

    Amanda, $50K, more or less, is roughly where I am expecting to start. Based on my research, I think that’s at least somewhat realistic. As I will be explaining to Elie here shortly, I don’t think it’s anything to despair over. It doesn’t hurt to remind folks, either, that $50K in Denver is different than $50K on the East Coast. No, it’s not “a lot,” but it’s enough to live on.

    Elie, Elie, Elie…

    I almost didn’t respond because I felt it was pointless. I’ve made up my mind to be apathetic and/or full of hubris, as you prefer to see it, and you’ve made up you mind about me already as well. My arguments are sort of like a lumpy clay jar … functional, but not perfect. You, Elie, are like a sledgehammer. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! Die, dreams, die!

    Fortuntely, I am at an age where I no longer seek others’ approval. That’s why I don’t let the Eeyores bother me. My decisions don’t have to make sense to anyone but myself. The purpose of this blog, really, is to connect with others who might be going through the same journey and need someone they can relate to. In the meantime, I hope others find it interesting. I suppose, however, if I really want readership, people should find it controversial. :-)

    Personally, I find it a little … weird … that a writer from a high profile site like ATL would find it necessary to write a book on my little old site that averages 20 hits a day. I am curious why it is so important to YOU that little old me MUST conform to your point of view. You could technically deny that, I suppose, but your overall bearing suggests that you’re not totally cool with people who disagree with you.

    I’m not going to get into your lengthy comments point-for-point because that would be totally pointless. But I have to point out a couple of holes in your argument. First of all, I’m almost sure that you didn’t read my “Why Law?” post super carefully, because the conclusion wasn’t that “law school is easy to get into,” but that I believe it is a good fit for my particular skills and personality. I have always been open about the fact that I’m not 100% sure where this is headed, but I’m excited to find out.

    I am at a loss as to how, after spending the last decade or so REALLY getting to know myself, my interests, my desires, and learning what I’m good at, that all of that is NOTHING if I don’t have passion?

    I’ve got news for you, sir. Not everyone has a passion that translates into a job. I am NOT passionate about writing. Never was. But writing, for me, is a SKILL that I learned and can apply to other uses. I am NOT passionate about editing, even though I am an excellent editor. The sad fact is, like every other American out there, I need a job, and “passion” is not the sole requirement nor the primary qualification. Anyway, there are plenty of people with “passion” who completely lack skill, talent, or common sense. So I’m sorry if my lack of “passion” disqualifies me in your eyes, but unfortunately I have to be a little more realistic than that.

    Besides, you missed the post where I said something about how I am fascinated with how the laws affect our freedoms. I love the Constitution, and I’m nerdy enough to read the Federalist Papers. I adore politics. Does any of this have anything to do with law? I gravitate towards Constitutional/Civil Rights law, but I’m open-minded enough to keep all options on the table for now.

    BTW, I will not be acquiring six figures of student loans. Just so you know. 5 figures, yes. 6 figures, no.

    Which reminds me, for the sake of the argument, it’s relevant to know that I’m in a perhaps enviable situation regarding that. Currently, I am financially supported by my husband. If I were to never go to school or get a job of any kind, that would not change. Anything I will be making will be a bonus. Likely, the vast majority of my income, initially, will be going into savings (and student loans, of course). We have no other debt. Ideally, the day will come when I’ll make enough money to support us (not unrealistic), and he’ll be able to retire. I admit–I’m in a better position than most law students. And I can afford to take the “risk.” It would be really tough for me to lose.

    Another point that I don’t think you picked up on was that for me, a JD is not the end, it’s a means to an end. It’s a tool. I don’t think I’m being particularly naive when I say that I believe being a lawyer will help open doors to me that are closed right now. That is one of my primary motivations. Definitely not romantic, to be sure, but the day will come when I’m ready to take a bigger role in my democracy and in public policy, and I want to know the right people and have some relevancy. Perhaps a bit too pragmatic for your taste, but I’m not naturally gifted at networking, so I’ll need a little leg up. I’m not too proud to admit that.

    Your little salary thingie there is very fascinating. I would LOVE to see a chart of the long-term trajectory of lawyer salaries. You know, where the class of 2008 starts and where they are ten years later. Twenty years later. Moreover, I would LOVE to see the same chart of technical writers. In 1998, when the economy was booming, I started out at $26,000/year as an entry-level technical writer. That was some years ago, but the economy was far better then than it is now. And that was with (gasp!) student loan debt. I also happen to know that while some tech writers can make good money, the salary tends to top out eventually, when a company says “we can only pay you so much for being just a WRITER.” In I.T., if you want to get ahead as a writer, you transform yourself into a QA person or even a programmer. Only in the largest companies do tech writers have anywhere to go in their careers. Editing, likewise, starts out in the mid-$20Ks to low-$30Ks, and you work for years just to get a coveted promotion. That is an extremely competitive field because, of course, there are far more talented editors than there are positions. So even the “passionate” ones sometimes find themselves plugging away for years with little headway. That’s reality. I’ll stack up the uncertain reality of being a lawyer against that one anyday.

    Ultimately, however, I think where we diverge is not in these petty little details. Where we differ most, I suspect, is that I believe that God has a plan for my life. In my experience, I haven’t been on one clear path since I was a little child because of some passion of mine. It’s revealed to me as I go along. I’ve been blessed. I’ve done some dumb things in the past, but I’ve never lost my way. If anything, I feel more certain about my future now than I ever have. Even in jobs that I haven’t liked in the past, I can see how they helped me mature, and helped build skills I will use all my life. I don’t live in fear of the future. I embrace it.

    Since you’re fond of musical metaphores, let me close with one as well.

    I play piano. Not well, but well enough. (Not passionate about it, sorry to say. Sigh.) When I was a teenager, I picked a song for a competition because I really liked the opening part. The song was difficult and a bit beyond my ability, to be honest. But I was committed to it and worked on it diligently. I discovered that after the opening section that I liked, came another section that I didn’t like at all. But I couldn’t just play the part that I liked, I had to play the whole thing, so I learned even the parts that I didn’t like. I played at the competition and did well but not brilliantly. But I still play that song to this day, and not only do I love the opening part, I love the whole song. The part I used to hate is now my comfort zone. The song, for me, is an accomplishment. Every time I play it, I remember the hours I put into it, the frustration, the elation. I still don’t play it perfectly, but I play it passionately.


  9. AJ: Your response to Elie’s comments is disheartening.

    If you can’t understand why Elie would write on your blog, and if you find it “weird,” you don’t understand blogging at all. And you certainly don’t understand the elements that make ATL the most successful legal blog out there.

    Elie’s reputation as a blogger is built this way: all over the blogosphere, post by post, comment by comment. The result is that everyone (who cares to know) knows what Elie stands for and believes in. I don’t agree with everything Elie says (e.g., I don’t like dogs and I don’t care for sports), but I love him as a writer and as a blogging personality because he *has* one. A personality, that is. And his passionate personality comes across in every blog post, and every visitor comment(!), that Elie writes.

    Elie, who as you note is a writer/editor for a high profile blog, patiently (humbly!) responded to your “point by point” list for why you are in law school, even if you are dissatisfied with how well he understood you. You, on the other hand, find it “pointless” to respond to Elie’s “lengthy comments point-for-point.” (Hubris, much?)

    The best thing you said, AJ, was this:

    “You, Elie, are like a sledgehammer. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! Die, dreams, die!”

    Yes, that is what Elie is like. It’s effective. (E.g., he convinced me to not attend law school.)

    Elie, rock on. <3

    PS: I came to this blog because Lat's ATL post that quoted you.

    PPS: And I stayed and commented because ATL's Elie contributed to your blog conversation.


    • Wait, are you actually Elie under an anonymous pseudonym?


      • No, I’m not Elie.

        I just like reading his posts on ATL (and apparently, on other blogs).


  10. Are you making a big mistake? Yes. As far as I can see, you’ll need to inherit a spot in your family law firm or get in the food stamp line. There are no jobs for graduates who are <95% GPA.


    • This is patently false. Very “mathy” of you, though.

      Thanks for visiting. (Or should I say, “trolling”?)


  11. Here come the anonymous commenters. Hahaha! This is great.

    Thanks, Elie. I owe you.


  12. Yes, you are making a big mistake. There are a thousand 25 year olds with better GPAs from better schools who will compete for every single job you apply for.

    Drop out now.

    Law is my second career. I am a patent attorney. I spent 7 years as an engineer, and have an MS degree. I got a job at a law firm as a “technical consultant” while I was in law school (essentially an intern legally, but an expert technically for purposes of writing patents) and thankfully by the time I graduated I had 3 years of patent experience under my belt. Now I’ve got 4, and if I lost this job, there is NO WAY I’d get a new one.

    I’m 32, graduated about midway through the class at law school ranked #93. Every single posting for patent attorneys requires technical expertise, legal experience, and “outstanding academic qualifications from a top law school.” And this is for a *niche* field of the law that requires additional training. Imagine what happens when you toss yourself out into the field of “general practice” looking for work… competing with gunners who need no sleep, who can move back home with their parents, who have no ties to anywhere really yet, etc etc etc.

    DROP. OUT. NOW.


    • evernseven:

      Patent attorneys could, before the recession, graduate from TTs or TTTs or TTTTs and get hired because they were patent attorneys. Ironically, the law school “prestige” requirements for non-in house patent attorneys are catching up with what the prestige whores have been requiring of non-patent attorneys for years, probably because there are so many engineers and PhD/MS scientists who have been laid off, and because clients are cutting costs by using patent agents for prosecution. Since you have experience now, you are probably ok. Remember you can also go into tech transfer, or become a “technology advisor.”
      Furthermore, patent law really isn’t the practice of law anyway. You can be an agent and prosecute before the PTO. And, unfortunately, the ABA and various specialty bar associations have allowed licensing and technology transfer to be populated with MBAs, PhDs, and folks with BS and MS’s without JDs. Although I think this is probably at their peril.
      You’d be better practicing patent litigation, trademark, copyright, or tm/cr lit with that JD. At least you’ve got to be either pro se or an attorney to do that. But those are hard fields to break into now, because everybody wants to do it.
      To sum it up, if you want to go to law school, make sure that you’re going because you really want to be a lawyer. Law school (at least in T1) is too difficult, greuling, competitive, and time consuming for someone to spend 3 years of his/her life preparing for a profession they don’t want to be in. In addition, know that the legal profession is hyper-competitive. My dad is a lawyer (and no, I don’t practice with him, and never have; he’s been solo nearly his whole career), and my mother recalls that when he was going to law school back in the late 1960s, the law degree didn’t guarantee a job–it was a “juggernaut” degree. Sure, times are more competitive now, but my main point is the JD has never been a degree for someone who is looking for a secure 9 to 5. You should be somewhat entrepreneurial and have plenty of networking skills and contacts.
      Which leads me to my last point: If you are going to practice law with your JD, make sure that you get excellent training as a young lawyer, and that you DO WHAT LAWYERS DO. No one, unless they are representing themselves pro se, can represent clients in a court of law or a deposition ANYWHERE in the USA unless they are a licensed, practicing lawyer. Not an MBA, a scientist, an engineer, period. The SERVICE side of law can never be outsourced. Initial doc review, yes, but not the review you need to do to prepare for that deposition or trial. Even transactional work is being clawed away from attorneys by MBAs with some Wall Street training (thanks, ABA). Suze Orman and Bob Shapiro have will and trust and legal forms kits (ironically, these may increase business for attorneys).
      You get the picture. Good luck to all considering getting that JD.


  13. one more thing- I came to law school with a singular focus: patents. It’s been my focus and ultimate goal since I was about 20 years old.

    I cannot fathom people who embark on a $150K journey without being 100% sure what they’re doing…

    You’re putting your family’s financial health at huge risk. This is non- dischargable debt. If you go out and blow $150K on big screen TVs, an armored cadillac escalade and vacations around the world in first class, you could discharge all of that in bankruptcy. Your loans will come due 9 months from graduation, and you will find the person on the other end of the phone most unsympathetic to the fact that your child needs new clothes for the new school year.


  14. But I don’t think you understand, evrenseven. It’s not up to YOU to decide whether or not I’m making a mistake.

    But thanks for the advice.


    • The headline of this blog post was “Am I making a big mistake?” I took that to be an open request for advice. I apologize. Best of luck.


      • The title was a way to catch attention (did it ever!), but the point of the whole post was that I was answering that question for myself. :)

        Unfortunately, I got the feeling from a lot of comments that not everyone actually read the post or at least very carefully.

        Thank you for visiting.


  15. going to law school in your 30’s as a wife and mother isn’t “doing the impossible”, FYI. especially when you mention that you are being supported by your husband.


    • Clearly you missed the spirit of the thing.


  16. and especially when it’s a mediocre law school


    • You’re not mean and petty at all, are you?

      Stay classy, my friend.


  17. Several points:

    1. By blogging and soliciting comments you are asking other people to leave advice on your decision to go to law school. You actually are asking other people to weigh in on your decision to go to law school, and more specifically, whether it is a mistake.

    2. Your debt may be 5-figure, but your expenditure will be far greater than your direct debt due to opportunity cost. You will not be working full-time during this period, resulting in 3 years of lost earnings. That alone is likely to gross out to at least $100k, net maybe 50-70k, depending on what your spouse makes. (I assume you are currently grossing about 35k, or could if you wanted to–if it were more I doubt you would even consider law school.)

    3. Given the above, and including interest on the debt, you will be spending about $200k on law school. Worth it? Another way of putting it: Would you rather have $200k in the bank or be a new law school graduate (and 3 years older)?

    4. Outside of (some) government agencies, academia, and (some) contract positions, the legal profession demands full commitment from junior attorneys. If something comes up at 5pm and is due the next day, you will have to do it. It does not matter that child care ends at 6p. In that sense, law school may be misleading. Time is highly flexible in school–in practice, it is not. In other words, if you think law school is “impossible,” you may find yourself utterly unprepared for practice.

    5. A law degree is not flexible in the least. It prepares you to practice law–that’s it. It will be, if anything, a hindrance if you decide on a different career.


    • Thanks for visiting and taking the time to leave a comment.

      1. I welcome my commenters. Of course, respectfulness is always a plus, but we can’t have everything, can we? No, I was not asking other people to weigh in on my decision, but if that’s how you interpret the existence of my blog, whatever.

      2. Currently, I am grossing 0. In 2009, I grossed $7300. I see my future plans as an improvement. At the height of my short career, I was making $49,000, but that was under VERY different circumstances (the economy, changes in the field, and my relevant experience.) I could perhaps start again at around $35,000, but the long-term trajectory isn’t exactly impressive, either. I have the opportunity to reinvent myself right now, so why not? My husband and I believe the cost is worth it.

      3. Yes. Because a certain tipping point will come when it will pay for itself and then some. I sacrificed 8 years of career time for my kids’ sake. I can sacrifice another 3 years of time for my career’s sake. If you want to look at my time as a SAHM from a money and career perspective, then it was a very bad choice. Yet, of course, it was exactly the right choice for my family and me. No regrets. I’m taking a long-term view of the situation, and I don’t see any reason to be sorry.

      4. Perhaps you believe I am naive about these things. I’m certain that I never said anything about my concerns about family time. Certain challenges are understood between my husband and me, and it is something that as a couple we feel we can manage. Together. For the record, I don’t feel law school is “impossible.” That’s obviously not the case. I started this blog at the beginning of my decision, when at the time it felt impossible. Apparently the spirit of the thing is lost on some people, because you’re not the only one to attack my tagline.

      5. Tell that to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Ann Coulter, Megyn Kelly, or even Elie Mystal.


      • While it is an overstatement to say that a law degree is not flexible in the least, it is not the versatile professional degree that many people believe it to be.

        The reason why a law degree can sometimes lead to alternative career paths is because the practice of law provides the opportunity to intersect with many other career areas. However, for the most part, you have to practice law first to gain exposure to those fields and develop the necessary experience and network to make a lateral move into an alternate career path. The very names you cited illustrate that point as all of them initially practiced law either in the public sector, the private sector, or both for several years before they were able to pursue an alternative career path (with the possible exception of Elie as I don’t know much about him).

        The point is that far too many law school applicants are under the misguided notion that a wide field of opportunities other than that of an attorney will be open to them upon graduation and that is not the case. If anything, many prospective employers for non-attorney jobs will hold a law degree against a recent law school graduate because they will view the candidate as either a person that could not cut it in the legal field or a person who has no sense of direction in terms of his or her career, so you should abandon the notion that a law degree is a highly marketable professional degree outside of the field of law.


  18. Completely unrelated: best advice I ever got or gave re: blogging about law school. DON’T BLOG WITH YOUR PROFESSORS’ NAMES IN THE POSTS. They did not ask for you to contribute to their google footprint and may not appreciate it, even if its all positive and well-intentioned. Refer to each as Prof. Torts or Prof. Crim. You are open about the law school you are attending and your class schedule — people who want to figure out which prof it is will do so.

    HTH.


    • Thank you for taking the time to read some of my other posts, and thank you for your genuine advice. :-) I took your advice and deleted their names.

      Thanks for visiting!


  19. Check out this article from Volokh for another perspective. Its focus is the ABA, bar exams, and government intervention, but it touches on a lot of the things mentioned on this thread.

    http://volokh.com/2010/01/09/do-we-need-government-intervention-to-reduce-the-number-of-lawyers/


  20. I was a 30-something law student. It wasn’t a mistake, but it wasn’t necessarily the smartest thing I’ve ever done either. Best of luck to you.


    • I suppose I won’t know unless I try, and if I don’t try, I’ll always wonder. ;)

      Thanks for visiting!


  21. I have an English degree from a pretty decent state university, and a law degree from a top 5 law school. While I agree that an English degree doesn’t open a lot of doors, I have to disagree that a law degree does.

    Law schools and career counselors love to talk about all the things you can do with a law degree, but truth is outside of actually practicing law, it doesn’t really open doors. What happens is that it merely doesn’t close them. Did having kids mean you couldn’t become a lawyer? No. But does that mean having kids opened the door to law school? Of course not.

    Also, a lot of the literature on alternative careers for lawyers fails to mention that many of those jobs require other education or experience and aren’t available to your garden variety recent graduate. And, unfortunately, the other specialized education you need is almost certainly not an English degree.

    I recently spoke to my school’s career counselor because I want to transition into, get this, creative writing. I understand it takes a long time to get established to the point where writing can pay for you to eat, and so I wanted to talk to her about jobs I could work while pursuing that which weren’t (1) law, (2) legal administration, (3) pseudo-legal work like contract specialist, or (4) bullshit desk job that would be made fun of in a Dilbert cartoon.

    She assured me that I was highly qualified for lots of jobs that involve writing and have some sort of creative outlet, though she was unable to think of any. (I had sent her information about myself earlier, so she wasn’t walking into this cold, she knew what I was looking for.) The person my school hired specifically to help lawyers looking to transition into alternative careers was unable to come up with anything.

    If you sincerely want to be a lawyer (and understand how stressful and crushing the work is), then by all means steam ahead. But, if you think you may want to do something else, start working towards that right now, and consider maybe getting a JD/MBA, JD/MA, whatever will put you on the right track for that.


    • Believe me, if I understood at the age of 18 what a degree in English would ultimately mean, I would never have majored in it. That was then, and this is what I have to work with now. There certainly are options for English majors, but unfortunately none of them appeal to me.

      Getting an MBA/MA with my JD is something I am definitely considering, but I’m waiting until 1L is over to make any firm decisions on that.

      I think perhaps the reason it’s hard to be convincing that “I want to be a lawyer” is because I’m still in the learning stages of the whole field. I’m not the type of person who gushes about how much I want to do something. However, the more I learn about law, the more interesting I find it. I can see myself enjoying it (look up the personality type ISTJ, and it won’t seem that strange); I’m just rather conservative in my expression.

      I guess what I’m a little frustrated about is that while people are blasting me for my decision to go to law school, no one has offered a better alternative, nor explained how I would be better off in the long term with the status quo. :-(

      Thanks for visiting and for your comment!


      • I think you are getting some mis-directed criticism. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t just trying to justify their decision to go to law school, but actively advising others to do the same, and there’s a huge difference between the two.

        The former deserve advice, information, etc. The latter deserve a bitch-slap.

        Honestly, if I had understood what an English degree could mean, I’d have stayed on for an MFA. But, everyone will say “You enjoy writing? Lawyers write, you should be a lawyer.” No one says “You enjoy writing? Writers write, you should be a writer.”

        But, like you said, it’s highly a matter of preference. I really enjoy creative writing. In fact, instead of doing my big law school writing project, I blew it off and wrote a novel (like most first novels, it sucked). Fortunately, new media, blogging, the increase in television programming, more indie film, print on demand (which is reputable, as opposed to vanity printing) mean much better prospects for writers, though they’re still not great.


  22. Well AJ, you certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest!

    I’d like to think many people commenting here and at ATL have good intentions; they feel as though they were deceived and burned by law school in some way and feel like they are trying to prevent the same thing from happening to others.

    However, they are assuming that everyone is heading into law school with a) the same intentions as they were, b) the same position as they were in, & c) think everyone wants/expects the 150k big law jobs – when that is not necessarily the case.

    They just certainly seem to be the most vocal. :)

    Again, good luck with law school!

    P.S. Thanks for the link! Hope you get something valuable out of Associate’s Mind. Let me know if I can ever do anything for you.


    • I’m shocked, actually. LOL

      I think you’re right on just about every point. Honestly, I’m not sure if many of the commenters even comprehend my situation. In fact, I’m reasonably convinced that very few have bothered to read any of my previous posts that explain a lot of things.

      Thanks again for your supportive comments. :)


  23. A.J.,

    You have no idea if you are going to be in 5-figure debt or 6-figure debt when you graduate, and you likely won’t until after the first semester or second semester of law school.

    You only get to keep your scholarship if you maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA, which is not a sure thing in the law school environment (just ask several of my friends who lost their scholarships after our 1L year, including one person who lost a full ride, because they didn’t maintain a 3.2 or higher GPA). If you were to lose your scholarship, you would be paying at least $90,000 (I can’t recall your tuition from your blog, but I thought it was around $35-37k) and that’s before you consider the 5-10% tuition increase each year and the interest.

    Also, Elie is a damn good blogger. While he is stubborn, his points about law school are valid and should be read by every potential law school applicant. You obviously have put a lot of thought into it and are financially in a better spot than many 23 year-old students just graduating from college.

    Best of luck during your 1L year. I look forward to reading about your experiences.


    • If I lose my scholarship (which I realize is entirely possible, and in fact hoped for by the law school), you’re right, I would have roughly $90K in loans. But it’s not six figures, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. ;)

      Elie … I’m sick of him, let’s talk about something else. lol. What’s that saying …. “pick on someone your own size.” I should have thought about that.

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.


  24. Give strong consideration to the joint degree possibility if you are really looking for a way to open more doors. A jd can be helpful in some ways, but can actually be a bit of a liability in business as well. I have a jd from a top 10 school and I’m currently in the process of adding an MBA (in my mid 30s) and wish I had done so at the outset.
    I know you’re not exactly looking for advice, but I think the most important thing is to be honest with yourself throughout the process. The decision to attend law school needn’t necessarily be equated with becoming a lawyer (or even getting a jd) if you’re the kind of person who really is just exploring this option to see if it’s right for you.


    • An MBA from a prestigious business school is required nowadays. Business schools and MBAs are now a dime a dozen. It’s worse than law schools and JDs. Tough for a non-top tier MBA to distinguish him/herself, and they’re definitely not headed for Wall Street or an entertainment gig. Maybe they can go to an F100 if they’ve done well.
      Other than that, the MBA shows that you know your way around a balance sheet, and you’re not as risk averse as a lawyer.


      • Good point. Bottom line is that JDs and MBAs are much, much better door openers in a general sense if they come from a top tier shool.
        That said, if you’re not sure that you’ll practice long term, adding the MBA now is only 1 extra year and would give you a leg up on a good number of positions. I’m not familiar with DU’s MBA program, but I lived in Denver for a few years and know the school is well respected locally so I imagine it would be useful.


        • I believe DU’s business school is very well respected in Colorado. Getting an MBA is definitely up for consideration.

          One thing I don’t think most readers realize is that leaving Colorado to go to a top tier school wasn’t an option for me; I’m working with what I have. (Not that my LSAT was high enough for T-14 but whatever.)

          Colorado only has 2 law schools, and DU is the one in traveling distance for me.

          Colorado firms are (so far) very DU friendly still. I don’t despair about getting a job in the city I love graduating from a law school in that city, which is saturated with DU alumni.


      • I’ve thought of that. I know so many MBAs, and mainly what it gets them is a managerial to lower-exec type job. One reason I decided not to go for my MBA right away was that I had no clear goal for one. I would get an MBA and then what–look for manager positions? That wasn’t exactly appealing, either, considering my English background wasn’t likely to be much of an asset.

        I’m still keeping it on the table for a JD/MBA, but I’m also seriously considering an MA in Public Policy, which is really a subject area that I’m interested in.


      • The local school point is actually a very good one for other readers who might be considering law school options (that many of us forget). If you’re happy staying in your current city and have reasonable law school options you’ll be much better off than someone who goes to a somwhat higher ranked (ignore Harvard, Yale and Stanford for this) and hopes to move to a new major market – especially if you’re not gunning for an AM100 type firm.
        Didn’t mean to ignore the MA option… the MBA is just the route that I’m familiar with. Just FYI – an MBA is really much more versatile than just leading to manager positions. If you want more input on the types of things jd/mba types that I know do, let me know and I’d be glad to give you more info. It does seem, however, that you are a bit more politically inclined. If your instincts tell you the MA is the route to go, then go for it – if you do it with the JD it’ll be much easier. If you do it later you can always create a “40 something Masters in Public Policy” blog down the rode ;)


  25. Is anyone considering becoming a doctor? Why so many lawyers? If you are an ambitious type (and not squeamish) and academically nimble, why not medicine? We NEED doctors in this country, particularly good ones!


    • It’s the science. :-) Believe me, I wish I were interested in science! (Chemistry was my lowest grade in high school ever. Traumatizing.)

      Which reminds me, we know a young doctor in residence who is absolutely drowning in med school debt and living like a pauper because his doc job has not yet started to pay the big bucks but he has something like $300K of student loans. I’m sure SOMEONE around here could make a clear ROI argument against med school. Anyone? Anyone?


  26. […] Jul There has been some intense debate over at The 30-Something Law Student about whether going to law school is a big mistake, and whether it will be worth it.  There were […]


  27. Don’t listen to Elie Mystal, although don’t bash him solely, because Above the Law is a blog generally directed to that sort of snark, bitter attack on law and biglaw primarily. The problem I see most often is that people considering law school think all lawyers print money, so they go to law school thinking they will, too. This is not the case for the large majority. A prospective law student should first decide if they think the law is for them and come up with a good, hard reason – not “just because.” Then, take a look at the starting salaries for recent grads at the schools you’re considering, and compare that to the average debt / tuition rates. The golden handcuffs will ruin you, no matter what career you choose. But they are thrown on you tighter when you accumulate a large amount of law-school debt in hopes of a big paycheck.


    • I didn’t mean to pick on Elie (well, sort of, but not in the way he took it). LOL He is just the most obvious and vocal example; believe me, I’ve read the same things all over the place. There seems to be a lot of assumption by him and others that everyone who goes to law school wants to work in BigLaw. That’s just not the case; in fact, I know I wouldn’t be happy in BigLaw. But that’s not to say that I’m not willing to work hard; if I weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing this. I’m fortunate to be at a place in my life where I can make this shift and feel good about it.

      I’ve hesitated saying WHY I want to go to law school because I just don’t like hemming myself in. I know what I’m interested in, but I am also keeping an open mind. I’m perfectly willing to find an area of law that interests me that I haven’t considered yet.

      I just keep coming back to my options.

      * Keep on being a SAHM (endless boredom–all the kids are in school–and $0)
      * Work a meaningless part-time job like I did the past couple of years (endless boredom and <$10K/year)
      * Try to break back into editing (dearth of jobs, money is still not good, PLUS I don't like it and want to break out of this field!)
      * Go back to school, start a new career

      Option 4 keeps winning.


      • Well, if nothing else, you’re certainly giving it more thought than many. If you’re looking for a little inspiration, I’d take a look at the book E-Myth (or the E-Myth Revisited). It might help you think about the future in a different way. I just finished it a few weeks ago and it is bringing a new light to my firm.


  28. “That wasn’t exactly appealing, either, considering my English background wasn’t likely to be much of an asset.”

    English majors tend to have good written communication skills, which is probably what 90% of middle management is these days.

    Can you elaborate a bit on why business management isn’t appealing to you, and why law is?


    • That’s a good point; I agree that communication is my strong point. I’m just not sure that it’s my English degree that prepared me for management. I have limited experience in management, but one of my frustrations with that was I felt like I was supervising overgrown children much of the time. I was a little taken aback by how much hand-holding I had to do. I tired of that pretty quickly.

      I’m probably much better suited for project management. Actually, management was always on the table, since organization and communication are strengths of mine.

      However, law appeals to me more because I like that I would be working on specific cases using specific expertise. I like that I would help resolve people’s legal problems. I like that (most) cases have a beginning and an end. I want to be challenged intellectually.


      • Legal work isn’t nearly as intellectual as you think. Maybe doing SCOTUS level arguments is, but not typical legal work. It’s largely routine research and basic reading comprehension, not the type of hard policy questions law professors like to deal with in class.

        If you don’t want to feel like you’re supervising over grown children, then you seriously need to reconsider a career in which you have to with (a) attorneys who are more senior than you, (b) attorneys who are junior to you, or (c) clients.

        Unfortunately, I don’t really know what else to suggest. Something like consulting is probably mostly the same Dilbert-esque idiocy and paper work. I think the real problem is that we have a bullshit-driven economy. (This article explains it pretty well http://philalawyer.net/2010/06/the-great-sucking-sound-why-the-fattened-middle-deserves-no-quarter/)



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