reassessing my future (again)

So, as anyone who has spoken with me in the past 3 months is aware, I was thinking about giving law school a try. One of the professors (a lawyer and former judge) in my Law and Outlaw class was very insistent that I am an ideal candidate for law school. She really strongly encouraged me. I was a little on the fence, because I’ve heard some rumors about the state of the legal field … but then again, maybe they were exaggerated. And this professor seemed really certain that I would be in the highest percentage of my law class, a contributor to the Law Review, and that I would get a judicial clerkship. It was flattering.

I spoke with a recent law school grad who cast cold water on my budding inclination by telling me the cold hard facts of the matter. Jobs, she said, were thin on the ground. Debts were high. She had a scholarship all through law school, and through her LLM education. She was top of her class, and a contributor to the Law Review. She was everything my professor promised would ensure success, and she was struggling to find work. It sounded grim.

More accurately, I hate being homeless.

But then I had the opportunity to set up a few informational interviews, and after speaking with numerous government employees the State Attorney General’s Office, I decided I’d go for that degree after all.

I figured I’d just get a job with the government, earn some experience as a prosecutor, and have my debt forgiven through the Federal debt forgiveness program tied to public service. Every lawyer and secretary I spoke to assured me it was the quickest route to success, and they should know! They were wrapping up 30+ year careers!

So I purchased some books, began studying for the LSATs, and happily began informing people of my now-arranged future.

Then I read this article by Paul Campos in The Atlantic, titled, “The Law School Scam.” It echoed everything my recent law-school grad friend had been telling me. Kinda freaked me out.

I visited his blog, Inside The Law School Scam, and that sinking sensation in my gut got worse.

I bought his book “Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk,” ($4 through the Kindle app, $6 paperback — unfortunately, not available through Nook) today, and read the whole thing in an hour.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Holy shit.

As it turns out, the availability of legal positions has actually been shrinking over the past 30 years (yes, including for lawyers). A lot of stuff lawyers used to do is now done by paralegals or technology, or (even worse for the profession) DIY legal work by those who used to rely on lawyers — for example, when that guy hit John and broke his jaw, and I filed the restraining order request and both parties had to present their sides before the judge? People used to hire lawyers for that kind of thing.

Meanwhile, law school tuition and class size has been increasing, while standards have … dropped somewhat. A little. The ABA holds law school to some basic standards, but the rise of for-profit colleges and their willingness to allow low-LSAT scorers into their ranks has resulted in a correlating decline of LSAT score valuation at nonprofit schools. So, basically, law schools are churning out more grads than there are jobs, and those grads are carrying massive and non-dischargeable debt.

Oh! The debt! Campos explains that really well, too. Those so-called “scholarships” are apparently just higher-tuition students subsidizing the costs of lower tuition students. It’s this whole thing where if the tuition is actually $100,000/year, but half the students are offered a scholarship that allows them to attend for $50,000/year, then the reported “average tuition” would be $75,000/year … but really it varies wildly, and the scholarships are often tied to performance. Plus, the average reported debt the law schools usually quote to potential students doesn’t include the 3-4 years of accrued interest acquired by non-subsidized loans while in school. 

So all that is super duper discouraging on its own, and then you get into the fact that apparently government work — promising both stability, experience, and loan forgiveness — turns out to be incredibly in demand! Starting wages of $60,000 is nothing to shake a finger at when it includes loan forgiveness!

So, to recap: My plan is basically the plan of most potential lawyers, meaning the competition is intense, and most lawyers are unemployed.

New plan, new plan.

Apparently law schools are trying to combat this by trying to claim that a law degree is totally versatile … like, you can be a journalist or a writer or any number of things that don’t require a fucking law degree. Because the only, I repeat only thing you need a law degree for is to practice the law. It’s like getting a medical degree to become an aromatherapist, by all the gods.

At one point in the book, Campos points to a bit of data that compares the graduation/ employment rates of doctors vs. lawyers over the past 30 years, and a depressingly high percentage of bar-accredited lawyers are unemployed — something like 60%, if I recall correctly — but pretty much everyone who studied to become a doctor is currently practicing as a doctor.

Again: DEPRESSING.

Speaking of depression! Campos then cites data that law students and lawyers are more likely than any other profession to develop severe and debilitating depression. I was like, “Pshhh, my daddy was a lawyer, and he’s the happiest man I know.”

Then I read this bit (bolded parts mine).

“Why are law students and lawyers so prone to develop depression? The literature suggests numerous causes, most of which have something to do with the effects of an intensely hierarchical, competitive, emotionally cold, and high-stress environment.”

Holy shit, sounds like some law offices I’ve worked in.

  • Intensely hierarchical? Check! (One employer paid a BA-toting paralegal more than the HS-diploma-toting but longer-employed paralegal who trained him).
  • Emotionally cold? Oh, ye gods, check. (One of my bosses was worse than Elsa’s emotional breakdown in Frozen.)
  • High-stress environment? Yup. (Let’s just say that after I had a boss who was so bad, that after 8 months dealing with her, I was literally contemplating hanging myself in her office.)

Oh, wait, Campos’ quote continues? Ye gods. Okay, then.

” … in which people are socialized to obsess on external status markers and to minimize or ignore things such as learning for its own sake, doing intrinsically valuable work, and maintaining healthy personal relationships.”

There is a lawyer/ SBO owner I knew, swear to gods, not exaggerating– she would literally sneer at anyone she considered beneath her, even clients. I do not ever, ever want to be like that. She was, literally, the worst human being I have ever had the misfortune to know– including some seriously fucked up racist misogynistic assholes. I rank her worse than them just because she studied social justice and labor law in law school and still maintained that elitist classism, whereas in my experience, racist misogynistic assholes are (by and large) historically ignorant.

She wasn’t awful out of ignorance, like so many of the racist, classist, sexist idiots I’ve run into over the course of my life. She was awful knowing full well the repercussions of her behavior, and believing that her “superior” education entitled her to treat people like shit.

So, I finished the book, and all information considered … I think I’ll just keep looking for entry-level government work, and take the time to focus on writing while I have it. ‘Cause that shit? Is cray.

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