Don’t Go to Law School if You Want a Living Wage

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Should have been the title of the following news column, but I guess the current one will have to do:

  January 21, 2011:

Don’t go to law school if you want to make money | Susan Estrich | Columnists | Washington Examiner

At this point, it seems like bloggers, commenters and now even law professors who are exposing the game are becoming redundant. But with millions of futures at stake and an industry that has changed to the point of likely never reverting back to the traditional ways of living wage, true prestige and intellectual competition, we cannot say it enough. Do not go to law school:

In recent years, an increasing number of law students have not gotten jobs like those, because most large firms (who are the ones paying $160,000 to start) have cut back significantly on new hiring. The idea that you can just walk out of law school and into a six-figure job is, for many students at most schools, a painful fantasy.

There’s an enormous amount of Wall Street-style accounting that goes into the reports on employment that law schools submit to the increasingly powerful organizations that rank them. So when you look at the numbers, you might think that almost everyone who goes to a half-decent law school is finding a great job after graduation. Oh my does she dare suggests that big money and corporate finance is used to ‘enhance’ of law school statistics and ability to graduate top notch law students? Perish the thought [o.k. that was some real sarcasm]

My first job out of law school paid $13,909. Granted, it was a long time ago. But even then, it was substantially less than what my classmates were making in private practice and barely enough to cover my rent, food, gas and, of course, those student loans.

But so what? I didn’t go to law school to make money. If that were my goal, I would’ve gone to business school, got a job in investment banking and yearned for one of those eight-figure Goldman partnerships.

I went to law school because I believed in the power of law to change people’s lives for the better. And I have never been happier, professionally speaking, than when I was making almost no money but believed that what I was doing mattered.

If the primary reason you’re applying to law school is because you want one of those $160,000 jobs, don’t . Forget it. Like medicine, law used to be a sure-shot to making a very, very good income.

Not anymore. The students who apply to med school know that there is no pot of gold waiting.

There are many better and easier ways to make money. Kids go to medical school today because they want to be doctors, not because they want to be rich. The same rule should apply to law school.

Law school almost certainly is a losing game if what you care most about is money. In my book, that’s probably a good thing. I understand to mean that if one’s primary goal was to seek justice and help others, one is less likely to be corrupted in their judgment, political leaning and more dedicated as a zealous advocate. The question is for those people who thought like that, why should they not be able to do an excellent job in their field helping others WHILE earning a decent wage. It appears that she has assumed that the current economy is weeding out the shysters and get-rich scheme and big corporate lawyers. I would caution that if anything, desperation for money could just breed more of what she surmises the industry was getting rid of.

Many of my former students started out in those high-paying jobs and now feel trapped and frustrated. Many who didn’t have that option have, through necessity, found careers they enjoy much more.

At a certain point in life, the escalators just stop running. When they do, you have to fend for yourself — decide what you care about, what matters to you, what tradeoffs you are and are not willing to make. The problem is that many students weren’t debriefed about what those tradeoffs were and were given misrepresentations of what the payoff would likely be. I agree that you do have to “decide what you care about’ a decent living wage, quality of life, time for family to make new friends rank high. Going to law school greatly interferes with it though.

That’s what being an adult is about. There are no guarantees.

We all learn that sooner or later. And learning it in law school does not strike me as a losing game at all. Says the woman with a decent paying job. Just say ‘no.’

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5 Comments »

  1. Mary Dean Said:

    I hate being a lawyer.

    • A Law School Victim Said:

      You could start a blog on the perils of practicing law/being a lawyer. Don’t hold the frustration in!

  2. ABA No Way Said:

    Unaccredited Law Student, former Cooley Kid, starting my own unaccredited Scam Blog, need help. Here is my first post. Would love a link, and your thoughts on how I can improve. You are one of my hero’s! Keep fighting the ABA man!

    http://abanoway.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/

  3. Patrick Said:

    Hey, — couldnt find your email on your blog so commenting here — I’m reaching out because I stumbled across your blog (linked from http://thirdtierreality.blogspot.com) and I just launched a legal community called jdOasis.com.

    Based on what you write, I thought you might find a post from one of our users interesting since it is about how US News Rankings are inherently flawed due to the fact that schools are allowed to count Business and re-hire their own graduates to skew their employment score and ultimate ranking.

    Here it is: http://www.jdoasis.com/law-school-usnews-rankings-flawedheres-why

    Hope all is well,
    Patrick

  4. John Said:

    You are right in that Estrich is defending the profession. She has no choice and has an obvious financial interest.

    However, I am glad to see that she sort of admitted that the salary stats are rigged.

    Finally, you did an excellent analysis job on her statements in exposing the holes on her writing.


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