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Bad Reasons for Going to Law School

3:54 pm 2011 September 30
by Bruce

Inside the Law School Scam has a somewhat snarky-toned but very insightful piece today “for the 50,000 people taking the LSAT tomorrow.”  In countdown form:

8.  Everybody in my family is a lawyer.

“Is everybody also a workaholic with a drinking problem who hates their spouse and never sees their kids?”

No, folks, it’s not that bad–trust me, I’ve been there–but the syndrome he describes is all together too common among lawyers.  We are statistical outliers, as a profession, in the worst sense, on alcoholism, divorce, and unhappiness in general.

7.  I want to help poor people [and/or] make a difference.

Cynical law students tend to dismiss their classmates’ interest in doing anything but trying to make money by pointing out how these noble ideals soon crumble in the face of the realities of On Campus Interviewing.  But that’s the point: It turns out there’s very little money in law for doing anything other than representing the interests of the rich and powerful.  That doesn’t mean people who claimed to want to do something else were disingenuous:  more likely they were merely naïve.

Actually the most novel aspect of this observation–which you can otherwise read across many many web pages–is its indictment of OCI!  I like it.

6.  I want to be rich.

This is the evil twin of #7, or #7 is the evil twin of this (we’re nonsectarian judgmental here).  The reality is you can do fine if you land the AmLaw 100 jobs graduates increasingly seem to eschew, but beware.  As an economist, I know that one’s perceived wealth is what matters, and it’s all relative:  ”If you’re very fortunate you’ll make just enough money to feel poor by comparison to the vastly wealthier people you’ll be dealing with regularly in your professional life.”

5.   Lawyers do all kinds of interesting work.

The few, the lucky, do.  Most are more like airline pilots, only they have to work 70 hours/week and the FAA mandates highly civilized amounts of rest and time off for pilots.  (How do lawyers resemble pilots?  Their jobs are simultaneously tedious but with the potential for periods of insane stress.)

4.  All of this doesn’t matter to me because I’m a winner:  I’ll graduate Order of the Coif from a T-14 school, land at the AmLaw 50 of my dreams, and then I can figure it all out later.

Our professor’s riposte to this reads, in its entirety, “You get the hell out of here,” but I think it deserves a slightly lengthier response, if only because it’s so common (yours truly pleads guilty, with the defense that I pulled it off, however).

I think the real response is that the air starts getting pretty thin up there.  Just because you’ve been in the 97th-99th%-ile of everything you’ve ever done all your life doesn’t mean the same is assured in this league.  Remember what All Star outfielder Bobby Murcer said about trying to get a hit off a major league pitcher at the top of his form?  ”It’s like trying to eat Jello with chopsticks.”  It gets tougher and tougher.

3.  My parents will be disappointed if I don’t do something respectable.

Make sure your efforts to be “respectable” don’t leave you with $200,000 in non-dischargeable debt and feeling like failure incarnate.

2.  What am I supposed to do with this useless undergraduate degree?

Here our professor has quite sane advice:  Don’t pour good money (and time) after bad.  ”Don’t double down.”

1.  I don’t know what to do with my life.

Before you invest $XXX,000 in a three-year sabbatical, figure it out.  Start somewhere.  Anywhere.


One Response
  1. October 3, 2011

    Ha! I’ve got a list going here that might be amusing for people to check out:

    Law School Myth #1: Lawyers Make a Lot of Money:

    Myth #2: Student Loan Debt is Good Debt:

    Myth #3: Law School Gives You Three More Years to Figure Out What to Do With Your Life:

    Myth #4: Life as a Lawyer is Exciting and Intellectually Challenging:

    More to come!

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