Thursday, January 6, 2011

Every silver lining's got a touch of gray...

I don't know if I have ever had such conflicted feelings about the end of an era in my life as I do about the start of my last semester as a law student.

On the one hand, I'm glad school is coming to an end. Law school is a generally miserable experience. I have met people who enjoy it, or at least claim to enjoy it, but they are few and far between. I'm tired of the charade and have been going through the motions for at least the past year. I am particularly tired of the arrogance and uselessness of the Socratic method. Fear of what comes after is what prevents me from being totally elated about the end of the era. And of course bitterness that I wasted so much time. It sounds strange to say but I just feel like I was so much YOUNGER when I started law school. And of course, I was. But that was two and a half years ago and I feel like I have aged at least a decade during that time period.

Once classes start up again, I hope to post more updates about my classmates' employment prospects. While I am not optimistic, I do hope for some good news. My sense is that career services has all but given up on the 3Ls who do not yet have jobs and is focusing on finding summer gigs for the 2Ls which (while painful) are not quite as hard to come by and thus give them a higher success rate.

Any 3Ls out there who can comment on the job market at their schools? My school is T2 for what that's worth.

23 comments:

  1. I graduated from law school 20 months ago. I will comment on the aging process. Do you see a disproportionate number of balding - or fully bald - 23-28 year old men at your school, Rose? I saw it at Third Tier Drake, and I have seen it at other law schools.

    I also saw several friends who went gray during their three years of law school. I knew classmates who went on anti-anxiety medication. Many others gained bags under their eyes. Others developed bad posture and terrible eating habits. Most had their self-confidence shot to hell. Some classmates claimed that their sex drive was affected. (Couldn't be a combination of depression, constant anxiety, alcohol, long hours and getting a little older, could it?!) Thankfully, my drive was not affected - but I did have less time to spend with my wife.

    Those who came in with some idealism generally had that knocked out of them within the first few weeks of law schools. The truly stubborn idealists maybe held out until the end of first semester.

    I suppose the constant stress, long hours, shot nerves, and miserable job prospects contribute to these things. Being surrounded by type-A personality gasbags doesn't help, either.

    I was relatively lucky, as my hairline was not affected much - at least not in comparison to others in my cohort. I did gain a few gray hairs, but nothing noticeable.

    I will look up an academic article that claims the Socratic Method is damaging to students' emotional and psychological health. I saw this several months ago. If I find it, I will email it to you.

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  2. 3L at U of Wisc here. Job outlook is grim for those outside of the top 1/3, like everywhere else. I know many students who are thankful they have a part-time Starbucks job so that they can have some income after graduation. Only know of a half-dozen people with jobs from my class.

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  3. Hi, Rosie! I'm the mom of a 3L(Tier 1 school) and I want to thank you for your insight and honesty. I stumbled across your blog while trying to do some research about this "plan gone awry". You have reinforced every single comment that my son passed on during the Christmas break--doesn't want to practice law, hates the Socratic method, questioning when and where to take the bar and on and on. Given the time, effort, sacrifices and $$$ borrowed, these are all perfectly understandable feelings. As a parent, this whole situation is heartbreaking and frustrating. Would you mind commenting on how this is affecting your relationship with your family and any advice to parents like me who want to be supportive but just don't know what to do or say. Thanks!

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  4. Mom - I'm not Rosie but my family (immigrants, working class) feel like I've let them down by not being a wealthy and powerful lawyer like they see on TV. They don't understand crippling student loans, high tax brackets, squirreling away every last cent for the next round of lay-offs...It's exhausting for both parties

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  5. "Law school is a generally miserable experience. I have met people who enjoy it, or at least claim to enjoy it, but they are few and far between."

    I enjoyed law school. In fact, I loved it more than my undergrad years. The friendships I made there have endured, as each of our careers have taken off, which has been a pretty cool thing to observe. One of my classmates has even become a well-known politician. And as for my career, I started out in a small firm and have worked my way up into a pretty good situation. Even the small firm experience was pretty good though. I learned a lot there, and had good mentors who gave me hands-on experience that biglaw associates never get, until they're 5 or 6 year lawyers by which time they want to commit suicide anyway.

    The point of all this is: you're whining an awful lot, and only represent one point of view.

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  6. @5:14 - I'm glad your law school experience went well. From what I have experienced and heard from others at my school, this does not appear to be the current norm. I do not think it is wise to take a gamble and make a decision based on the fact that you might have a decent time and might get a job. I don't know when you went to law school, but in this climate it seems to be a bad gamble.

    @3:38 - That's a great question. On the one hand, I am very close to my family and they are my safety net in the best possible way. They are not very wealthy and can't pay my loans for me or anything like that, but I know that if I need it there is always a place for me with them, and in that regard I am luckier than many others. I do sometimes feel frustrated that they don't understand how bad things are right now in the legal market and how grim the immediate prospects are. But I can't say that the situation has actively harmed my relationship with my family. I can't speak for others. It's an interesting topic.

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  7. One semester left for me, though I'm not looking forward to the bar, cannot wait to be done! We graduate on Friday the 13th of May, how ominous is that?

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  8. As a solo lawyer for 32 years (since graduation from Hastings), a law professor, former ethics chair, national CLE lecturer and author of a book for new attorneys, I was glad to hear that not all of the posting writers hated law school. It used to be that the education alone was worth the price, and that a law degree could be put to profitable use in other, non-legal, realms. Unfortunately, the high cost of law school and the concomitant loan debt, have created a circumstance in which young lawyers have very few employment options which will allow them earn a living and still meet their obligations, unless they have a job in law.
    To many, the notion of going solo right out of law school sounds ridiculous. It involves starting and running a business (which few have done), while practicing a profession in which they have no experience. Yet, going out on your own may make more sense when you consider that most lawyers learned their trade while on the job, and that, even as a solo, you can charge your clients real fees just like other lawyers do. Even in a crowded market, the cream will rise to the top.
    In my book, "$olo Contendere: How to Go Directly from Law School into the Practice of Law Without Getting a Job," I offer stratagem and encouragement to those new lawyers who want to start serving clients right from the beginning, even if they didn't get a job. With a careful selection of cases, some proven ideas for getting business, mentors to ride shotgun on your caseload with you, and malpractice insurance, you can try it on your own, if you really want to. The State Bar of Missouri actually publishes a (discounted) version of the book, suggesting the importance of preparing recent admittees to the bar for the realities of the new economy.
    Going solo isn't for everyone, but it may just work out for you.

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  9. Having seen you referenced in the NYTimes, I would love to chat with you folks for thoughts you may wish to share with me in my upcoming book (www.WrittenOffAmerica.com) and the chapter which I am devoting to the in debt/indentured student.

    Connect me as well on LinkedIn at:

    http://www.linkedin.com/in/jerryashton

    http://www.twitter.com/writtenoffusa

    Jerry

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  10. i enjoyed law school beginning my second year. that was when i gave up my biglaw aspirations, stopped wasting my time by going to certain classes (studied outlines and cases on my own), took classes/clinics that interested me rather than for bar prep purposes, and took back control of my education.

    i figured, as long as i am stuck here i will make it work for me. best thing i ever did for myself.

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  11. I went to law school in the late 70s. They lied to us then, too, but not to the same extent. I missed law review by 3 spots, but was actually relieved and declined to participate in the write-on competition because I knew that I didn't want the big-firm experience anyway. I knew that wasn't for me. Then, I did as the previous poster said. I found the intellectual challenge stimulating, I stopped going to classes (for the most part), and found years 2 & 3 enjoyable. First year was miserable.

    So I knew I'd never make the big bucks, but that was OK with me. In fact, one thing that was thoroughly unacceptable back them was to NOT want to make partner. What was wrong with you? That was the goal you were supposed to want above all else. Not me. These days, it is not a sin to not want to make partner (or to want it but not make it). Other employment tiers have opened up.

    Now, I hated practicing law and it took me 10 years to escape (save enough money, figure out what I wanted to do, and figure out how to get there). And in my new career, that law degree does in fact come in handy (but if you tell my mother I said that, I will hunt you down...)

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  12. Hi Marc Garfinkle:

    No offense, but your getting older and slipping a bit.

    Nowadays, and outside of Law, there is nothing else that drives prospective employers away than the stain (as it has been said before) of a JD on one's resume.

    There have been accounts of people who are dying of thirst that have resorted to drinking antifreeze or gasoline as in: I need a drink--NOW.

    THERE ARE NO JOBS OUT THERE RIGHT NOW! NOW! NOW!

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  13. Oh man. I honestly had no idea sites like this existed. I truly wish I had known about them when I was considering law school or in it; but then again, that was at the dawn of the millenium and blogs weren't quite the thing yet.

    Anyway, I'd have to agree w/ the the previous poster about a law degree being a stain. I absolutely hate the field of law and I rue the day I ever went to law school. The result of fear and not knowing myself--I take full responsibility. Now I'm changing careers, going back to school (yes, MORE grad school) and looking for work. Nary an employer wants to hire me. In my last resume, I actually redacted any reference to law school and legal jobs. It was a bitter, bitter moment considering I'd been told my whole life that no matter what I wanted to pursue, a law degree would always be a great fallback. Complete & utter BULLSH**.

    I've learned so many lessons from law school, but none of them have been the ones that the brochure mentioned. Law is not a sinecure and having a JD certainly does not guarantee success. That's the fallacy.

    And, to Mr. Garfinkle, it just figures you'd reference your book. I've never met a law professor who could resist referencing his own publication of any kind whenever possible.

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  14. Your blog was just cited in the NY Times. Instead of a job, maybe you should be looking for a book deal. This topic is definitely book-worthy with so many people sitting out the recession in law school.

    Are any of your undergrad English-major friends in publishing?

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  15. As a recent law school grad I agree with the temperture of this and the other similar blogs that were cited in the NY Times. The stats are skewed and the deck is stacked against you. Especially for us poor souls who had no business being let into law school. I had no delusions of Harvard or Yale. I applied to six schools, based completely on the acceptance rate, median G.P.A. and median LSAT.

    I graduated from a large undergrad as a worthless CJ major (couldn't even land a job as a cop) with a 2.6 gpa and a 153 LSAT. Of my six applications I sent off, all to tier three or bottom tier schools. Five gave me the thumbs up.

    I settled on a small 3rd tier school in the Midwest due to the residency requirements of only six months and the tutition was half as much as anywhere else. I additionally did a two year program to cut costs.

    I graduated middle of the pack and have to assume I passed the bar in the same state as my school only by the skin of my teeth. So I sat with a JD, a state bar number, and no hopes of meaning full employment that could pay bills even before the six month deferment period ended.

    So I took the road that one of the previous posters Marc encourages. I just set up shop on my own (albeit with an amazing and greatly respected mentor which I know is not the same as completely flying solo).

    In my small rural judicial district, in a small rural state I have found plenty of opportunities to make the most of the situation I put myself in. There are no public defenders per se in this area, everything is done on a court-appointed basis.

    I am now on the court-appointment list in 13 counties and at least six municipal courts. After "proving" myself for the first few months after the bar I have even managed to get a contract with one county while fairly modest keeps the doors open each month even if I cannot find what I call a normal "Pay Client". Additionally, it seems that nearly every felony court appointment leads to a "Pay Client" somewhere done the road, wether it be criminal or some other area of law.

    So, while I completely agree with the author of this blog and the others like it, the line of crap the Big Business of law school feeds the public is repulsive and needs to be overhauled like yesterday. Much like the bloggers friend in the success story with the worthless small school undergrad degree, it kind of comes down to what you make of the situation.

    Luckily for me criminal defense was what I wanted to do anyway. However, in my very short "legal career" I have already covered so many areas of law and take on clients for minimal fees to try something new. Nothing a little research, bugging old professors for advice, and leaning on my mentor cannot help fix.

    Do I necessarily want to be in a one horse town dealing with meth addicts my whole career? Nope!!! But it beats the hell out of ignoring collections calls and pretending that I'm better off than I was before law school because I am now a more "important" member of society due to the pompus fact that I can put ESQ. behind my name on letterhead.

    Although, maybe my post is ignorant and I missed the point of the posts I am referring to, but just as it has always been in this country-a person that finds something the can tolerate doing, works hard, AND catches some breaks can make anything work. Even someone with a crackerbox JD, by a person that would have never made the application cut on paper 10 years ago. Thats the one thing I did actually like about the guy in the NY Times article, his upbeat attitude on a basically shitty situation.

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  16. 3L @ University of Idaho, a small T3 school which promises that it's "one of the top 10 values in legal education." I have to agree, actually. I'm graduating in a couple months with about 40K in law school debt, which the Air Force is paying off when I commission into the JAG Corps (selected in the August 2010 board) next fall.

    Despite Idaho's lowly status, I landed paying internships both my 1L and 2L summers, tried my first criminal case alone as a 2L, and I'm spending my last semester-in-practice clerking for a state supreme court justice. Good experiences, I think. Heck, I even went to Guantanamo Bay as a 1L intern in the Army JAG Corps.

    I turned down a couple of T30-T50 schools and went with Idaho's $12,000 a year tuition rate and an 80% scholarship, and I'm damn glad I did. I feel like I've gotten my money's worth.

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  17. 5:14 here. There are a select few fields out there that are absolutely zero risk, I suppose. Maybe medicine. And accounting. Otherwise, no one can guarantee you jack squat and you have to work your way into a position that you think will make you happy. You also have to ride through the ebbs and flows of the economy. I have a friend with a doctoral degree in educational psychology who was laid off last year and still hasn't gotten a new job. I know an engineer who was unemployed for close to 2 years. And I also have a few lawyer friends who lost their biglaw jobs, but guess what? By now, they are all employed again, and they were only jobless for a couple of months. There are virtually no fields at all that are immune from lay-offs, but law is about as close as one can get. And even if you lose your job, the degree gives you versatility to pursue other avenues, like starting your own small firm. I just don't get it. What exactly is it that you expect?

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  18. Actually, there are two things I expect:

    1) From the law schools: Transparency in employment statistics. If you read the NYT article, even if you ignore everything about the indebted students and only focus on the ways in which law schools play with numbers to make employment prospects look rosier than they are, I don't see how you can think it is acceptable.

    2) From the ABA: Some degree of protection for the profession in the way that the AMA protects the medical field. From their decision on outsourcing to the fact that they allow new law schools to open constantly, even in over saturated markets, they are doing little to protect their members.

    I do not blame law schools for the state of the job market, obviously. I do not even have a particular vendetta against my own school. It is no worse than any other. But I blame basically every law school for misrepresenting the post-graduation prospects.

    Personally, at this point I can honestly say that I don't expect much for myself, as my mistakes are made and all I really want is a job that will enable me to pay the bills, preferably a non-law job. What I *hope* for,as opposed to what I expect, for others, is that they ask themselves if it is worth it in a bad economy to take out a ton of educational debt for a degree where no return is guaranteed. Your point is that basically no degree is a sure thing now. Point taken, but that is not an argument for pursuing law. If you are not going to get a job that pays more than you could make without the JD, why incur the debt?

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  19. I enjoyed law school quite a bit. I was fairly young when I went and had family to support me, so I only needed to borrow enough to cover tuition and didn't need to work or borrow for living expenses. Also, I graduated several years ago from a top tier school, so the job market looked better for me. Nevertheless, law school itself was a really great experience.

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  21. Gina,
    Under the circumstances you describe, how could you not find it a "really great experience"? Doh!!!

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  22. I enjoyed law school. I thought many of the cases were fascinating. I still enjoy studying the law through CLEs and research, though I'm a full-time mom & only practice when occassions arise. My husband also went to law school & graduated 5 yrs ago. He works for Lexis, so it's not a traditional use of the law degree, but his project does require a JD. He works regular hours with a salary that covers student loans, our very modest mortgage, and allows some personal savings. We are not fabulously wealthy, but we are happy & comfortable.

    It's a tough job market in every field right now. Grads certainly have my sympathy. Good luck!

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