Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bad Reasons For Starting Law School, Part 1: Parents

First year orientation is, for most members of the future class of 2014, about a month away.  I think that now is a good time for me to do a small series on bad reasons to go to law school.  If you are reading this blog and thinking about law school, my blanket advice to you is not to go.  There may be exceptions, but for the vast majority of people the best decision is not to go, to the point where I am willing to offer that as my one-size-fits-all take on the matter.  But if any of the reasons I will be profiling in this series apply to you, you REALLY should not be going. 

The first factor I am going to focus on is one of the worst reasons to go, but it is also one of the most tragic.  And probably, although many might hesitate to admit it, one of the most common:

1)      Parents:  
                 Back in the day, a college degree was a guarantee of success.  A graduate degree of any  kind was a winning lottery ticket.  As a result, many Baby Boomers with children who are now in their twenties really think they are doing the right thing by encouraging their children, many of whom have worthless liberal arts degrees, to go to law school.
In January, when the New York Times published a widely circulated article about the pitfalls of going to law school, my blog was one of the ones linked to in the online version.  I saw a huge increase in traffic as a result.  I also received an enormous number of emails, mostly from prospective or current law students sharing their stories or asking for advice.  But what surprised me most was the volume of emails I received from parents of current law students or recent law school graduates expressing remorse for encouraging their children to go to law school in the first place.  One poor woman felt that the situation had done irreparable harm to her relationship with her son.  He had expressed some reservations about attending, but with her encouragement he took the plunge and enrolled in a Tier 2 law school.  Now he has a ton of debt and few job prospects.  (Or at least few job prospects as of January, and it is hard for me to imagine things are looking up.)  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I literally had tears in my eyes as I read her email, both for the sadness of the circumstances and for the fact that she was troubled enough by the situation to reveal it to a complete stranger via email.  I feel for both the mother who thought she was offering sound advice, and the son who followed the natural instincts of many people.  After all, their parents have probably never led them astray before, and they certainly would not do it intentionally.
As I have mentioned before on this blog, I was definitely influenced by my parents.  It was my decision to begin the application process, and ultimately it was my decision to enroll.  I do not blame my parents in the slightest bit for my decision or the repercussions that followed.  But they certainly influenced me.  They thought it was a great idea, and the best thing I could do with an English degree.  Unfortunately, they were wrong.  We both were.  But I know their hearts were in the right place.  They just did not have all of the information.  But that is starting to change.
One of the best things about the exposure that the law school scam is receiving from the mainstream media is that the message is finally beginning to reach parents.  Parents read the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, etc.  They do not necessarily read blogs.  As parents come around to the reality of the situation, they will stop offering their children such unfortunate advice.
The point I am ultimately trying to make is that if you are scheduled to begin law school this August, and pleasing your parents or following their advice was one of the pivotal factors leading you to enroll – PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE rethink your decision.  The only exception is if your parents are extremely successful attorneys themselves and have either (a) some very serious, guaranteed connections, or (b) a thriving practice that you will be able to join when you graduate.
Your parents are suggesting this because they think it is best for you.  If you do not take their advice, they may be hurt, confused or even angry at first.  They will get over it.  And trust me, you will be proven right.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

And the money keeps rolling in...

I'm glad to see that the New York Times has published another article critical of the law school scam.

“'I once joked with my dean that there is a certain amount of money that we could drag into the middle of the school’s quadrangle and burn,' said John F. Duffy, a George Washington School of Law professor, 'and when the flames died down, we’d be a Top 10 school. As long as the point of the bonfire was to teach our students. Perhaps what we could teach them is the idiocy in the US News rankings.'”

Funny he should say that, because that is essentially what students will be doing with their money if they decide to enroll in law school next month.

But George Washington University is not at the center of David Segal's article.  That would be New York Law School.  Check out this charming excerpt, courtesy of the Dean of NYLS:

“'What I’ve said to people in giving talks like this in the past is, we should be ashamed of ourselves,” Mr. Matasar said at a 2009 meeting of the Association of American Law Schools. He ended with a challenge: If a law school can’t help its students achieve their goals, 'we should shut the damn place down.'
Given his scathing critiques, you might expect that during Mr. Matasar’s 11 years as dean, he has reshaped New York Law School to conform with his reformist agenda. But he hasn’t. Instead, the school seems to be benefitting from many of legal education’s assorted perversities. 
N.Y.L.S. is ranked in the bottom third of all law schools in the country, but with tuition and fees now set at $47,800 a year, it charges more than Harvard. It increased the size of the class that arrived in the fall of 2009 by an astounding 30 percent, even as hiring in the legal profession imploded. It reported in the most recent US News & World Report rankings that the median starting salary of its graduates was the same as for those of the best schools in the nation — even though most of its graduates, in fact, find work at less than half that amount."

How does he justify this disconnect between his actions and his words?  Here's the moral of the story:

"Asked if there was a contradiction between his stand against expanding class sizes and the growth of the student population at N.Y.L.S., Mr. Matasar wrote: 'The answer is that we exist in a market. When there is demand for education, we, like other law schools, respond.'"

The whole article is well worth a read if you want to see some shocking figures about the economics of law school.  I only wish that these articles would focus on the travesty that is the second tier.  By focusing on the lowest ranked schools, the media implies that the way the second tier schools operate is acceptable.  (Although, thankfully, Mr. Segal does admit in his article that there is no drastic difference between the way NYLS runs and the way other law schools run.)  That said, Mr. Segal has done a great job in making his ultimate point, which is that there is no way change is going to come from within the schools themselves.   If someone like Mr. Matasar, whose earlier words and philosophy showed so much promise, cannot be relied upon to at least attempt to instigate change from within, there is little chance of it happening.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Another day, another misleading study from industry apologists

With everything that has been going on in my life over the past few weeks, I missed this trash when it came out a couple of weeks ago.

If you have been keeping up with the blogs recently, you have seen that we have been inundated with articles and studies pointing out that salaries are falling for new attorneys, and that the legal industry is losing jobs.  You might be surprised to find anyone ballsy enough to pretend that there is good news for recent law graduates.

Enter NaTTTional Juri$t.  This sickening publication should be familiar to all current law students or recent grads.  At my school, there were bins of it all over the place for people to read between classes.  Sandwiched between advertisements for foreign study programs and LLM programs ($$$) you will find the occasional article.  Since I graduated I have not had the misfortune of encountering one of these, but someone passed along this article from the website.  Here's the intro, and it is quite a hook:

"Recent law school graduates on average have more disposable income than they did ten years ago, this despite higher student loan debt and a worsened job market, according to an exclusive study by National Jurist magazine."

Really??  Despite higher student loan debt and a worsened job market, I should have more disposable income than law grads ten years ago???  THERE  IS HOPE!  Tell me more, tell me more... like, can I buy a car?

Not so fast:
"But that is not true for graduates who get jobs at the smallest law firms, or for those underemployed or unemployed. Students entering private practice with a law firm between two and ten attorneys saw an 8 percent decline in standard of living from 1998 — largely because salaries dropped from the Class of 2008 to 2009. But, if the students take advantage of the income-based loan repayment plan that took effect in 2009, their standard of living actually increases by 26 percent." 
So basically their point is this:  if you land a job at a big firm, your standard of living will be significantly higher than similarly placed law graduates ten years ago.  True or not, this issue is moot for the vast majority of recent graduates.  Their second point is that if you work in public interest or government, your standard of living will be a modest 6% better than similarly situated graduates a decade ago.  I am almost willing to believe that. Many schools now have loan repayment options for recent graduates in public service (if you can qualify for them), so it is a possibility.

But the misleading conclusion that the study draws is that recent law graduates in general have more disposable income.  When so many recent law graduates are either unemployed or flipping burgers, how can that possibly be the case?

I do not doubt that the new loan repayment options have helped some people.  But what about the unemployed?  Don't they count?  You can't publish a study that almost completely ignores an entire, substantial demographic and expect to draw anything meaningful from it.  As the NY Times pointed out, the unemployed have become invisible.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Can't make this stuff up...

This woman, a Wellesley graduate with an M.A. from George Washington University, is so overqualified for the positions that interest her that she has taken a job as a nanny in the Washington, D.C. area because she cannot even get interviews anywhere else.  In fact, the title of the article profiling her is "In a Down Economy, Overqualification is a Killer."

Her solution?  Law school.

I'm not trying to mock this young woman, or belittle her.  She has an impressive background and I am sure she is intelligent.  But is the solution for being overqualified for positions that interest you to get another degree?

Luckily there is still time for her to change her mind.  I sincerely hope that she either a) gets into Yale or b) realizes that more school is not always the answer, no matter how much she likes being a student.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lookout For Falling Salaries

The Wall Street Journal has a short piece today on attorney salaries and the NALP Employment Report and Salary Survey on the Class of 2010.  This is the key part:

"Even so, the national median salary for newbie lawyers – at least for those with full-time work – still stands at $63,000, according to the report. That doesn’t sound so bad, except for the fact that only about 64% of law school graduates found full-time employment in a job requiring bar passage. The rest found non-legal or part-time work, and more than a quarter reported biding their time in temporary jobs."
Let that sink in:  according to NALP, only 64% of law school graduates whose employment status is known are working in a full-time job requiring bar passage.  For what it's worth, NALP says that in the graduating class of 2010, they know the employment status of 87.6% of graduates.

From the NALP press release itself:

"We have been watching this market deteriorate for several years now," Leipold offered when asked about the significance of some of these changes, "but even I was surprised to see that the percentage of graduates employed in a full-time job requiring bar passage had dropped to 64%. In this market far more graduates are stringing together several part-time or temporary jobs to approximate a full-time equivalency for themselves. Leaving clerkships aside, one in five jobs obtained were temporary. That represents a dramatic change in the entry-level market."

Run, don't walk, from law school.  It is just not worth it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some sound advice

Here is some sound advice from TIME Moneyland.  There is really only one thing I would add.  At the end, Mr. Bissonnette suggests that people only pursue law school "if the career you are passionate about involves being a lawyer."  It's not that this is incorrect per se, but I would add that prospective students should also educate themselves about what being a lawyer actually entails before deciding law is their passion.  Most people have little or no idea going into the law school application process what their career will actually look like if they are fortunate enough to actually get a legal position upon graduation.

But that minor point aside, it is always nice to see mainstream publications picking up on and spreading this message to their readers.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Employment Update

When I resurrected this blog, I promised I would keep readers updated about my search for non-legal employment.  Since graduation, I would estimate that I have sent out approximately 50 resumes, possibly more.

My first lead was for a position that seemed like a perfect match on paper.  A non-legal position, in one of my areas of interest.  I'm not going to lie and say that I was extraordinarily enthusiastic about the organization itself, but a paycheck is a paycheck.  Alas, despite a great conversation with the employer, and being told by him that I am "perfect for the job" (a direct quote from both the agency and the employer) they were not interested.  Believe it or not, I was not too surprised.  I am somewhat familiar with this organization and I have an idea of the type of person they would like to hire for that kind of position.  (For starters, not a woman.)  Don't get me wrong: this is not a card I like to play.  I know the reality of the job market right now, but I have always had a suspicion about some of the higher-ups here.

My second lead:  Another employer received a resume I sent out, asked to schedule a phone interview, and then called for what seemed like the sole purpose of telling me that they really were looking for someone with a skill set I do not have.  Um, thanks?  Must have been some kind of quota they were looking to fill, for interview calls.  At least I appreciate that the conversation was short.  About two minutes, start to finish.  Might as well cut to the case and not go through a whole interview charade if it is hopeless.

My third lead:  A phone interview for a position with an organization that seemed cool.  The person I spoke to on the phone was nice and friendly, told me my qualifications were excellent, and spoke to me for about half an hour.  I hung up with a pretty good feeling.  Then, radio silence for two weeks.  I saw the writing on the wall, but figured I would follow up with a quick and professional email.  His response was basically, "Your editorial work is great, but we are looking for someone with specific experience in a certain area."  It was frustrating to hear that, but so it goes.

I know I'm not alone here.  It can be really disheartening to have what you feel are good interviews, and have them go nowhere.  It is also frustrating when people call to ask you to interview and then point out that you do not have the experience they are looking for when your resume and cover letter could not make that any plainer.  I guess I don't blame the employers per se; they have a position to fill, and right now they basically have their pick with the job market the way it is.  If anything, I blame myself for being in this position when I had a perfectly good job before starting law school.  Now I have to explain away that time, and explain away the poor judgment that led me here.

I have two interviews lined up for next week - real life, in-person interviews.  Both of them are on Wednesday.  I am keeping my fingers crossed, as both positions seem good.  I have read both listings at least four times since scheduling the interviews and there are no qualifications listed that I clearly do not meet.  Let's hope that, based on the calls, the toxic J.D. on my resume has not completely scared them off.