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.


  1. Also, if your parents are rich and footing the entire bill, then it may not be a bad idea to attend law school, provided they will also foot the bill for you to finance your law practice until it gets off the ground, which might take 3-5 years. Otherwise, you're just wasting your fucking time unless you get into a top 14 school.

  2. You're right, that is another exception. Although if my parents had that much disposable income, I think I could be doing something more fun than spending three years in law school. :)

  3. How true. Parents, along with the population at large, simply do not understand the situation you describe in this Post.

    Maybe in time they will, but I don't know what it will take to get them to understand.

    More mainstream media coverage? More information from the word on the street?

    Right away I saw the clarity in your writing BTW, and when you mentioned you were an English Major, I said: "Ah!"

    So from one English Major to another: A Liberal Arts degree, even if it ends up making one poor and in debt, is not an absolute and complete waste.

  4. Kids, another reason to think over the law decision very, very carefully is the fact that, regardless of who is footing the bill, law school, particularly non-elite law school, closes more doors than it opens.

    That's right, kids. All that bullshit you hear about "the versatility of a law degree" is just that--bullshit. It applies ONLY to those with significant and valuable non-law contacts, experiences and connections. It is not applicable to the average "straight-through", or one typically going straight to law school out of undergrad.

    In fact, the JD, outside the above caveats, will cripple the kid for whom law doesn't work out and who then seeks a job outside law. UNLIKE ANY OTHER DEGREE KNOWN TO MAN, the JD possesses unique negatives. HR people will grill you mercilessly on why you aren't in the "lucrative" practice of law. On how "overqualified" you are for that sales position, etc. That doesn't happen, for example, to Art History majors. Nobody calls them "overqualified." (no offense).

    Think long and hard about whether you really want to be an attorney and what that entails. Practicing law sucks. It's stressful. And you gotta be an Ivy Leaguer, typcally, to get to do any of the fun stuff. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. We are talking about averages and risks here, kids, not absolutes.

    Anyway, that's my caution to give. There's much more to the JD than what it costs, an it's not all positive.

  5. Great post. Children need to take a long and hard look at something which costs $200,000+. Fuck, that's like a mortgage on a house.

  6. I love this post. Parents have a lot of influence. My parents are almost the opposite, although still supportive. My parents had me really late in life and I have more than a double generation gap with my parents, so I am Generation X myself, but my parents are older than baby boomers, I believe they are the Silent Generation.

    My parents really consider college to be a waste of time so I had no pressure from them for getting a college degree. I actually had to fight with them to convince them to let me go to college. I was 17 when I graduated high school so I really needed their permission.

    While I don’t feel like people should have to have a college degree, I can’t really say that I regret my bachelor’s degree and I have a STEM degree, but the problem came for me when I working for a university in the research labs. The pressure was immensely huge to get a PhD from everyone that I worked with at the university. Luckily I had balance from the reality check from my parents who felt that degrees were mostly inflated pieces of paper.

    The way that I got away from the university people that pressured me to get a PhD was to go the JD route instead of the PhD, which I almost did as part of a joint MPA-JD route. I had a paid internship with the MPA. Luckily I started out only as an MPA (which was two thirds cheaper per hour and in my case paid for as part of the internship) and while I was doing my MPA, I realized how bad the law market was, what most lawyers really made, and how many lawyers were struggling in real life. So that is how I escaped both the PhD and JD routes.

    The MPA is tricky, I would not advise it for most people, but I was already working at a university at the time, and I got the offer to have it paid for free along with an internship, and it also allowed me to get some huge pressure off of me from people at the university. It also allowed me to sit in some of the exact same classes with law students and realize that law school was not worth it before I officially enrolled in law school.

    I was lucky to have parents that did NOT pressure me to go to school and I think they were just old enough to realize that many important and smart people did not have degrees, and that smart people were OK without them once upon a time.

  7. Parents are a very influential force when it comes to their children attending college or post-graduate education. I'm thinking it could be for one of two reasons. The first being is that they are investing in their child as a way for them to be financially secure when they become too old to be independent and require financial and physical assistance from their middle aged children.

    The second may be due to the well meaning but highly uninformed belief that a college degree will offer a more prestigious job.

    Speaking as a first generation American with immigrant Hispanic parents, to them there was only two options: Doctor or Lawyer. Many hispanic parents who are still attached to their "old world" way of thinking believe that any law school (or medical school) immediately means success and their uninformed children sign up to go to these schools thinking they will automatically get a job.

    Which is perhaps one of the many reasons why you see so many minority students attend law schools that are not even ranked or listed.

  8. Rose, you nailed this down. Another variation is one who goes to law school to impress the fiance/fiancee or spouse.

    Others simply want to be able to claim that they are intelligent. (I see this with plenty of PhDs, as well.) Some students simply feel the need to constantly prove themselves to others, including strangers and people they do not even like.)

    Law schools feed off of the fragile egos and ignorance of their type A personality applicants. How often do you hear of some idiot turning down money to attend an affordable, good state school, for the opportunity to attend a higher-ranked school in another state?!

  9. Law school is for people who WANT to be lawyers! Period! If you do not want to be a lawyer, then don't go to law school! It's just that simple!!! If you actually WANT to be a lawyer, and PRACTICE law, then you should go to law school! Not because your parents want you to; Not because you think you will make a lot of money; Not because you think people/friends will look up to you; Not because you think you will have more standing in the community; You should go to law school because whether you make $20,000.00 annually or $100,000.00 annually, advocating for others is what you want to do for a living and you are willing to do it no matter how much money is on the table.

  10. No- Go to law school and understand that it is a career. It's not a job. It defines who you are. Type "A" personalities?? You have GOT TO BE KIDDING! These are liberal arts majors!!! They are type A about early eastern religious studies. Not working. I pray that a Type A personality interviews for an atty job. I have a 28 yr old associate who complains that they are "tired" of working. In job interviews I get namby pamby nudnics who say they need fridays off and $100k+ starting salaries. These applicants typically have never stepped foot into a courtroom. You may have noticed that the Yellow Pages have a page or two of lawyer adverts. Have any of you called and offered to work for free to learn your craft and prove yourself irreplaceable? I doubt it b/c I don't get those calls. . .

  11. I agree with this. Don't go because of your parents. Go because YOU want to, and don't let Nando or the other scamblogs stop you. Do what you want in life, and NEVER look back. NEVER LOOK BACK!!!!!!!!

  12. Excellent post, as per usual. Parental pressure or "strong" encouragement are never a good reason to start law school, or any other professional school for that matter.

  13. I agree with the sentiment that you should go to law school if your heart is in it and you actually plan to "practice" law. That being said though, the risk/reward ratio is very different from what it was even 10 years ago. Today, you will be going in hock to get that degree and there may not be any pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, only a lot of debt and no reasonable way of paying it off. Truth be told, I doubt I would attend law school at this time. It's just too expensive to justify. In the early 2000's, my law school charged $20,000 per year. Not even a decade later, they are charging $40,000 per year. Yet salaries have stagnated decreased provided you can even get a job. I took another bar exam last week and met a recent student who told me she was $300,000 in debt. She graduated from a 4th tier crap hole, which is not going to open many doors. Despite my own misery at my current debt level, it has become easier to manage over time. But when you're talking about $300,000 of debt, you're in a whole different ball game. That's insane debt, which will have severe repercussions on one's life, i.e., the ability to afford a house, have children, find a suitable spouse, etc. You're basically a debt slave when you're carrying that level of debt. Game over. So the bottom line is, the analysis of whether to attend law school in today's current climate goes well beyond doing what you "want" to do or what you perceive will make you happy. There is a definite cost component that, whether you want to admit it or not, will crush your soul in the long run. I hope you like eating Ramen noodles and living with roommates. That's your future.

  14. How can one possibly know what it is like to practice law without actually having practiced law?

    Please, don't haul out the "volunteer to work in a law office for a while" routine; that is nothing akin to the stress of being the one responsible. Of being the one with a bar complaint to answer. Of having to haggle with asshole clients.

    It is easy for people to say go if "your heart is in it", or you "really want to be a lawyer," blah, blah, blah. Bottom line: you have no fucking idea what it is like until you actually do it.

    That is why I stop short of ridiculing people who think they may make a go of it and fail. What I DO fault some people for is those who KNOW they don't want to practice law, and go to law school anyway. There's a difference, in my mind, between those who WANT to practice law and fail for myriad reasons, and those who really don't but go to school anyway in a lame-ass attempt to either delay things a while or "fix" a useless BA.

    I think there is a critical distinction to be made here, and I am glad the scambloggers have revealed more of the very real downside of this sordid "profession." There are a million ways to fuck up, kids, and unortunately some of you will find out. Law is a job with a miserable amount of oversight and regulation. The State bar will be immediately up your ass at the slightest complaint; useless and expensive CLE's to keep up with; EVERYTHING is a potential conflict; trust accounts to get burned over mishandling.

    How much of this shit sounds like fun?

  15. Excuse me, but I do have an idea of what its like to be a lawyer, because I am a lawyer! Law school was for me because I WANTED to be a lawyer, in spite of the cost. Was it expensive? Heck yeah! But I got my degree, I passed the bar, and I'm doing what I LOVE!!! Let me repeat, I am doing what I LOVE to do, which is practice law!

    People who don't really want to be lawyers shouldn't go to law school. Why? Because it is not a game. How many times have you heard someone say I don't want to be a doctor, but I'm going to go to medical school to incur $250,000.00 worth of debt for the heck of it? Uh, never!!! Law school is no different. While I understand the frustration law students are having over being able to find a job in an established law practice, its very unfair to blame the law schools. Nobody made you fill out the application to go to law school. You did that all by yourself! Nobody made you take the LSAT. You did that all by yourself too! And when you were accepted to law school, you signed the papers and sent in your seat deposit all by yourself! The administration did not hold your hand as you signed your name at the bottom of the student loan documents to pay for each semester! That was your doing! And you kept going year after year, even though you say you hated it, until your three years was up.

    Recognize that, like it or not, the United States is in a recession! Unemployment is extremely high and the new jobs are not keeping pace with the jobs that are being lost. When people don't have jobs that means what little money they do have will be spent on necessities ONLY! They won't spend it on doctors unless it is an emergency! They won't spend it on accountants for tax preparation, they will buy turbo tax for $39.95 and do it themselves. And they sure as heck won't spend money on hiring lawyers to sue or defend lawsuits in which they have a 50/50 shot of prevailing anyway.

    The point that I am making is that all fields of employment are suffering right now from this recession. Not just the field of law. So if you don't REALLY want to be a lawyer, I don't recommend that you go to law school. If you do, however, REALLY want to be a lawyer, then you absolutely should go, weather the storm like the rest of America, and enjoy doing what you LOVE!!!

  16. I'm probably tilting at windmills but I am heartsick at this blog. I am a profitable lawyer who has been practicing for almost 20 yrs. The whining is amazing. In 17 yrs. practicing I have NEVER had a lawyer (and only 1 intern) offer to work for free to prove themselves. Blame your parents???? Are you sick? I hate to be old but you guys need to take responsibility for your own decisions. You want a job? Your parents (mistakenly) assumed that you had the drive and creativity to get an education and make $$. Why not volunteer and start at zero (0) pay and prove your worth. If you are soooo smart you will convince someone to pay you some money. Instead, you gripe on these blogs moaning about your lawschool. Hello, the lawschool is not a non-profit. They are in the business of getting you to pass the bar and make money. Are you making $$ posting to this blog. Let me know if you want my email so you can volunteer to prove your worth.

  17. @Anonymous 2:10 AM - for a "profitable" lawyer you have very poor reading comprehension. I did not blame parents for anything in this post. I merely said that going to law school to please ones parents is a bad reason to go to law school. Which it is. And I do blame law schools for charging people exorbitant amounts to attend while providing either misleading or outright false employment data.

    Furthermore, if you have read any of the other posts I have written, you would see that I am not looking for legal employment. But even if I was, I don't see why I should be expected to work for free to prove myself. No other employer expects that. Hiring someone is a risk. They might work out, they might not. Starbucks does not ask baristas to work for free to prove they can pour coffee. Schools don't ask teachers to work for free to prove they can teach a class. That is complete bullshit, and only in the legal profession would that be considered okay and people considered "whiny" for not wanting to offer their services for free.

    1. Actually, would-be teachers pay tuition for student teaching.

  18. I've read a WHOLE bunch of your posts. I've passed them on to my associates and other attys/hope-to-be attys as an example of an attitude that will stop you in your tracks. I give up. You got a law degree why?? You, and your ilk, gripe about the cost of a law degree but no jobs. What do you want? You will NEVER make $2-3 million/yr at Starbucks. But, apparently, that is your analogy to being a lawyer?? I meet young (I'm assuming here) people all the time with your attitude. The world owes you something. Really? As this economy starts to gain speed in its downward spiral, you'll be happy to work for "free" if it includes lunch. With all your "Crooked Student Loan Debt", what do you do for a living? Or are "Mom & Dad, Inc." covering you? Why do you have a law degree, a ton of law school debt, but still are not looking for a legal job? I'm suspicious. It seems that you sing the song but really have no skin in the game.

  19. A few things:

    1) Even if you are right and I "have no skin in the game", what difference would that make? If anything, it would give my points more validity, as it would come from a disinterested point of view. As it happens, I am very far from disinterested.

    2) Generally, I do not talk much about the specific details of my personal life, but I think I have mentioned in prior posts that I was living with my fiance. (Husband now, as of just a few weeks ago.) :) I am extremely fortunate that I have someone who can shoulder most of the financial burden for now. It is not an ideal situation in that I wish I could contribute more to the family monetarily, but I just graduated in May and with this economy things take time. I have been truly blessed to fall in love with a wonderful man who has been an absolute rock of support throughout the past few years in more ways than I could begin to tell, even if I blogged about nothing else.

    3) I am not looking for a legal job. That does not mean that I am not looking for *any* job. I went to law school because I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Turns out, it was a mistake. It was a mistake for me not just because of the economics of it, although that was bad enough. It was a mistake because I just did not enjoy the law. It wasn't for me. But by the time that decision was an informed one, I only had a year to go and it did not make sense for me to drop out with a year left. This is based on a variety of factors which I have discussed previously.

    4) Once again, you are putting words in my mouth. (Or is it thoughts in my head?) The only thing I have ever said that we are "owed" is transparency. If people are going to make a big investment, they should be given accurate employment data from the schools. If you disagree with that, there's no talking to you.

    And finally...

    5) I am so glad that you forward my posts to others. Thanks for the publicity! I hope they click around on the blog roll as well.

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