Day Twenty-Eight (In defense of law school. Mostly.)
Posted on July 4, 2012
Complaints about the decision to go to law school are almost more common these days than lawyer jokes. The internet’s cup overfloweths with law school students and graduates’ regretful rambles. Many of their gripes are more than understandable. The job market is horrible, and, unlike the rest of the economy that is coming back, the legal job market just seems to get worse and worse. There is also a chance that their law school may have misrepresented its employment statistics when it was recruiting them. People are unemployed or underemployed, and they are facing staggering student loans. Of course they are angry.
As far as I can tell, there have always been lawyers who love to tell other people not to go to law school. Back when I was entering law school, when the economy was good, older lawyers’ frequent response to my decision to go to law school was, “why?” They would tell me how hard they worked, complain about living their lives in six-minute increments, etc. I never really bought it from most of them. I generally thought they were engaging in a version of that game of one-upmanship — where people derive some sort of sense of superiority from working more or harder or being more miserable than other people.
I don’t like that. Didn’t like it then; don’t like it now.
When someone I think would make a great lawyer approaches me about whether they should go to law school I say they should. I said they should in 2004, and I say it now.
It seems this the traditional trait of lawyer’s warning others off from law school has merged with the new, miserable employment situation to result in a spate of blogs and articles that both bemoan the author’s own law school attendance and warn other folks not to go. Sometimes, they are written by smart jerks. Sometimes by dumb jerks. Sometimes by Canadians. Sometimes by Forbes. Sometimes by awesome people who really wish that they had listened to their guts and gone to art school.
As long as there has been law school there have been people who have gone who shouldn’t have. I’d imagine that the same is true for doctors, engineers, and botanists. We humans don’t always make the perfect, or even right, decisions. Sometimes we get pressured by our families to do one thing and not to do another. Sometimes we are scared and pick a small liberal arts school and an English major over Julliard. Sometimes we’re a girl and it just doesn’t seem feminine or cool to major in math. But even when we think we are following our gut and making our own choice, it is impossible to know, when we enter a school or a particular course of study, what the actual day in, day out truth and reality of that profession or pursuit will be. We are forced to guess, and sometimes, we are wrong.
But the fact that law school is a mistake for some people doesn’t mean that it’s a mistake for everyone — regardless of the state of the economy.
Is it harder to get a job now than it was when I graduated? You betcha. Would I have gotten the traditional, get-paid-more-than-you-can-possibly-bring-in-at-the-beginning job at the relatively fancy firm that I got in 2004 if I had graduated instead in 2012? Highly, highly doubtful. I care deeply about some of the people who went to law school with Kristen. I hate the fact that they are graduating into this job market. It’s unfair, and they are smart, dear people who will make great lawyers and they deserve better. But they were right to go to law school.
Too many people go to law school, too many people go to law school for the wrong reasons, and too many law schools admit people who shouldn’t ever have been admitted to law school. Also? Unless you are really, really lucky, even when you land a prestigious job, the first few years of practice can be pretty miserable. But, it gets better reasonably quickly if you are self-aware. I love being a lawyer, but I didn’t immediately.
Recent graduates will have to work harder than I had to work at finding employment. They will be challenged to think more expansively and creatively about what they can, and hopefully what they want to do with their law degrees. Maybe they will actually wind-up happier sooner than they would have if they had graduated when I did and been able to follow the “traditional” path.
The lousy economy only serves to emphasize (albeit brutally) what has always been true — people who shouldn’t go to law school shouldn’t go to law school. But what shouldn’t get lost in the compounding stress and misery of student loans, job searches, and the difficult first few years of the beginning of a career is that there are people who should go to law school. And we do them, and ourselves, a disservice if we don’t sing that as loudly and as well as our warning song.