If you have ever had a friend announce to you his intention to buy a boat, you probably said, ”that’s great man, good for you” - but you were probably thinking ”this poor, ignorant bastard is on a road to wealth-destroying misery.”
A 34 year-old man, with a good job and a family, announcing plans to attend law school receives that exact same response.
Well, at least I’m not buying a boat.
The country is full of unemployed lawyers saddled with crippling, non-dischargable debt. Google the words ”Law School” and two of the front page articles are full-length, denunciations of the entire enterprise. I have read every word of those articles and 100 others like it. ”Law school is a sham; ...ruined my life;... you aren’t the exception” – I go to sleep every night with these words dancing in my head.
In most cases the argument against law school follows this framework: (1) law school costs way, way, way too much, (2) the job-market for lawyers is terrible, and (3) the jobs that are available are miserable, slavish drudgery.
The first is a very plain and unassailable fact - law school is stupid expensive. However, thanks to the GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program, I will sidestep this landmine completely. And since I am attending night school while maintaining my current job and salary, my opportunity cost will be paid in human suffering, rather than U.S. Dollars.
Second, the job market for lawyers is famously terrible. The statistics are confusing and largely uninteresting, but consider three potential outcomes: (1) get a job at a big law firm that pays $165,000 (2) get some other lawyer job (public sector, small-business, solo practice) that generally pays $45-65K. (3a) maneuver an in-house job at my current company or (3b) don’t practice law.
Option one is a crapshoot, the big firms recruit mainly from the elite, top-tier schools, and after that from the very tippy-top of the class at other schools. I will attend Temple, which is a very good school, and I am a good student, so this is in the realm of possibility but certainly not easy or guarenteed.
Toss option two out the window, I’ve got a family to feed.
Option (3a) is a realistic and very appealing possibility and (3b) basically involves staying in my current job.
In total, this one is a wash – the job market for lawyers is very terrible, but so is the job market for every other thing. I don’t see how having a (free) law degree does me any harm.
The final argument concerns the miserable nature of the legal profession. These arguments usually begin as, ”If you think you’re life will resemble this TV / Movie lawyer...” then move to ”...mostly reading boring things and working long hours...” and summarize with ”...and you can never quit because you are a quarter million in debt.”
This all sounds like run-of-the-mill bitching about work to me. I can see how the demands of any job could be a slap in the face of a person who coming off seven consecutive years of the utopian paradise that is the modern college campus, but this is not my first rodeo. Doctors bitch about their work, as do policemen and teachers and fighter pilots and Kanye West. I have no doubt that lawyering is demanding work, but I consider myself up to the task.
Whether or not I can actually graduate from law school while holding down a job, drilling in the Navy Reserves, and being a suitable father and husband... I guess we’re about to find out. Wish me luck, I’ll keep you all posted.
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