Why Are You Even Thinking About This? (Law School, Part 1)

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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73 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    Reason 6: The Paper Chase/ LA Law was my favorite tv series ever.

    I work with lawyers. There are a few who really do enjoy arguing and conflict. They do terrible work for their clients.Report

  2. Kazzy says:

    “…I can’t think of anything particularly better to do with my life and intelligence and skill set…”

    I kind of want to call bullshit on this… with as much respect as one can offer when calling bullshit, of course. But if lawyering is “…unglamorous and tedious work that doesn’t pay anything close to what you imagine it would…” I struggle to think that someone like you struggles to find something better to do with your life. Either lawyering is better than the alternatives you’ve identified or you’re simply not trying that hard to identify them.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

      Tell you what, Kazzy. Let’s ask some other lawyers and see what they say. I’m not the only one with a J.D. around these parts. Let’s start with NewDealer’s comment below.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I think my combat came off more combative than I intended. Invoking the word “bullshit” tends to do that. So, my apologies if I offended.

        What I mean is that lawyering may not be all it’s cracked up to be based on media portrayals and how outsiders tend to perceive it, but it is still a pretty good gig if you can do it well. There is a reason you are a lawyer and not a hot dog vendor or garbage man or ditch digger or gas station attendant or waiter…

        I think you are right to temper people’s expectations, especially if they are outsized. But if someone is bright enough and capable enough to do the work and is wired to do tedious, unglamorous work and doesn’t have a passion pulling them another direction, going to law school doesn’t seem like a half bad idea. Now, if they aren’t all those things I just described… yea… not a good idea.Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

          Oh, no worries, my friend — I don’t take sparring from you as anything other than good-natured.

          Yes, lawyering is better than digging ditches. Once I helped a friend dig a ditch (well, more like a big hole), and that pretty much sucked.

          You may not realize just how many people, young and middle-aged alike, who I meet and who express starry-eyed ambitions about becoming lawyers. And lots of them go ahead and start investing money and time into the project and it’s readily apparent to me that they aren’t in the slightest bit prepared for what lies on this path.

          And I recall my own youth. I didn’t have the advantage of a lawyer in the family or even particularly close family friends who were lawyers to serve as guides or mentors. No one told me to pursue judicial clerkships, for instance, so I had no clue that at the time I was in law school, this was about the only way to break out of my socio-economic class and do something that would flag down the attention of the Biglaw recruiters and thus open the door to the big salaries I wanted. My own damn fault; I could have tracked down that information had I only known to look for it, it was available.

          So I’m writing in part for the symposium and in part for all these young people I meet. I’ll tell them about this bright guy named “Burt Likko” who wrote a lot of good stuff they need to read and carefully consider.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

            And the world will be better for it. I think our education system would greatly benefit from more mentoring programs and greater opportunities for students to connect with professionals in honest settings. Career Days and recruiting fairs are cheerleading competitions; no one learns the truth. How much better would your field be if law schools required that prospective students actually spent some time in a law office, hopefully doing more than fetching coffee. That might weed out some folks who think they’re going to be the next Jack McCoy.

            In my undergrad program, we did a full practicum and three prepracticums, with the first coming during sophomore year for folks who had enrolled in the program to start. This one-day-a-week in-the-classroom experience weeded out a handful of kids who realized teaching wasn’t really for them, and did so early enough that they could change their major and graduate on time.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

      The joke we had in law school was that it was for people who were too nerdy for business but not scientifically minded enough to do medicine/nursing, or engineering. Also for artists who got a bit more practicalReport

  3. NewDealer says:

    Like you I am between 2 and 3.

    Luckily, I went into law school at a bit older than most but those still I applied. I also went in knowing that I did not want to do big firm law and that those jobs only go to a select few.

    However, it has still been quite a ride and in some or many ways I am very lucky compared to the other stories I hear. I like what I am doing like you though even if it has not quite worked out yet.

    Though my other option was academics so maybe I am not the best source for alternatives.Report

  4. NewDealer says:

    Though I will add that it is the do-gooder’s above everyone that found full-time permanent positions in this tough climate it seems among my law school classmates.

    I know quite a few people working as ADAs or PDs around California. Maybe they had to move out of the Bay Area but they have full-time and permanent legal positions.Report

  5. Diablo says:

    I know a frightening number of kids (I say kids cause I was a 26 year old freshman while they were 17-18 when we started together) who found themselves unable to do anything with their English, Poli-Sci, Sociology degrees so they doubled down and went off to the nearest law school that would take them.

    I don’t think it helps that America has made this crazy image of lawyers on TV that is not based in reality. They never show someone struggling with US Patent law…

    Every day I am glad I went into engineering. It ain’t sexy…the hours are long…but man oh man is it fun to get drunk in a foreign country after a long day of work!

    Unless its India…not so much fun as I have found.Report

  6. BlaiseP says:

    The class action attorney I know did two or three big cases. Now he and his wife live in a huge mansion near Atlanta and she goes to Belgium ever and anon to purchase horses.

    The divorce attorney I know hates her work. It pays the bills and she’s making good money and wants to go back to criminal defence work.

    The patent attorney I know seems to like his work well enough.

    The criminal defence attorney specialises to murders, rape and domestic violence. She drinks a lot.

    I did one gig for a contracts and M&A lawyer who’d gone on to get a computer security degree. Wrote her a discovery system. The most disorganised person I’ve ever known.

    I’ve learned better than to ask an attorney idle questions about his craft. They’ll wince if you do. Not asking for advice, mind you. If I want legal advice, I’ll pay for it. I understand not wanting to talk shop, but why would anyone sign up for such a harrowing profession? I just don’t get it. The profession seems awfully hard on its own members: it’s not tough to screw up and even get disbarred. And the clients — jeezus — some of mine can be difficult, some have ignored my advice and done crack-smokin’ stupid things, but I don’t have to mitigate.

    Perhaps it might make more sense if the legal profession had some sort of a mentoring system. I’ve heard tales about legal firms misusing interns but surely it would make more sense to have some sort of a system, rather like residencies in medicine. The public defender system is completely overloaded, maybe some of these graduates could get some time in grade in that system.Report

    • Barry in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Blaise P: “The class action attorney I know did two or three big cases. Now he and his wife live in a huge mansion near Atlanta and she goes to Belgium ever and anon to purchase horses.”

      This is probably equivalent to the guy who got into programming and then quickly into a dot-com which went *hugely* public, and who cashed out millions in stock options by age 30. Possible, but very much the exception.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Barry says:

        Class action lawsuits don’t pay much to the class members. They pay attorneys. That’s the rule, not the exception.

        So I’m sitting on my uncle’s back porch, years ago, with this attorney and his wife, my cousin. My uncle, the orthopaedic surgeon asks his son-in-law “I found an osteosarcoma on this kid’s leg the other day. Resected the leg to the knee. Saved this kid’s life. What’s my entitlement fraction of that kid’s earnings for the rest of his life?”

        The attorney, visibly perturbed, said “That’s not the way it works.”

        My uncle took another sip of scotch, snorting with laughter.Report

  7. Michael Drew says:

    I think it’s a little unfair to paint any motivation to do some good with a law degree as a desire to “save the world.” I hardly know, but I would think that if you stay humble and realistic about it, if you’re committed, you don’t face ensured total frustration in that aim. That being said, there are a lot of ways to try to do good, and the practice of law is one very narrow and expensive (on the front end) way to go about it, so that aim hardly is inconsistent with the admonition to figure out whether working in the law is the particular way to spend one’s that best suits a person wanting to do some good. Blindly taking on any long-term commitment without understand what the thing actually consists of is always not recommended. But if a person does find that “the inherent work of being a lawyer looks good to” her, I don’t think the fact that she wants to (in part) use legal skills to try to, say help people (which is a viable conception of a way to “do some good”) should be any deterrent to her decision to pursue law school. It seems to me that any conceivable reason for going to law school is almost axiomatically subordinate to that consideration, though some might be truly bad or misplaced. I don’t think “would like to do some good in the world/help people” is one of that last group, if someone has investigated the actual kinds of legal work that she thinks manages to do that and believes it would be to her liking as a (perhaps a part of) a career.Report

    • Blindly taking on any long-term commitment without understand what the thing actually consists of is always not recommended.

      Oh my yes is this true. So when I meet a starry-eyed young person who says she wants to go to law school to “help children,” I feel impelled to point her towards reality because the real interaction of the legal system with children is not exactly “helpful” even with well-intentioned advocates involved.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Well, but there’s the issue that children find themselves embroiled in the legal system nevertheless. Maybe as someone else’s way to try to help them, maybe not. But once they’re there, they do need help. A person could want to help them, and have that as a partial reason for wanting to go to law school. I guess the question is what you think of that. Separately, some of those people will have really looked into what a life in the law entails and considered whether they want that to be their life (and their way of trying to help those kids, in addition to their way of making a living, and their professional identity, etc.) or not and some won’t have – and only those who have and have concluded they do should go to law school.

        But that distinction among those considering the path stands apart from having wanting to help people as part of the initial reason to consider it – and it applies to whatever other such reasons people might have for that initial impulse. (I.e. “I want to get rich”: well, have you really looked into what a life in the law entails and considered whether you want that to be your life or not?; “I want to rise to a certain level of esteem among my peers”: well, have you really looked into what a life in the law entails and considered whether you want that to be your life or not?: “I want to figure out what James Madison thought the phrase ‘Commerce among the several States’ meant”: well, have you really looked into what a life in the law entails and considered whether you want that to be your life or not? – etc.)Report

  8. Michelle says:

    If you’re thinking about going to law school, think twice. Law schools have been producing twice as many law graduates as there a lawyer jobs for a while now. A lot of the legal research and document review gigs that used to keep young lawyers afloat before they found real jobs have now been outsourced to India. Given the surplus of lawyers, average salaries have been decreasing steadily. Law school ain’t the road to riches.

    Burt recommended one book; I’ll recommend another: http://www.amazon.com/The-Lawyer-Bubble-Profession-Crisis/dp/0465058779

    Harper recently retired from mega-firm Kirkland & Ellis. His is more a critique of the legal profession as a whole, but he does touch on the lawyer surplus and the economic prospects of new attorneys. As Scott Turow notes: “The Lawyer Bubble is an important book, carefully researched, cogently argued and compellingly written. It demonstrates how two honorable callings – legal education and the practice of law – have become, far too often, unscrupulous rackets.”

    And yes, I have a law degree. I managed to resist the temptation right out of undergrad, but my husband, enamored by the romanticized vision of legal practice the American entertainment complex produces, convinced me it would be a good idea to go to law school. I really, really wish I hadn’t listened. I practiced for a few years in L.A. as an associate to a former solo practitioner. He’s a great guy and I enjoyed working with him. But the work was generally unrewarding. We’d bust our asses to do well for our clients, and then they’d bitch about the bills or stiff us. A lot of our opponents were assholes; some were so brain dead and incapable of stringing together an intelligible sentence that you wondered how they ever passed the bar. I enjoyed writing briefs, and managed to win a few motions without having to argue in court. But that was about it. We’ve since moved several times, which means more bar exams. At this point, now that it looks like we might stay put, I’m debating trying to return versus looking for paralegal work. Meh.

    So, if you still think you might want to be a lawyer, go out and talk to a few people who currently practice. Most of the lawyers I know don’t want their kids to follow in their footsteps.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Michelle says:

      My dad is not among those in the last paragraph. Many of my friend’s had parents who are also pleased that their children became lawyers. I would say that many people in my law class had one or two parents who were lawyers.

      The joke above to Kazzy does have a lot of truth in it. A lot of law students seem just not cut out for much else. Hardworking, intelligent, but possibly way too misfity for office culture. Even as a contract attorney, I am given a large amount of autonomy by my employer. It might help that I am in the contingency-fee area of law and this is where I always wanted to be since deciding on the law as my profession.

      There is also the fact that I did spend a good amount of time in my 20s trying to for other careers besides art and found that no place would really have me. I temped as a legal proofreader, worked for a very small company, and then a non-profit. Any other big organization felt like they would not even open their doors for an interview except for some charity mugger type positions.

      The people who are clamoring about the law school scam piss me off. They have nothing to offer for advice in terms of people who went to law school during the crisis years. The simple truth is that they benefit in their own way from the suffering because it proves their argument. Some advice on what the underemployed can do shall be good.

      I am very slowly building a career and things are kind of taking a turn. I’ve gone from not-hearing to hearing that places are impressed by my qualifications but do not have any open positions. The resume is being kept on file.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to NewDealer says:

        The people who are clamoring about the law school scam piss me off. They have nothing to offer for advice in terms of people who went to law school during the crisis years. The simple truth is that they benefit in their own way from the suffering because it proves their argument. Some advice on what the underemployed can do shall be good.

        I’m going to be selling some of those goods in future posts. But I’m not hawking those intellectual goods for the purpose of offering advice to young lawyers who are now entering the profession. Such people made their choices and now have to make the best of what’s available. It’s not bad, but it’s just not what people think it is. No, I’m indicating that the law is not what it’s cracked up to be so that the people who do choose to pursue it do so with their eyes open about what they’re getting into.

        You’ve got to do something with your life. Lawyering is a choice one can make. It’s a good choice for the right kind of person. It’s a bad choice for the wrong kind of person, and going into law for a bad reason is an indicator that your personality type is probably not such that this career choice will produce happiness.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko says:

          I am semi-serious about asking if your friend’s firm does plaintiff’s law.Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to NewDealer says:

            My friend who is having trouble retaining associates? They don’t have an ideology as between plaintiffs and defendants. They do have some insurance companies in their stable but are quite willing to take a flyer on a good plaintiff’s case having had some success in the past.

            They’re located in Manhattan Beach and IIRC you’re in the Bay Area (to them, South Bay means “Torrance” rather than “San Jose”) so there’s that to consider too.
            If you want an address and a contact to send your resume, send me a private e-mail using my username here at gmail.Report

        • Barry in reply to Burt Likko says:

          “The people who are clamoring about the law school scam piss me off. They have nothing to offer for advice in terms of people who went to law school during the crisis years. The simple truth is that they benefit in their own way from the suffering because it proves their argument. Some advice on what the underemployed can do shall be good.”

          No, they don’t. And people telling teenagers not to smoke don’t have a cure for emphysema and lung cancer. Their goal is to keep more people from being screwed over.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Michelle says:

      Is there a field anyone knows of whose members/practitioners disproportionately do want their kids to follow in their footsteps? In terms of personal fulfillment of the work as balanced against difficulty in finding it and pay? And excluding business owners who simply want their kids to keep that business going after they retire? I ask honestly; that seems like one good way to identify fulfilling careers in which upsides tend to at least balance if not outweigh downsides.Report

      • I don’t honestly hear a lot of IT people saying “Man, I hope that my kids don’t follow this path.” When I do hear it (specifically programmers and hardware engineers), it’s usually in the sense that things will be different for the next generation (outsourcing) rather than being embittered with their own choice.

        (Those I know that are bitter about their career are also bitter about women. Single. Little or no interest in having kids.)

        IT wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice for Lain, but I’d be pretty pleased if she chose to go that route. Clancy and I are both a little more skittish about Lain or future siblings of hers going into medicine.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

          IT is the one field that I have consistently heard this about. Unfortunately, and this may be a bias of mine, it is also a field that people whom suits seem to know early on it suits them, so I wonder how well this recommendation travels beyond the group of people who are likely to find IT as a career path in any case. Still, it’s helpful to have it confirmed. Thanks, Will.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Michael Drew says:

        As I said above, my experience with lawyer parents is different. My dad loves that two of his sons became lawyers. A lot of my classmates in law school had lawyer parents and their parents equally beamed with pride about their progeny entering the law.

        There are people who do enjoy being lawyers.Report

      • For what it’s worth – and unfortunately, I can’t find the exact link right now – lawyers have been consistently found to have the highest or amongst the highest rates of alcoholism and depression of any profession.

        I would strongly recommend that anyone even thinking about law school first try to work as a paralegal for a year before applying. I’ve found that nearly all of my young paralegals start working with the intention of moving on to law school. I can only recall three who actually tried to go through with it after seeing what being a lawyer was like for an appreciable length of time. I’m happy to say that they were, not coincidentally, also the three who were most temperamentally suited to lawyering of all the paralegals I’ve seen.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew says:

        My son once asked me if he should go into software. I replied “I’m not sure you’re lazy enough. To be any good at this, you’d have to be sooooo lazy — you’d go to considerable trouble to solve a problem soooo completely — that you’d never have to solve it again.”

        He did go into software.Report

  9. KatherineMW says:

    Is it really $100,000 to go to law school in the States? Is that if you go to one of the Ivies, or for a normal university? I’ve checked the cost for one of the law programs in Canada, and it’s around $35,000.Report

    • $100,000 is pretty typical. According to this list, tuition alone is usually $20-30 a year.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to KatherineMW says:

      If that’s annual tuition, then it’s not at all dissimilar from what U.S. law schools charge.

      Multiply CAN$35,000 by three years, and now we’re talking about real money.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Burt Likko says:

        No, that’s for the whole three-year program (I think it’s three years?). Annual tuition + fees + books is around $11,500.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko says:

        One thing that I am very lucky about and forever thankful for is that my entire education was debt free. Largely because my grandparent’s set up an education trust that was able to cover my undergrad, master’s, and law degrees.Report

    • George Turner in reply to KatherineMW says:

      What’s amusing is that half of Supreme Court justices never had a law degree. They just passed the bar, sometimes after attending college lectures aimed at helping people pass the bar. For about half of our history universities didn’t even offer a law degree, then Harvard introduced a one-year program, I think expanding it to two years sometime in the 1940’s. They eventually introduced the three-year degree. For a long time a university degree wasn’t even required to get into law school.

      So is the current system the result of credentialism and an attempt to reduce the pool of lawyers and elevate their status, or is it really required schooling?

      BTW, one of my college friends became a lawyer and in later life concluded that she hated the practice of law and didn’t care for lawyers.Report

      • Five states still permit admission to the bar after “reading the law” under the supervision of a lawyer, taking a test partway through to ensure knowledge of foundational subjects. A tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of lawyers entered the bar this way. I work with a lawyer who had an unusual credential path and does not hold a formal bachelor’s degree; a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of other lawyers are like him and found a way to do that.

        Law school and legal training reformed into something approximating its current shape about a century ago. There’s going to be no going back from it. But there are some ways forward, which I’ll touch on in my fifth post in this series.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Burt Likko says:

          A question for the lawyers here at the League (one I’ve been asking lawyers for some years now):

          – Do you think the bar exam is an effective tool for distinguishing between who will be an effective lawyer and who will not?

          Also, to Burt, I’ll be using this post in my Career Seminar class this fall. I have no objection to my students going to law school, but I have objections to them going without some real understanding of what law school and legal careers are about. I have a colleague who presents a marvelous sales job for becoming a lawyer, but I also include some more critical examinations like this one.Report

          • I invite you to use the whole series. I’m aiming the series most directly at undergraduates. Today, I’m going to offer undergraduates a preview of what it takes to get in to a good law school.

            …Oh, and I tell them to have more sex, so that should be popular too.

            I’ll reserve my answer to your question for my last post in the series, which will be about reform in legal education and the legal profession.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Burt Likko says:

              Burt, I probably will have them read all of them. Can you shoot me an email (jhanley [at] adrian [dot] edu) at your convenience so we can talk off-thread about how I’d like to make them accessible?Report

          • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

            1. That’s an interesting question! The bar exam does probably eliminate some people who were not meant to be lawyers but the standard for passing is still the “minimum competency to be expected of a first year associate.” Basically a C plus, maybe a C. There are some really big politicians and good lawyers who failed the bar on their first attempt. Kathleen Sullivan (the former Dean of Stanford Law) failed the California Bar on her first attempt. She previously passed the NY Bar decades before though. She needed to take California so she could become a named partner in a big firm (Quinn Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan).Report

          • Michelle Togut in reply to James Hanley says:

            The bar exam is one last hoop you have to jump through. A Barbri course provides you with the blue print of how to do it. I think what it mostly tests is not your knowledge of the law, so much as your ability to take tests. For instance, the first bar exam I took was the California bar, which I passed despite going to law school in Illinois. I don’t think I could have done it without the Barbri prep.

            Given that I ran into a number of practicing idiots who also passed the California bar, I’m pretty sure it’s not indicative of who’ll be a good lawyer. I’ve also known some perfectly intelligent people who failed on their first tries because they psyched themselves out.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Michelle Togut says:

              I think what it mostly tests is not your knowledge of the law, so much as your ability to take tests.

              I hear that complaint alot. I’ve made that complaint a lot. And even when I say it wrt other tests (I’ve never taken a bar exam), someone will inevitably denigrate the ability to take tests as a ridiculous metric by which to determine future success in a field. And it’s then that I find myself doing an about face and defending the tests!

              I tool the LSAT, and while I think that the skill set being evaluated in that test is very narrow, I do think that it tests something important and probably correlated with future success in law school. If nothing else, it tests for the speed at which a person can make reliable logical inferences given a set of premises. I don’t think that speed and reliability emerge because a person is merely good at tests. It’s a real property that distinguishes people’s intellectual abilities.

              That said, the Bar exam might still be a poor indicator of anything useful other than a right of passage. (Or not.)Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Stillwater says:

                I thought the LSAT was harder than the Bar in many ways especially the logic games. The Bar caused me much more stress and bad dreams but once I got there, it seemed like every other final from law school.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to NewDealer says:

                Yeah, I thought it was really hard. It was like the Analytical section of the GRE on steroids. Just a constant barrage of logical puzzles and subtle inferences. If someone who took that test didn’t think it was hard, I’d say they have a pretty remarkable set of intellectual abilities. I knew people who got high 160’s on it. (I didn’t!) The kid I knew who got a 169 got accepted to Harvard and Yale (went to Harvard). He was crazy smart.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                I made a mistake there. The smart kid got a 179.Report

    • Stephan Cooper in reply to KatherineMW says:

      To those with a passing familiarity of the differences between Canadian and American university systems that really shouldn’t be so surprising. Every Canadian school big enough to have a law school is a public institution and is part of a regulated system. So across the board tuition is a fraction of American rates.

      Canadian Law Schools don’t have these issues to the same degree as their American cousins. The amount of students graduated is informed by the local law societies which specifically prevents the American free for all on producing law students. Effectively Canada has half the per capita students as America as a result. The prevailing view is that prospective lawyers should be weeded out in the law school application process and those that make it should be able to pass the bar. There isn’t the school tiering system like America where you have Harvard/Yale at the top and progressive lower regarded institutions but instead one of relative equal perceived quality with a school like U of T being on the top of the heap but not by a massive amount relative to the other schools.

      This doesn’t avoid the graduating lawyer glut entirely, the job market for lawyers isn’t that peachy, but it seems to be that here its more of the generally trend where the youth job market sucks for graduates unless your in a field in particular demand rather than the lawyer bubble in America which is being discussed here. This does mean that the competition for articling positions has gotten awfully fierce and graduating doesn’t mean the guarantee of articling that it used to.Report

    • Barry in reply to KatherineMW says:

      Burt recommended ‘Don’t go to law school, unless……’. This was written by Paul Campos, who ran the blog ‘Inside the Law School Scam’. I read that blog, and the best description of what I felt was shock at how dishonest and evil many of these schools are – and that’s after having lived through the Crash. One of the many things which surprised me is that many schools charge near-Harvard tuition, while having abysmal employment outcomes.

      $100K doesn’t put a law school in the top quarter in the USA, and might put it around median. Counting cost of living, getting a JD for under $150K is not easy, and getting one from a school with over a 50% real employment rate[1] for under $150K might not be possible.

      [1] by that I mean full time, permanent job with bar passage required. The second shocking thing I learned from the blog is how low those rates are, and how much the schools cook the figures.Report

  10. Simon Kinahan says:

    I didn’t even realize people went to law school because they thought it might be useful “for business”. Even MBAs are only dubiously useful for actual business people and they’re probably well ahead of law degrees. Business people need four things – negotiating skills, basic numeracy, understanding of their business, and cojones. Of those, only basic numeracy can really be learned in school and you probably learned it by 8th grade. I guess lawyers learn some negotiating skills, but it doesn’t seem to be the focus of law degrees as such.Report

    • Simon, back when I was moving towards graduation, it was very commonly said that law school was a good tool for non-legal professions. I had considered law school (took the LSAT and everything) in part because I figured if I didn’t decide to actually be a lawyer, I’d be able to put it to use elsewhere.Report

    • Those four attributes are doing a lot of work. “Understanding of their business” in particular is a pretty complex thing to ask for in a lot of businesses. I just got through learning a whole lot about wholesaling petroleum and it’s way more complicated than “buy low, sell high.”

      But to get back at your main point, I hear young people thinking about what they want to do with their careers suggest that law school will offer them business skills all the time. And it just ain’t so.Report

    • Barry in reply to Simon Kinahan says:

      “I didn’t even realize people went to law school because they thought it might be useful “for business”. ”

      The law schools push this to deal with the fact that many (at some schools most) of their graduates will never be working lawyers. It’s a lie (a JD is probably a strong net negative) and further BS because it’s a problematic degree which costs as much as a condo.Report

  11. Miss Mary says:

    “True opportunities to use the legal system to solve real problems of society as a whole are few and far between. I won’t say nonexistent. It costs you your life to be a lawyer and if the reason you did it turns out to be something almost certainly doomed to systemic frustration, that’s a poor bargain.”

    Huh, sounds kind of like social work. Something like your reason #5 is the thing that brings people into my field, I suspect. Certainly not, as Will pointed out in his post, anything resembling reason #2.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Miss Mary says:

      Every lawyer who practices what I call “real people” law like matrimony, immigration, and criminal defense thinks that they also act as psychologists and social workers in addition to being an advocate. There were times I literally had to hold client’s hands and walk them back to the office after things didn’t go so well for them.Report

  12. Maribou says:

    The small list of lawyers I know well who do exceptionally well at practicing law have 4 things in common (and not a whole lot else):

    1) They enjoy winning. (Games, sports, arguments, accomplishing made-up random goals they have set for themselves, meta-games where the point is to have run a successful game for other people rather than to compete in that game, whatever. They have a high drive toward the particular flavor of satisfaction gained from triumph.) This is rather different from enjoying conflict, but it does require a certain tolerance for dissonance, coupled with willingness to push to overcome it, that not everyone has.
    2) They enjoy solving puzzles.
    3) They are wicked smart. (This may be a confounding factor. A large majority of the people I know well are wicked smart.)
    4) They have a partner who is both supportive of said lawyer’s job eating the lawyer’s life, and *relatively* less willing to let a job eat their own life.

    I also know a couple of academics with JDs who are really successful at their jobs – they seem to have a lot of my 2 and 3 above, but not so much with my 1 and 4.Report

    • carr1on in reply to Maribou says:

      Alternate #4: They are divorced. Some many, many times divorced.

      5) They drink a lot. The lawyers I know here in Dallas drink like fishes. (hence #4?)Report

      • NewDealer in reply to carr1on says:

        Law is a profession known for a high amount of substance abuse. The bar is trying to crack down on that via anonymous help lines and recovery programs.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Maribou says:

      The hours thing largely depends on the person and the type of law.

      Lawyers who bill by the hour especially at big, corporate firms tend to have very brutal work-hours, high-rates of burn out, etc. You need to bill and ungodly amount of hours a year to get a head and build a book of business, etc.

      However, there are other fields where the charge is a flat fee or a contingency rate and these lawyers have decent work-life balance issues. My brother is an immigration lawyer at a small firm. He rarely works beyond 9-5 and makes a good living. Not the super fancy corporate partner salaries but nothing to sneeze at either.

      I don’t know about the hours for Wills and Trusts or Divorce attorneysReport

  13. I apologize for taking this slightly off-topic, but this seems as good a place to mention this as any. I was thinking of writing something similar to the OP, with medicine swapped in for law. I decided against it, because frankly there’s little I would say that you haven’t already said very well.

    Don’t make any kind of costly educational commitment without knowing what you’re getting into. Now, medicine and law are very different with regard to the job market following graduation, and I’m on the whole quite happy with my career. But medicine as a job is very different from medicine as the subject of a television show.Report

  14. KatherineMW says:


    What about people taking law if they want to go into politics? I’ve noticed that a disproportionate number of politicians have law degrees, although I’m not sure why that’s so.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to KatherineMW says:

      Lawyers sometimes run for office as a form of advertisement.

      In theory lawyers make good legislators because they know how laws are written. In practice legislation is written by specialists and subject matter experts but it’s a nice myth to hope that legislator-lawyers are writing their own bills.

      Lawyers also tend to develop good public speaking skills, have enough money to make bids for office, and flexible enough schedules to campaign.

      But for the aspiring politician I would hardly think a law degree or a legal career is a requirement. An embellishment on the resume sure. Something to do for money in between stints in office perhaps.Report

      • Griff in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Also, if your goal is politics then you can pursue the right career as a lawyer (usually prosecutor) and make the right connections and get a leg up. Three years out of law school, your boss is the DA and you go get drinks on occasion with him and his buddies, the deputy AG and the Governor’s chief of staff, etc. etc… plus “tough on crime prosecutor” always makes a good jumping-off place for your first municipal or county-level race.Report

  15. N.Elias.Kelly says:

    First of all, oh my, that video had me laughing.

    So, I feel like the target of this post. I am 22, one year out from graduating a decently prestigious undergraduate institution with a Political Science degree (couldn’t hack it in Econ, lacked the necessary quantitative faculties). When I switched to PoliSci, it was mainly because it had always interested me more (Econ was more about career reasons) and because I knew the workload better suited my skills. While taking some courses on legal topics, a formerly faded fascination with the law was rekindled in me and I decided that practicing the law might be for me. Now I am working in document review, interning for a lawyer, and studying to re-take the LSATs.

    I very much enjoy your writing, Mr. Likko. I mostly skulk around the edges of the main page and some sub-blogs, absorbing the arguments and trying to learn a thing or two. I typically wait until a post is a few days old to even read it, so that I can enjoy the debates in the comments. But this post and series are really speaking to me.

    I am absolutely a #2/#3. I think I have the right skills to be a lawyer and it interests me more than other careers. But I definitely don’t have a burning passion for it and I worry that that will mean that I don’t have the drive to cut it in the profession. I am still figuring a lot of things out.

    I don’t know that I have a ton to contribute to this conversation at this point, but I just wanted to say that as a young fellow contemplating Law School, thanks for writing this. It is great to read the thoughts of someone whose writing and intellect I respect on a topic that is so pertinent to me. This is a pretty great blog y’all have here.Report

  16. Mike Hunt Rice says:

    6) Even though I am smart, I got a C- in Calc I.Report