Why People Go To Law School – Or At Least Why I Did

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Belle & Sebastian works for me!

    Thanks Tod.Report

  2. Avatar Don Zeko says:

    You didn’t know this when you wrote it, but this post is basically my autobiography over the past 5 years or so.Report

  3. Avatar Elias Isquith says:

    Thanks for this post, ND. I wrestle — a lot — with whether or not I should go for a JD. This is good information and experience to keep in mind.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      You’re welcome! I must say as tough as it has been:

      1. I really like the work I have done as a lawyer and find it intellectually interesting and personally rewarding.

      2. 2012-2013 was a better year for me financially than any other year of my post college life.

      If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me.Report

  4. Avatar Throeau says:

    I’m bothered by any essay on higher education for which the first half can be summarized as “Not everybody goes to an Ivy. Some people go to Reed or Amherst or Haverford! But it’s hard out there if you go to a place with low name recognition, hence many Davidson grads feel like they have no other choice but to attend law school.”Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Throeau says:

      I don’t think anyone should feel sorry for someone because they attended Amherst, Davidson, Williams, Brown, or Cornell over Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. That was never my point. I loved my small liberal arts college and primarily applied to them.

      Yet I still think there is truth to the Chronicle of Higher Education article from 2011. We have developed (whether intentionally or inadvertently) a system of job placement where HR frequently uses the name of the degree granting institution as a short-cut. There are times when the schools above mentioned can work in this short-cut and times when they do not.

      I’m against this. I’d pass a law against using this short-cut if possible and workable. But it is the system out there. And there also seems to be a trend for people who wanted somewhat “different” or “creative” careers to try for a few years, realize it is not feasible, and then decide on law school. I’m not the only person from my MFA program who decided to attend law school. Perhaps there will always be some kind of career that liberal arts inclined people use as their professional safety net. For a while it was law school and it worked for many decades. Maybe it will again in the future, maybe not. Perhaps something else will spring up as the “safe” fall back for the arts and humanities inclined.

      Though a few people did find that the situation I described also fit their biography. Why do you think someone who attended a school like Davidson or Swathmore would have trouble finding a job even though those schools are just as selective as Harvard and Yale?Report

      • Avatar D.A. Ridgely in reply to NewDealer says:

        Well, maybe Brown. (Principal Skinner: Mmmm, Brown. Heckuva school! Weren’t you at Brown, Otto? Otto: Yup. Almost got tenure, too.)

        My question would be, however, when was that magical age when certain white shoe law firms *didn’t* recruit almost exclusively from Harvard and Yale (Princeton having no law school, for those who may not know)? I mean, you have read Louis Auchincloss, haven’t you? So, as far as I know, with investment banks, etc., and Wharton, HBS and a few more, though I have no professional experience in that regard.

        Frankly, if Amherst or Williams grads are having trouble finding their first jobs, I’m willing to give odds it’s because of the sorts of jobs and sorts of employers they feel somehow entitled to work for, not because they can’t find work. That or their social networking and interviewing skills are abominable.

        I doubt there’s ever been an undergraduate cohort from which many kids who couldn’t figure out what else to do didn’t drift into law school. And while there is a lawyer glut at present in the U.S. — and, employment aside, almost always has been in terms of social utility — I don’t recall a time when the demand for lawyers wasn’t smaller than the supply. It certainly was the case thirty years ago when I graduated from law school, in any case.

        What *has* changed, relatively speaking, is inflation adjusted tuition costs and resulting student debt burdens. I can offer market arguments about how in many respects liberal social policy and federal student debt subsidies have significantly contributed to if not entirely caused this phenomenon, but I suspect they’d fall on mostly deaf ears around here.

        Like Thoreau, though, I find it altogether too precious that someone from a top tier school is complaining about being discriminated against because he didn’t attend the tippy-top. Golly! Imagine what that must mean for graduates of the other 2,300 or so schools!Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to D.A. Ridgely says:

          I never wanted to be a white-shoe lawyer. Quite the opposite really, I decided early on that white-shoe corporate law was not for me. Part of this is my political preferences, part of this is a general preference for working at small to medium sized places where you don’t have to look up people in a directory. The other part is some experience with white-shoe culture.

          When I was trying to be a theatre director, I worked a bit as a freelance legal proofreader through temp agencies. The firms that higher freelance proofreaders are large corporate firms. Some of my experiences during these jobs influenced me to get away from the arts as a long-term career and towards law but also away from corporate law.

          1. When I was working one job (I was probably around 24-25), there was an older proofreader. He was probably in his late 40s or early 50s. Incredibly bitter guy, a somewhat failed writer. He probably had bits and pieces of freelance journalism published but never got off the track in time and was kind of stuck*. He made a comment during the session along the lines of “I think that tooth just died. Guess I don’t have to go to the free dental clinic.” This experience edged me away from the arts because I did not want to be that guy.

          2. Another time, a temp agency called me on a Saturday and asked if I would be able to work on Sunday. I said yes but asked for a confirmation Sunday morning because we were supposed to get hit by a blizzard that night and I didn’t want to get up for nothing. The agency said okay. There was a blizzard on Saturday night and the agency did call me on Sunday morning at 7 or so. So I walked in a blizzard to the subway and got to the place. I saw a bunch of associates sprawled around couches because they crashed overnight. At one point during the job, the partner was on the phone with his wife and I was able to suss that his wife and kid were on vacation while he was working on a Sunday during a blizzard. This made me decide against corporate law.

          During law school, I worked at plaintiff’s firms and really loved it and also after law school and loved it the same. The problem with small and medium sized firms though is that they tend to hire on a rather unpredictable basis. Big law firms take on a new class of X many associates every year. Smaller law firms tend to hire on a more haphazard basis (plus they don’t have HR departments except maybe a part-time payroll person). I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they are not hiring “right now” but might be a few months or if cases 1,2, and 3 survive the motion to dismiss stage, etc.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to D.A. Ridgely says:

          I’m also not asking for any sympathy in this post. I’m merely trying to explain at least personally why law school seemed like a “safer” option.

          There are no guarantees in life beyond death and taxes but it is a bit much to tell people “Don’t go to law school” without giving alternatives if they are making the decision after a few years of dead-end jobs. Better to find ways to help people out of those situations first I think.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to D.A. Ridgely says:

          Also I dislike the use of the word “entitlement”

          It seems like “entitlement” is used as an Internet attack word whenever someone dares to have any desire or dream or try and alternative path that is different from the person using the word.

          Also almost anything can be attacked as an entitlement. Suppose someone has a very small family and that family is located in a specific geographic area. Is that person acting “entitled” if they want to stay near their family?

          If someone goes to school for subject X (whatever subject X is: writing, art, science, engineering, law, nursing, music): I don’t think a person is being “entitled” by trying to get a job in that field. Maybe they are a bit naive about the possibilities but that is hardly a sin to attack people on with cruelty.Report

          • Avatar D.A. Ridgely in reply to NewDealer says:

            In the same order of your last comment, paragraph by paragraph:

            I trust that your dislike of a word or its misuse or overuse doesn’t blind you to the fact that it is often used appropriately, which I believe is the case in my comments.

            The issue at hand leading me and, I believe, Thoreau to comment never was whether people should or should not dare to desire or dream or try “the path less travelled,” but whether your own language in your original post was facially defensible and not deserving of rather pointed retorts.

            Suppose, indeed. And if that person’s choice is to refuse to relocate when doing so is otherwise a viable alternative in which employment, perhaps even in one’s desired field of endeavor, is significantly more likely, we should not feel sorry for him when he complains about the consequences of his decision. If you want to be, say, a professional actor but only if you can do so never leaving the family farm in the Midwest, I think most people would say you’ve well exceeded mere naivete.

            I don’t see where I even vaguely implied or even hinted that people shouldn’t try to do what they want to do with their lives, let alone attacked such people “on with cruelty.” Like Murali, I’ve been a graduate student of philosophy when the market for philosophers was not much worse than it is now. My wife was a pioneer as a woman in the profession she chose. And don’t even get me started on my older son’s flights of fancy and ambition, all of which I entirely approve of his trying. But if a person insists against all odds at continuing to try whatever it is, however much we may admire his perseverance, we should feel neither sympathy if he fails nor an obligation to help him succeed. And if he complains in a manner such that reasonable people suspect he’s whining that the world owes him the right to, say, make a living as a poet or even as a lawyer and being oblivious to how well off he really is, being highly critical of that whining is neither cruel nor unwarranted.Report

      • Avatar Throeau in reply to NewDealer says:

        Yet I still think there is truth to the Chronicle of Higher Education article from 2011. We have developed (whether intentionally or inadvertently) a system of job placement where HR frequently uses the name of the degree granting institution as a short-cut. There are times when the schools above mentioned can work in this short-cut and times when they do not.

        It is true that there are tiers of employment in which only the fanciest of alma maters will get you hired. That is unfortunate. However, the greatest injustice is not the injustice inflicted on Swarthmore grads–they still have access to many tiers that are inaccessible to graduates of Compass Direction State. And, truthfully, it isn’t even the injustice inflicted on the job seeker from Compass Direction State. There are plenty of jobs (even “good” professional jobs, whatever that means) that the Compass Direction State grads can get.

        No, the biggest injustice is that these Ivy-only tiers of employment are in institutions that wield great influence and power in the wider society. We live in a world that gives substantial power to an elite that isn’t merely small (all elites are, by definition, small) but is also insular to the point of shutting itself off even to similarly prestigious talent and perspectives. Even just opening up Ivy-only institutions to a handful of peers and near-peers would at least double the pool of talent and perspectives. There would still be a lot wrong with giving them so much power and influence, but it would be a tiny start.Report

  5. I find this piece very confusing. On the one hand, “Based on observation and experience, many of these bright young people suffer along in underemployment and career non-advancement for a few years and decide that law school is their path to a solid and stable life.” While on the other hand, you (and presumably these other “bright young people”) know the odds of law school fulfilling that promise are very slim. How does these two things square?

    To be shorter, I don’t understand how someone who is “bright” and educated from an elite university can look at their lack of employment and say “Law school! That’ll fix it!”, especially when there is no dearth of anecdata saying exactly the opposite.Report

  6. Avatar Shem says:

    As somebody who went to “Directional State University,” somebody complaining that his elite university wasn’t sufficiently well-known to guarantee him work strikes my ear as something akin to the article I read a few days ago written by a trust-funder who had miraculously discovered the virtue of hard work. Schmoozing up people who can give you what you want–excuse me, networking– is one of the most important parts of getting a job. Maybe I was lucky to go where I did; they didn’t sugar coat it and make us think the rules didn’t apply to us.Report

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