Will Dropping the LSAT Requirement Create More Miserable Lawyers?

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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96 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    Why are so many lawyers dissatisfied and depressed?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:


      You grow up watching any/everything from Perry Mason to The Paper Chase to LA Law to Boston Legal and your job is more like a technical writer’s than anything romantic, you go from law school where you (and everybody around you) were at least two standard deviations to the right to a job where you interact with the general public (a general public where the overwhelming majority of people are somewhere between one standard deviation to the right and one standard deviation to the left), and the people who made partner are jerks.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Oh, and something about positional goods.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

        There are large numbers of people in government staff positions with law degrees. In my (limited) experience, legislative staff is more likely to have a law degree than a degree in, say, public policy. Common enough that the University of Denver, where I got my MAPP, has a “dual major” program where people get both the law degree and an MAPP.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:

          Periodically, one hears about “the glut” of lawyers.

          Is the large number of government staff folks with law degrees an outgrowth of that?

          “We’ve got two applicants… oooh, one of them has a law degree!”Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

            Almost all of the jobs will require, at least from time to time, reading statute and court opinions in order to answer questions related to “What does the law require?”, or “What does the law allow?”, or “How many places does the statute have to change to implement X?” While I’ll assert that anyone of reasonable intelligence can learn to do that, time in law school is undoubtedly a leg up. The most similar thing from my previous technical career was interpreting standards and requirements documents: what must the device and/or software do, what must it not do, and where is there some wiggle room?Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:

              Do these positions require that the bar has been passed?

              This is making me wonder if there hasn’t been some weird credentialism in other industries…Report

              • Damon in reply to Jaybird says:

                “This is making me wonder if there hasn’t been some weird credentialism in other industries…”

                Of course. Whether that was snark or not, it’s true. I work in Finance. Business finance. I deal with accountants, auditors, gov’t auditors, and all the very fun rules of gov’t accounting standards and processes. I don’t need a CPA. I don’t even need a BS in accounting, but SOME education in that field helps so you know better what people are talking about. I have several dozen hours of accounting classes and (was) qualified to sit for my states CPA exam, but it doesn’t get me anything. I’d still not get my license as I don’t plan to do the continuing education or practice.

                Gov’t workers though, probably get paid more for the education, regardless of whether it’s of use in their jobs. 🙂Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

                The year I joined the legislative budget staff there were three of us new people. One had finished law school but not taken the bar; he moved to Denver because this is where his wife got her residency. One had a year of law school and three-four years experience with the Department of Energy in DC; he and his wife were looking for positions in someplace with a pleasant climate. I had 25 years in telecommunications R&D and a shiny new MAPP. I got hired because the director thought the legislature needed someone on staff who could talk to the executive branch IT people about all the failed software projects. Poring through the old status reports and sitting in on the postmortem meetings was… educational, for me at least.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:

          Some government law jobs can be very cushy because they offer moderately high pay, government hours, and basically lifetime employment after passing probation.

          Though the downside is when you need to work for an ideologically extreme admin. See the career civil servant under TrumpReport

          • Damon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            THE HORROR!

            30 years of a cushy job, high pay, and bennies, but you have to endure 4-8 years of some “ideologically extreme admin”.

            Hmmm…how many folks in america would trade jobs?Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:


      Jaybird is partially right. A lot of people go to law school because they want to be Atticus Finch or Clarence Darrow. They end up finding out that arguing in court is rare and the cases are more pedestrian. Or they end up working for more Corporate clients.

      The other issue is that the billable hour will kill your soul. You end up recording your time in 6 or 15 minute increments and hoping to make at least 2000 billables a year.

      Some firms have hard cultures of if we email or call at 3 am, you answer:Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

      Here is an example of an extreme discrepancy that I found weird.

      A few years ago there was an article on the rise of “bullshit” jobs. The article’s thesis was that corporate work is a conspiracy to keep us down by the Capitalist class. I disagree but whatever.

      The author gave an example of a friend who was a squatter punk rocker but his girlfriend got pregnant and the guy went back to school to become a lawyer and ended up doing super corporate banker law.

      I always found this odd but there seem to be people who do from one extreme to another without finding middle groundReport

    • Francis in reply to Kazzy says:

      It’s a conflict-based business. Positive resolutions are within the purview of management/clients; lawyers are designated to clean up messes (litigators) or fight bitterly over the allocation of possible future messes (transactional). There is very little room to try to create solutions that are net positive for all parties involved. All that conflict gets exhausting.

      That’s at the highest level. More prosaically, a lot of law can be mind-bendingly tedious. It takes an enormous amount of grunt work to position a particular issue for success, no matter what field you are in. So you can have weeks, months, even years of effort for a payoff that hits in a single day. Then that matter is over and you’re off to the next project.

      That’s just the practicing side. On top of that, you get the business side. Now, I’m in-house counsel so I don’t look for clients any more. On the other hand, I have just the one and if things aren’t working out I can’t dump the client without quitting. Most lawyers, however, spend a tremendous amount of time and effort hustling business, and that’s a never-ending exercise. Even if you have a stable of clients, you’re only as good as your last project and there is always someone sniffing around promising to do more better work for less money.

      Finally, the practice of law is shrinking while the number of lawyers is rising. More and more clients are managing their bills very strictly and there are an increasing number of tools easily available for them to do so. So demand is at best holding constant while the supply is rising. This puts real pressure on bills.

      Oh, and one more point: Very very few Americans have any money left kicking around at the end of any month to pay for attorneys. Only the middle-class and up, and successful companies, can afford us.

      This is a pretty sophisticated readership, so I’m curious. Under what circumstance would you, dear reader, ever see the need to hire an attorney and how much could you afford? If you’re in a business deal worth, say, $50,000 and it went bad, do you think it would be worth it to hire a lawyer?Report

      • gregiank in reply to Francis says:

        I see people who pay a 5K retainer for a family lawyer in divorce/custody cases. These are often working or middle middle class people. Often the combined income for both parents is 75k or less and they are each coughing up for an attorney.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to gregiank says:

          Well that is because a divorce/custody can be a bitter bitter fight.

          I think LeeEsq is generally on point right here. When people really need lawyers, they will find the money to pay for them. The smart ones do anyway.Report

          • gregiank in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Oh i know exactly how bitter those fights are. But people will pony up a lot of money even when it makes the situation worse. Nothing like a bad lawyer to bring gasoline and matches to a bitter personal dispute. To be fair i know some great lawyers who mostly do mediation and aren’t’ that way. People can and do spend 10’s of K in divorce custody battles. They can dump all their retirement and the kids college funds into fighting. Not pretty.Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Many firms doing real people law take credit cards now. This allows the lawyer to collect the fee and leaves the client to deal with the credit card company afterwards.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            I’m certain that less than 1% of Americans retain a lawyer when buying a house. Yes, there are that few smart people.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Francis says:

        I have a professor* who did extensive research into what personality traits correlate with attorney effectiveness,** and meta-analysis shows that a low Agreeableness score on the Big Five*** personality test is strongly associated with attorney effectiveness.

        This suggests ineffectiveness as negotiators.
        There are two prominent schools of thought on negotiations; the Harvard model, and the Kellogg model. The Harvard model is older, and this is the method in which most negotiators are trained, though empirical studies suggest somewhere around 50% effectiveness. The Kellogg model is popular these days, and has been shown to consistently result in higher Pareto scores than under the Harvard model.
        The Kellogg model is easily recognizable from offers of multiple package deals. In fact, Pareto-optimal results are practically impossible with single-issue negotiations; i.e., the Harvard model.
        * Oddly enough, in light of the rest of the paragraph, this is one of my LOR’s for the LSAC CAS.
        ** Published twice by the ABA. I was sitting in his office when he opened their request for republication.
        *** OCEAN: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion,**** Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
        **** There is some difference between “extroversion” and “extraversion,” but right off-hand I don’t remember what it is. That’s what I learned in Conflict Management class, and I refer you to your local institution of higher learning for that enquiry. (Though I can tell you the difference between an “enquiry” and an “inquiry.”)Report

        • Francis in reply to Will H. says:

          Effective Negotiation should be a bar-mandatory second year course for every law student.Report

          • Kolohe in reply to Francis says:

            Yeah, you can’t get that guy’s course in Skymall anymore.Report

            • Will H. in reply to Kolohe says:

              Not nearly the same thing.
              A big part of the course is running simulations. There are two main reasons for this.
              First, negotiation triggers the fight/flight response, and this manifests itself in physical sensation, such as more rapid pulse, shallower breathing, sweaty palms, etc. The order in which these physical sensations appear tends to vary form one individual to another. By undergoing this cycle repeatedly, you come to know the order of them, come to expect them, and gain some measure of control over them. It doesn’t make you any less nervous, but it reduces the effect of the nervousness overall.
              The other is that it provides accurate feedback, where the results of the negotiation session can be compared numerically with the Pareto-optimal results, to assist in determining specific areas in which the student may improve in the negotiation process.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Will H. says:

                There’s negotiating. And then there’s negotiating.
                When the other guy wants to talk past the time agreed upon (to gain advantage), and you cut the lights to the entire building just to prove a point.
                … that’s negotiating.

                When you dig up every single nasty incident someone’s ever done in their life, to figure out what you can hold them over the barrel about… that’s negotiating.

                Knowing what your opposite wants and needs better than he does… that’s negotiating.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Kimmi says:

                Not quite.

                The first is an example of unethical conduct. There is no negotiated agreement which can be reached at that point, but merely a coercive agreement. The odds that the coercive party will abide by the terms of such a coercive agreement are fairly slim. It is much more likely that another coercive episode will take place.
                When faced with unethical conduct of a bargaining partner, the best thing you can do is call them out on it, and resolve the matter before continuing to negotiate. This is true even in cases of multi-party negotiations, and the party you represent was neither the target nor initiator of the unethical conduct (there are several reasons for this, but the explanation is a bit lengthy, so I will forego it).
                One of the worst things you can do when faced with unethical conduct is respond in kind. Giving in is a close second.

                The second example is unlawful conduct, and a good way to make devoted enemies.
                One area where men and women tend to differ is in their preferred position as to their enemies. A man is much more likely to cease contact, and in extreme cases, await an opportunity to present itself for some kind of payback. A woman is much more likely to actively pursue an enemy, and much more likely to devote some measure of resources to that pursuit.
                When a man becomes irked enough to devote attention and resources to taking down an enemy, it is a good bet that there is going to be trouble. Conversely, a woman is more likely to be able to smooth things over after the trouble starts.
                The best thing you can do at this point is to report the matter to the appropriate authorities.

                The third is an example of pre-negotiation.

                That said, it is much easier to see these things from a distance than when being personally involved. There are a few techniques for compensating for this, which is why people study negotiations in the first place.
                A lot of it is about being able to recognize cognitive biases in yourself through the negotiation process. No one is a slave to mindlessness unless they will it on themselves at some point.Report

        • Nevermoor in reply to Will H. says:

          Unfortunately, the reality of litigation is that the negotiation is nearly-always “the parties want to be done with each other forever, who pays who how much.”

          Theory is nice, but you can’t make a package deal from that structure.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Francis says:

        In my field of law, the big issue is that your always dealing with the federal government as the opposite side. The good thing is that the federal government never stays open late. The bad part is that your opponent has a lot of resources to through at you.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Francis says:

        This is where having a sister who is a lawyer really comes in handy.

        Even as Zazzy and I move through mediation/separation and towards divorce (we have not yet gone to court), we have been lucky enough to each lean on a lawyer family member and his/her contacts in the specific field of divorce and custody law. We are benefited in that the situation has been remarkably cooperative to this point. If we actually had to goto court, we’d probably have to each hire a lawyer unless said relative could call in a favor. But as we began the process, we both recognized that money spent on lawyers was money not available to the children and committed pretty hard to avoiding that as much as possible. But I imagine our situation is atypical on many fronts.Report

        • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

          This was the situation my ex and I found ourselves in. Lawyers wanted 5K retainer for an uncontested divorce. (BTW, with kids, uncontested was 15K) Our mutual response back to each other was “why are we paying 10k of our money to these assholes who are going to bill us 250 an hour and have some paralegal draft the separation agreement, property agreement, and file papers. Screw them!”

          We used legal zoom, got it all done, and THEN paid a lawyer to file the paper work. Total cost, 1500 dollars. We didn’t have kids and we both worked, had cars, and had 401ks. The only main issue was the house.

          Yall got kids and such and more complexity, but if you can, try to sort it all out yourselves first. Especially if they money you save can be used for the kid(s).Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Damon says:


            That’s pretty much where we are. We worked with a mediator because we knew there were likely to be things we didn’t think of and we needed a separation agreement that would stand up in court. Our situation was fairly straightforward: we sold the house, had no debt, had always been very transparent with finances, so we made a pretty straight cut down the middle, each retained our own retirement stuff, and all that. The biggest thing was determining custody and making that hostile, combative, or adversarial would have been a major loss for all parties (financially and otherwise).

            But we were/are lucky as far as these things go.

            I don’t remember what we paid for the mediator (I want to say around $3K?) and were fortunate enough that our review attorneys were both free. When we goto file, we may do it ourselves or may just choose whatever the cheapest option available is: our mediator (himself a lawyer) informed us that a $300 divorce is the same as a $3000 or $30000 one: all you are paying for is someone to stand in front of the judge and push the paperwork through. Given that neither one of us has any plans to contest the agreement and we can both defend the atypical things within it (i.e., dad as primary custodial parent; deviation from the child support formula), we don’t need to pay extra to have some high priced guy do the exact same thing as the guy who advertises on a billboard.

            We also benefited from working with family for review. Our mediator informed us that many review attorneys will push for disagreement not out of their client’s best interest but because more disagreement means more billable hours. We worked with loves ones who truly cared about our best interest.

            Long story short, everyone should convince their sister to be a lawyer.

            ETA: Not that I did — or could — actually convince her to do anything. If she was so easily swayed, she wouldn’t be the fancy pants lawyer she is now!Report

            • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

              Similar story here. I have the benefit of a good reputation with the local bar so the only guy in town with a specialty certification in family law agreed to meet with me and tell me what I didn’t already know for a nominal fee.

              After that, I’ve basically drafted everything but my ex’s initial filing (which is on a standardized checkbox form), and even that I proofread for her. So far, only the nominal consultation fee has been spent on lawyers and given that we never really disputed anything with respect to money and property, and took care to segregate our assets before the filing, there isn’t that much for the court to do. It helps a lot that we don’t have kids, so from the court’s perspective, it’s about tying up some loose ends of jointly-owned property. As long as my ex and I deal with one another in good faith, we should be able to combine that cooperation and my own knowledge of procedure to complete the divorce at a DIY level.

              The prices quoted to Damon for professional assistance were a bit higher than what prevails in my neck of the woods, but not by all that much. Certainly not enough to be worth the investment of any emotion.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Francis says:

        Jesus Christ! If I’m in a business deal of 50,000, I want the lawyer FIRST, before I sign a damn thing.
        That’s a lot of money, and a lawyer is, what? $2,000? Less?

        I certainly hope the guy selling knockoff Bernie Sanders halloween costumes had a lawyer on retainer, and that was for far less than $50,000 profit.Report

      • Murali in reply to Francis says:

        What do you mean went bad? If I took a business risk and it didn’t pay off (for entirely legal reasons) then no. If somebody has legal obligations towards me that they are not paying off, then yes.Report

        • Nevermoor in reply to Murali says:

          Not that simple.

          Here’s an easy scenario: you sell enterprise software, and make a deal contingent on meeting a list of deliverables on a schedule. You meet the listed ones, but the client finds another issue and refuses payment. You’re out your implementation time, but the client also didn’t get the software. Sale price $50k.

          You call me up pissed because the deal went south. I tell you that if the case goes to trial, even the strongest ones will lose for some unforseeable reason about 25% of the time. And then I tell you that trying the case will cost many times the sale price (though, of course, there is always the possibility that we settle early).

          Now is it obvious you should file the lawsuit?Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

      Nobody goes to a lawyer because they are happy. People go to a lawyer because they really got themselves into a lot of trouble and need help or there is something they want really badly and are going to be at you until they get it. When you combine this with the fact that clients often confuse the word lawyer with magician and can tend towards magical thinking your going to get a lot of aggravated lawyers.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @leeesq @saul-degraw and others…

        So how much of the misery (for lack of a better word) is more or less inherent to the job as it exists in contemporary America and how much is the result of unrealistic expectations?

        It’s probably hard to put a number on that but I guess what I’m trying to get at is whether we should try to tackle this problem by rethinking what the practice of law looks like OR by helping make prospective law students/lawyers more informed before they take the plunge.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

          Most of the misery is inherent in the job. Even if the media gave accurate depictions of what lawyers do, it would still be miserable. Unrealistic expectations don’t help though. Being a lawyer used to be a more leisurely profession though. It used to be the tradition for the courts in New York to close during the summer months from Memorial Day to Labor Day except for criminal work. Lawyers still went into the office but the summer time was seen as something more relaxing.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

            My sister seems to love it — or at least the lawyer lifestyle — but she’s somewhat strangely wired that way.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

              I like being a lawyer too but everything Lee writes is correctReport

              • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:


                I think that is what I’m trying to get at… does it feel miserable AND likable to you? Or do you look at the things that other people call miserable and consider them enjoyable?

                I think my sister is in the latter category for the most part. I think she also gets to do more of the “classic lawyer” stuff and when she does it has to do with the SEC and banks and stuff like that which I imagine can be a little exciting?

                She’s perpetually single so the long hours don’t bother her. She makes more money than she knows what to do with, rents an apartment in the village and sunk a bunch of savings into a condo in Miami Beach because why not? She’s paid off her debt and travels the world with her free time. She doesn’t mind an empty kitchen and eating out/ordering in because she can hire a trainer and pay for fancy gyms and classes. And when she isn’t doing any of that, she dotes on her two nephews (my sons)… sometimes a bit much but what else is a rich crazy aunt supposed to do?

                Me? I’d call that miserable. I couldn’t live that lifestyle. And I imagine it’d grind many people to dust. Even someone who shared her lack of interest in settling down with a family might still feel overwhelmed by the time and lack of structure. But she loves it and is very good at it which is why I say she may be pretty atypical.

                In the end, I always say the best job is one where the negatives don’t really bother you and the positives really resonate. So while my sister’s job and mine have very different negatives and very different positives, I’d say we both landed really really good jobs because of how well we each fit with it.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:


                I am not sure how to answer that question.

                No job is perfect and every job has updays and down days. I have always worked on cases that pay via contingency. This means is a lot of my clients are out of work because of injury or some other reason and might be hurting for money now. Lawyers are not allowed to lend their clients money and many firms don’t recommend clients taking out short term loans because of compounding interest but I do get clients who call up and say that their power is about to be cut off and I can do nothing about that but express sympathy. And that sucks and does not feel good. Also as Lee says, clients tend to think being a lawyer and magician are interchangeable. There are rules and procedures and arbitration is long and slow.

                I suspect most miserable lawyers are miserable because:

                1. They went to law school to save the world and ended up doing stuff that is the opposite like writing wills and trusts for rich people and/or defending polluters.*

                2. They did not grasp the nature of hyper competition and the hours needed to get ahead.

                3. They thought it would be more like TV and the movies. A lot of law involved reading and reading and more reading and can be tedious. Even trials can be tedious and those are the exciting parts. Arguing in trial is rarely as dramatic as is on TV.

                *This is partially because of finances, non profit do gooder law is not known for high salaries and also successful corporate propaganda. Lots of ACLU lovers can still see real people lawyers especially contingency lawyers as kind of sleazy. Again there are people who seem drawn to extremes and I just don’t understand. Okay, you can’t be a punk rock squatter anymore, you don’t have to go full corporate eitherReport

              • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Is any of this the result of “Have your cake and eat it too” type thinking? I mean, isn’t the public defender’s office always short staffed? Do they have unfilled openings or are they just underfunded to the point of not being able to hire more?

                Maybe I’m off-base here but I’d venture to guess there is work available for the noble do-gooders… it just doesn’t pay much. And I’m not suggesting these folks have to martyr themselves but if you want work that is deeply fulfilling AND financially enriching, well, get in line. If you think three years of law school somehow entitles you to this, the problem lies in your own head (even if your internal conception was informed by media).

                For the vast vast majority of us, life involves compromise, sacrifice, and enforcing personal priorities. By and large, folks get to make these decisions for themselves but having to make these decisions is neither unique to any individual nor inherent evidence of some deep cosmic injustice.Report

              • Nevermoor in reply to Kazzy says:

                Actually, many public interest jobs are BOTH low paying AND hotly competitive.

                A friend of mine left the big firm we were working at to go to greenpeace. Not only was it about a 70% pay cut, but it took months of interviews for her to win.Report

              • InMD in reply to Kazzy says:


                Correct me if I’m wrong but it sounds like your sister made it to big or at least medium law right out of school? That in itself makes her experience atypical in that she probably started off in a much better position to deal with her debt plus something on her resume that would get her in the door at desirable places. This isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of challenges for those attorneys but at least you’re kind of doing what you probably thought you’d be and the money is good.

                The reality for many, maybe most new lawyers, especially those from lower tier schools, is years in some combination of temp work and what we in the industry refer to as shit law (low level crim, family, and real estate work, often with eat what you kill compensation structures). The jobs are low paying, inconsistent, and thankless. And thats if you can even land a job that requires a JD and/or license at all.

                This results in a lot of people bitter about being sold on a false bag of goods. Law schools recruit people on fantasies of a JD as sort of a BA plus for humanities people who aren’t quite sure what to do after college. This wouldn’t necessarily be so bad if not for the high premium schools get away with charging due to outdated perceptions of what law is and what lawyers earn.

                As for my personal experience I really enjoy research, writing, and negotiating so in house has turned out to be ok for me. That said, it’s not the dream I had of being in court everyday, sticking it to prosecutors and cops (something that strangely never actually happened even in my defense days) and I despise the asinine culture of corporate America I’m stuck in. But it turns out that’s the price of paying off my debt and having a moderately comfortable standard of living. Of course it took a lot of hard work and some very lucky breaks to even make it to a compromise I can live with. A lot of post 2008 grads never even get this far. Believe me, I know plenty of people in 6 figures of debt still out trying to hustle for 45-70k a year.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to InMD says:


                I really don’t know enough about the industry to speak on what is typical or atypical.

                Sis went to Rutgers undergrad and I think majored in History or English or both. She was always brilliant and an insanely hard work and I think a confluence of factors kept her out of a higher tier undergrad. After graduation, she worked in schools for a year, I believe as a long-term sub for high school students and then went to Georgetown Law (I assume this is a top tier school?).

                After graduation, she worked for a small (two lawyer) firm in NJ while she waited to get barred in NY, which I believe was a much slower process than NJ. I don’t remember how long she was there (a year? maybe 2?) and then jumped to the big leagues with one of the 6th Ave firms in the city (Bracewell Guilliani). She just recently left them for another big firm though I don’t remember the name. She’s been in the field for almost 12 years now.

                The mere fact that she is carving out a great living in NYC almost assuredly means her experience is atypical. But part of what I was getting at is that she is the type of person who probably wouldn’t have minded doing some of that shit work for long hours. Some people are just better wired for that sort of work and lifestyle and I think she is one of them? Me… I have her brain and many said I should have also pursued a JD but no way, no how could I live that lifestyle. I love what I do AND love that it affords me the lifestyle I have now.Report

              • InMD in reply to Kazzy says:

                Georgetown is indeed a top law school. That’s all awesome for her (no sarcasm at all). I’m sure it took serious intelligence and working her ass off to get there and I never begrudge anyone their success.

                I will say it sounds like she was able to follow the track of roughly what most people think they will do when they graduate. What seems to hit a lot of people hard (in addition to the hellish debt) is getting out into an industry completely different from what you prepared for. I was lucky that like your sister I worked for a couple years before taking the law school plunge so it wasn’t as shocking for me when the world turned out to be a bit different. I think it can be harder to swallow for a lot of the K-JD crowd.

                I have heard there are similar debt-income issues with veterinarians but suspect there is less griping since at least most of them are doing largely what they thought they’d be.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to InMD says:

                “This results in a lot of people bitter about being sold on a false bag of goods. Law schools recruit people on fantasies of a JD as sort of a BA plus for humanities people who aren’t quite sure what to do after college. This wouldn’t necessarily be so bad if not for the high premium schools get away with charging due to outdated perceptions of what law is and what lawyers earn.”

                Which is a pretty damning indictment of the law school industry (and probably a fair one). But at the end of the day, someone whose hardship is, “I’m saddled with law school debt because I got swindled on what that would do for me,” can only generate so much sympathy from me. Maybe that makes me callous, but as someone who probably shares many qualities with the folks now in that boat but who took a different route — often derided along the way by those same folks — I dunno… it’s just where I am. I don’t wish ill on anyone but maybe these folks need to swallow the sunk costs, stop chasing a job that doesn’t exist, and take a different route. I bet many of these folks would make quality teachers and they’d probably earn more than the unreliable $40-75K described.Report

              • InMD in reply to Kazzy says:

                I agree and disagree. On the one hand you’re right. Underemployed lawyers aren’t ever going to top anyone’s list of people we should have sympathy for. A lot of the scam blog whining is insufferable, and given that most people who attend law school have at least middle class backgrounds, most do have the resources to figure something else out even if the debt will always be an encumberance.

                On the other hand I think there’s some blaming the victim going on. The law school situation is an extreme microcosm of the structural problems we have in higher education generally. People take on high debt in the hopes of jobs that aren’t there or don’t pay enough to make the debt worth it. Even the ones who come out on top don’t have the ability to consume the way their parents did which has rippling effects throughout the economy.

                When I started law school it was considered a mercenary move, everyone told me how smart I was being. During the time I was in the bottom fell out of the industry and an outdated model crumbled into something much less auspicious than what it had been. People who used to think it was a great idea roll their eyes at it now, in light of better media reporting on the trade-offs, none of which existed when I was considering applying to law school.

                Now we talk about the STEM shortage (and tomorrow it’ll be some other shortage) which may or may not exist and are going to put a lot of people into debt to fill those jobs. The thing is those industries might also change in profound ways that few had foreseen.

                Then we will decide if we should roll our eyes and laugh at the comeuppance of those rubes who made such stupid, short sighted decisions or if we should do some serious thinking about how we finance higher education. I know which I think is more likely.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to InMD says:

                I agree and concede that I’m probably more callous than is warrented. But to some extent law school (and now stem school) feel like get rich quick schemes for many folks. Shame on the industry indeed but shaking your fist isn’t going to get you far.

                There are very few golden tickets and most of us aren’t going to get one. (Does this make me a conservative?)Report

              • InMD in reply to Kazzy says:

                Fully agree with the premise. People need to move on to the extent they can and there are no free lunches. But there are policies we could consider which might help that and avert similar crisis in the future for all people, not just law students. A good start might be putting some cost control requirements in place as a condition of institutions receiving federally backed loan money. Another good idea would be making it easier to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy (something that is virtually impossible under the current code).Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to InMD says:

                @inmd @kazzy

                I think this is a point that often over goes overlooked. It is possible for a person to make a rational decision based on available information and then have some kind of sudden market change make that once rational decision look foolish. Arguably this happened to anyone who applied started law school from 2005-2009. Give or take.

                When I was in my first semester of law school (seemingly around the sametime as INMD), the Big Law firms (the kind where it sounds like Kazzy’s sister works) announced that they were rescinding their summer programs (often an avenue for job offers) and also delaying or rescinding the offers to start their first year associates.

                I never wanted to do BigLaw but there is absolutely no way that anyone could predict that would happen but I sometimes feel like we ask people to predict this.Report

              • InMD in reply to Saul Degraw says:


                I started law school in 2007. That first year even people who didn’t do well seemed to get ok jobs at title companies and similar places where you could start building a legit resume and getting some useful skills. Then the next year it was like you said. No summer associates, no recruiting, previous offers rescinded.

                There are some assholes out there in law, just like in any industry, and as I said above, there are certainly groups who are much more hard pressed than lawyers. However as usual in America, the popular narrative prefers to see the losers in structural market upheavals through the lense of a morality play.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:


                That’s fair but isn’t related to the Atticus Finch dream. And lawyers were not the only ones burned by market shifts nor the hardest hit.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to InMD says:


                I think law always had that BA plus features for humanities majors. This worked until it did not.

                The type of misery you are describing is different than the type of misery that many who “made it”, past and present get. People I know who leave law tend to leave it for gentler fields like home decorating/interior design.Report

              • InMD in reply to Saul Degraw says:


                That’s fair enough. Still for all my expectations about being an attorney that didn’t come true I do find it a bit baffling that anyone would be surprised that it’s an adversarial line of work. Even in its most romanticized form I don’t think it’s ever been seen as something for tea cups.Report

              • Nevermoor in reply to InMD says:

                I think this is the point. One of the key ways law school differs from medical school is that getting into ANY medical school is hard, because all of them are on a good-to-excellent spectrum.

                By contrast, just about anyone who graduates from college can find a spot in a law school somewhere. And those that can’t are still allowed to take the bar exam in at least some states.Report

              • Pinky in reply to Nevermoor says:

                You can still do that? “Reading the law” I think it was called? I had no idea.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Pinky says:

                In California yes, you technically can do this. I don’t think it’s been done by anyone for many years now. In this day and age it strikes me as an exceptionally poor way to be called to the bar: I doubt anyone but your own teacher would hire you.Report

              • InMD in reply to Nevermoor says:

                @nevermoor I don’t know enough about how medical school works to comment particularly intelligently on it. All I can say is that from an outsider’s perspective the medical community seems to have been much more successful at keeping medicine a profession. We’ll see if they can keep it up now that they’re licensing NPs to do a lot of the stuff that was previously the realm of physicians only.

                Outside of certain corners of the public sector law has been overtaken by the business aspect of it. There’s nothing like residency and outside of small family owned practices a FYIGM attitude prevails, which is understandable given the economics of the situation.

                @pinky you can still “read the law” in a tiny number of jurisdictions. Virginia is one, I’m not sure of others. There are also states that don’t require graduation from an ABA accredited school to sit for the bar (I believe California is like this). Passage rates from these institutions tend to be abysmal but I’m not really sure they’re to blame for the glut. There are plenty of accredited schools out there pumping out useless lawyers for whom there is no employment that actually requires the skill set.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to InMD says:

                I will verify what Nevermoor says about medical schools. At least in the US. There are some abroad that are kind of sketchy, but if you don’t have a knockout of a college transcript you’re going to have a hard time getting matched to a residency. And due to the expansion of med school slots in the US without a corresponding expansion of residency slots, it may be impossible now.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

                @will-truman @nevermoor

                I would say the difference is that medical knowledge is a lot more specific and pointed than legal knowledge now. Legal knowledge can be tough but there are also a lot of edge case situations. It is more of an art than a science still.

                My worry with turning law school into medical school is that it will decrease the number of “real people” lawyers as Lee calls them. People who do all the less glamorous (but sometimes very financially lucrative sections of the law). Nevermoor pointed out how competitive non-profit do-gooder jobs can be. @leeesq has pointed out he gets looked down upon by non-profit lawyers who do immigration law for being private practice but he also points out that if it were not for the private practioners, a lot of immigrants would end up without representation at asylum and deportation hearings. Pro-Bono and Non-profit can’t cover everything.Report

              • InMD in reply to Will Truman says:

                Maybe there are some fundamental differences in the demand. Whenever applications decline for law schools they seem to just lower standards. Keeps the loan money rolling in.Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

          Clients come to us with unrealistic expectations, as discussed in the subthread above.

          There is also the fact that clients come to us with their stress and anxiety about whatever situation it is that makes them need a lawyer in the first place. They’re getting divorced. They’re getting sued. They’re in a significant business transaction. They’ve been fired.

          Then, there’s the desire to do a good job, professionally, in a complex system, which is the flip side of the fear of making a mistake (or having someone in your office make a mistake) that exposes you to professional negligence liability. That fear is part of what makes lawyers do things in such a cautious and uptight, dare I say “lawyerly” way, though as between a lawyer strongly motivated by fear of professional liabilty acting cautiously and a lawyer with disregard of that fear doing things quickly, I’ll take the first lawyer every time.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

            @burt-likko @saul-degraw @leeesq

            Given the state that your clients often come to you in — and the fact that you are often deal with people in high-stress situations — is any amount of you training focused on mental health or counseling or anything related? I wouldn’t expect you all to have psych degrees on top of your JDs, but it’d seem like a course in supporting people in those moments… not legal advice, just helping them keep their heads and their hearts on reasonably straight.

            I remember talking with a friend who was advancing in the finance world and moving into management. He talked about sometimes needing to fire people. He also talked about a recent spate of panic attacks. I asked if the two were possibly related and he acted like this was a strange question. I pointed out that it is easy to absorb a certain amount of stress and emotional baggage when you are party to another person undergoing stress and accumulating emotional baggage. Even if the firing is right or justified, it can be a tumultuous process for all involved. I asked if his MBA training offering any courses in how to manage these situations and he laughed it off, insisting that it isn’t a personal thing and it’s your job and you just do it and you don’t think twice.

            Oh, and sometimes you end up with panic attacks for no reason.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:


              None. Managing client expectations is a skill to be learned. Law school doesn’t even teach a lot of the practicalities like how to draft good interrogatories or why you bring three copies of the complaint to court.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                @saul-degraw Should they?

                My ed programs both had classes on working with parents and families but these were relatively abstract and focused on bridging cultural gaps. It did not have alot of the nitty gritty. Some of this is just slft people skills that are hard to teach but there are definitely lessons you can be taught rather than learn the hard way. When I do teacher training, I try to impart these. It just seems like we ignore the human aspect of all the interhuman work many of us do.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

                Should they? Hell yes in my opinion. We have this third year of law school hanging around which in my opinion is not particularly necessary to get lawyers up to speed on the essential subjects tested on a bar exam and which form the core knowledge most lawyers need to apply in most fields of practice. (Nearly all of that stuff is covered in the first two years, or at minimum could be.)

                Since law schools and accrediting organizations are unwilling to eliminate that third year from the mandatory curriculum, it would be better used, in my opinion, filled with providing background knowledge and skills practice for doing the real work.

                I’d have a class in “practical lawyering” in which law students learn how to accomplish tasks within budgets assigned to them by clients.

                I’d make trial advocacy a mandatory class.

                I’d have a class in attorney stress management. Work into that the stress-transfer problem you describe and get the new attorney started in awareness of the dangers of substance abuse as a way of relieving that stress.

                Some schools offer, and I’d strongly encourage, classes in law office management. Right now, nothing in law school teaches a lawyer how to successfully operate a law firm. It teaches you how to solve legal problems, but there’s much more to it than that: hiring and training and supervising and firing employees; tracking time and billing for work; finding independent vendors like court reporters and investigators and subject matter experts.

                Some schools offer, and I’d strongly encourage, classes in the civil discovery process. This is, after all, what most lawyers spend the most time doing.

                So yes, I think there should be some basics of counseling and emotional rapport taught to lawyers. We are occasionally called by the title “counselor” and while it’s not the same thing as being a social worker or a psychologist, we are often stuck with dealing with non-legal problems that come from the palette of issues those professionals are tasked with addressing.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

                @burt-likko for Law School Czar.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Kazzy says:

                Can he do it during the times Congress in not in session? Otherwise he has that Speaker gig.Report

  2. Richard Hershberger says:

    From the quoted bit:

    Studying was grueling, repetitive and at times mind-numbingly boring, adjectives that happen to have quite a bit of overlap with the way some lawyers would describe their jobs.

    Television’s representation of the legal profession is, it turns out, inaccurate. Who would have guessed?

    Think of those end user agreements you click through without reading. Try actually reading one. See how far you get before acquiring a strong urge to poke your eyes out. Somebody wrote that. Then somebody else reviewed it. Carefully. Of course end user agreements aren’t meant to be read and understood by the end user. But now imagine a similar document, but this time a negotiated contract between two corporations with competent legal counsel. This means that not only did someone write it, and someone else on the same side reviewed it, but then it went out to the other side, where someone read it carefully, line by line, looking both for hidden landmines in the language, but also to present their side’s goals in this negotiations. This results in a drafting of proposed revisions, which are reviewed, and then sent back to the first side, where the process is repeated. Eventually, after some number of iterations of this process, a final contract is agreed upon and signatures affixed.

    Those “someones” in the preceding paragraph are all lawyers.

    Many practicing lawyers can merely dream of having a job that interesting.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      Court room work isn’t that interesting because many judges like things to be as calm as possible.Report

      • InMD in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Most of my court room experience involved an assembly line of people going through the motions (no pun intended) of accepting their plea deal, or asking the judge (again) for a body attachment on someone who hadn’t shown up (again).Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I sometimes have a similar discussion with clients who wonder what is the point of giving their deposition. I explain that everything they have ever seen on TV is wrong, in particular including courtroom surprises. Of course this isn’t entirely true, but generally a trial lawyer is only surprised due to screwing up.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      imagine a similar document, but this time a negotiated contract between two corporations with competent legal counsel. This means that not only did someone write it, and someone else on the same side reviewed it, but then it went out to the other side, where someone read it carefully, line by line, looking both for hidden landmines in the language, but also to present their side’s goals in this negotiations. This results in a drafting of proposed revisions, which are reviewed, and then sent back to the first side, where the process is repeated. Eventually, after some number of iterations of this process, a final contract is agreed upon and signatures affixed.

      I can imagine some (not everyone, but some) finding this process actually pretty interesting… for some number of the the first, oh, twenty-five times they go through it.

      …Thereafter? Eh…Report

  3. KenB says:

    Oh, does the LSAT have a bunch of logic problems? If I’d known that a few decades ago, maybe I would’ve gone to law school — I loved that stuff. The quantitative section of the GREs was a breeze, it was like average difficulty logic puzzles all the way through.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to KenB says:

      12 law school applicants are in a group comprised of four colors: red, green, blue, and yellow. Three blue applicants are touching red applicants. Two of the four red applicants are touching yellow applicants. One green applicant isn’t touching any other applicants. No yellow applicant is touching a blue applicant. All four red applicants are touching other applicants.

      Who gets accepted?Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to KenB says:

      The LSAT is an odd duck because it’s not really a test that requires any studying at all. If you haven’t been unintentionally practicing for it for years by getting good at analogical reasoning, reading comprehension, structure of argument, logic puzzles, etc., then you should probably not go to law school. If you have, then you will probably do pretty well on it without studying because it measures skills, not knowledge.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Don Zeko says:

        Co-signed. I watched my girlfriend (now an attorney) work on LSAT prep pretty hard, taking it twice, etc, and it made me sad because I just knew she was going to score what she was going to score, pretty much. Which was good enough to get in – she did and does have those skills from a natural orientation to logical thinking. But you’re not going to move the needle with a month or two of practice.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Don Zeko says:

        The main advantage of doing prep was learning to answer the questions more quickly.Report

        • Don Zeko in reply to Will Truman says:

          I’ve always been a fast test taker (sometimes to my sorrow), so I tend to overlook that concern. Good point.Report

        • Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman says:

          I can see that from looking at just a handful of sample questions online. Figure out the format and you can take a pretty good stab at knowing how to distribute time between skimming a paragraph, reading it carefully, and jumping ahead to see the multiple choice answers. Reading the paragraph carefully before looking at the choice answers would clearly be a waste of time.Report

  4. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t recall the LSAT being “rough.” A half-day series of multiple choice questions? Kids these days take standardized tests for days at a time beginning in grade school.

    The LSAT is probably good indicator of ability to absorb law school information; its not clear that being good at law school is a good indicator of a successful legal career.Report

    • Brent F in reply to PD Shaw says:

      My impression was it was pretty darn fun to take, in that sporting championship game kind of high stakes way.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to PD Shaw says:

      I never took the LSAT, but based on the sample questions I have seen online it is a perfectly straightforward and not particularly difficult standardized test. Of course it is possible that these sample questions are easier than the real thing, as a bait and switch by test prep companies.

      My observation as a paralegal is that this stuff ain’t rocket science. The law has its own peculiar vocabulary you need to learn, and you need to be good at keeping lines of argument straight. (Lots of lawyers actually kind of suck at that. I have drafted responses to briefs that largely consist of pointing out where the other guy didn’t keep his lines of argument straight.) Beyond that, there is a whole lot of very specific knowledge peculiar not only to the law, but to the particular specialty and jurisdiction. That stuff you just have to learn by doing.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Its been over 20 years since I took it, and back then I think English majors disproportionately did well on it because a lot of the test involved “close reading.” For example, the test might provide three facts and it really seems like a fourth fact should be known, does the test-taker infer the fourth fact from the other three, predict what the most likely fourth fact is, or accept that the fourth fact isn’t known? An English-major probably appreciates the poignancy of the missing truth, and the test question is most likely about whether the reader understands that the fourth fact is not present.

        I can easily see smart people finding these types of questions as tricks.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to PD Shaw says:

          Smart people… as opposed to English majors? 😉Report

          • PD Shaw in reply to Michael Drew says:

            My wife’s undergrad was in English, and there is no way I would say that: she’s smarter than me.

            I guess what I was trying to convey with the notion of “disproportionately” was that the average English major does not have the highest SAT scores among the majors. I believe that honor goes to physics and philosophy majors. But the average English major seems to do better on the LSAT on average than other large majors.Report

  5. fillyjonk says:

    I am preparing to teach a class in Environmental Policy and Law this fall. Reading up on some of the background reminded me of an idea I had 20 years ago, when applying for jobs: that if I didn’t get one, I’d go to law school and do something involving environmental law.

    I thought of that again last year, during the perilous budget times at my university, in the context of “what would I do if I found myself RIFfed?”

    This thread has at least taught me that no, I don’t want to be in law, at least not the kind that involves arguing with people for a living 🙁

    I guess I go back to my other “contingency plan” if I get RIFfed: learn to deal blackjack and see if one of the Indian casinos here will hire me. (A good blackjack dealer makes more in a year than I currently do. That would be more depressing if I didn’t think dealing blackjack is a less desirably job than what I currently have).

    I have the brain for law (good at remembering recondite stuff and good at cramming in a lot of info fast), but I don’t have the personality for it, apparently: could not deal with a 100-hour workweek, and I hate conflict.Report