Friday, January 15, 2010

The Beginning - Prospective Law Students: Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed how the gradual rise in tuition, stagnation in salaries, and decreasing number of legal jobs have fundamentally changed the value proposition for attending law school over the last 10 years.  Attending law school has morphed from a reasonable investment in a student's furture to playing Russian Roulette with the future - lose and you will be be stuck with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt that can not be discharged in bankruptcy - your financial life will be effectively "dead."

With this in mind, a few months ago I found myself in a conversation with several prospective law students.  Their eyes were bright!  They knew all about this whole law school thing and just how it was going to go once they started practice!  Read more about our discussion below.

As a preface, I am sure that many potential law students have good sense and have thoroughly evaluated the value proposition of law school.  They have calculated out just how much they might have in loans, while ignoring the "average" numbers put forth by the law schools.  They have spoken with many practicing lawyers in the field they want to enter - not just professors and law school recruiters who don't know what it is like to practice in the industry.  Maybe they even took a job as a paralegal at a law firm for a summer or a year to test the waters and be sure that this life is something that they want to do.  Further, they have done this due dilligence not from a standpoint of "I am going to do it anyway", but from a standpoint of "I want the best opportunity for me - if this is not it, then I am going to walk away from it and find something else.  In that regard, I want the complete, unvarnished truth, about the difficulties and likelihood of failure.  The fact that 1 out of 100 people get a dream job is irrelevant.  I want to hear about the odds and life of someone just like me."

In contrast, the prospective law students that I spoke to were wildly, just ridiculously, over-optimistic with regard to their job prospects, potential salary, and loan repayment.  They had the idea that employment after law school was pretty much a lock, that the employment was going to be at $150K+, and that all of their loans would be repaid in three years while at the same time they would be able to afford to buy cars and houses and live a high lifestyle.  They also somehow thought that they would be able to have all of this while still having "work/life balance" which in their eyes seemed to mean being able to work at a leisurely pace, never past 5 or on weekends, and without too much stress - and only on work that they were really passionate about and cared deeply about. 

Needless to say, their perceptions were not accurate -
  1. As we discuss here, even before law student hiring crashed last year, only about 56% of graduating law students were being hired by law firms.  Further, during the last recession, the percentage hired by law firms declined about 15% - and that was a much, much milder recession than the current one.
  2. As we discuss here, here, here, and here, the starting lawyer that is lucky enough to have a job is really only making about $60-$70K on average.
  3. As we discuss here, the loans that you have to take out are going to be bigger than you think.  Further, as we discuss here and here, they are going to take a long time of painful repayment to pay off and you are not going to have a lot left over for expensive cars.
  4. I haven't done a post yet on work/life balance, but let's just say that their impression of law firm life was wildly inaccurate.  (An understatement so massive that just writing it causes me to laugh.)
At first, their erroneous preconceptions about law school and the practice of law were not upsetting to me - personally, I don't know something until I go and find it out - and sometimes my preconceptions are wrong, too.

So I discussed with them the concerns that I set forth in Part 1 of this post.  I even discussed it in a more gently way, conscious that they may have a strong emotional attachment to the idea.  I tried to give them a reasoned view of the relative risks and rewards as I understood them and some of my experiences over the last 10 years both going to law school school and helping lawyers find jobs in the increasingly difficult job search.

When I mentioned that I worked with a lot of young lawyers and the job search was becoming more difficult, one of the potential students interrupted me and said very loudly and bluntly "That's not true."  (Wilson's outbust of saying "You lie!" during an Obama speech had happened not too long before, so I got a little sense of something like deja vu.)  I assured the student that I had been working with recent graduates for several years and the task of helping them get jobs had indeed become more difficult in recent years.

They countered by saying that my comments were not in accord with what they were seeing in law school admission materials.  To this I suggested that they might want to drill down a little with regard to what a "90% employment rate after graduation really meant."  They also preferred to believe the numbers put out by the law schools with regard to starting salary.  They did not even want to believe the NALP median numbers and started trying to suggest to me reasons why the NALP numbers must be wrong.

Then they said the part that just plain pissed me off.  I recall that the response was something like "Well, you say that, but I don't believe you because someone once posted on their blog that what you are saying is not true."  I tried to ask "who was this person and what experience did they have?"  However, they did not know, yet the fact that someone told them that it was posted on a blog somewhere was apparently good enough for them to take the blogger's word on it - over mine.

Here's what I say to that - You want to believe the Internet as a source of information?  You want to believe the Internet over an actual practicing, flesh-and-blood attorney standing in front of you that has been working in the trenches trying to help recent graduates get jobs for years?  That has your best interest at heart rather than the direct financial interest that law schools have on "selling" you on the ides of a law degree?

Well buddy, I'm on the Internet now, too.  You can go and read my blog.  Do I have enough credibility now?  This was the real kick in the butt that got me writing.  That the law students would value the opinion of some anonymous blogger (who apparently has no idea what he is talking about) over me just really got my goat.

Anyway, I realized after we talked that the students had not come there looking for information or to evaluate the opportunity.  Instead, they already had a very firm vision of "how it was going to be" and they were very emotionally attached to the vision.  They plainly did not want to hear any information that did not support their vision of how the future was going to me.  They had not come to find out the truth, but to have me re-enforce and justify what they had come to believe.

Instead of listening to the truth and gaining a deeper understanding of the risks, they attempted to  explain away the risks or suggest that the risks would not apply to them.  If I mentioned that only 50% will get a job in a firm, they reply with "Well, I'm very smart so I am sure that I will be one of those 50%."  If I mentioned the economy, they would just ignore the impact and say that everything would be different by the time that they graduated - there would be jobs for all.

What was astounding to me was how much they vilfified and "threw under the bus" students that had not been able to get a job.  Instead of sympathizing with them and realizing "that could be you," the students were quick to jump on the perceived failings of the law students, denigrate the law students, and then grandly proclaim that the failing would never happen the them.  Their reasoning was varied.

Some insisted that because they had a high GPA in undergrad, that their law school GPA would certainly be just as high.  They ignored the increased competition in law school and that grades in law school are actually pretty arbitrary.

Some really seemed to believe that all they had to do was get in front of a law firm recruiter and the job was as good as theirs - that no one could possibly say "no" to them.  Wow.  This one just stunned me.  I guess this is what happens when your parents never say no to you?  It also seems like the same attitude that gives a trophy to everyone who participates in a sport rather than just those that win - you get people erroneously thinking that the receipt of the trophy is guaranteed just from participating.  I really could not believe the incredible ego that they thought that somehow they would be just so much better - so much more un-refusable - than a person who: 1) was only 3-4 years older than them, 2) went to the same university they did and earned the same degree with about the same GPA, and 3) had almost identical technical skills, social skills, and appearance.  In reality, the undergrads were no where near as unique, perfect, and special as they had been told they were.  They should look at the experience of a law student similar to them as pretty reflective of what their career will be like.  In this regard, I have been working with law students for more than a decade and I can say that your experience is going to be pretty much the same as the people that went before you with your qualifications - you are NOT going to do much better.

I could tell that some had already spoken to recruiters for law schools because they gave very pat answers that an undergrad would most likely never give on their own.  For example, with regard to why one law student did not get a job, one undergrad suggested that the law student "did not network enough."  That's obviously a law school recruiter answer - it's just not something that would occur to undergrads and differs from the ego-based reasoning that underlied all of their other assertions.  Feeling adventurous, I asked the undergrad, "OK, so what would you do different?"  To which they responded "I would network more."  When told the networking activities that the law student had tried (which were reasonable expansive) and asked what additional networking the student should have done, the undergrad admitted that he did not know, but was sure that there was more that could be done, would certainly find out what that was and do it, and the law student was still inadequate and failed to do adequate networking.  This, of course, makes no sense at all.

One of the other strange exchanges was when one of the students mentioned that they had taken the LSAT and done well, so they were going to law school.  I suggested that just because they had done well on the test was not actually a reason to go to law school and that they might want to evaluate the financial aspects of the decision more fully.  They just looked at me kind of increduously and repeated "But I did well on the test!" as if that answered the issue right there.  Unfortunately, it obviously does not just answer the issue.  You might score well on the test for being a human cannonball, too - that doesn't mean that it is a good career choice.

One of the other aspects that missed the point was when I suggested someone might want to consider the financial aspects of law school, they countered with "Are you suggesting that I can't do it?"  The implication of the answer was that any negative comments about law school were going to be taken as saying that they person could not do it - and they can do anything, so I must obviously be wrong.  Alternatively, if I admit that they could do law school, then they should automatically go to law school.  This of course misses the whole point.  If I suggest that you might want to consider the implications of sticking your finger in the electric socket before you do it, I am not somehow interfering with your self-actualization by suggesting that you "can't do it."  Instead, you might just want to consider the implications.  Just because you can stick your finger in the electric socket does not mean that it is a good thing to do.

Another thing that amazed me was that the students had almost nil interaction with actual attorneys and law students.  Their "research" consisted almost entirely of TV, rumour, random blog postings, and law school marketing materials.  They were convinced that these reflected an entirely accurate view of what law school and the practice of law would be like.  They were horribly, terrifyingly wrong.  It was also absolutely astounding that they would propose to undertake such a vast life-changing decision, taking on $200,000 in non-dischargable debt, on the basis of such incredibly flimsy research.  They should have been talking with practicing attorneys in the fields they were interested in.  They should have been talking with present law students and recent grads with regard to opportunities and challenges.  Instead, they were just ensconced behind a little computer screen convinced that they has a complete view of reality.

Two thoughts here - first, maybe this is what happens when you have been protected from loss for most of your life?  When you have been made to wear a bike helmet, prohibited from engaging in risky activity, and insulated/protected from a large amount of the potential negative rammifications of your actions?  Maybe they feel less of a need to investigate the matter because they believe that somehow terrible, painful loss can not happen to them.  That they don't have to be careful, because they have always been protected.  That they are somehow special (as they have always been told) so that a terrible outcome can never happen to them?  Maybe it would have been better if they had been allowed to climb trees when they were young - and they had fallen out of the tree and broken their arm.  That experience might have helped them realize that some activites are really risky and that failure to be careful and investigate can cause them great pain - and also that gravity impacts everyone and there is no escaping it.  In this regard, gravity impacts everyone just like the laws of supply and demand impact everyone - and there is no escaping supply and demand either.  Maybe if they had some experience with being at the mercy of forces beyond their control they would do a better job researching law school before blindly charging in.

Second, wasn't the whole point of all this "social networking" BS to bring us closer together?  To make it easier to commuicate with each other?  Instead, it seems to turn students into meek little keyboard punchers who are less and less able to reach out and actually talk and communicate with the lawyers and law students that they should be talking to - who put more creedence in an anonymous blogger than an actual, in-person attorney.

In general, I was pretty frustrated and disappointed with the prospective law students that I spoke to.  I was reminded of the adage that "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."  (Of course, here in the midwest in less polite company the "horse" is often replaced with "ass".  I think that this might actually be how the adage originally was before it was "cleaned-up" because the recitation of the "ass" pretty much perfectly captures the inherent stubbornness - much better than the "horse".)

I was tempted to wash my hands of the entire situation - "they want to feed themselves into the grinder?  No skin off my nose."  However, upon reflection I had to admit that these students were the future of our country - and they were our kids.  First, if you don't help the future get on the best footing, then you deserve the horrible, dystopian future that you are going to get.  In this regard, the pain and loss of every unemployed law student is a terrible waste - not just for them, but for all of us.  These are very bright people that could be doing great things for our country.  It is a terrible tragedy how they end up when they could be so very productive if they were coached away from the dead end of law school and into more successful careers.  Anything that we can do to help them doesn't only help them - it helps all of us.

Second, these are our kids and we should do what we can to help them.  By this I mean that we should try to help them gain a clear understanding of the potential risks and rewards  - that we should accept that they will sometimes be stubborn, and that we should try to communicate with them in a way in which they are ready to listen.

In this regard, O prospective law students, I'm on the Internet now - which is apparently how you prefer to communicate - and I tell you truly that I only have your best long-term interests at heart.  I urge you to read this site and get as accurate as possible an understanding of law school and the practice of law before you commit yourself.  Understand that the opportunity is not as good at the law schools make it out to be - they are looking to "sell" students.  Understand that the law school value proposition has pretty drastically declined and most people (Moms, neighbors, TV, blogs) are giving you erroneous advice - even older lawyers who assume that the opportunities that were available to them at graduation will still be available to you - they are not.  Realize that it would be much better to be in a marketing job making $40K/year with no debt than having a law degree, $200K in debt, and no job.

I urge you also to read the blogs of those just like you who went before you - you will most likely have the same experience that they had.  Read all of the following - the links are also in the right-hand column.

O prospective law students, you are good enough and smart enough to accomplish just about anything that you want to do.  However, I urge you to consider the outcome of what you are about to do.  I have to agree that law school can be the right choice for some people, even now - for example, a student whose tuition and expenses will be paid by a trust fund and who will accept a job with daddy's firm at graduation will not experience much risk in attending law school.  However, that most likely does not describe you and it certainly did not describe me.

Let me finish on this hopefully powerful point - although law school worked out well for me based on the supply and demand opportunity in the mid 1990s, law school would NOT be the right choice for me based on the opportunity TODAY.  I am certainly not lacking in skills in any way - as my successful practice proves.  However, the opportunity has become too risky, the odds of reward too remote for this it to be the right choice for me.  It's not whether I would be a "good lawyer" - I am one.  Instead it's based on the supply and demand equation today.  Most simply, the law schools are going to graduate 45,000 lawyers for only 30,000 jobs, so there are going to be a lot of good lawyers without jobs.  Period.  I would not allow myself to gamble my future in such a way - and I urge you not to gamble you future either.


  1. As usual, I agree with you. It's tough to go against the popular consensus, particularly when it's something which people want to believe.

    In this case, the popular consensus is that law school, particularly a top law school, is a good investment of time and money.

    "Maybe they feel less of a need to investigate the matter because they believe that somehow terrible, painful loss can not happen to them."

    I think it has more to do with the source of the risk. These kids you met would probably never in a million years play a game of 3-card monte on the street. Or respond to an e-mail from a Nigerian prince who needs help moving 10 million dollars out of the country. Or walk through a bad neighborhood alone in the middle of the night.

    But when the scammer is 100-year-old institution with ivy covered walls, it's a different story. Especially if you don't have to put any money down -- you just sign your name on a piece of paper.

    (Which is another issue. I remember during the housing bubble hearing people say that you shouldn't worry about overpaying for a house because the bank will appraise the house and won't lend you the money if you are overpaying. If a big bank is lending you money, it's natural to assume that the bank won't let you overpay.)

    Anyway, before going to law school, I checked out the self-reported placement rate of my law school. 99% was what they reported and it never even occurred to me to investigate further. A 99% chance of getting a job seemed like a pretty good deal. In hindsight, that was pretty stupid of me. But I was 23 years old.

  2. Thanks for the shout out!
    If the Internet had been around when I went to law school, I wouldn't have gone. I only had what the school told me to rely on and.. as is the case today.. they pain a pretty picture. So, I do blame the kids today. They have the world at their fingertips and refuse to see the ugly truth. NOW is not the time. It might be better in a few years... but not now. And you must get a full scholarship or forget about it.

  3. A huge help could be the ABA imposing real career statistic reporting on the schools as a condition of accreditation, or the government doing the same thing as a condition of being eligible for student loans. Real reporting, audited by an independent company, would solve the information problem in a hurry. As it is now, the stats are wildly inflated.

  4. Thank you for this excellent post. I am the anonymous commenter from yesterday. I am going to share your blog with my mother. She keeps insisting that being refusing to go to law school, that I'm being lazy and delaying adulthood.

    I am currently working and trying to pay off my student loans from undergrad. I don't need more debt and aggravation. I'm going to keep working and make some kind of career for myself, but I won't do it by getting into more debt in order to enter a shrinking profession. I think that's rational and I think your blog expresses all of my concerns very well.

    Thank you, Managing Partner.

  5. Thanks for the plug, MP. In 2008, ABA-accredited law schools pumped out 43,588 graduates. Are there that anywhere near that many available attorney positions in a given year - in a good economy?!

    When I was applying for law school, I did not come across any blogs exposing the gross over-supply of lawyers in this country. I talked to older attorneys, college professors, family, and law school industry figures. They all strongly encouraged me to go ahead.

    Now, we even have some law professors willing to be somewhat frank about the state of the legal industry, i.e. William Henderson, Herwig Schlunk, and Erik Gerding. Law school is designed to primarily benefit overpaid, underworked "law professors," administrators, and staff. The students are an after-thought.

    The schools DO NOT CARE whether you, as an individual, ever find legal employment. They already made their money off you. It is you who is stuck paying the bill for the next 20-30 years. As soon as you graduate, the school will send out some solicitations for the annual fund.

    They will then focus on graduating the classes below you, and reaching out to/recruiting new prospective students. This means that they will expend their time and energy on making sure they get responses to the employment survey from kids who come from lawyer families and the top graduates. They need to bolster their statistics to entice more people to mortgage away their financial futures on a "legal education."

    Kids still look to law school figures as the gold standard, i.e. "Surely, no school would doctor/omit/enhance its figures just to get more applicants." Schools are businesses, kids. Even the public universities, are included in this.

    There is a movement to inform pre-law students of the perils of attending law school, and even the media is starting to take note of the declining, shrinking U.S. legal market. At a certain point in time, law students will have mostly themselves to blame for ignoring advice that seeks to save them the trouble of massive student debt.

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone!
    nycsolo - I think you make a great point about recognizing risk. The prospective law students just don't understand the risk that they are taking. The loan money is somehow abstract and almost too easy to get. I think that at one point you proposed that the easy availability of student loan money, although originally intended to do good, has had the unintended consequence of putting students further and further in debt and consequently should be eliminated. That argument seems to have increasing merit.

    Angel - Yes, today's students certainly do have more information at their fingertips - thanks in part to your very informative blog! On behalf of the students who read your blog and spared themselves from a lifetime of debt, I thank you for your work.

    11:43 - That seems to be a good idea. Having both the ABA as a condition of accreditation and the government as a condition of receiving student loan money impose mandatory, uniform, independently audited - and above all transparent - reporting of employment statistics seems like it is long overdue. The ABA should recognize that since this is merely a reporting requirement, it would most likely not raise any anti-trust scrutiny, but would be extremely effective and valuable. The federal government should be more interested in getting value for its loan money - and tens of thousands of unemployed law students with $200K in outstanding loans represents a loss of literally BILLIONS of dollars. The government needs to manage our tax dollars better than that!

    11:45 - Good luck anonymous! It gives me hope to see students like yourself that are thoroughly evaluating the idea before plunging into it.

  7. Nando - I have to agree, the supply of 43K law school graduates vastly exceeds the available jobs - and it's not just a one-time thing. It's a continuing trend that is going to persist for at least the next several years.

    With regard to the lack of blogs and the advice of others, let me thank you (like Angel) on behalf of people considering law school who read your blog and gain a little more insight into the prospective difficulties. You are doing them a great service - even if you only save one. For myself, I know I am going to date myself here, but the internet was in its infancy when I was deciding to go to law school, so there were no blogs or other online information for me to find either.

    As for talking to college professors, law school industry figures, family, and older lawyers, I think that you can understand how most of them could have given you mistaken advice. The college professors really don't know much about law school or the opportunities as a lawyer, but tend to push "more education" reflexively without examining the value proposition. Law school industry figures may want to "sell" more students, but (having met a large number of law school industry figures) many of them are actually pretty clueless about the reality of getting a job as a lawyer. The can be very well-meaning, but just not have a clue. The ivory tower can be very insulating from reality. Older lawyers tend to think that the value proposition for going to law school has not changed from there time. They may be well-meaning, but their advice is wrong and their experience is no longer relevant today. Family members can sometimes be the worst because the often have the least knowledge, but the strongest opinion about how you should run your life.

    With regard to the professors that you mention, they are to be applauded. However, recognize that Herwig and Erik spent several years in the private sector and the law school issue is the direct focus of Bill's research. Thus, they have a lot more insight into the issue than the average professor. With regard to pay, I agree that some law professors are certainly overpaid - some of the compensation packages of the NY private school professors make me cringe! However, there are a lot of law schools - even well ranked ones, such as state schools for example - where professors are making in the $140-160 range. That's even tenured professors with 20 years of experience. That's a lot of money compared to the average family, but does not seem grossly disproportionate. Further, law schools have come to increasingly rely on Adjunct Professors, which they typically pay very little - about $4-6K/course is typical. None of the Adjuncts that I know are doing it for the money - mostly they do it to give back to law students.

  8. Nando (continuing)

    As for law schools caring, their main focus is and has ever been "education" rather than placement. They typically do not regard the financial health of their graduates as their responsibility. I think that this attitude is terribly short-sighted. I also had the same experience that you did that my law school started soliciting funds from me right away - even though I had a mountain of loans to pay off. Here's the kicker - my law school started pitching up about our responsibility to donate to the law school AT THE GRADUATION CEREMONY ITSELF!! In fact, as you walked across the stage, hey give you a fake diploma (it would be mailed later, assuming everything went OK), but they actually handed us a form to donate to the law school as we left the stage. Seriously! - I am not making this up. How incredibly crass.

    Law schools need to grow up and realize that they are more than ivory towers of knowledge removed from the world. They need to recognize their responsibilities to students and own up to their results. There are a few law schools that seem to be starting to do this (I recall a law school Dean urging students to re-think their decision), but the shining light of personal responsibility needs to be picked up and honored more - for the sake of our future and our kids.

  9. Thanks for the link. Great post and great blog. If people think the "Scam Busting" blogs are too biased, I hope they'll consider the arguments from a more objective source like this.

    That incident you note about the incredulous law student who interrupted you just demonstrates how stacked the information is against an honest appraisal of law school. (Of course, being a cocky 0L doesn't help.)

    Time and time again everyone (including the law school administrators) claim that if we just researched our decision more, we would have known how bleak the job prospects were. What should we have researched? The LS employment stats, the NALP data, the ABA data? All of them (drawn from the same source) say the same thing.

    As far as I can tell, these blogs are the only places to find accurate information. The industry certainly isn't welcoming us with open arms, though. So much for wanting people to do their research.

  10. Hi Esq. Never - Thanks for the comment. You mention that some law school commentators claim that if law students had only researched their decision more, they would have known how bleak the job prospects were. I have also seen statements like that - and they just make my jaw drop. I will admit that sometimes law students may go to law school with an optimistic vision, but for the law schools to just completely put the decision on the head of the law students - in the face of the massive advertising and distortion of data that they engage in - is ridiculous.

    To use an example from the car industry, if a car manufacturer advertised that the average miles-per-gallon of a car was 40 MPG, yet those that bought the car only got 20 MPG, then that would seem to be fraud. If the car manufacturer attempted to argue that "well, you could have tested the MPG before you bought it" I (like most people) would just laugh at such a ridiculous argument. However, it seems like we currently let law schools get away with it - and that's a real shame. The purchase of a law school education is about 10 times the cost of a car - and you can't sell the law school education (like you can the car) if it does not work out.

    Also, if a car manufacturer was advertising 40 MPG, the true MPG was 20, and it was later discovered that the manufacturer arrived at its 40 MPG number by just asking its customers what their MPG was in a survey and taking the survey data as fact, we would also place liability on the head of the car manufacturer. The manufacturer has a responsibility to provide accurate data with regard to its product. The crazy thing here is that we like to regard law schools as educational organization that are somehow more ethical than a car salesman. However, we don't even hold the law schools to the minimal ethical standards that we would the car salesman. Also, the law schools attempt to place the blame for their ethical failure on the consumer's "lack of research," which is of itself highly unethical. If law schools are going to attempt to portray themselves as ethical, then they need to live up to the ethics that they preach.

  11. I am a a prospective law student waiting on law school decisions, most likely planning to choose the lower ranking school that offers me a full ride after reading this post.

    Reading about the job prospects of the legal field has got me to thinking about the versatility and possibilities of decent career transitions to non-traditional, or non-legal careers, a jd degree may offer.

    What is your take on the flexibility and realistic usages of a jd degree other than the traditional firm job?

  12. I will be at a job fair this Monday and I plan to talk to at least ten recruiters and ask them what they think of a JD on the resume. I'll report my findings in my next post. A lot of nonlegal employers are clueless about the legal job market. They can't figure out why someone would go to law school for three years and not practice law. They wonder why a law graduate or licensed attorney is seeking an entry level position at their company. There's almost no good way to spin the JD in a favorable light if not used for law practice!

  13. 10:49 - I agree with JD Underdog. Entry level jobs outside of law do not mix well with a JD. There are some jobs where a JD might be useful at the higher levels, but just hiring right out of law school is probably not going to work. Consider someone who took a job as an HR professional right out of college at a large company. They work their way up and after about 10 years they decide to go to law school to get the JD as an additional certification as they attempt to get into the very top-ranked HR job. The JD may (emphasize "may", not "will definitely") be useful to them. However, you are not going to get hired straight into the upper levels of HR right out of law school. The company is going to want to see some experience - that you don't have. Further, you interviewing for an entry-level HR job with a law degree is going to look strange and most likely be strange for them internally.

    There are a few careers that could possibly benefit from a JD once someone has about 10 years of experience. However, all of the ones that I am aware of don't really fit with 26-year-olds with no experience and a JD. Here's another example - the assistant school superintendent who has been at the job for 15 years picks up a JD in a bid to take the top job. Other insurance, regulatory, or finance jobs would be much the same - the JD is a kicker to your experience in the field, not the criterion that gets you hired with no experience.

    In short, the ability of the law degree to be flexible is typically not a function of the degree itself, but the personal experience and qualifications of the person earning the degree.
    Without those personal factors, the JD has very limited flexibility.

    If you have just graduated undergrad, I would urge you to seriously consider delaying your entry to law school for several reasons. First, we are in the middle of the worst time in at least the last 50 years to go to law school because of the supply/demand imbalance for new lawyers. Even if you only wait 3-5 years, your job prospects are likely to improve - and maybe improve substantially. Second, you can use those three years to investigate fields that might interest you and the practice of law itself so that you do not make a $200K mistake. Third, you can use the time to save up so that your loan debt would not be so crushing. Fourth, recognize that by delaying you typically become an even more attractive candidate for law schools because they would prefer that their average age be higher and that your work experiences would add value to the classroom discussion. Finally, the message that going to law school is not really a good value these days is going to start making its way into the popular mind over the next 3-5 years. It hasn't happened yet, but it will eventually cause enrollment to decrease and law schools will most likely be more desperate for students. You could end up getting a much better financial package from a higher-ranks school and be competing with fewer people for more jobs. Good luck!

  14. What has always interested me with recently graduated undergrates is the need to DO SOMETHING once graduated, even if it means partaking in an activity that could be hazardous to your future.

    Who is better off the TTT law grad who busted their balls for three years, graduated with $150,000 in debt and has no future job prospects OR an undergrad who went into hiberation for three years and whos biggest problem is filling a three year resume gap?

  15. Now that is a pretty informative post, but I am a bit surprised at the blogs you point to for so-called accurate information.

    As Esq. Never stated, sort of, this blog seems much less biased, so hopefully more people will take it to heart. Also, some of the bloggers you linked to might want to follow your lead.

    After all, most of these bloggers DID have some information available to them at the time they were considering law school. I've found essays and graphs from as early as 1998 that described all of the same pitfalls as today, as well as the bi-modal salary graphs.

    So, like the dense undergrads you mention in this article, many of the people warning the future 1Ls were just as dense, and just as responsible for where they are. That is not to say that they are not intelligent, hard-working people, but that they rolled the dice too, albeit with a bit less information that is out there now.

    Let us not forget though, young kids, if you adamantly tell them that they CAN'T do something will be quick to go ahead and try to prove you wrong. Especially if you over-sell the negatives to the point where they are not even believable.

  16. Oh, how I wish I could have read your post 4 years ago before I made my $150,000 mistake. I try to tell potential law students of the risks as well, but I find that it only seems to make them angry, as though I'm trying to keep them out of a private club. In fact, I am I'm trying to keep them out of the debtors club. Wonderful post, maybe this will get through to them.

  17. I will try to be a bit less biased. Afterall, I'm not 100% for going to law school unless you have a liberal arts degree that is useless and you get a full ride and live with your parents. It will be hard to use the JD to break into a different field at that point, but at least you won't be shackled with debt. So, if you want to be an attorney. That's the way to go.

  18. Hi 4:19 - Thanks for the comment! With regard to the blogs that I point to, I don't mean to suggest that any attempt to go to law school is doomed. However, there are a large number of people who attended law school who were blocked out of the current job market. Unfortunately, prospective law students regard such an instance as either extremely rare or the fault of the law student - both are false in the overwhelming majority of cases. One problem is that the prospective law students are often so sold on the law school's marketing pitch that they believe that an experience like that which befell the bloggers can not possibly happen to them. This is an ego-driven belief that is not accurate - unfortunate results happen to good students all the time. My intention in pointing to the blogs that I did above is to counter the law school's marketing message in order to try to provide prospective law students with some balance.

    Frankly, I am glad that some of the blogs that I point to are a little on the adamant side because it helps counter the monolithic law school marketing message. In this regard, I note that the law school marketing message is typically not very balanced at all. Most of their sales material includes low-probability success stories that they attempt to portray as expected results, along with statistics that do not reflect reality in large part. Frankly, I would love it if law schools were required by law to provide a balanced and accurate sales pitch, but they are not.

    Consequently, I worry sometimes that my attempt to be balanced might fall on deaf ears with regard to the students that need it most - and I wonder if the more adamant blogs might be more effective. I console myself in the belief that those blogs and I are writing to slightly different audiences - audiences that might find different approaches more or less effective.

    I agree that there was *some* information available in 1998, but certainly less than is available now. The internet has really been a powerful tool in making it easier to access and create information. With regard to the salary distribution graphs, if you know where I can get one from 1998, I would be very interested. My impression is that the 1998 graph would be much, much less bi-modal than the current graph.

    With regard to your characterization of the undergrads in my post as "dense", I have to take issue somewhat. I would suggest that they are bright and hardworking, but they have been sold a product by an efficient marketing machine. Recognize that we don't operate in a caveat emptor world - we require sellers of goods and services to be accurate in their descriptions of the products and their effects. We even have several government agencies that regulate the advertising messages of various merchants. We don't do this because people are "dense," instead we regulate because selling a product based on misleading or false advertising is just plain wrong. In this context, using false or misleading advertising seems doubly wrong because 1) it is being used to sell a product to 22-year-olds who may lack the requisite life experience to adequately evaluate the situation, and 2) it is such a life-changing decision (we are not just purchasing some Skittles here!)

  19. (cont)
    On another note, I have to agree with your point that if you tell certain less-then-mature people that they *can't* do something, then they will go and perform actions just to show you that they can - even if the actions are to their detriment. However, 1) I am not trying to tell students that the *can't*, but rather that they should think carefully before going to law school. Similarly, I think that all of the blogs that I point to agree that just about anyone *can* go to law school (that's part of the problem!) 2) allowing such people to frame the discussion results in a Catch-22. For example, if you worry that people might be more likely to go to law school if you attempt to expose the falsity of the law school marketing message, then you would decline to combat the law school marketing message. Consequently, people would proceed to make their purchase decision after only hearing the law school sales pitch without any balance. My gut feel is that more people are helped by presenting the negative outcomes of the personal experience of those that have gone before. The suggestion that you make would be more compelling if the people writing the blogs had not attended law school and were just throwing mud on the idea. However, all of them attended law school and all of them are relating their personal experiences.

    One final thing - you mention over-selling the negatives to the point where they ae not believable. However, these experiences related are actual, personal experiences of people graduating with a mountain of debt and very few job prospects. I also am working and have worked with a considerable number of law students in a similar situation - $150K in debt is pretty frequent. Also, we have addressed the dismal hiring statistics elsewhere on this site and even in the popular press. The experiences that are related represent actual, real-life experiences - they are *real*. As for whether the students actually *believe* them or not, I console myself that I have done all that I can - and I refer again to the "leading to water" story above.

  20. damn, the more i read and research into the law school matter, the more i doubt this as a wise decision.

    don't know what i will do when i finally get my law school decisions, but definitely if i am not offered a full ride, i will reject that school.

    i remember reading somewhere that it is suggested to wait maybe 3 years before going to law school, in hope that job prospects and the supply and demand will be better, if i wait 3 years and go to school 3 years, upon graduating, the period will be around 6 to 7 years from now.

    what i think most prospective law school students, including me, think is that going now and in just a short 3 years or so, the market will bounce back more nicely.

    I'm getting headaches now agonizing about law school now and I can't ignore all the things I have been reading at this site and other blogs.

    I look forward to more of your posts on law school and Thank You for your effort in putting this information out to the public.

  21. 1:39 - Thanks for your comment. Here's one thing to consider - I would suggest that your comment with regard to law student employment bouncing back in three years might not be accurate or apply to you for at least two reasons:
    1) There is a lot of pent-up supply of lawyers and it looks like there are even more in the pipe - for example, a record 60K people took the LSAT this year. This is in an industry that has an estimated 30K jobs open. If you go to law school this fall, the supply and demand has a significant probability of locking you out.
    2) When you go to law school, the traditional hiring decision is really made the fall of your second year - not when you graduate. During the fall of the second year firms interview for work after the second year - and then make offers during the start of the third year. So, if you started law school this fall, your hiring traditional decision would be made 1 year later, not 3 years later. Certainly there are plenty of people who find jobs outside the the traditional hiring time frame, but why disadvantage yourself?

    Quite frankly, I think you already know the answer to your decision - if you are having headaches right now and agonizing over the decision, then it is probably not the right one.

    There will most likely be a time to go to law school some time in the future, but it won't be for a few years - and it's great that you are recognizing it now so that you can spare yourself the heartache and debt.

  22. My little sister asked me today if i thought that she should go to law school. (She's six years younger than I am.) This is the first time in nearly ten years that she has actually solicited my advice, but when I told her no, don't go to law school or even take the LSAT right now, she seemed shocked by my response.

    I feel compelled to pass along this entry (and the one before it) to provide some perspective.

    I've really enjoyed your blog and appreciate that you have a head for numbers. Keep up the insightful and helpful posts.


  23. Thanks Ford! Let your sister know that she is free to spread the word! The sooner the message gets out there, the better for everyone.