How many stories like this are out there at this moment -- stories of talented, dedicated, public-spirited people, who are being ground down by a system that doesn't even bother to collect accurate statistics about its, as the economists say, "outputs? " These are the stories behind the statistics, and the law school world needs to listen.I am a 2007 graduate of a T2/3 law school (I worked for 3 years between my BA and starting my JD coursework). Though a good undergraduate student, I did horribly on the LSAT. I went to law school to promote social justice, not to earn the big bucks. I believed that being a lawyer and having a law degree would provide a very stable career. Eventually, I decided to pursue tax law. Tax is great because I can serve low-income taxpayers, while still working with a segment of the law that is constantly changing and the policy for which I find incredibly interesting. Of course, coming from a T2/3, I had to get an LLM to get a job in tax. So off to the top tax school I went, to study tax for 9 months for an exorbitant fee.
I generally did well in law school--I was one of the students who "got it." I graduated with honors, honor society, journal etc. I managed to land an associate position at a large regional firm in the same city. Though I had fully intended to work for a non-profit or a legal services-type organization, my debt prevented it, and I felt I HAD to take a job at a firm. I hated it. I worked for just over a year and was laid off in late 2009. After losing my job, I did some soul-searching. I decided I hated private practice, and wanted to go back closer to my roots: I decided to pursue jobs in progressive tax policy. I moved to DC, where policy/law jobs are plentiful, but so are un- and under-employed lawyers. I have to say that I briefly considered getting into the Academy--even signing up for the AALS "meat market." I got a couple calls from small law schools in Iowa and Ohio, but decided that I no longer believed in the law school model and could not stomach becoming part of it.
Since losing my job it has been a downward spiral. After moving to DC, I took odd jobs with solo practitioners, legal writing companies, and an unpaid "fellowship" on the Hill, and I lived in a depressing basement. In the weeks I wasn't working, I claimed my meager $400 a week in unemployment. There were days I was quite hungry. My family (all of whom live on the West Coast) were incredibly supportive, but could only send me so much money (there might have been a little pride involved, too :)). Finally, after a stint in doc review (which my friend and I have affectionately dubbed "lawyer sweatshop"), I landed a long-term temporary position at a prominent legal publishing firm. Our contract ends December 31, 2011, at which point I will be unemployed. Again.
Though I am incredibly grateful for what I have, I cannot help but wish for more: I have a JD with honors, an LLM from the top tax school in the country, and meaningful work experience. Yet, I cannot land a full-time, permanent job. I am lucky to have health insurance, but I have no time off. No sick time. My work situation is flexible (I can come in late/leave early for an appointment, etc.), but I only get paid for the hours I work. I am very grateful that it is unlikely I will default on my loans--thus far, I have been able to manage my nearly $250,000 debt with IBR and unemployment forbearance.
I know that I am better off than a lot of these younger lawyers. That I qualified for unemployment is huge. I get job interviews. I can afford the apartment I share with my friend. I have a great resume. I am an excellent researcher and writer. I rarely go to bed hungry anymore. I just have to be patient. As soon as the economy picks up I'll get a permanent job. Right...?
Should I have been "kept out" of law school because my LSAT was too low? I'm not sure. Should I have been dissuaded at the time I made the decision by the debt and lack of job prospects from going to law school? I don't think so--though I didn't fully understand how much debt I would have, in the early 2000's folks from my law school didn't have much trouble finding jobs in the surrounding area. While I don't feel scammed, I simply wish I'd never gone to law school.
I am discouraged. I'm humiliated and demoralized. Worse yet, I am not challenged on a daily basis. I've resigned myself to the fact that I will never have a career. I won't have retirement savings. I will be living paycheck-to-paycheck for the next few years. I will continue to be immune to the rejection letters I receive in response to the litany of resumes and cover letters I send out daily (if I even receive indication that my resume was received). I will be just another number in this generation of lawyers who will fall by the wayside . . .
It's true here is a certain amount of responsibility on the part of the students who sign the loan papers, and who decide to go to law school simply because they think they'll get rich (and who are now whining because they aren't). But, in the end, the bulk of the responsibility lies with the schools, and their administration, faculty, and staff.
My law school is one of the most expensive in the country, and had to give so much of our tuition to the university (I always joked--a bit tongue-in-cheek--to pay for the basketball team, a huge money maker for this Big East school). Minority students almost always failed out. Our Dean was never at the law school--always gallivanting around the country to raise money. Our bar passage rate flailed. I will say that I chose to take classes from professors who were incredibly engaged with their students. Though their scholarship may be esoteric, I always felt cared for, and welcome in office hours.P. S. One thing that you haven't touched on (and maybe you will, though it doesn't have much to do with the law schools' failings) is licensing. I am now licensed in 3 states. I took 2 bar exams (2 summers in a row, 2 summers of bar loans) and waived into my 3rd. On meager earnings, I now have to pay nearly $1,000 a year to keep up these licenses (because who knows where I might land a permanent job?!), in addition to paying for CLE courses (some bar associations have been great about allowing me to pay a reduced fee--or no fee--when I explain my situation).
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
They write letters
I've been getting a lot of things like this (redacted and posted with permission from the author):