Monday, July 16, 2012

Risky decisions


Prospective law students continue to ask:  Should I go to law school?  What law schools are worth attending?  Which ones should I avoid?  Is there a price at which law school offers an acceptable investment?  LawProf offered some thoughts on this subject many months ago, and his insights remain valid today.  If anything, law school seems to grow riskier by the month. 

People have trouble factoring risk into their decision making.  And if you’re considering law school, there are a lot of risks to think about.  It’s not enough, for example, to look at a law school’s median job outcome and think “that would work for me.”  That calculation is an excellent first step—and we can thank LawProf, other bloggers, and Law School Transparency for the information allowing that step.  But you have to think more deeply about risk if you want to make the best decision about law school. 

I outline here the top five risks that every 0L should consider before attending law school.  In my next post, I’ll offer my personal guidelines for evaluating any admission offer.  

Risk One:  The Price is High.  The very price of law school intensifies the risk.  Would you bet $1 on a 50-50 chance of winning $2?  What about betting $100,000 on a 50-50 chance of winning $200,000?  However you answer, these are two very different questions.  Most people would make the first bet more quickly than the second.  For most of us, losing on the first bet doesn’t matter much; we might even enjoy a dollar’s worth of fun in making the gamble.  But losing the second bet is life altering:  Most of us would really miss that $100,000.  The very price of law school makes the decision a high-stakes one. 

Risk Two:  You Buy It, You Keep It.  Most investments have resale value.  If you buy a house, and you don’t like it, you can sell the house.  If you buy stock, and the company underperforms, you can sell the stock.  You may lose significant money on these transactions:  house and stock prices do fall.  But these investments retain at least some resale value to cushion your risk.  You can almost always sell the house or stock for something.  You can also wait for the market to recover and resell when times are better. 

A law degree is different.  The degree may have personal value, but it has no resale value.  You can’t sell your JD back to the school, and you can’t transfer it to someone else.  (The one person who did sell his JD on Craigslist has already tapped that novelty market.)  Even if you hate practicing law, or can’t find a job, you are stuck with the full price of the degree. 

Risk Three:  The Legal Job Market Continues to Change.  Law schools have rather reluctantly admitted that 2010 and 2011 job outcomes are the “new normal.”  That is, hiring patterns won’t return to 2007 levels any time soon—if they ever do.  But even this statement misses a key fact about the legal job market:  It continues to change rapidly, and most of the signs are negative.  No one knows what entry-level jobs will look like for the class of 2015, but they may well be worse than those just published for 2011.

Why?  Here's the nutshell:  The changes in technology, globalization, and distribution of legal work—which created much of the recent downturn—are continuing. 
  • Legal process software improves every year, and each version requires fewer attorneys than earlier versions.  This is true for both litigation and transactional work. 
  • Large corporations can choose from attorneys around the world, not just for low-end outsourcing but for the most sophisticated legal advice.  The U.S. advantage in this international market is declining.   
  • An increasing number of nonlawyers are doing legal work.  They aren’t practicing law, but they are interpreting legal rules for their own employers.  Human resource managers, compliance officers, and a host of other mid-level corporate/government employees have learned to work with legal regulations in their area.  These professionals still consult lawyers for novel or sophisticated issues, but they can handle bread-and-butter work on their own—sometimes with the help of computer systems.    
  • Traditional legal employers continue to segment work.  Firms are increasing the number of staff attorneys, career associates, contract attorneys, and other “new normal” positions.  No one knows where these career paths will lead, but many of the positions have lower salaries, less security, and less training than traditional associate jobs.
Risk Four:  The Law School Admissions Market Is Volatile.  Some people ask, “Isn’t this a good year to go to law school, because schools are so desperate for students?”  Maybe.  At least some students have gotten offers from schools that might not have admitted them last year, and others have negotiated higher scholarship offers.  Depending on when you were admitted in the admissions cycle, you may hold a better offer this year than you would receive next year or the year after.

On the other hand, I see no evidence that law school applications will increase next year.  The number of LSAT takers declined yet again in June, and college students have had a whole year to absorb warning signs about law school.  Law schools probably will face the same applicant pool (lower scores, fewer total applicants) next year as they did this year.  Once again, they will have to (a) admit students they wouldn't have admitted two years ago and/or (b) further discount tuition.  

The bottom line here is that the market is so volatile that it’s impossible to predict.  Five years from now, we might look back at this year as the one when it was easiest/cheapest to get into law school.  But this might also be the beginning of a larger decline in credentials and tuition prices.  People who bought houses in 2008 paid less than they would have paid in 2007, but they were pretty sorry they didn't wait until 2009.

Risk Five:  You May Not Like Law Practice.  Whatever occupation you try, there is a risk you will hate it enough to leave.  When investing substantial money in a future occupation, you should always consider that risk.  We don't know how many people dislike law practice enough to leave the profession, but we know that the category exists.  We also know that there are people who strongly dislike law practice but feel tied to their jobs by loans and other financial pressures.  My educated guess is that at least 10% of law graduates dislike practice enough to leave the profession, while another 10% may stay with jobs they dislike.  

Consider this statistic:  After the JD, a nationwide survey of law school graduates, reports that seven years after graduation, three quarters of the graduates were "moderately or extremely satisfied with their decision to become a lawyer."  Sounds good at first, but this means that one quarter of the graduates were not moderately or extremely satisfied.  Indeed, some were extremely or moderately dissatisfied.  And these responses were gathered in 2007, before the crash cranked up stress levels among lawyers.  

When you invest heavily in a career, giving the time, energy, and dollars that law demands, you want to be at least moderately satisfied with your decision.  Consider the risk that you won't be. 

*  *  *
If you're considering law school, think about each of these risks as applied to your personal situation. If you have a full-ride scholarship or a lot of money, the price risk may not weigh too heavily for you--although you still need to consider the opportunity costs of attending school for three years.  If you've already worked in a law-related organization, and feel comfortable with the profession's downsides as well as its benefits, the risk of disliking practice may be lower for you.  But everyone should think through each of these risks, just as you would carefully weigh other life-altering decisions.  The law schools will tell you the benefits of attending; it's up to you to identify the risks.

Coming next:  Some rules for risky times.


100 comments:

  1. Great frame. It's said that lawyers are among the most risk averse of people. If that's true, getting 0Ls to contemplate the risks associated with the J.D. might trigger the aversion.

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  2. Great, great analysis, DJM. Ask that Victoria woman to let you post this on Forbes.

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  3. "hiring patterns won’t return to 2007 levels any time soon—if they ever do."

    One additional point to keep in mind: the job market for law grads in 2007 (or 1997, for that matter) wasn't as good to begin with as many people might assume it was -- or as law schools' cooked employment stats may have suggested it was.

    Even if hiring patterns returned to 2007 levels, there would still be a significant number of unemployed or underemployed law grads. Not as many as there are today, but nowhere near "full employment". To repeat something I posted in another thread here recently, I would be surprised if the number of law school grads getting real legal jobs, aggregated across all schools, was ever higher than 60-70% anytime in the past 20 years.

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  12. JD Painter is loose again and he's playing his greatest hits.

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  13. i said it before, and i'll say it again until he heeds the advice.

    god dang, jdpainter, please stop typing things!

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  14. @Campos:

    For some time, I've thought that this blog should have an area with certain sticky posts at the top, aimed at members of the skeptical public who might consider law school.

    This post, maybe the next one and the YouTube videos from your Stanford appearance next to Deborah Rohde would be good choices. Surely there's a html-savvy 1L/2L who can help out with the update.

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  15. Why did you not list the biggest risk of all - that law school is a mental illness factory?

    I forget the statistic but some astonishingly large number of pre-law-school healthy 0Ls turned into depressed messes by 3L, and stayed that way many years after graduation.

    More than anything that should scare you away from law school. Do you want to be mentally ill? Or would you rather stay in your blissful state where you're ignorant of such things?

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  16. As to Risk 2:

    Why should "you buy, you keep" be the rule?

    I say: let law schools charge whatever they want, and play their disgraceful game of offering scholarships that vanish after one year of study. However, with this caveat: in addition to their diploma, law grads receive a one time option, maturing five years after graduation, to receive a full tuition + interest refund in exchange for having their law degree vacated or expunged.

    Surely, the law schools will offer no objection--to judge from their public statements, they believe that nobody will exercise that option because the employment and finiancial problems of their graduates work themselves out after a few years. As David Yellin, Dean of the ill-regarded Loyola Law School of Chicago, put it:

    "The thing that these statistics and these law suits don’t look at is how people are doing not one year after graduation, but five and ten years after graduation, and the studies that have been done show that lawyers tend to be doing quite well after a longer period of time.”

    (see video link below, at 10:32-10:48)

    http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2012/02/07/chicago-law-schools-sued

    dybbuk

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  17. "god dang, jdpainter, please stop typing things!"

    He types because it's cathartic....the dude is fucked as long as he stays in America. I've told him to flee to Manitoba more times than I have fingers, but he wants to play the sovok and take it in the ass.

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  18. "The bottom line here is that the market is so volatile that it’s impossible to predict. Five years from now, we might look back at this year as the one when it was easiest/cheapest to get into law school. But this might also be the beginning of a larger decline in credentials and tuition prices. People who bought houses in 2008 paid less than they would have paid in 2007, but they were pretty sorry they didn't wait until 2009."

    i want to point out that a better analogy is the 2008-2010 false bottom on the housing prices. everyone thought that the housing prices would revert and they cashed in on the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, temporarily sustaining the inflated housing market prices. Law schools do the same with discounted tuition to temporarily prop up the legal education demand. All things considered, it seems that the law school industrial complex may tank even more as the housing prices did after 2010.

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  19. Other factors effecting the demand side: tort reform, formerly middle class have no disposable income for luxuries like estate planning, real estate document review is dead like the real estate market, government agencies not hiring due to austerity.

    Hilarious article on gawker yesterday commenting on WSJ article reporting on how law offices are shrinking and attorneys given glorified cubicles. That says it all.

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  20. Risk #1 : Getting a JD isn't like betting $100,000 to get $200,000. The cost is the tuition, but the "reward" is basically whatever the increased earnings are based on your JD - the interest you pay on your debt. That "could" end up being much more than $200,000 (or much less).

    Risk #2 : If the JD continues to have value, you are able to make use of it when the market turns around, if it ever does (similar to holding a home during a downturn). Of course, with the JD you have no other choice, but the fact is that the market "could" turn around in the JD market too.

    Risk #3 applies to just about every single thing in life.

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  21. Your listing are progressing with days dungeon it up guys.
    Chicago immigration attorney

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  22. Even the things that may be a factor against risk are indeed risk factors. So I would generally say that to be reasonably well paid and secure in this business beyond 7-10 years you need to have a “unique selling proposition,” something that means that your clients stay with you and do not see your services as easy to replace or bid down in price. The problem is that the very things that give you a USP may also condemn you if things change.

    Take for example aviation law and shipping law – the lawyers in these specialties had a very lucrative field until the 1970s – and most of the big DC firms had highly paid partners doing this work. The work consisted primarily of “rate filings,” that is to say applications to the Civil Aeronautics Board and the National Maritime Administration which were very complex – not only were say airfares and shipping charges regulated, but what you got for that fare, down to the meals were regulated. A bit like utilities the airlines got to get a profit margin based on their costs – and the lawyers who did their filings were part of the cost basis – so if you paid them well, you could argue for a higher fare based on your costs. Then along came the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 – and other deregulation of surface transportation (trucking, buses) and some shipping and overnight the lucrative practices disappeared. When I was coming out of law school in the early 90s the last of these regulatory partners were being pushed out. Or look at antitrust – a huge and lucrative practice until the late 70s, today it is a shadow of what it was as the Supremes and the Nixon through second Bush administrations have gutted US antitrust enforcement. ERISA was huge in the 90s. Who know, IP litigation may be next…

    So the odd thing is that you can perhaps score some security for a while by being specialized and special – but legal changes can abruptly “pull the rug out.”

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  23. On another subject, there is an article in the NY Law Journal today about a bankruptcy judge in Buffalo NY who discharged a 25 year old student loan debt. Is there hope for JD Painter?

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  24. @5:54

    "Is there hope for JD Painter?"

    Probably not.

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  25. You run the risk of not being able to rent an apartment. I have a job, I am in the IRB program and have good credit. I have "only" 100,000 of loans. I was rejected last week for an apartment that rents for 1050.

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  26. I have printed this, with a summary of the author's accomplishments below the post. I plan on handing it out to all the students who visit me this fall.
    Thank you, DJM. Brilliant.
    -Pre-Law Teacher at a large undergrad university

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  27. "What about betting $100,000 on a 50-50 chance of winning $200,000?"


    that could be 200,000 (or whatever is the ave attorney salary over a lifetime) a year for 30 years.

    so would you bet 100k for a chance to win 6 million.

    much different risk assesnent when you look at the total income.

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  28. 6:19 = Law professor who's not too good at the maths thing.

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  29. A big step in the right direction would be to stop thinking of law school as an "investment."

    When people hear the word they think of passive investments. You buy a stock, and then it goes up without you doing anything. You buy a house, and a the value of real estate goes up. This is how they think about a law degree, if I get a JD my income will go up; I'll earn $60,000 a year instead of the $40,000 I currently make and after X years it will have paid itself off...

    The problem is that a JD and the legal market (should you be lucky enough to get a job practicing law) aren't that simple.

    Your income might go from $40k to $60k, but your hours on the job also went from 40/wk to 60/wk. Now your investment hasn't really increased what you're earning, it's just letting you work longer hours. Sure, it's more total money, but it should really change how you view the degree.

    Or maybe with your BA you could earn $30/hr, but with the JD you get up to $50/hr, looks like your JD just earned you an additional $20/hr, what a great investment. Except that the work is fundamentally different. It's going to be more stressful, and you don't get to work 40hrs/wk with the option to put in another 10-20. You're working those extra hours whether you like it or not.

    The JD isn't an "investment," it's entry into another market, and while there might be more money there, it's not necessarily a better place to be.

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  30. I would add another risk factor: You don't know how well you will do until you get there, and most students overpredict their own success. To the extent that top academic performers still have much better chances of landing the jobs that pay top dollar (setting aside the issue of the aesthetic desirability of those jobs), your inability to accurately predict your own success makes the investment riskier.

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  31. JDPainterguy may be pulling a Corporal Klinger.

    If he blogs and posts enough disassociative drivel, a psychiatrist may opine to the bankruptcy court judge that JDP is entitled to a hardship discharge.

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  32. ^I love that show!

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  33. Carthage must be footnoted!July 17, 2012 at 7:19 AM

    The other thing to keep in mind with these risks is that even if you get a higher salary, you have more expenses. I graduated in 2006 from a great law school with good grades. I had offers from several Biglaw firms that I turned down--because it's not just an offer of $160,000. The $160,000 job would have required me to spend more on cars, clothing, dry cleaning. I'd have spent more eating out, getting a cleaning service for my house.

    And that doesn't even get into the peer pressure that's experienced to "live well," or the quality of life difference.

    Even the $40,000 jobs have expenses. If you want to be employed as a lawyer, you have to wear a suit to meet with clients. You have to drive a nice car. You have to look like you have money, because if you don't, nobody will trust you. And we haven't even gotten into the absolute necessities, like bar dues and CLE costs.

    Even if law school did give, on average, a marginal bump in salary received, that money flows right out of the bank account. In general, a $60,000/year job as a lawyer leaves you with less disposable income than many $50,000 year jobs as a non-professional.

    (The exception is, of course, law professors: law professors don't have to wear suits, can drive whatever car they want, and they'll merely be thought of as eccentric, which will make people sneakily impressed with their intelligence.)

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  34. Risk #2 : If the JD continues to have value, you are able to make use of it when the market turns around, if it ever does (similar to holding a home during a downturn). Of course, with the JD you have no other choice, but the fact is that the market "could" turn around in the JD market too.

    This is Cooley-esque bullcrap. A JD quickly declines in value the longer you go without working as a lawyer. Even if the market recovers, employers will hire either fresh grads or experienced lawyers. People with stale JDs and no experience will be SOL.

    My estimate is that if you aren't working as a lawyer within 24 months after graduation, your JD has become worthless.

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  35. I love the good cop/bad cop dynamic of DJM and LawProf. It's very effective.

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  36. I would gladly return my J.D. to the school for student loan forgiveness. I'd sell it on Ebay if I could.

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  37. Just read an article from Canada about law school costs soaring to 40k for the degree. Why is it over 40k per year in the US if the Canadians can do it for so much less??? Should prospectives go to Canada for their education?

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  38. Another add-on to risk 3 is that the information age is cutting into small law's, or, as some gloriously call it, shitlaw's market as well. With those arcane reporters and statutes, lawyers, if nothing else, had a monopoly on how to find the relevant caselaw/statues/forms, etc. Now, more likely than not, a layperson with half a brain can answer basic legal questions through a google search. Part of the rise in pro-se litigants, particularly in divorce cases, I believe can be attributed to the fact that people are now able to educate themselves about their legal issues without consulting a lawyer. Factor in that most middle class families lack the resources to pay for legal services, and I believe the information age will put even more downward pressure on the legal service market.

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  39. Actually most Biglaw firms are business casual so you save money on clothing as compared to smaller firms where you will be in court and will have to wear a suit. I've never felt any pressure whatsoever to live an extravagant lifestyle and while people will look at you funny if you drive a rusty truck no one will care if you drive a Honda Accord. There are some people that get swept up in the high dollar lifestyle but that's a choice they make.

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  40. 7:28,
    Agreed, a follow-on to that is a lot of courts are posting self help materials that basically walk you through the process of filing various non-complex claims (divorce, child support, etc.).

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  41. "There are some people that get swept up in the high dollar lifestyle but that's a choice they make."

    Correct. Even in BigLaw, you're not "required" to live large. For a lot of associates, it's a temptation they fail to resist. But it can (and should) be resisted.

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  42. Law Prof:

    I think that all people that what to attend law school should first considered becoming a legal assistant or paralegal. A paralegal certificate is much much cheaper and less of a time suck than a J.D. and like you said in your article:

    "An increasing number of nonlawyers are doing legal work. They aren’t practicing law, but they are interpreting legal rules for their own employer"

    Before attending law school I did some paralegal work and there are still recruiters contacting me. There are much more of these types of jobs because paralegals do a lot of the doc reviews and low level work and they are a lot cheaper for the firms.

    Furthermore, from working as a paralegal you can more gauge the likelihood that you will enjoy the legal profession and be more informed about the risks that you are taking.


    Not saying that this should always be the case, but I think I school like Northwestern has a good admissions scheme....admit people who have work experience...

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  43. 7:00am:

    The irony in your post. It is off the charts.


    Addendum to risk #5: even if you enjoy practicing law, you won't be in it for more than 5, 10 years tops.

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  44. 7.17 Just read an article from Canada about >law school costs soaring to 40k for the >degree. Why is it over 40k per year in the US >if the Canadians can do it for so much less???

    All Canadian law schools are public. Tuition has gone up since I graduated in 1997, but is still not exorbitant, considering that unlike the US, we graduate proportionately half as many students, so the market is still fairly good and a legal career is not an unreasonable choice, though most lawyers don't make exorbitant incomes.

    >Should prospectives go to Canada for their >education?

    Something to consider. The quality of legal education in Canada is high. In addition, you cannot get called to the bar without first having served a period of paid 'articles' (essentially a paid apprenticeship which lasts 10-12 months after graduation, depending on the province), during which you are expected to gain experience in all major areas of law and as well complete a skills based bar admission course which focuses on the nuts and bolts of the practice of law, and pass the bar exam.

    So by the time you are called to the bar in Canada, while still fairly inexperienced, you should at least be able to incorporate a business, handle a real estate transaction, handle a divorce or separation, start a lawsuit, and appear in court with enough familiarity with the procedure that you don't make a complete an ass of yourself.

    Competition to get in is fierce though, due to there being so few seats at law schools, and the requirement to get articles. That being said, when I recently requalified as an active practitioner after a lengthy hiatus from the law, there were no graduates in my province (New Brunswick) who had failed to get some kind of articles. Due to the economy, there were a few people in 'eat what you kill' arrangements with small firms or solo practitioners, but nobody graduates with $200K in debt, so you don't need to be making a huge salary to make ends meet. One acquaintance in fact stands to take over the entire book of business of the solo practitioner he is working with, as the fellow is apparently nearing retirement.

    I read this blog, and shake my head at the state of the American legal industry. I am amazed that anybody in the US would currently consider law school a good career option.

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    1. I'm ashamed that we have created student loan debt slaves in the US.

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  45. @8:31 Huh? Are you saying the profession won't exist in 10 years?

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  46. @8:31 Huh? Are you saying the profession won't exist in 10 years?

    Oh, the profession will exist, its just that X% will have washed out and have been replaced with new cannon fodder. X is an unknown, but likely high number.

    In ten years someone will be practicing law, though likley not you.

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  47. 8:40--
    If we prohibited allowing law schools to be a private equity play, things would be much different in the US as well. The fact that law schools exist as private profit-making businesses is to my mind an oxymoron.

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  48. I am just over ten years out. Most of my close friends from law school are either unhappy or no longer practicing. All, however, are still paying off debt.

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  49. Re: the living large argument: it's also true that all the truly high paying jobs are in high-cost areas. So yes, you can commute from mid-Jersey to your bigfirm job in NYC, but that's going to take time, and make your life suck a lot more. Way more convenient to live in Manhattan or close-Brooklyn, but that's going to cost you. Whereas 50k in Cleveland is probably a decent salary that could get you a nice apartment downtown, close to your job, and some nice ability to travel and do stuff other than work, eat, pick up your dry cleaning.

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  50. 9:43,
    While I wouldn't compare $160K to $50K I do agree there are midlaw options in secondary markets (Baltimore for example) that pay $125K and the money definitely goes a lot farther although the hours are still challenging.

    There are less expensive/better value options with reasonable commutes in NJ (for example my commute door to door is 35 minutes) and you save by not paying NYC income tax.

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  51. Wilmington DE is another good choice for midlaw. Good neighborhoods nearby, cost of living lower than in/around Philly or Baltimore.

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  52. JDPainterguy may be pulling a Corporal Klinger.

    If he blogs and posts enough disassociative drivel, a psychiatrist may opine to the bankruptcy court judge that JDP is entitled to a hardship discharge.

    ---

    I seriously think that JD Painter actually likes the debt and would not take the chance to get rid of it if such a solution existed. His identity is tied into the debt, it is who he is. Without it, his blog, his stories, and his online personality would have very little meaning.

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  53. Risk 6: Rookies are Malpractice Magnets

    A classmate from Franklin Pierce Law Center (graduated in 2008) hung up his shingle and now faces $330,000 in fines and restitution for modifying mortgages without a license. Here's the story from the Concord Monitor:

    But it's unclear whether the department - or the 71 clients it decided were entitled to restitution - will see any of the money.

    "It's not going to happen," Dargon said yesterday. "Number one, I don't have a half a million dollars or whatever to pay. I'm 29 years old, I'm a young lawyer. I'm actually going into the Army late October. I'm not really happy about too many things with the practice of law right now."

    Dargon, who started his own firm after graduating from the former Franklin Pierce Law Center in 2008, closed the doors to the North State Street business last fall as the Banking Department pursued an investigation into its practice of modifying mortgages without a state license.

    The licensing requirement had only recently been enacted by the Legislature, and Dargon took the Banking Department to court over the dispute, maintaining he and his staff of 30 attorneys and paralegals were practicing law - not working as loan originators - and were therefore exempt from oversight by banking investigators.

    But after several days of administrative hearings last winter, a presiding officer decided Dargon and his lawyers had, in fact, broken state law by working as unlicensed loan originators, entering into "best efforts" contracts and collecting advance fees from clients.

    The officer, Stephen Judge, didn't decide until the end of last month how much Dargon would be fined for the violations. He found Dargon's firm responsible for paying $129,500 in fines and $147,196 in restitution, with amounts ranging from $500 to $3,400 per client.

    Judge also found Dargon individually liable for an additional $56,000 in fines.

    Although his firm no longer exists, nine of Dargon's former employees are named in Judge's order and could also be liable for the fines. "If there is no firm, we're going to chase the individuals," Richard Arcand, a spokesman for the Banking Department, said yesterday.

    And if no one pays, Arcand said the department will take Dargon to court for the money - "on behalf of consumers."

    "We're going to be investigating the appropriate course of legal action, which could involve the attorney general or the court system," Arcand said. The order against Dargon includes a provision that if he declares bankruptcy, he will have to list in his petition each person to whom he owes restitution.

    http://www.concordmonitor.com/article/269005/lawyer-fined-by-banking-department?SESS291d6d63d844b2bf6f64a336e382c75d=google&page=full

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  54. A big risk is that the lawyer ay not be able to work long-term. We know that the first year data for legal employment is terrible. We have no data on the experienced job market. One can assume first job is good will always have a good job. That is not a likely outcome because of the age pyramid in law firms and the scarcity of high paying legal jobs.

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  55. @12:10: You nailed it. I laugh when I hear people talk about a 30 year career as if that's a sure thing.

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  56. Needless to say, that's true of any field. But of course very few fields cost so much to enter.

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  57. @7:44 - if it was not for the discriminatory impact (guess who would get the jobs) I would make a 6-12 month paralegal stint a pre-requisite for going to law school. I was always surprised by how many aspiring law students changed their minds while working as a paralegal, concluding that an associates life, even if better paid, was not for them.

    Seriously, if you want to go to law school, get a job as a paralegal for a year - it will actually improve your application because it will show you are serious, but if you have doubts it will crystalise them or get you past them. This is a big decision - you need to be sure.

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  58. god 12:10. if you post once more about the "age pyramid" i'm going to lose it. that's the subject of another blog. start that blog. commiserate with a cadre of self-involved boomers.

    it. is not. always. about. YOU. this is a lesson i fear your generation will never learn. this blog is very simple. too many jds, not enough jobs, too damn expensive.

    DJM's post is talking about whether someone should even go to law school, and (to use a quote your old boomer ass may remember) "there you go again."

    jesus christ.

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    1. Chill. Don't be THAT lawyer.

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  60. What type of longevity should one expect in their legal career? Is the typical length of one of these careers 30 years? Perhaps someone older and with some experience can discuss this.

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  61. what do you do if you're about to start 2L and you already dished out $50k? just walk away and wash dishes for the next few years til something else comes up?

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    1. Each year you close off your options. Two more years the dishwashing option won't be there.

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  62. This doesn't answer the question of what do kids do if they can't get a job with their undergrad degree. You can't just look at going to law school in a vacuum. If a person feels they have no other real options for breaking into the middle class, then they are going to take the risk, no matter how high. Even more so when they don't have to put in any of their own money upfront to buy into the risk.

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  63. MacK - being a paralegal won't improve your application. The only thing that matters is your GPA and LSAT. You might be able to write a nice PS about how being a paralegal made you sure you want to be a lawyer, but it isn't going to make much of a difference.

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  64. @2:28 If you're not at the top in the top, then IMHO you have nothing to gain from two more years and another $100k in debt. You'll wind up in the same place -- no job -- except you'll owe three times as much.

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  65. "What type of longevity should one expect in their legal career? Is the typical length of one of these careers 30 years? Perhaps someone older and with some experience can discuss this."

    I'm 10+ years out, in a firm. Most of the guys I work with plan to keep at it until they're at least 65. So for a K-JDer, that's a 40-year career.

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  66. JDPainter. It's great that your family has accomplished so much. However, what are you accomplishing by being here? While your input is valued in this discussion by many, no doubt, I can't help but feel that you may hurt the cause, too. Further, I don't think anyone thinks you are 'faking it'. Instead, I think a few actually think you enjoy your situation. It has embodied who you are as a person. You post the same thing over and over again, such as the law school suicide chronicles. It obviously gives you some utility. At the same time, it does not help your situation nor does it help anyone else's. If anything, you should reevaluate your own life and try to make some big changes. You are letting all this drive you completely insane.

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  67. I think 2:28 raises a key issue. It’s one thing to begin law school with the expectation that you’ll be in the top 10-20 percent and be competitive for the few available jobs in any given market. But what about following your 1L year, when you realize that top 10-20 percent is not going to happen? Do you double-down on your investment and hope for a better outcome during your 2L and 3L years – obviously realizing that you’re unlikely to overcome your low-standing 1L results? Or, do you “cut bait,” swallow the loss and move on?

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  68. I'm a big fan of getting people to drop out after they realize they won't get a job that allows them to repay their debt. I think people are going to go, but the ranks of law schools should drop a huge amount after 2LOCi.

    I think this will be the new change in going to law school: it is going to become accepted to just drop out if you are not in the top.

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  70. Job dissatisfaction is probably higher than survey would indicate. Most people don't want to fight for a living. Most people don't want to bill, which effectively means there is no downtime. The rates of substance abuse problems are high in the profession.

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  71. I think this will be the new change in going to law school: it is going to become accepted to just drop out if you are not in the top.

    One interesting aspect of this is that it's similar to how things were before WWII, although for a different reason. Before heavy reliance on test scores and grades, law school admissions were much less competitive, and the first-year exams (as opposed to an admissions committee) were what were supposed to weed out the less promising students. You had a big 1L class followed by much smaller 2L and 3L classes.

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  72. @2:48
    The irony is that if rising 2Ls defect in large enought numbers because they're not in the top quintile, the curve in second-year Con Law and Evidence is going to force the upper level 2Ls who remain down into the nether reaches. It may not effect OCI or law review, but it will effect class rank at graduation and may give BigLaw and MidLaw some pause about the formerly successful.

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  73. There is another impact at play here, as high-ranking 1Ls at mid-ranked schools transfer to take spaces at higher-ranked schools created by quitting 2Ls. That will have a significant impact on class rank, too -- for both schools.

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  74. I agree with the previous comments. DJM, as long as you're giving advice, a post on encouraging students to think about dropping out would be in order.

    It's time to get rid of the stigma attached to dropping out.

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  75. At the SEC, our office has some senior attorneys about to retire. All are well into their sixties. I hear no one talk about early retirement from these law jobs. Once you reach the top of the SEC staff attorney pay scale, there is no incentive to leave.

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  76. I definitely plan on addressing the question of dropping out (or, better, taking a leave of absence), as well as providing some more information about long-term career prospects. Thanks for all the good suggestions!

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  77. 3:26,
    How many years experience did you have before the SEC hired you?

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  78. what about IBR? can't i just dishwash and give 10-20% of my earnings to the gubment for 25 years?

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  79. The good thing about dishwashing is you won't have to give any of it to the govt.

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  80. @5:02
    True that. My first legit W-2 job was a dishwasher, for $0.20 above minimum wage, 24 hours a week. Today, you'd probably qualify for the EIC, even if you were childless.

    But I never took that work home with me at the end of the day. Good times.

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  81. There is an unjustified stigma attached to dropping out of law school. I recall after my first year of law school, a classmate dropped out. She finished her first year in the top 5% and made law review. She was not a loser. A few years later I ran into her in court. She was a legal secretary to a state judge. I asked her why she dropped out after killing 1L and she told me that law school turned her into a miserable person. Her fiancee threatened to leave her and she alienated herself from her family and friends. As far as I could tell, she seemed happy as a law secretary (who earn about $60K a year). A part of me wishes I had dropped out as I became a miserable douche after law school.

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  82. Whoever thinks the longevity of legal careers is a "boomer problem" is not thinking straight. If the it is likely that your career will be short- say 15 or 20 years, or less, and you have incurred hundreds of thousand dollars of debt and cannot pay that off, you have a problem. Maybe you can rely on IBR, but I am not quite sure of the rules for IBR. Lack of legal jobs, a problem that starts as early as a few months after people start working as lawyers is not limited to baby boomers. The length of time a lawyer can reasonably expect to work is an integral part of whether law school is a scam for the 55% who actually do obtain employment at 9 months. If half of those will be unemployed 18 years later, at age 45, that puts a whole different light on the scam. My impression is that the unemployment/ underemployment rate vastly increases for each law school class with each year out of law school. What good is a first job in the context of repaying six figures of debt if that job only lasts a few years? Whoever thinks the ability of lawyers to hold on to their jobs is a baby boomer problem and the subject of another jobs wants to focus only on first jobs. That is clearly most important for the 45% that is not working. But employment longevity is as important as first jobs in evaluating the law school scam and whether it is worthwhile for a 0L to attend law school.

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  83. The comment I often hear from BigLaw associates who are forced to leave after a few years with mountains of debt is that they did now know the high salaries would last such a short time. If only one third of the grads of the T6 schools are making the $160,000 or more after 10 or 12 years of practice, and 55% of the class is in private practice, for example, the 25th, 50th and 75th percentiles for private practice attorneys from those schools might be more like $60,000 $110,000 and $200,000 at the 12 year mark. If your compensation is likely to drop by almost a third due to your gaining more experience, that is important to know, isn't it. People who are 36 to 38 now are not quite boomers, are they? However, they are still affected by the huge suppy demand imbalance here.

    One thing that is different and has occurred over the last decade is so many unemployed lawyers. In my parents generation, I did not know of any unemployed lawyers. Lawyers made more or less money, depending on their level of success, but at least while I was alive, no attorney I had ever heard of was unemployed.

    The glut of attorneys has totally changed the unemployment situation, and it is not just newly minted attorneys.

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  84. @7:42, "But employment longevity is as important as first jobs in evaluating the law school scam and whether it is worthwhile for a 0L to attend law school."

    Well, "no" and "yes". Taking in reverse order, the entire lifetime job prospect should be something a 0L considers in deciding whether it's worthwhile to make a leap.

    But it [lifetime/long term employment prospect] is not, strictly speaking, part of the "law school scam".

    Law schools don't control the behaviour of law firms, e.g., firing a high percentage of associates through year seven.

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  85. 7:56, when did you become deceased?

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  86. " In my parents generation, I did not know of any unemployed lawyers."


    Remember all those guys you'd see sitting in the park all day, in suits, feeding pigeons?

    Eyup.

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  87. @7:42 "The length of time a lawyer can reasonably expect to work is an integral part of whether law school is a scam for the 55% who actually do obtain employment at 9 months. If half of those will be unemployed 18 years later, at age 45, that puts a whole different light on the scam. My impression is that the unemployment/ underemployment rate vastly increases for each law school class with each year out of law school. What good is a first job in the context of repaying six figures of debt if that job only lasts a few years? ... But employment longevity is as important as first jobs in evaluating the law school scam and whether it is worthwhile for a 0L to attend law school."

    Well said 7:42, and employment longevity is a real problem with lawyers. There are tens and hundreds of thousands of once fully employed, even prosperous lawyers, who are now either completely unemployed or far from prosperous. I know scores of them. No law job is ever secure. You are only in a law job for as long as the clients, mostly corporations, are around and able and willing to pay you. The long term stability of many law jobs has become worse with the consolidation into biglaw of many/most medium sized law firms. There are thousands of new lawyers striving to push the more experienced lawyers out. IF THE TRUTH ABOUT LONG TERM JOB PROSPECTS IN LAW WAS REALLY KNOWN AND DEMONSTRATED WITH DATA, NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD GO TO ANY LAW SCHOOL.

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  88. Seriously, if you want to go to law school, get a job as a paralegal for a year - it will actually improve your application because it will show you are serious, but if you have doubts it will crystalise them or get you past them.

    This is good advice, but a lot of LICENSED attorneys are working as paralegals right now. Crazy but true. Actually happened to me, despite the fact I graduated in the top of my TTT. I know that doesn't count for much, but I am just stating the facts. The unfriendly corporate work environment (stereotyping, pigeon-holing, favoritism, elitism) and the boring, repetitive work (doc review, legal research, more doc review, more legal research) ruined both my mental and physical health. Somehow, I managed to keep it together long enough to pay my student loans off. However, six months after they were paid off, I gave my two weeks notice and got the heck out of there because I couldn't take any more. I did what I had to do to pay my loans off, and that is the only reason I worked as a paralegal. I don't have anything against working as a paralegal, but my career goal was never to be a paralegal. Yet that is what I ended up becoming...despite having a JD. It's like going backwards.

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  89. There are less expensive/better value options with reasonable commutes in NJ (for example my commute door to door is 35 minutes) and you save by not paying NYC income tax.

    No joke. I love how people seem to have this notion that Jersey is some sort of vast unreachable hinterland filled with nothing but orange-skinned guidos. When I was commuting into the city for work, my door-to-door was about the same as yours - 40min on a bad day, 25ish on a good day.

    I had colleagues who lived in the city (typically Brooklyn) who had commutes twice mine for the privilege of paying twice the rent.

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  90. what do you do if you're about to start 2L and you already dished out $50k? just walk away and wash dishes for the next few years til something else comes up?

    Yes. Yes you do exactly that.

    50K and two years of law school leading to no legal job is a damn sight better than 75k and three years of law school leading to no legal job.

    Don't fall for the sunk cost fallacy! You can't get those two years back.

    The question to ask isn't the one you asked, but rather is this:

    "Is a JD worth another year of my life, another year not working (even washing dishes), and another 30k in debt?"

    The answer is almost certainly "no".

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  91. But I never took that work home with me at the end of the day. Good times.

    It's like Lester comments in American Beauty - the happiest time of his life was flipping burgers. The job sucked, but he had no stress. All he did was "listen to music and get laid".

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  92. It is really sad that 8 years of Bush calling lawyers scum and criminals that people don't want to practice law anymore. It is ironic lawyers stole the election for him yet he set out to destroy the legal profession because he and the Republicans hate when women, children, minorities, and gays are able to get justice.

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  93. I eschewed the law school path directly out of undergrad (c/o 2009) because I was attuned to this fiasco.

    Now, I'm revisiting law school because I probably have the skill-set for it, I want to join the middle class, and---let's be honest---my parents are pressuring me to do it, since it's a "sure thing."

    Well, I've been doing my research and it just sounds terrible, especially reading posts (and comments) like these.

    Ultimately, it just looks worse and worse the more I look into it. Sorry, dadandmom.

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  94. so are young people supposed to avoid law school so that you OLD FART lawyers can stay in control? I'm so sick of selfish baby-boomers, like you...let you keep your good job and young people work at macdonald's, right? i'm not young...but i love young people...you old farts need to get out of the way and retire...how much viagara have you taken this week, huh?!!!

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