The biggest problem, and why idiots still "believe" in the law is that the law doesn't work under normal economic rules.Yesterday's discussion of Failing Law Schools is here.
The first illusion is career trajectory. While you may start at $160k, there is a 90% chance that is the most money you will ever make. The only other career where that applies is athletics. Most careers have their peak earnings in the 40s and 50s, and law students likely assume that even if start at 160k, it's only more from there, or that even if you START at 50k, you'll keep going up.
The second illusion is starting associate salaries. Under normal economic rules, no associate position would be paid more than 40-50k. Why would they? There's literally 2-3x the applicant pool as there are jobs. But law is different. Big firms aren't paying for someone to sit at the desk and do mundane work; they're paying for your credentials that they can sell to clients to justify high billing rates, even if the work is pedestrian. They're also paying a premium to scout partnership material and find the next rainmaker, which they can't do by paying 40 year old washouts to do said crap work.
The third illusion is the hierarchy. People think if you just miss BigLaw, that you'll easily get in at a government agency or smaller firm or legal aid (LOL). Baloney. After the primo jobs have hired, it's purely about who you know. Similarly, the idea that the top [x]% of students are the ones who get the [x]% jobs is unfounded. I was top 6% at a T2/3. I have had three interviews in the last six months. There are people from my class who are objectively slow-witted who are working at solid firms making 70k.
The fourth illusion is the associated optimism bias/graveyard effect. People do not see the top 6% grad sitting on his butt writing blogspot comments. They see the middling grad making bank. It is VERY easy, when you are 22 years old, to believe that you will NOT be a failure, and to discount objective evidence that you're walking into a minefield. Cuz if you were in WWI, you just would've traipsed right through no man's land without getting shot. In twenty years, all these cocky little brats are going to be JUDGES and not SOLOS looking for opportunities to GET OUT. But these special snowflakes will never, ever be in the really high amount of attorneys who take up drinking, drugs, or unethical conduct. Oh, no, not them. They'll be arguing international civil rights cases before SCOTUS.
The related 5th illusion is that law has a stable career path, that even if you struggle now or can't find a spot, they'll be one for you in time and that once you have a position, it'll be easier to find them in the future. Oh, heck, no. Look at job listings and see how many you can find that look for people 10+ years out. I dare you. The last call for associate hiring seems to be when you hit 8-10 years of experience. After that, everyone expects you to have your own book of business or start your own firm. Not a businessman or salesman? You're screwed.
The 6th illusion is that EVEN IF law doesn't work out, the JD won't inhibit you from finding generic work in another field, because there's just no way the JD is as toxic as people say it is, and surely the deans aren't lying when they claim it's versatile, and surely even if it WERE toxic, I can overcome it because I'm SPECIAL. No one can truly understand how awful the JD is perceived until they've been rejected for a completely mundane job requiring only a high school education. When you can't find a legal job, you WILL be rejected for jobs you are "over"-qualified for. HR people do not see you as a well-rounded person. They see you as butt-fucking lawyer who wants to make hay and bide time until a Boston Legal job comes open.
The 7th illusion is that this is worthwhile, life-affirming, interesting work. There's a reason the law schools don't want you working until you're a 2L.
The 8th illusion is that IBR/PAYE minimizes the financial risk involved in taking out gobs of debt. No, no, and no. Also, many employers can legally look at your credit report and their eyes will dart out of their heads when they see that you have $250k in debt. Many think 60k in debt is risky, and many (especially older) have very strong moral objections to "deadbeats."
The Grand Illusion is [failing to see] that going to law school will probably make you a deadbeat at some point in the next 40 years. Today, you might get a job in BigLaw. In 5 years, they will probably spit you out. You might land somewhere, but unless you're in the anointed few who get govt/in-house for life, you'll be expected to float on your own some day, and your JD will not save your imploding financials and mental health.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
The grand illusion
I'm reprinting a long comment from Craig, who graduated in the top 6% of his class from a mid-ranked law school, and who has had three interviews in the last six months: