A message for someone in the law school class of 2014:
These words aren't intended for certain people. They're not intended for people who aren't paying for law school. They're not intended for people who know, and indeed knew before starting law school, that a job would be waiting afterwards, because they're the kind of people who can get what they want if a few phone calls get made that are going to get made. They're not intended for people who are sure, after four months of this, that they're going to finish in the top five percent of the class. They're probably not intended for the large majority of people going to Yale or Stanford (although you never know . . .).
They're intended for you. You're wondering, after four months of this, whether you've made a big mistake. You're wondering this because, compared to your college experiences, law school seems like something of a joke. Everyone -- judges in opinions, professors behind podiums, classmates in the hallway -- speaks with tremendous confidence about things they don't really seem to know anything about. You're wondering if anyone else notices this, or if perhaps you're just not understanding what's really going on. Other people are noticing this, and you do understand what's going on. But don't expect anyone to talk about it.
You're wondering if you're going to be able to get the kind of job you came to law school to be able to get, or if you'll end up getting another kind of job altogether, just to pay bills that will soon enough include a massive and constantly growing pile of debt. The answers to these questions are, respectively, no, and maybe -- if you're very "lucky."
You're wondering why you seem so much more anxious and cynical than you the person you were four months ago. The answer is that you are no longer that person. You are on your way to being a lawyer -- or more realistically, you are on your way to having a law degree.
You're wondering if your parents will ever be able to understand that trying to become a lawyer today has less than ever to do with anything they've seen about lawyers on TV. They won't. Popular culture is an illusion factory that produces completely unrealistic fairy tales about everything, and especially about everything related to law.
You're wondering if your uncle the lawyer -- the guy with the nice house and the two fancy cars, and the apparently decent second marriage -- will ever be able to understand that trying to become a lawyer today has very little to do with what he experienced when he paid $1,500 a year in tuition 25 years ago at good old State U, and got a job right out of law school at the very end of the long postwar expansion in the legal services market. He won't. As people get older, it becomes more and more difficult for them to believe that the world today could really and truly have changed in ways they don't fully understand. (A semi-famous writer died the other day, and someone he worked with remarked that, "Time taught him nothing, because he didn't want to learn.").
You're wondering if you have any real choice about sticking this out, given that you don't seem to have any other promising career prospects at the moment, and after all going to law school is the kind of thing that at least allows you to tell people you're going to law school. You do have a choice. The biggest mistakes in life are committed by people worrying about what other people will think. Here's what other people are thinking about you: They aren't. And even if they are, why do you care what they think about you? Have you ever thought they should make crucial life decisions on the basis of what impression those decisions might make on you?
There's a good book called Deep Survival, about people in perilous situations of various kinds. An interesting piece of information in it is that small children -- those younger than about seven or eight years old -- have some of the best survival rates among people lost in the wilderness. The reason, it turns out, is that small children, unlike older people, don't talk themselves into continuing down paths that seem to be leading nowhere. When they get tired, they rest. If they start to get cold, they try to warm up. If they're thirsty, they drink. And when they realize they're lost, they stop and wait for someone to find them.