Tuesday, January 3, 2012

They write letters

Email from 1L  (Posted with the author's permission.  I've redacted it to help maintain anonymity):

I was hoping you could spare a word of advice for a 1L who has spent winter break absolutely freaking out. I am seriously considering quitting law school, and don't know where to turn.

I'm a 1L at [top 15ish law school].  I'm 30 (old for a law student...not old for the earth).  Before law school, I [had a real job] and made quite a good salary.  I went back to law school for a few (potentially poor) reasons: I worked/traveled for work all the time, disliked my job, and had already advanced as far as I could go by age 28.  [My career options in my field were] limited to either 90-hour work weeks doing really great work, or 60-hour work weeks making back-door deals with corrupt city bureaucrats.   Neither was manageable.  I also have an insatiable love for learning.  My happiest days were spent writing my thesis in undergrad.  Back then, I dreamed of a PhD, but the job prospects scared me off.

So, I went to law school.  I was so completely freaked out by the debt load (which I will carry by myself, as my mother is a part-time [academic] and has no retirement plan) that I deferred for a year to save money (and in that year, [my law school] raised tuition. Awesome).  In the end, I told myself that the degree would pay for the opportunity and actual costs.  The placement statistics on the school's website gave me comfort and I took the plunge.

But now I'm fearing I've made a huge mistake.  As an older student, I can't read for 20 hours a day like my peers - I get tired!  I'm not as quick or as analytical as many, and not as driven as others.  I have a wonderful relationship with a live-in partner, an amazing (though impoverished) family and a gang of swell friends.  I refuse to give up these relationships for law school, and that means less studying than the kids who literally sleep in the library most nights.   That said, I absolutely read everything assigned and have performed adequately (B+/A- on midterms) so far.  I also won [a 1L competition].  BUT, though I do enjoy the classes and the readings, I don't expect to be in the top 10% of my class and probably not even in the top 40%.

So here is my dilemma - I want a career that will fulfill my desire to serve.  I'm a people person to the core, and I love feeling like I'm making a positive difference in people's lives. I also want to be able to provide for my mom as she ages and maybe start a family of my own in the next decade.  I don't want to work myself to death (been there, done that), but I do want to be able to live semi-comfortably.

I recently discovered that the stats up on [my law school’s] site are basically lies.  I've met 10 (!) totally unemployed recent alums, all who passed the bar first try and did everything right (top 50% of class).  I've met a dozen more who took the public interest route and are making way less than half of my previous salary.  All these folks are 25 and miserable and staring at almost 200K in debt with no way to pay it.  I'm afraid I'll be right there with them, except I'll be in my mid-30's, which I fear will make me even less employable.

I need someone to be honest with me.  I'm seriously considering quitting [my law school] if my first semester grades are not good. I'd probably look into something more practical (though, law school was my 'practical' choice.  Ugh.) like becoming a nurse or a physician assistant.   A secondary option is to transfer to [second-tier law school] night school and see if they'll still give me that full scholarship they offered last year.  I don't want to double down on a bad bet and end up with a law degree making 40K, working all the time and owing 200K in debt.

So, am I crazy to have these thoughts?  Should I just stick with it and hope for the best?  A lot of people tell me to consider how badly I want to be a lawyer, but I've worked long enough to know that you don't really know how much you want to be in a given profession until you've done it for a year.
 Further detail: The writer is confident she can get her old job or another much like it back.   Reply:

Here are my thoughts.  Obviously I don't know you, so everything I say needs to be taken with that in mind. What I want to say to you first is that I really do mean the things that I write on my blog, and that, given what I've written there, you seem to me [insert a dozen epistemological caveats here] to be the kind of person who would be a good candidate to drop out of law school after the first semester.

First, you don't strike me as the kind of person who would find being a big firm lawyer anything other than a truly miserable experience.  You want to serve people, but that kind of job is all about servicing the needs of big corporate clients.  You don't want to spend 90 hours a week doing really great work in your present field (I certainly don't blame you at all -- I think that kind of lifestyle is insane no matter how great the work may be), but as an associate at a big firm you would be spending a comparable amount of time doing really horrible work that you will despise with every bone in your body.  Much of it will be utterly routine paper pushing that you won't be able to believe someone is being billed $400 for you to perform. Meanwhile you will be paid about one-tenth of that per hour actually worked.

Second getting and keep a big firm job for long enough to pay off most or all of your law school debt will be tricky.  About 35% of [your school's] grads are currently getting such jobs.  But only about half those people, at best, will still be in them five years down the road.  So the odds of an average grad [from your school] getting and keeping a big law job for long enough to get rid of most of their debt load are not good -- maybe 15%.

If your first semester grades are in the middle of the pack you can cut that percentage by a lot.  But in any case you would, I think, be truly unhappy if you "won" the big firm lottery, and based on your email you don't strike me as the kind of person who would be OK with being miserable for the sake of a high paying high status but basically wretched job.

What about alternatives to big law? The problem, as you probably know, is that the kinds of jobs people such as yourself are actually suited for -- cause lawyering, broadly defined -- are if anything even more difficult to get than big firm jobs, and on top of that pay ridiculous salaries that will keep you in a state of indentured servitude to the government for a decade (That's a best case scenario. IBR could be eliminated next year if Romney is president).  If you went to law school in part to have a decent level of economic security while helping to support your mother, these jobs aren't viable choices (That said, I suspect you would be ten times better off in public interest law than at a big firm, even with the massive economic disadvantages of the former).

What else is there between Big Law and cause lawyering, i.e., public interest/government?  Not much these days.  Working for a small firm basically combines many of the disadvantages of Big Law with those of public interest work, without most of the advantages of either.  As for all those other things you can do with a law degree besides working for a firm or in public interest, those fall into two categories: essentially imaginary jobs vaguely pictured by clueless law professors when burbling nonsense to their anxiety-ridden students, and jobs you could have gotten without going to law school in the first place and incurring $200,000 in debt.

If I were you (I'm not; I don't know you; take all this with a grain of salt etc etc), I'd drop out, go get my old job or something like it back, then investigate whether something like nursing or being a physician assistant would make more sense for you than law school while saving some money and planning the next step in your life.

This is yet another example of why transparency, while only a first step, remains a crucial first step. Yes, lots of people who shouldn't will continue to go to law school even if much better information about the relationship between their investment and the probable return on it is made available to them.  But lots won't.  I very much doubt that this writer would have dumped her unsatisfying $100K per year job to take on $200K of high interest non-dischargeable debt if she had had such information (her law school's web site remains festooned with seriously misleading employment and salary statistics).

What will the proportion eventually be between potential law students in these two categories? There's one way to find out.


  1. Thank you for posting that redacted letter. I have received emails from - and talked to - a few recent law grads who claim that they have entertained suicidal thoughts. When I mentioned this a while back, Bill Henderson of Indiana University did not seem to care much. Neither did law dean Robert Ackerman of Wayne State University, nor then-law dean Phillip Closius of the University of Baltimore.

    Some of the reasons given for their state of depression and constant fatigue? Because they owe a ton of non-dischargeable student debt; they cannot find legal employment. Furthermore, they are not prepared to practice law, since they were "trained" in legal theory by academics who typically practiced law for 1-2 years.

    There are some commonalities in such letters. These people inform me that their family and friends often tell them to work for free at a law firm or legal aid, in order "to gain experience." Do we expect plumbers or electricians - skilled tradespeople who require much less time and cost in education - to provide free services?!

    Such debt can cripple one's future, and place homeownership, marriage and raising kids out of reach for MANY. I realize that not everyone shares these goals, but they do remain life milestones for most. Plus, it would be nice to at least have the option of attaining these targets. Furthermore, crushing student loan debt WILL impact this nation - in many ways.

    With a graying population, do we really need a further drop in the birth rate?! This nation will become more dependent on foreign labor, in order to be able to help pay for the major liabilities of Medicare and SSI. If the economy does not make a strong, long-term recovery, you will see even more resentment and anger at undocumented immigrants and those who overstay their visas. How will that bode for our future?

  2. I agree with LawProfs advice wholeheartedly. Here's my 2 cents:

    At least with PA or NP credentials you're guaranteed a job - and a good one. NPs typically make north of $90k. That's not bad given the time needed to get the education and training for licensure. Compare that with law: I keep meeting recent grads who are making $40k.

    Plus you'll like your job. The practice of law is dreadful in most circumstances.

    Also I should mention that you really don't know yet where your standing is in law school. Grades haven't been posted yet, but law school grading and standing is often strange. But even if you manage to place within the top 15%, there are no guarantees whatsoever.

  3. LawProf,

    Great post. Thanks for all that you are doing. Keep Up the Fire!

    I would encourage the anonymous correspondent to seriously look into becoming a PA or Social Worker. Both are rewarding, achievable careers for 30-somethings that balance things like service, personal satisfaction and, in the case of PAs at least, economic stability. I would also suggest the poster consider service as an officer in the Army Reserve or Army National Guard (active duty OCS is now closed to 30 y/o civilians). The benefits are not inconsequential: defined benefit reserve pension at age 60 after 20 years of service; low-cost health insurance through TRICARE Reserve Select; and educational benefits (e.g. free tuition at Rutgers Law for members of the NJ Guard).


    Becoming a PA was the other graduate school choice (besides law school) I seriously considered when I left the Army. I was impressed with the PAs I worked with in the Medical Service Corps, but scared away by having to essentially do a year of post-bac for science pre-reqs (I was a history major). So, law school it was. Things worked out in the end - thanks to the GI Bill, a rewarding dual degree curriculum and the generosity of the State of New York who subsidized my great SUNY education. That said, I know I am an anomaly and that so many grads fare far worse.

    On another note, I wanted to draw your attention to an event happening in conjunction with this week's AALS conference. It appears that the newly accredited Drexel School of Law is sponsoring a lavish happy hour for law professors at a restaurant in Washington. Does this seem inappropriate or unseemly to you? To me, this is an egregious example of Drexel trying to "work the refs" in an effort to increase its US News standing. Drexel, by the way, has not been transparent about the outcomes of its students. It seems outrageous that the tuition dollars of students with bleak job prospects are being used to literally "wine and dine" law professors from other schools. Attendees of AALS should see this for what it is. I don't care if AALS attendees go to the happy hour, but they should forgo Drexel's free drinks from an ethical perspective.


  4. Nando makes a salient point with respect to household formation and children. My girlfriend and I are not getting married or having children. We are both edging 30, and won't have a positive net worth for over a decade (she also has high student debt relative to her income). And that is eating rice and beans most nights and living in tiny apartment in a bad neighborhood IF we keep earning at the rate we're earning now.

    Life in the service of our creditors.


    I hope for a "fight club" style de-evolution. It isn't like social security will be there when I'm old.

  5. There are public interest law firms that can pay well and help people sue big corporations to correct misdeeds.

  6. One aspect of the letter stood out for me. While the writer did some research into job prospects by looking at the school data(I'm not commenting on the outrageous practice of her school in continuing to mislead students by fake data), she seems to have done no research into the actual practice of law. Many students go to law school with no idea of what a lawyer actually does everyday. Nowhere in her letter does she say that she wanted to practice law. Even after a semester of law school, she doesn't mention that she really wants to be a lawyer.

    What she wanted was a better, possibly more fulfilling job with a secondary benefit of liking to learn.

    I strongly suggest that she drop out and go back to her old job. If she wants to learn she can go to school on weekends or at night and study a language or art history, or something like that.

  7. "Thank you for posting that redacted letter. I have received emails from - and talked to - a few recent law grads who claim that they have entertained suicidal thoughts."

    I also used to write a scam blog, but I had to stop. As Nando stated, people would literally write in and vent their frustrations, desperation, and even suicidal thoughts. People were willing to totally uproot themselves to move half way across the country for temporary scrap gigs. Some lady from Delaware actually wrote in wanting to know where she could park around the Newark document facility so that she could live out of her car for two weeks. It was like the Grapes of Wrath in reverse, but instead of the fruitful farms of California, everyone was in search of the dusty document review dungeons of NYC. And then when the economic crisis finally took hold, all hell broke loose. By the way, this was right around the time that the ABA officially endorsed and authorized the outsourcing of legal work to India. Rates quickly dried up and rates immediately plummeted. Recent grads were SOL and work for them was non-existent. When people are hungry and desperate, crazy and scary things begin to happen. I don't believe in sugar-coating things and I like to keep it real, but I not a professional therapist and I was afraid that one more negative posting, or the ever deteriorating rhetoric from the comments was finally going to push someone over the edge. This whole scam thing is not just a debate about employment numbers or teaching methodologies, it is very real. The damage and destruction it has caused to people's psyche and emotional/financial/physical well-being is very real.

  8. Totally off topic to the post itself.

    But another thing is who these people are. I occasionally go to a tier-one school (but have no intention of being a lawyer), and there are maybe only five people in the class who I would hire to do important legal work for me. And they tend to be the older, more mature students.

    I simply can't imagine ever hiring any of the others to do anything professional.

    Maybe that means there need to be interviews, etc.

  9. Suicide is not talked about enough. I have thought about it, but not very seriously. I don't know how serious the thoughts of others are. Have any law grads committed suicide over debt/career issues? Is the issue overblown or is it not acknowledged?

  10. This letter mirrors nearly identically my situation prior to going to law school - 30 year old 1L, married, good (but boring) job with a really good salary, outside interests in life, etc. Except I made the monumental mistake of sticking it out after my 1L year. I am at a Top 30 school, ranked in top third of class, and will be 33 when I graduate. The difference between myself and the author of this letter is that I am now trying to re-open doors into my prior career from 3 years ago, and explain to employers why I made the stupid mistake of going to law school, and carrying a six figure debt load now to boot. Quit while you are ahead. You can still get your financial life back on track after only a semester - it will be a much bigger struggle two and a half years from now.

  11. OT, but "As an older student, I can't read for 20 hours a day like my peers - I get tired!"

    You can't read for a total of 3 hours a day because you're 30? Seriously? I went to law school at about the same age and there's something major you're doing wrong if READING makes you that tired (not exercising? poor diet? need glasses?).

  12. Wow she messed up bad. I doubt that getting her old job back will be as easy as she thinks.

  13. Agree. Getting the old job back won't necessarily be so easy. That drinking well has been forever poisoned, even if you go back. They will say, "so and so thought that she was too good for us and thought that she could become a hoity-toity lawyer, we will show her!" You are better off just dropping out and finding a new job altogether.

  14. @9:05
    My son committed suicide over these issues. He left a long letter that made it very clear. It does need to be discussed openly because the kind of angst displayed here is widespread . I have been a lawyer for nearly 50 years. I got the brass ring but I cannot advise this training and career to anyone now. What I had cannot now be had.

  15. 9:51,

    I am sorry to hear of your loss. Your son's tragic death is a pain that is so personal and intense that I am sure only you fully comprehend it.

    Did your son go to law school? How long ago? Did you have any warning signs before he killed himself? How are you and your family doing in the wake of your loss?

    Thoughts and prayers with you.

  16. I am so sorry for your loss. Nobody should have to go through what you or your son went through. I only hope that stories like his will one day be the motivation for policy changes that will ensure nobody has to go through this kind of mess.

  17. 9:51, I echo the sorrow for your loss. You're right in that this certainly needs to be discussed. I'm very concerned about a close friend of mine who was laid off two years ago and has been unsuccessful in finding permanent legal work. It's hard not to internalize the job search failures, blaming a down economy is considered a "cop-out" by many of those lucky enough to be still employed. The "lawyer prestige" has a flip side when you put your own self-worth into a title and can't do what you've paid a lot of money and worked very hard to be able to do.

    To the OP: PA school times a million. While hardly scientific, I personally know several T40 law grads who are going back to school to enter healthcare. Companies may outsource doc review to India, people still have to see the doctor in person.

  18. This letter is an example of how law school is a mental illness factory. This woman was perfectly fine before law school, as are most 0Ls. Only 4% of 0Ls are depressed, which is the same ratio you find in the general population - but due to the disgusting environment of law school 40% of 3Ls are depressed and 20% are depressed even 2 years after graduation.

    IMHO this is the biggest problem with law schools.

  19. What little work has been done on suicide rates among lawyers has found an elevated risk of two to six times relative to the general population. The two major studies of the issue are now 22 and 15 years old respectively, however. Several other studies have found highly elevated incidences among lawyers of the major risk factors for suicide, i.e., depression, substance abuse, divorce, and unemployment.

  20. P.S. To be clear, this woman is certainly not as depressed as many law students. She's not suicidal or anythin. She still has friends and some joy, but note the level of worry, uncertainty and fear of the future in her tone, as compared to how she describes herself before law school. It's subtle but she is a totally different person now. Bottom line is that law school hurt her mental well being.

  21. The two major studies of the issue are now 22 and 15 years old respectively

    Prior to the ramp in law school debt.

    100K in non-dischargable debt has got to be like depression jet-fuel.

    Perversely, The non-dischargable part can make suicide a nearly reasonable path for those without the support structure to keep them out of the dark (thank God I have good parents and friends).

    "at some point the future switched from a promise to a threat"
    - chuck palahniuk.

  22. Good point about how the depression studies are obsolete because they were done during a period when the job market and debt loads were much better.

  23. Meanwhile, Horwitz decides to get in a dig at Paul and all of us whiners who find ourselves unemployed despite the awesome gift of our legal education:


    They're focusing primarily on threats to tenure. Apparently they're assuming that IBR data piling up on each of their schools isn't one.

    Have fun in the latter days of the federal student loan extraction industry, guys. Pretend a few years longer than you're engaged in public service.

  24. He was telling people to protest at AALS

  25. John at 11:45,

    The guys at PrawfsBlawg are cowards who lack the honsety for any debate over their ethics or the enterprise they engage in. Would you believe they deleted my comment about the rank immorality of law professors taking free drinks/food from a TTTT school like Drexel U. at the AALS Happy Hour? They also deleted Orin Kerr's illogical response. If you commit the "thought crime" of dissenting with clowns like Horwitz an Dan Markel, your comments are erased. They are one step away from going the "full Leiter." Dan Markel, is this the side of this struggle you want to be on? Leiter's side? In the long term, it's a losing bet.

    WTF is wrong with the LawPrawfs crew? For a bunch of legal 1%ers (Ivies and Circuit clerkships), they are awfully afraid to entertain other ideas.

    The end of IBR would give me the most massive case of schadenfreude as these legal 1%ers teaching at TTTs get flushed. IBR's unsustainable and bad public policy. The gravy train is coming to an end.

  26. Did you people even read Horwitz's article before trashing it? He's telling you that you can raise your scamblog issues at the AALS conference, if you have the backbone to do anything other than whine anonymously.

    So not only are you cowards who don't dare do anything in the real world for your "cause" but you're also either lazy idiots who don't read articles before linking them, or you have really poor reading comprehension.

    What a bunch of morons.

  27. "you can raise your scamblog issues at the AALS conference"

    Unlike many law professors, many of us actually have to work for a living.

  28. Then stop complaining about a lack of jerbs.

  29. "As for all those other things you can do with a law degree besides working for a firm or in public interest, those fall into two categories: essentially imaginary jobs vaguely pictured by clueless law professors when burbling nonsense to their anxiety-ridden students, and jobs you could have gotten without going to law school in the first place and incurring $200,000 in debt."

    Best statement on this blog.

    This guy/gal should drop out. Not tomorrow, today.

  30. What is AALS and when is it? I think it is too late to make plans to attend. Also, I think that we need to start pressuring out local bar associations to look into the whole issue of law school transparency. I'm in New York and we have some of the worst offenders right here in the city. I am going to look into getting the Association of the Bar of the City of New York involved. i will be there several times next week on other matters.

    Perhaps some letters to local bar associations will help as a way to get practicing attorneys to know about this problem. I spoke to one of my best friends who is several years older and an alumni interviewer for Chicago. She had no idea what Chicago charged for tuition and the COA and she didn't believe that anyone could graduate with more than 6 figures of debt, much less 200,000. She graduated in the late 70s and has no clue what is going on with the tuition prices of Chicago.

  31. Even if you want to protest you will have to jump through hoops. That's what life is all about, hoops, and jumping through them.

  32. As a 20 year practicing attorney, I can testify that there is very little genuine demand for legal services in comparison to supply of attorneys. The game changer has been word processing - which is basically what attorneys do for a living. Most work can be automated and done by computer. There is still some "make work" to be had from stupid consumers of legal services, namely municipalities and other government entities, but it is awfully hard to pull off 1,000 billable hours in a year. I get by through cutting expenses to the bone, and I just don't spend any money. Basically, I buy groceries and gas - that's my whole life. If this gal can get out of law school now, she should run, don't walk, away from it. It will get harder, not easier.

  33. To the guy who keeps posting day after day about higher suicide rates, yes people who have no career prospects and a lifetime of debt staring at them will have a higher rate of suicide/suicidal thoughts. This is obvious.

  34. The suicide rates aren't really that bad. Only a tiny and miniscule percentage of attorneys actually commit suicide.

    The rates of depression are the problem, and that problem is not merely about a lack of jobs and debt although those certainly contribute to it.

  35. Does anyone know a happy lawyer? Like a really happy, joyful, optimistic, funny, nice, loving life kind of person -- who is a lawyer or law student?

    Sadly I can't think of one. Wait there's one who was almost like that.

  36. How about Scalia? He seems generally happy.

  37. "How about Scalia? He seems generally happy."

    I'm a lawyer. That made me happy- for a moment!

    Thanks for the laugh.

  38. 1:25,

    I'll play. I live in DC (about a mile from where AALS will be held) and very seriously considered going - and paying the >$500 registration fee. Up until yesterday, I intended to pay on site, but a number of things have percolated at work that won't let me get away this week - even though it's right here in town. This is too bad, for I fear the rate of legal academia's collapse will be so steep and so fast, that it will be a changed world next time AALS comes back to town.

    Don't judge my motives or our collective reading comprehension. I was ready to drop over $500 bucks out of pocket for a "legal" conference that isn't even approved to offer state CLE credit. Can you believe it? This is the premier legal education conference, and they aren't even approved to offer state CLE credit? This tells you all you need to know about AALS and the law professoriate's nexus with the practicing bar.

  39. "Can you believe it? This is the premier legal education conference, and they aren't even approved to offer state CLE credit? This tells you all you need to know about AALS and the law professoriate's nexus with the practicing bar."


    The worlds of the practitioner and academic hardly overlap, if at all!

  40. Paul, there's a middle ground between the options you describe - all BigLaw until the loans are paid off, or all public interest and financial misery. Assuming a student whose grades and school rank are high enough to make both options available, it's possible to push yourself through 2-3 years of BigLaw (+ two summer associate gigs, each of which deliver 30-35K+), live frugally, pay down your student loans most of the way, then jump into the private sector.

    This was my experience. I began with six figures' worth of student loans, and I gritted my teeth through two summers and two years' worth of BigLaw. I hated every moment, except for the pro bono work that I did, but I left with only 35K in student loan debt remaining, since reduced further. I now pay under $300/month in loans, I work for the government, I save $1,000/month despite living in an expensive city, and I'm preparing to take advantage of the depressed real estate market and buy my first home. It will be modest, but I'm really excited. I'm starting to feel that it is possible to have the things that I want from a law career: meaningful work coupled with a modest but comfortable middle-class life and a measure of work-life balance. I would rather do public interest work than be rich, but I do have some material desires: I don't want to rent forever, and I want to enjoy some nice meals, vacations, etc.

    If the writer's first-semester grades are high enough that BigLaw and public sector options are likely to be open to him/her, s/he might consider whether such a hybrid path will work. It won't be easy. The BigLaw part won't be fun, except for some of the creature comforts it offers. But it can pave the way for a public service career - and it will very possibly be accessible to a student who is at a "top 15" school (I'm assuming that means ranked between 10-15).

    The reason why I think that this writer might not be suited to that approach is their repeated suggestions that they are perhaps not willing to work all that hard. I'm not sure what it means that a 30-year-old is not able to do as much reading as their younger classmates. Some of my highest achieving and hardest working classmates in law school were well into their 30s. S/he points out that s/he's "not as driven as others" and "want[s] to be able to live semi-comfortably" without working him or herself to death. While I think the writer can ultimately get a post-BigLaw job that won't require her to work 90-hours per week (I work 60-65 hours/week, with some spikes into the 70-80 hour range before major case filings)...it sounds like s/he's looking for a 40-45 hour/week job. My opinion is that it is very difficult to advance meaningfully in this profession while working those minimal hours - ESPECIALLY given how much competition there is for each job right now. So if that's the work schedule that the writer wants, I agree with your recommendation to consider dropping out. However, if they are willing to sacrifice some time and happiness in the short-term in exchange for a fulfilling long-term outcome - and if their grades seem likely to open doors for them - then the BigLaw to public sector track may be worth considering.

  41. 6:00 here again. I wanted to add that some "cause-based employers" - especially non-profits - can be very resistant to BigLaw alums waltzing in and applying after paying down their loans. This is because many attorneys who work for nonprofits have been committed to their cause from day one of law school, or at least day one after graduation. They've made the extreme financial sacrifices that Paul describes, and they can be leery of those who have not.

    However, I have found that federal and state government positions offer an excellent alternative for BigLaw escapees. They pay more than the nonprofits (I make $20,000-25,000 more/year than my nonprofit attorney friends.) They prefer to hire people with work experience and may see BigLaw training as desirable. And, while they appreciate demonstrated commitment to their mission, they don't usually demand the ideological-loyalty-from-before-birth that was demanded by some nonprofits with whom I spoke. It's fine with many government offices if you decided to try some private sector work first.

  42. 6:00 She may also consider buying Power Ball tickets weekly, and if she will just pick the winning numbers, she can pay off her law school loans and may even consider working for free if she wants to. She could then provide for her mother in retirement, sock enough away for her own retirement, and represent deserving clients with meaningful issues that cannot pay. Everyone will win. That is another option she should consider. Such a path may have worked for you in the past, the the DATA, THE NUMBERS, THE ODDS cited by LawProf and by others demonstrate that the path you just mapped out is unlikely. It would indeed be a possiblity, but it is not a likely option for her.

  43. With the advent of IBR, gov't and public interest gigs are going to be harder to land than biglaw.

  44. 6:41 - 6:00 here. Yes, getting a government job (which I did in mid-2011, not so far "in the past") is exactly like winning the lottery. That is a totally reasonable analogy. It has nothing to do with the writer's performance at her fairly high-ranked law school, diligence in public and private sector networking, or focus on developing useful marketable skills (via clinicals, volunteer work, and summer internships, for a start). Instead, it is exactly like plunking down a dollar for a printout with a random series of numbers. Thanks for making that excellent and well-thought-out point.

    Incidentally, you mention - "the DATA, THE NUMBERS, THE ODDS" - but the only relevant number that Paul cited was that 35 percent of the students at the writer's school take BigLaw jobs. We know that a reasonable number are opting out - the writer herself has encountered a dozen alums in public interest over the course of a single semester. So, possibly the top third to the top half of the class has a decent shot at BigLaw. That's why I said that she should consider what her first semester grades are. If they are in that range, BigLaw possibilities may exist for her. The rest of the "data" that Paul cited are invented (50 percent will remain in BigLaw after five years) and also irrelevant to my point - that you can, in fewer than five years, make a substantial enough dent in your loans to be able to transition from the private sector to the public sector.

    You'll also note that I said that even if the writer's grades make her eligible for my proposed route - the route I was outlining would not be easy, would at times be downright miserable, and would require extremely hard work that perhaps isn't to the writer's taste. And also, to be clear, I agree that it involves risk. I had some damn sleepless nights during my recent job search. It was the most stressful one I've ever undergone. I was surrounded by unemployed friends and was well-aware that "no job" is a potential outcome in this current market. I'm not trying to paint some sort of picture of unicorns and fairies - only to illustrate that there are in fact career paths that differ from "BigLaw misery only" or "public interest poverty only" - and some of us are on them.

  45. 6:00, I think you miss the gist of her post. If she can get biglaw or some other similarly coveted job she would, if I understand her correctly, stay. The question is how likely is that, and is the risk worth the financial and mental health toll of law school (both of which have already struck her). My thoughts on this are that she is not as likely as she thinks to get her old job back. Not in this economy. So she might as well finish this game of poker and see if she gets lucky.

  46. A Pittsburgh Law (a "TTT") graduate just won Iowa. Law school wasn't a "scam" for him now was it?

  47. 6:00 I don't intend to get in a tit for tat on this blogspot as I believe that the message here is too important to waste on posters arguing. However, the most recent data from her school is that 35% of the class entered biglaw. Unless she is in about the top 25% of students, there is a very good chance that she won't have a biglaw option in the present climate. There is also a chance that she won't have a biglaw option even if she is number 1 in the class. There is a good chance that the 35% rate from her school will be less in 2 years. There is also a very good chance that she will last only one, two, three or four years in biglaw if she gets in. As you admit, finding the sort of job that you obtained was difficult, and you had many sleepless nights after a few miserable years in biglaw. In my opinion, given those facts, the chance of pursuing your proposed path is low. I know I certainly wouldn't incur 150 or 200K in loans for those odds. That is not to say there are not ways that financial ruin can be avoided. However, the choices are somewhat limited, and the odds for each possibility are low. There is always the possibility that she could finish her law degree, assume the debt, and possibly return to the sort of job she had before law school. I know scores who have done that, and given her pre school salary, she would not be ruined financially, just needlessly strapped.

    I also iterate that you may indeed have some more sleepless nights in the future during another job search that you don't foresee right now which job search may or may not end successfully. The majority of lawyers that I know have had repeated bouts of such sleepless nights. That likely would not be the case if the number of lawyers resembled the demand for lawyers. As I see it, the entire lawyering business has ignored data, odds, numbers for decades as regards employment of lawyers and law school graduates. It seems as though the law schools have enticed entrants with employment statistics that are fiction and do not resemble reality for entry jobs while no one has apparently made any realistic connections between the entire number of JD holders, the total number of lawyers allegedly currently working as lawyers in any capacity, and the number of lawyers working in big law firms who purportedly have big salaries, much less the total number of equity partners who make the really big salaries. In short, there seems to have been a historical disconnect between the facts and popular expectations. Hopefully, with the availability of the internet as a communication medium and the current movement aimed at disseminating facts, there will be fewer victims in the future of this historical disconnect between the facts and popular expectations.

  48. Funny but the day before reading this post, I was, as a recent law grad who passed the bar on his/her first time and now works in a non-legal position for $12,000 a year, looking wistfully at the nursing courses offered at my community college and lamenting the fact that I had not chosen that profession. Ah - how different things would have been if I had.

    I would have now been in a career helping people, would have made more than $12,000 a year (I am sure) and would not have had this massive debt that I now have, all to get a $12,000 a year job.

    Lucky for the 1L that s/he can still make the choice. Let's hope s/he reads this post and the comments.

  49. Who thinks that being a lawyer means that you will have the same job for the rest of your life?

  50. 6:00 - you are so out of touch it is unbelievable. Nobody wants your life, bro. The fact that you don't take the time out to ask yourself why you are living the way you are shows how truly ignorant you are.

  51. I think the problem is that many people go into law school thinking they'll be able to have a job as a lawyer for the rest of their lives.

  52. It has never worked that way,ever. And it never will.

  53. Duff:

    I think the problem is that many people go into law school thinking they'll be able to have a job as a lawyer.


  54. I suppose we should pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and stop whining about not getting legal jobs after a 100,000 non-dischargable "investment"?

    You must be too old to realize the world has changed around you.

    Being a lawyer for long enough to service the debt associated with becoming a lawyer would be nice.

  55. This blog is an excellent resource for people who want to explain why doing anything constructive within the legal profession (let alone being happy within the legal profession), ever, is out of reach. For everyone.

    Malloy: I didn't say that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or stop whining about not getting legal jobs. And, FWIW, I'm in my late 20s. I just think that some current 1Ls at "top 15" schools have a shot at succeeding in this profession, and the writer may or may not be one of them. She's also early enough in her career that she has a good deal of control over whether she'll be one of them. Really, my comments had nothing to do with you or your apparent failure to get a legal job.

    And, 7:39, I honestly have no idea what you're talking about. I've asked myself why I'm living the way I am, and I have decided that this is how I want to live. If no one else wants to live the same way, that's fine by me.

    8:03, thanks for spelling out your thoughts further. I think her odds are better than you do if her 1L grades come back high, but I certainly respect your perspective as you've outlined it.

  56. "I honestly have no idea what you're talking about."

    Exactly, you're ignorant so please don't pretend you have intelligence advice to give. The fact that you are you living your life the way you are to the unnecessary economic benefit of law profs and admins who didn't even prepare you to be a lawyer....well, just shut up. Nobody but morons like you think its some sort of badge of honor to eke out a financial existence so they can be a moral crusader. You're fucking dumb. Seriously.

  57. Okay, I will refrain from giving "intelligence advice" (whatever that might be). You certainly are entitled to proclaim your opinion on the Internet that all public interest attorneys who choose to forgo a private sector salary to do (what they find to be) meaningful work are "morons" and "fucking dumb." Good day to you.

  58. Good one, bro. I mistyped a freaking word...proves your idiotic narrow views are correct.

    And then the logical fallacy you follow up with shows, again, how stupid you are. Just shut t he fuck up and go live in your ignorant world where you pay the salaries of even dumber law roofs and admins.

  59. And here's to you, Mr. Robinson,
    Satan loves you more than you will know.
    God bless you, please Mr. Robinson.
    Satan holds a place for those who prey,
    Hey, hey, hey

    We'd like to know a little bit about you for our (class-action) files
    We'd like to help you learn to help yourself.
    Look around you all you see are starving eyes,
    Stroll around the Cooley grounds until you feel at home.

    And here's to you, Mr. Robinson,
    Joan King loves you more than you will know.
    God bless you, please, Mr. Robinson.
    Hell holds a special place for those who prey,
    Hey, hey, hey

    Hide (the career stats) in the hiding place where no one ever goes.
    Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes.
    It's a little secret just the Robinsons' affair.
    Most of all you've got to hide it from the kids.

    Koo-koo-ka-choo, Mr. Robinson,
    Joan King loves you more than you will know.
    God bless you, please, Mr. Robinson.
    Hell holds a special place for those who prey,
    Hey, hey, hey

    Unemployed and sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
    Going to plan my Siberia escape.
    Laugh about it, shout about it
    When you've got to choose
    Every way you look at this you lose.

    Where have you gone, Joan King
    Our nation's Senators turns it's lonely eyes to you.
    What's that you say, Mr. Robinson.
    Charlatan Joan has left and gone away,
    Hey hey hey.


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