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As attorneys, we may be the first people that young people turn to when considering whether to attend law school. What to say in such a situation?

Helping others make the right decision about law school

As attorneys, we may be the first people that young people turn to when considering whether to attend law school. What to say in such a situation?

About Sybil Dunlop


  1. You can’t be serious? This movement is afoot to combat the blatantly misleading employment statistics that schools published for decades. If people want to go to law school knowing the true statistics, that is fine. But to encourage people based on your particular anecdote is foolish.

    If you had not been able to secure employment and repay your loans, or if you lose your job and can’t find another- as has happened to many biglaw associates after the recession- I don’t think you would be promoting law as a career.

    The reality is that half of all law grads this year will never practice. The reality is that even a so-called top school like Virginia hired 20% of last year’s class just so they could boost their rate of people employed 9 months after graduation. Until reforms were forced on the schools this year, that number would not have been disclosed. Potential students would not have known the employment statistics were being manipulated by the schools.

    People need accurate and truthful information about jobs, or the lack of jobs, and the insane cost of law school. If people willingly choose to go to law school, understanding it is a huge gamble and that even if they win biglaw they will likely be out in 5 years, that is their own choice.

    Note I haven’t even mentioned the predatory scholarship schemes that are designed to bring in 1Ls at a known rate of failure . The schools set stipulations on scholarships knowing full well a large percentage of the class won’t keep them.

    There is a great deal more substance to this story than just a movement trying to keep people from going to law school.

    But here is a final thought: law school will always be there. Applicants are going to continue to drop in numbers. If someone really wants to be a lawyer, tell them to wait a few years, get experience and see what other careers are out there. There is no urgency to attend law school for everyone other than the few whose military orders might require it.

  2. Susan – thanks for your comments.

    I agree with everything you say–students should enter law school for the right reasons and with full information about loans and employment prospects. I wrote the piece, not to dispute these facts, but because I worry about any individual being pressured to make a career decision based solely on the economics of that career–whether that career is artist, poet, musician, or attorney. With full information, I hope to encourage people to make career decisions that will maximize their potential and future happiness.

  3. If I wanted to do what I love without getting paid for it, I’d be playing video games. It wouldn’t have cost me $100k in non-dischargable debt either.

  4. It’s more than just knowing what makes you happy and going for it. Most young people who enter law school have high skills and lots of talent. The world needs their full potential to be maximized and utilized. America needs their skills, as our unemployment and inequality rates can attest. Be honest, what could you do with your skill set if you didn’t have that $160,000 worth of debt? The fact is you do and because you do you need to pay it back in a responsible manner, which means not just fewer vacations and nicer meals for you, but less opportunity to 1) start companies that could be brilliant and employ thousands, 2) run for political office, 3) do pro bono work or low cost legal work outside of the handful of overcrowded, overworked public service firms in the area. And you’re not alone. The majority of young lawyers are serving jobs that will pay the bills back in a responsible manner rather than being fully engaged as long-term servants of this country and our world. Why is it acceptable that a big chunk of our young people go into a career where they will not be fully contributing to society the way they could? How did that happen?

    The problem is a lot of do-gooders, a lot of middle class, and a lot of lower class kids with great brains but not perfect college scores graduate with degrees they can’t use in any meaningful ways. Their parents, grandparents, and friends see on TV that lawyers “make a lot of money” and are “good at arguing” or “can make a difference” so they push the youngsters towards law based on their Hollywood perceptions in Suits or whatever TV show is trending at any given time. Hollywood, in turn, loves to write a lot about lawyers because, well, nearly every Hollywood writer was pushed by his or her grandparents to go into law rather than pursue that MFA and work for the SAG. They create a fantasy of a lawyer’s life because they contemplated law themselves.

    On top of this cultural push, the law schools themselves pump out false information based on weighted metrics that don’t mean anything. Young would-be lawyers get bunk information from schools in a manner that is nearly criminal about the salaries they can expect and the employment opportunities they will have. The “I didn’t go to the big firms on the coasts” line of thinking is great, but you have to be more honest with the economic reality: The big firms are consolidating due to globalization and competition. Doc review can be outsourced to India. The big-pay partner-track position is rarely an option unless you are in the top 10% of the elite 4 schools in the country. The “public service” sector is great, but its also over-crowded due to all the young attorneys who realize big law won’t happen needing a back-up plan they can take to grandma. Your public defender friend in Vermont has a stressful, lower-paying job after graduating from one of the best law schools in the country. Public defenders make little more than high school social studies teachers. Your middle of the road Iowa, Minnesota, or Wisconsin graduate runs a very good chance of getting stuck in an awful practice with modest to crappy pay. Nearly all could have likely made more money in another career with less debt.

    My advice is simple: Work in a law office, with lawyers, or in a legal-related profession for two years before law school. If you decide then that you want to go, hats off to you. Chances are, if your interest is in policy, you’ll decide instead to do a masters in public policy. If your interest is business, you’ll give more weight to an MBA. If your interest is making a difference, you’ll do something far more impactful than being just another cog in a dysfunctional, immoral, and distasteful legal world.

    A cultural change needs to occur: a JD is not a broad-based, useful degree. You learn to do basically two things: write appellate briefs and read cases. If you don’t want to do that for modest pay or can’t afford to, do something else.

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