Should you go to law school?
Posted on February 2nd, 2012
Of course, I can’t tell you if you should go or not. But a number of the MILPs have been writing about their experiences in law school and the law and whether or not they would recommend doing it, knowing what they do now.
For my part, I’d say no.
What I really wanted was a PhD in the history of science; I’d majored in history and minored in chemistry and had taken history of science classes as an undergrad and loved them. When I was 28 (after my first career and the dot-com collapse) and weighing my options, I decided against the PhD and in favor of law school because I wanted a profession where I had a prayer of employment afterwards. (Don’t laugh.) Also, I wanted a job where I could research and write for a living.
I don’t remember my LSAT score. I applied to only one law school, the one in my city; since I got in, it was whatever it needed to be. (I grew up being frequently uprooted because of my father’s graduate studies; I wasn’t willing to move us for law school.)
The school didn’t offer me a dime in scholarship money. My parents pledged financial assistance. I didn’t accept any help from them as an undergrad, but I was willing to toss away my pride for law school.
So I sucked it up. Law school is not a fun three years; it’s stressful, ridiculous (like being in high school all over again), and exhausting. I did my best to enjoy myself and focused on topics that interested me. My most important paper — we don’t have real theses in law school — proposed using the marque and reprisal clause to counter internet piracy: it was so fun. All in all, I received a good education, made wonderful friends, and had some terrific professors. (I also had some horrid adjunct professors, gained weight, and had my first anxiety attack.)
My parents did not provide any financial assistance, as it turned out.
When it was time for OCI, I looked at how much work it would be to interview, and I looked into how many students had actually gotten clerkships the previous year.
Seven. Seven students. Granted, this is a small market and the “big” firms aren’t very big, but even they were hiring from top tier schools. My school is somewhere in the top 100, but usually in the 50-100 range.
Anyway, I skipped OCI.
Everyone pretty much knows now that the schools lie about employment statistics. I graduated before the market really tanked, and the employment opportunities here weren’t great then.
But I wasn’t looking for firm jobs. When I graduated, I hung up a shingle. Here is the thing about law school: it is the least important time of your lawyer life, and very soon after you graduate, you discover you know nothing about how to practice. Potential clients are interested in whether you know how to handle a certain type of case (and how many of them you have tried) and how often you have been in front of Judge X, not if you were on law review.
So if you want to learn how to practice law in a hurry, hang up a shingle. The learning curve is insanely steep and you will deal with people you’d normally cross the street to avoid, but that’s how you learn. It’s stressful, you spend a crazy amount of time on things like marketing and letterhead and paying bills and sending invoices, but there is no better teacher than just going out there and doing it.
And I’d done contract work (research and motion practice, not document review) starting in law school, and I continued to do it to supplement my solo practice. I charged above market rates (putting modesty aside, I am a very good legal writer) and it was the part of practice that I really loved, since remember, I wanted to research and write for a living. For me, it was the best money I made as a lawyer. I worked semi-regularly for about six lawyers (all of them solos), and one of them ultimately became my ex-boss.
From that point, I practiced specialized tort law in state and federal court. It was hard work, emotionally draining, and I worked for a person who was, shall we say, challenging personality-wise. But the nature of our work was such that I’d get to argue motions against a name partner in a big insurance defense firm. And I would win. That is an awesome feeling.
But obviously it wasn’t sunshine and roses. I needed a break desperately, and I’d intended to take a six month sabbatical from law practice when I quit. Pea was miserable at daycare, and I’d never stayed home with her exclusively; I’d always worked. (I signed a request for a trial reset 20 minutes after she was born. No joke.) Then M was offered a job on the east coast that was on again/off again/on again, then fell through, and during the time it was in flux (it lasted months), my six months came and went.
I know how to practice law. I know how to research and write. I can argue against summary judgment like nobody’s business. I’ve argued in the court of appeals and won. And yet, as I’ve kept my eye out for jobs, there’s very little out there. It is frustrating to have skills and experience and not have anything to show for it. It is frustrating to be making piddly payments on my student loans and wonder if I will die with them hanging over my head. (I’m resigned to it.) It’s demoralizing to have this skill set and to not have an income.
Instead, I do the dishes and the laundry and I clean and I throw flashcards down the stairwell. And…I check the job listings. Sometimes I hit refresh in my browser, but it doesn’t actually make more listings appear.
Would I go to law school in 2012? No. My school, the one who was charging insane tuition when I started ten years ago, now charges almost a third again as much. The job market is much worse. People still hate paying lawyers. Unless you really, truly love the law and have a clear vision of what you want to do as a lawyer, put away the FAFSA and think about what it is you really, truly love doing.