Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Thanksgiving Suggestion

Towards the end of our book, Con Law, Thane Messinger and I detail what we describe as "quitting points": moments during law school when it is very clear that your chances of successfully landing a worthwhile legal job following graduation are dramatically and often-irreparably reduced, and when you should take a step back and reconsider whether you should remain in law school.  For example, if your grades are merely average at the end of your first year, it’s probably time to quit; you are highly unlikely to be selected for any on-campus interviews, and your resume is highly unlikely to stand out as that of a superstar future lawyer from that point forward.  Time to cut your losses and leave, saving yourself two years of your life along with a six figure loan balance that you would accrue during your remaining time in law school.

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, I’d like to describe an earlier quitting point.  If you’re a 1L, you’ve now been in law school for a couple of months.  You’ve seen it from the inside, and you have a pretty good feel for what law school is like and how well you stack up against you classmates.  You now know should have a reasonable idea of whether this is what you want to do for the rest of your life.  So take the time over Thanksgiving to relax and look around the dinner table.  Take a look at the lives of those who are near and dear to you, what they’ve done over the years.  Look at the friends at home you might be reconnecting with.  Those lives that last year, you thought you could do better than.  Your aunt who has taught high school for two decades?  She’s pretty happy, right?  Your father, who has an average job in an average company, something he works hard at, he’s stressed sometimes, but generally manages to keep the household afloat.  Your cousin, struggling from the bottom up, trying to forge a life for herself in New York City; how is she getting on?  The brother you always thought was an idiot for dropping out of undergrad and going off to be a fitness instructor, but who now has a new girlfriend and is about to move to California.  Your buddy from college who started working for the local government and has risen through the ranks quicker than he expected.  How does all of that stack up against law school now that you’ve had a taste of 1L?

Sit back and take stock of where you are.  And start to think about whether this is where you want to be.

Chances are, those around you will be more secure than you previously thought, living happier lives, more fulfilling lives, have more freedom (financial and otherwise), and generally don’t miss the fact that they don’t have advanced degrees or the “prestige” of being a licensed professional.  Sure, they may ooh and ahh over the future lawyer at the table, but watch at how quickly their interest fades and the lawyer jokes begin.  And you might – just might – wonder how you made the mistake of attending law school in the first place.

If any of this rings true, then you should start to plan your exit.  By all means stay until the end of the semester, see how exams go if you want, enjoy your last few weeks of higher education because you’ve already paid for it, but start to plan around not returning after Christmas.  Think of how much money you’ll save by not going back.  Your mistake has cost you just one half of one year of tuition and fees – a hefty sum, undoubtedly, but at least it’s not six times that amount, which it will be if you stay and finish up your degree.  You’ve given it a try, you decided you disliked it after a good effort, and people respect that.  More importantly, this does not make you a quitter; it makes you an independent adult who is not afraid to admit when things didn't turn out as expected, and who has the strength of character to make changes when changes are needed.  Don’t leave it too long and finish 1L, because then you run the risk of being pressured into returning to finish up the entire degree, or falling foul of the sunk costs argument which doesn't even apply to law schools in the first place.  It’s okay to make mistakes.  It’s okay to change your mind.  And it’s better to realize that you’re on the wrong path sooner rather than later.

And next Thanksgiving, any awkward conversation about you and law school will last just a couple of sentences.  You tried it, you hated it, you moved on, just like that new hairstyle or jacket that didn't quite fit your style.  And everyone else will move on too.  Perhaps you’ll even laugh about it, your brief foray into the sleazy world of lawyering.  (More than likely, those around you will offhandedly mention how they didn't think you'd make a good lawyer anyway, or that they knew you were making a bad choice but they didn't want to spoil your dreams.)  And perhaps you’ll spare a thought for those students who didn’t have the yams to quit when they realized they didn’t like studying law; instead of enjoying their Thanksgiving next year like you will be, an exciting chapter of your life just having opened up, they’ll be excusing themselves from the table early to sneak off and read cases about corporations and tax and evidence.  You’ll be watching football and drinking a beer, toasting the fact that you dodged a bullet.

I’m absolutely serious about this.  During Thanksgiving, you should be examining whether you made the right choice.  Was law school what you thought it would be?  Brilliant minds debating the law, or dreary professor phoning in a decade-old lecture about the development of the law of personal jurisdiction?  Thrilling mental journey, or mindnumbing two hour slog through hundreds of pages of boring opinions to figure out a point of law that you realize could be explained in two minutes by a lawyer rather than a professor?  Because it doesn’t really get much better or easier than it is during 1L (students just learn the rules of the game and get lazier in subsequent years).  Law school is semester after semester after semester of the same thing.

Where do you want to be next Thanksgiving?  Ignoring lawyer jokes, or making them?

Charles Cooper is the author, along with Thane Messinger, of “Con Law: Avoiding...or Beating...the Scam of the Century (The Real Student's Guide to Law School and the Legal Profession)”, in addition to being the moderator at Nontradlaw.net and the author of “Later in Life Lawyers”.  He can be contacted at charlescooperauthor@gmail.com.

35 comments:

  1. "If you’re a 1L, you’ve now been in law school for a couple of months. .... You now know should have a reasonable idea of whether this is what you want to do for the rest of your life. "

    I think more people should drop out of law school for a whole host of reasons. but the above statement is a bit ridiculous. a few months in a large classroom setting is not what the practice of law is about. Its not even what 2l or 3l is about as most classes will be smaller and taught differently.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But it is what law school is about.

      The practice of law is far worse than law school. I would bet that nine times out of ten, if someone hates law school they will hate practicing law. (And I would bet that one time out if ten, if someone loves law school they will live practicing law.)

      Delete
    2. 6.13, you are clearly an idiot. Brian, Keith or Nancy?

      Delete
    3. You stay in law school then, 6:13, like a good little boy. Let us know how it works out.

      Delete
  2. Ah, I see out new regular commenter "Mr. Obtuse" is back already.

    The post was clearly written to address those who already know that law is not for them, not those who are still on the fence. It's never too early to quit once you know inside that it's not for you, and after seeing the douchebags in your class who will be your future colleagues I think that it's possible to determine that law is a waste of time in just a few weeks. Plus if the observations of classroom study (useless profs etc.) are as accurate in real life as they are on this site, it follows that our predictions about your miserable career will also be accurate. It is never too early to quit law school. I would encourage a two week rule - if you have been in law school for two weeks and hate it, quit!

    Don't fall into the EXPENSIVE TRAP of thinking you have to go through three years of a JD and then actually work as a lawyer to "know" you don't like it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 6:27, I believe that should be Mrs. Obtuse. Nancy Leong is a female.

      Delete
    2. Or Mr. Infinity.

      Delete
  3. Another excellent piece of advice.

    I remember slaving away all thanksgiving reading hundreds and hundreds of pages that our incompetent criminal law professor set. I wish someone had told me that it was ok to quit back then.

    1Ls, listen up!

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Sit back and take stock of where you are. And start to think about whether this is where you want to be."

    Great and simple advice. Looking back, I remember having Christmas dinner at a friend's house. Her husband was an architect and happy. Her brother was a lawyer and miserable as hell. He had been divorced twice, and was complaining about all of the alimony he paid out each month.

    During my first year of law school, I recall that Thanksgiving was a loathsome experience. If you are considering going to law school, take it from those who have been there. Have you noticed that this advice does not come from a relative few JDs and lawyers?!?! It seems that MOST practicing attorneys and recent grads have the same view, i.e. law school blows, the debt is too damn high, the job market is GLUTTED, and law practice sucks goat balls.

    If you step back from your ego for a second, perhaps you can let that penetrate your gray matter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nando is on the money. Forget what your mom or dad or friends or anyone who has not been to law school says because they do not know what they are talking about. When you tell your mom that you're thinking of quitting and she tries to convince you to stay, she does big know what she is talking about.

      The advice you need is right here, and at ITLSS, and at Third Tier Reality. We have been through it and we know how much it blows.

      This isn't like being gay. It doesn't get better once you grow up. Law gets worse! If you don't like it now, when it's easy and there's no clients and no partners breathing down your neck and yelling at you and there's no bills to pay and no opposing counsel trying to screw you over, you sure as hell won't like it when all those things are a reality.

      Law does not get better.

      Delete
    2. Yep. I still remember that first Thanksgiving and how terrible it was. Civ Pro, Crim Law, Contracts finals on the way, so much claptrap to read and sift through....sigh.

      I mistakenly thought that "well, 1L sucks, and you just have to slog through it to get to the "better" 2L and 3L years." Boy, was I wrong.


      Listen up, everybody. I wish I had had this advice.

      Delete
  5. And look at the reasonably successful and satisfied lawyer at the Thanksgiving table. That will not be you. Notice that he or she is older than you, by a decade at least. When he or she graduated, there was no permanent public sector austerity, no offshoring, no online legal solutions, and the middle class still had disposable income. He or she paid much less for that JD than you will, with stronger job prospects.

    What about the psychic rewards of being a trusted counselor to someone in trouble, the traditional lawyer's role? On its way out. Consider Richard Susskind's book Tomorrow's Lawyers. Susskind forsees that "handcrafted" legal services will be replaced by IT-based mass customization techniques (he uses words like ""systematized," "packaged," and "delawyered"). So, even if there is a well-compensated legal career in your future, which is increasingly unlikely, your career will be more like Dilbert than LA Law.



    ReplyDelete
  6. Excellent advice.

    I would add - if at the end of the 1st semester you are not in the top 10% of your class you probably ought to drop out even if you don't hate it.

    Because if you're not in the top 10%, the odds of finding a job in law when you graduate that will enable you to pay off your enormous loans are fairly close to ZERO.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ^^ This ^^

      Don't get trapped in an unbeatable game of catch up because you will not win. Law school is like a casino. For every winner there are ten losers, and the house always wins. Don't throw good money after bad. If you lose in your first semester of 1L, never never never never never go back to the student liam ATM and double down. Learn to walk away. That's the only way to win.

      Delete
    2. You can never catch up - it's both mathematically and practically impossible.

      95% of the people in the top 10% at the end of the 1st semester stay there all 3 years. And that means only about 1% of the remaining 90% get into the top 10% later on. And that 1% were all in the top 11-14% at the end of the 1st semester.

      They DON'T TELL prospective law students this but they should:

      CLASS RANK is EVERYTHING.

      In today's hyper-saturated market, at today's absurd prices and with loans being non-dischargable, if you're not in the top 10% at the end of your 1st semester (or your dad's not a successful lawyer) you should drop out. PERIOD

      Delete
    3. Class rank is not everything. Money and status trump class rank at least six days a week.

      Delete
    4. "Class rank is not everything. Money and status trump class rank at least six days a week."

      And how are money and status correlated with class rank? My guess is very strongly, at all but the highest law schools.

      Delete
  7. No shame in walking away from a bad investment. And law school is a bad investment for all but a few. Think about the above advice 1Ls. No shame at all. We have been there and seen the truth of law school and practice. Our only gain is you being saved from crushing debt and freedom from a profession that is killing its members and not serving the public like it should.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This should be included in every law school's application package:

    http://abovethelaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Can-I-get-a-fucking-job-already.png

    How do people like that vile Nancy Leong sleep at night? I really mean that.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "(More than likely, those around you will offhandedly mention how they didn't think you'd make a good lawyer anyway, or that they knew you were making a bad choice but they didn't want to spoil your dreams.)"

    This is more true than you realize. I'm a "quitter," and everyone came out of the woodwork saying that they were pretty disappointed that I wanted to be a lawyer. But they didn't want to say anything because they thought it was my "dream."

    HA!

    My dream was to get a middle class job helpin' reglar folk navigate our legal system. Guess what I found out. You can help reglar folk without a law degree. Probably more than you can with one I would hazard.

    Some timely examples: free tax prep assistance through VITA, local conservation society, soliciting coats for kids, volunteer childcare through church or comm. center for working parents.

    Funny how relatively few low to low-middle income earners need help interpreting corporate tax law.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is a real problem, culturally. No one wants to be a "Debbie Downer" when it comes to someone's aspirations, but there is a way to do this without ruining the relationship with the person you want to warn.

      In my own case, I spoke with actual practicing attorneys whom I knew and I wanted them to tell me the down side when I was considering law school. It didn't happen. While it is my own fault, at some level, for making the decisions I did, I wish to God* that people who knew better, and knew me, had asked me the hard questions in a loving way when I asked. It's really disappointing to look back at that, now, knowing what I know.

      How are you supposed to do your "research", when the stats are doctored, the rankings are flawed, and actual practictioners whom you know won't level with you? At least that is changing, now.

      Delete
    2. Too bad they couldn't be honest with you. Whenever a 0L asks me about law school I politely but firmly tell them the truth. If they are smart enough to graduate in the top 10% at a highly ranked school then they would be better off doing something else--MBA, STEM, medical school. If they aren't that smart, and they don't come from a connected/wealthy family (they wouldn't be asking me for advice if they did), I do whatever I can to talk them out of it.

      After practicing law for 11 years I've had to think about what my own "quitting point" would be now. I really do (usually) enjoy my work and I make enough to live reasonably comfortably. But I know that could change and sometimes wonder what could cause me to change careers. In my case I think it would be losing my job and being unable to find another decent-paying job as an attorney within say six months. If it took longer than that, then it would be time to move on.

      And I would feel like kicking in the groin anyone who suggested that I work for free. I've never seen a profession so obsessed with working for nothing. Aside from pro bono/community service work, any lawyer who gives their time away to an employer for nothing must not think much of themselves.

      Delete
    3. @10:18:

      Amen to that. Everyday I work in the courtroom and I see tons of non-lawyers helping others. Funny thing is, they get paid a decent salary ($40,000-$60,000) while I work for free for the privilege of learning legal skills. And to think, I could have done all this without going to law school and while actually getting paid!

      Delete
  10. Above the Law had a couple of good links, one to another douch bag, that thinks now might be the time to go to law school.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancalo/2013/11/24/why-now-is-a-good-time-to-apply-to-law-school/

    http://www.salon.com/2013/11/24/the_real_reason_law_schools_are_raking_in_cash/

    ReplyDelete
  11. What I always tell people is that if you're at HYS, you can stay no matter what your class rank (for the most part, especially if you know people, or have a scholarship)...

    And you're generally OK at a T14 school, especially with a substantial scholarship as long as you are in the top half of the class...

    However, if you do NOT have a SUBSTANTIAL SCHOLARSHIP and after 1L year you fall BELOW:

    1. top THIRD (33%) at a T20/T30 school,

    2. top 25% at a T30/T40 school,

    2. top 15-20% at a T50-T100,

    3. top 5-10% at ANY OTHER SCHOOL...

    **DROP OUT** No questions asked... DROP OUT... PLEASE... I BEG YOU...

    If you don't you will be swimming in debt without a job that pays enough to make your LOAN PAYMENTS!!!!!

    It's not necessarily that you won't be able to get a job that's satisfying, because some people enjoy legal work, but the fact is that you **WON'T GET PAID ENOUGH TO PAY BACK SUBSTANTIAL DEBT YOU INCURRED DURING LAW SCHOOL!!!!**

    ReplyDelete
  12. The selfish side of me says all this advice is unfair. Where were all of you guys when I was still a 1L? Now I am massively in debt from law school, the bar exam, and unpaid internships, still haven't found paid legal work three and a half years after graduating from law school, and have no hope of ever getting out of debt.

    Why didn't you tell me all this stuff beforehand?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When did you graduate from LS?

      Delete
    2. unpaid legal internships? What kind of garbage would expect a lawyer to work for nothing . . other than our government?

      Delete
    3. Nothing you can do dudester. But revenge is rather therapeutic. Warn others, but work towards making sure law profs are stripped of their salaries and their prestige and are forced to eat the shit sandwich they forced upon you.

      Delete
    4. Sorry, I see you got out in 2010. Scamblogging was getting started then but the LS scam indeed wasnt yet in the popular awareness.

      Delete
  13. In a nutshell, one half of one year tuition with no degree to show is maybe 50K of debt? So the monthly payments are kind of like a mortgage in that for every 100K borrowed the payments are 600 bucks a month or so.

    So 50K would be 300 bucks a month or so in payments. Doable and not life destroying.

    It is when the debt is 200K or more and when the monthly payments are out of reach and compel the debtor into IBR or landing a coveted Public Service job with forgiveness after 10 years. What a system.

    Unless the debtor comes out of school with an outstanding salary which nowadays seems unlikely for the majority.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Excellent advice. I dropped out after 1L from a T1 law school in the early 90's (my grades were about 50th percentile overall). I've always been somewhat bummed about the decision to leave, as I 1) had a full scholarship and 2) don't like to think of myself as someone who starts things and doesn't finish them. But I also realize that it couldn't have been any other way. I couldn't see myself making a living as a lawyer, and decided I really just wanted to be a kibitzer and commentator, and I didn't really need a law degree for that.

    Thankfully, at the time, the IT world was booming and I was able to find employment without too much trouble.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Nah. Wait until March, when you lose your merit scholarship. Then copy the "You've lost your aid" letter and include it with your resume when you start applying for real-world jobs...

    ReplyDelete
  16. This is excellent advice. However, at my toilet our first semester 1L grades didn't come in until very close to the date in the second semester that you could drop out and still get a full tuition refund for spring 1L classes. I may be cynical, but is it possible that the scammers delay putting out the grades to give people less time to decide?

    And a quick anecdote. At my toilet there was a total gunner the fall of my 1l year. After we got our fall 1l grades a lot of us were surprised-negatively. He has the guts to do something about it and quit. I occasionally wonder what happened to him. With that excellent judgment, he's probably doing well where ever he is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that is the reason grades come out so late.

      Hence the advice to start thinking about your choice now.

      Although grades should not really come into it. What matters is "Do I like doing this?"

      If not, quit! It only gets worse.

      Delete