Browsing through some recent law school news articles, I came across this unusual item: an advice column in the Times Union (Albany). Have a read and see what you think.
DEAR JEANNE & LEONARD: A good friend's daughter is applying to law school. I've known "Jess" most of her life, and I'm familiar enough with her academic record to know that she's not going to get into a top-tier school. While of course there's no disgrace in this, the unfortunate truth is that these days, graduates of the kind of law school Jess can hope to attend generally have difficulty finding jobs that pay enough to justify the mountain of debt they've accumulated while in law school. (The market for the services of graduates of second- and third-tier institutions has, in recent years, been drying up. I know because I'm an attorney, and I suspect that Jess and her parents are unaware of the situation.) While I don't want to discourage Jess, I'd hate to see her end up owing $150,000 or more on a student loan that, at the salary she's likely to be offered when she graduates, could take 15 to 20 years to repay. Should I speak up, or not?
— Hesitant, San Francisco Bay Area
DEAR HESITANT: Perhaps Jess' parents plan to help with the tuition. Not that borrowing less makes law school a better investment on a dollars-and-cents basis. But it may be worth it to them to see their daughter receive a professional degree, especially if it's in a field that particularly interests her.
In any event, what you should do is wait to see if anyone in Jess' family asks you about law school or the practice of law. If someone does, you can encourage him or her to investigate the job offers that graduates of the schools to which Jess is applying are receiving -- you can and should, in other words, point them toward reality. But it's not up to you to tell them you think that law school is a bad investment for Jess.
Time for a little advice from agony uncle Charles:
DEAR JEANNE & LEONARD: Are you kidding me? You’re seriously recommending that a young college grad spend $150,000 on a worthless JD because her parents might want “to see their daughter receive a professional degree”? Do you not understand what terrible advice that is? Do you really think that this is all about the parents and how proud they will be when boasting that their daughter has gone to law school? The poor girl is not only going to spend a fortune on this foolish endeavor, but also she’s about to waste three of the most important years of her life, or probably at least ten, maybe twenty, if she’s borrowing money for law school. She's about to ruin her life, and you’re encouraging this because it’ll make the parents proud? Trust me, a law degree is nothing to be proud of these days. A JD from Harvard? Yeah, okay, that’s impressive, but this young lady isn’t going anywhere near schools of that caliber. She’s going to an average school at best.
You mention that it might also be worth the investment – and I use that word very loosely indeed – if law is “a field that particularly interests her.” Look, the work that lawyers do day in, day out, is utterly tedious. Mindnumbing in most cases. It’s busywork, paper-pushing, form-filling. Nobody finds that interesting. Literally nobody. There are some people who tolerate it, but few lawyers love their work. Those that do, they graduated from top law schools and get the handful of real-life interesting law jobs available, or they are extremely lucky, well-connected exceptions from lower-ranked schools. From an average law school, this girl will end up either unemployed, performing document review, slumming it in a moribund small firm, or hacking away in some insurance defense mill, none of which is stable, well-paid, or intellectually-satisfying. The interesting stuff, like arguing appeals, working as an AUSA, or leading complex international transactions? Not a chance.
From a financial perspective, it’s just about the worst way one can spend $150,000. Her salary post-JD will likely be no more than it was pre-JD. Advancement opportunities (and salary raises) will be non-existent, whereas in many other careers there is at least the chance that once dues are paid, there’s some advancement and financial reward. She will struggle to pay her student loans. The big firms that pay the big bucks won’t touch her.
You know what, associating the word “investment” with law school just needs to stop.
Your advice is pretty much this: If you see someone making the stupidest decision of their life, just shut up about it until you’re asked, because it’s far better to let someone ruin their future than speak up and offer your expertise. Does this apply to other situations too? If I were to see a toddler playing with a kitchen knife, I guess I shouldn’t tell the parents; just let the kid sever an artery? Teenager drinks a six-pack and decides to drive to the gas station for some chips? Guess I should just butt out of that one too – no, not just butt out, but give him $20 and ask him for a packet of gum while he’s there?
Hesitant in San Francisco, you’ve been given some truly bad advice. Don’t let Jeanne and Leonard stop you offering your wisdom to the family. Here’s what you need to do. Go to the girl, tell her in no uncertain terms that she’s got to do her homework before considering spending any money trying to enter a dying profession. Tell the parents the same – don’t hold back either. There are clearly thousands of kids right now who are not getting the right information about how badly law school will ruin their futures. It’s plain wrong to sit back and let it happen. Point them all in the direction of this site and tell them to take note.
Law will still be waiting for her in a couple of years if she tries something else and fails, or if she really does have an unquenchable thirst for legal work. There's no rush; the market is still in turmoil, and I can guarantee that in a few years, law school will be cheaper and better than it is today.
I hate to hawk my own wares, but I’d happily send the parents and the girl a copy of Con Law. Next time I’m in San Fran, I’d also happily buy them all lunch and explain in great detail what a terrible mistake they are on the verge of making.
For anyone who encounters applicants or parents who aren’t getting the message, there are now many sections of Con Law available for free – a full ten sample chapters of material.
The rule for law school is the same as the general rule for life: good people don't stand idly by and do or say nothing when they see bad things happening.
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 L ife Lawyers”. He can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.