When various law deans have responded to their abysmal employment rates that a law degree is a long-term and lifetime investment, they're partially right. We do need to focus on outcomes 10-, 20-, 30-, and even 40- years out, as these are the days when expenditures transition from loans to retirement and families and investment and all those you can't do paying down debt.
By all indications, though, long-term outcomes aren't nearly as rosy as the suave salesmen claim. After all, you just know that dishwasher that's supposed to last fifteen years is going to crap out after eight. Why would the law deans sell any differently? Why, in the law schools' persistent refusal to collect this essential data, would you ever give them the benefit of the doubt in the total absence of useful empirical data?
Consider this recent anonymous op-ed in the Missouri Bar Journal. The tl;dr version would be this: 20-year litigator, laid off in 2011, 450 job applications, no work, blatant ageism, now in doc review. Wash, rinse, pull away two more chairs, start the music again, repeat.
Really, new law school applicants, you should read this shit and figure out if you want to join a profession where people over 40 feel this way. You can just feel the snarky anger and sneering derision at ignorant hiring parties who just don't grasp reality, or do and just. don't. care.
Perhaps this apparent and sometimes blatant “ageism” is driven by human resource personnel questioning “why” an experienced litigator would be applying for an entry level position or an unsubstantiated “fear” that such an experienced litigator would “jump ship” at the first opportunity. As for the “why,” an entry level salary with employment benefits is clearly better than unemployment or the legal “purgatory” of temporary or contact document review work at low pay without benefits. Moreover, any such “fear” flies in the face of the realities of the current legal job market. Simply put, there is no such opportunity to “jump ship.”This individual went to law school at a time when costs were significantly lower and employment prospects profoundly higher. Do the math.
Remember, kids, your loans will be a 25-30-year pay off barring an economic miracle. If we accept that legal employment at the 25-year mark is significantly lower than at the one-year mark (which should be obvious at this point), and we realize that the one-year employment rates do not justify the investment of the law degree, how in the world can you justify the expenditure at all?
Do you realize you're basically betting three years of your life and six figures on landing in the minority of law partners / lifer government attorneys / in-house counsel-level attorneys?
If you're truly a special snowflake, you quite literally have better odds betting on football games, or throwing the chips on red or auditioning for Jeopardy.
But back to our anonymous inspiration. If you're reading this and applying to law school for the fall of 2015, I beg you to do the following: poke around your first choice law school and see if you can get a list of graduates or law review members or what have you from 1995. Get on Google or a bar directory and see where they are in 2015, see what they're doing, see how many have been vaporized. Ask yourself if you want to be there and still paying a large percent of your discretionary income to student loans.
Because whatever the law deans tell you about a long-term investment, remember that your general employability goes down after eight to ten years or age 40 or so, whichever comes first. At that point, you're an old dog set in your ways, and you're expected to either have your own book or your own narrow niche of expertise. And with Lord knows how many old dogs running around, and a lazy dog catcher, good luck finding any scraps for yourself
What really struck me about this attorney's article is his proposed "solution": a bar association task force. Are you serious? Are you that set in your ways that you think the only (or "a good") "solution" to these systemic and widespread problems is another white collar paper-shuffling, jet-setting, uncle-fucking task force?
I found myself nodding with literally everything in the article except the pernicious suggestion to form a task force. Is there any more worthless object than a bunch of Brahmins trying to address the problems of the untouchables?
I hate to say this, but the suggestion of going to a task force unintentionally justifies the widespread decision not to employ people over a certain age. There is quite possibly no suggestion that would accomplish less while giving the authorities a sense of accomplishment than such a practice.
If you want real reform, there is a finite set of solutions that all echo the same basic theme:
- Stop pumping out lawyers.
- Create legal jobs for older lawyers.
- Push other older lawyers to retirement and other careers.
But what do I know? I'm not trying to sell lifetime career fantasies with absolutely no proof, and, indeed, proof to the contrary that this industry is ageist towards non-equity holders over 40. There's a certain attraction to living for the moment and having life myopia, but odds are pretty good that someday you're going to be 45.
Don't you want to now what life's like for the median 45-year old JD holder? Don't you think it's a bad idea to assume it's all nice houses and sexy spouses? Isn't it concerning when otherwise-accomplished attorneys are tossed overboard with only the flimsiest of lifeboats?
If you're filthy rich or find the Fountain of Youth, worry not. Otherwise, you might want to figure this part out before putting your chips on a seat deposit.