Wednesday, November 21, 2007

So You Want to Go to Law School . . .

Well, just don't. At least that's the advice of Paul Gowder over at Law and Letters. Gowder makes his case by arguing that basically the jobs lawyers do in the real world "suck," lawyers are generally unhappy, the profession is populated by assholes, and you'll incur enormous debt for all your trouble.

As some others have pointed out, I think Gowder oversells his case. I suppose that, like Gideon, I am just special (my mom always told me so, anyway) because I really enjoy the practice of law. But, then again, I'm a freak, because I actually liked law school in the first instance. Perhaps I'm just lucky that I get to work in a position that provides a constant barrage of interesting issues that arise when representing real human beings. The fact that I get to work in an office filled with folks (lawyers and non-lawyers alike) who are dedicated to the task and do so with great skill and humor surely helps. Are there assholes to put up with? Sure - that's life. Find me a profession where you can entirely sidestep the jacknuts and I'll be impressed.

Gowder's problem, it appears, comes from the fact that he focuses almost entirely on the plight of "elite" law school grads who either (a) have to take super high-pressure jobs to make the money they need to pay back student loans or (b) consign themselves to a life of poverty to do "good" work in some kind of public interest field. As such, his thoughts should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks of going to law school as a default option because there's nothing better to do after graduating from college. As much as I enjoyed law school, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone just looking for a few years to kill.

As for public interest law, Gideon makes some good points, particularly:

If you’re going into public interest law, you don’t need to go to a top ten law school. There, I said it. I went to a bottom of the top tier law school, walked out with 2/3rds less debt and have a job that pays me enough in a field that I love and will do for the rest of my career. I know plenty others who are of the same mind as me.

Find a school that has a good clinical program (they’re not often the top tiered law schools - those clinical programs may be more famous, but they’re not better) or two and has ties to the community.
The WVU College of Law isn't going to be on anybody's list of top law schools in the country (nonetheless, WVU will crush Gideon's alma mater Saturday to claim the Big East crown!). But I got a solid foundation (and a manageable debt load) that I've built upon in the last eight years of practice fairly successfully.

A law degree is not necessarily a ticket to great wealth. It's not a free pass into the upper class. It's something that lets you do a job. If it's a job you want to do, it's a good thing. If your heart really lies someone else, it's a burden and it sucks. Make your own choice.


MsJamie said...

I have worked for lawyers for 24.5 years, the vast majority of the time in insurance defense. I don't think anyone should go to law school without having worked in a law firm to see what it's REALLY like. I used to tell people it's nothing like LA Law ... I guess that comparison is a little out of date. Now I say Boston Legal.

I have seen so many unhappy and disillusioned lawyers that it's always nice to see one who's found his niche.

Gideon said...

Oh you wish. Just watch. We're taking the Big East crown and getting a BCS bowl bid in the process. Go Huskies!

jedijawa said...

Tag! You're it! 8 Interesting/Random things about yourself....and.....go!

Hoyt said...

I'm with you on this one, JDB. I work as a public interest lawyer, I love my work, and I loved law school.

Hope you have a good holiday!

jedijawa said...

Oh yeah, what Hoyt said ... I meant to come back and say this and forgot.