Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Should I Go to Law School?

An EPJ reader emails:
I'm thinking of attending St.John's school of law. But the tuition is a whooping 46,400$ a year. For three years that almost $150,000. Is it a good idea to take on that amount of debt for a law degree? I watched the college conspiracy, and it seems like it's not such a good idea. Especially, since we have 43,000 law students graduating every year and we have lost 15,000 lawyer jobs since 2008! I don't know what to do, i want to change the law so that it becomes more libertarian in its practices. I'm Interested in the law and its foundations, i also have a knack for arguing and don't give up until [the other person] at least understand my view points.

I also don't know what else to do. Recently i started my own blog, and i think i could be a good writer. Maybe i should just be a waiter, save money and accumulate gold and silver until the dollar crisis comes about. WHAT TO DO!!
I don't really have enough information about you to give you a specific answer. I will say though that there is no blanket answer. I have seen the writings that say college is a waste of time, and for most it is, but not all.

It really depends upon your passion. It's not clear from your email, if you really want to be a lawyer. "I don't know what else to do" is not a good enough answer for going to law school. I know plenty of lawyers that hate being lawyers and only went to law school because of the prestige and the money one generally receives from being a lawyer. But once they are out in the real world of law they hate it, but because of the money they make they think they can't leave.

I honestly believe that you can make very good money doing almost anything, if you are very passionate about it.  If you are passionate about something, I would skip whatever else you are doing and follow your passion, whether it is mountain climbing, scuba diving or collecting butterflies. If you think about it, there's a way to earn money doing whatever you want to do.

I am passionate about finance and economics, you can't pull me away from what I do. There's no procrastination for me in what I do. You have to pull me away from my economics and finance work to do almost anything else. I have given myself a great gift by following what I enjoy. If you are doing anything but your great passion, when you have a great passion, you are making a mistake.

If you dream every day and night about being the next Perry Mason AND have read every Perry Mason novel AND go to the library and read law journals because they are fun AND are amazed that you already know more law than lawyers you have talked to, then law school is probably for you. If you think you are going to go to law school and they will turn you into a lawyer, without ever thinking about law outside of what is assigned in class, forget about it. The same goes for medical school or anything else. You should really want it bad.

If you don't have a passion, than do what James Altucher recommends, just travel the world, stop in spots and find a way to earn money in those spots as a waiter or whatever. Do that for as long as it takes you to find a passion--even if it takes years. (Also see Gary North on college education and passion)

If you are a go-along and get-along person that has no driving passion, I would recommend finding a skill that is used in many industries but that others can't pick up fast---a software engineer comes to mind or a language translator. If you are a real bump on the log, fly out to Los Angeles and become a movie extra. People make good money doing that. You sit around all day and get paid to walk around for a few minutes in the background of a movie set. They take all shapes, sizes and age groups for extra work, but don't fool yourself into thinking you are going to be discovered. That's an entirely different game.

If law is what you really want to do, I am not as concerned about the money debt angle because I think that the Fed will most likely drive the value of the dollar further down and it will make the loans easier to pay off. And even if  the Fed doesn't, if you really enjoy what you are doing, you will make more money at it and the loans will be easier to payoff. If on the other hand you are not driven to become a lawyer, the debt could become an anchor around your neck.

With regard to the number of lawyers out there. In any industry, there's something of a bell curve where 10% are really bad, 80% are mediocre and 10% are superior. If you are driven, you will be somewhere in that top 10%, so don't worry about the other 90%.

Good luck.

25 comments:

  1. This book is really good:

    http://www.amazon.com/Should-You-Really-Be-Lawyer/dp/0940675617/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1305766714&sr=8-1

    Summary: forget about wanting to change the world, helping people, being good at arguing, wanting to learn to think different, making social connections, being interested in history, politics, etc. The realy question is: Do you like reading laws and writing lawyerly memos? If not, don't do it.

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  2. If you do well on the LSAT and have a decent GPA you will get scholarships and your total bill will be far less than the amount you stated. The average student subsidizes the brilliant student when it comes to law school tuition. Also, a state school will save you money.

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  3. The legal profession requires a profound and subtle command of the English language. 'Nuff said.

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  4. I am a law student entering my 3rd year. I initially went to law school for the money. I grew up really poor and watched my mother work 60ish hours a week in order to feed me and provide me a good education. I did not want that kind of life.
    Once in law school I realized how much I enjoyed it. This led to great grades and a position on law review where I am able to argue my stances and beliefs (my writings are considered rather radical since I am an anarchist).
    If you think you might enjoy it, I would suggest giving it a try. There are many areas of the law and any one of them may spark your passion. I would however, look for a school that is willing to give you a scholarship.

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  5. I am a lawyer and a partner at a prominent law firm. I like what I do, but what I'm seeing now is that it is very difficult to get a job with the big firms out of law school (the firms that pay the big bucks). The main jobs that junior litigation associates (e.g. Discovery) are either being outsourced to places like India or to staff attorneys. On the corporate side, the significant reduction in transactional work has significantly reduced the oportunitities for corporate junior associates. Add these problems to the fact that clients are less willing to pay the costs of training junior associates and all these add up to significantly fewer opportunities with the big firms. Even if the economy improves I don't see these trends changing all that much over the next few years when you'd be likely to graduate.

    Out of a school like st johns you'd almost certainly have to be in the top 10 percent (maybe top 5) of the class to have any chance at these types of jobs. It could happen, but if it doesn't you'll end up with 150k of debt and an average law firm job that pays around 60k.

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  6. Lawyers are scumbags, its a job requirement. School is a rip off and you dont learn anything. Dont go.

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  7. Wenzel,

    This is probably the best advice you can give to someone thinking about undergraduate or graduate school. If I could do it all over again, I never would have gone to college out of high school.

    Potential lawyer,

    As a grad student, my own (unsolicited) advice would be to talk to people in the industry. Conduct informational interviews with current students and practicing lawyers to get a sense of what life is like as a lawyer. I'm wary of things like Vault guides and other industry specific books. Books on specific industries are often written by those who have left that industry and the author may be looking back with a tainted lens either positive or negative. Plus, the information may be dated. Go to the source and go to more than one.

    If you haven't already, get an internship or temp work at a law firm. You don't need to be a student, especially for temp work. Three months spent making copies and fetching coffee could save you three years and $150,000.

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  8. A little over twenty years ago I received some guidance on a very similar question that I had. The advice that I found useful was: whatever choice you make, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. To me, the right reasons are those that align with what you 'value'. What keeps you engaged and happy. Good luck!

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  9. I have a friend in NYC who went to law school, went deep in debt, became a lawyer and hated it. So he decided to go deeper in debt and get a MBA at Columbia to become an investment banker. His second year at B-school Lehman and Bear collapsed. Doh!

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  10. Thanks for this post! As a recent college graduate I can tell you that it has been extremely difficult to find a job. Most of my peers just graduated now without any opportunities for them. It's a very unfortunate situation and so many of us are struggling to find meaning in all the strife and confusion.

    I studied economics in college and it was a painful ordeal, the main textbook of my Macroeconomics course was written by Ben Bernanke. He devotes two paragraphs of the entire textbook to the concept of money (and it was a superficial gloss at best). The rest of the book is a bunch of graphs which show that if you shift the "LM curve" to the right (euphemism for print money) then you reach "Full employment". The other courses dealt with doing mathematical aerobatics with equations that had no basis to economics or reality for that matter, despite that they call it "econometrics". There was absolutely zero understanding to glean form any of my classes. In one class, my textbook was written by Paul Krugman and one of my exam questions was, "When is protectionism a good policy to employ?" None of the possible answers were "never", so I penned in E) Never and circled it out of principle.

    I personally may just go back to school. I dread the idea of school from my experience and wouldn't have even thought about going back but since I know Spanish I have a chance of learning REAL economics under Jesus Huerta de Soto's graduate program in Austrian economics in Madrid. Otherwise I really wouldn't know where to go--that's where many of my peers are.

    Thankfully there are blogs like EPJ and people like Huerta de Soto who are providing the next generation like me the truth so we can hope that with enough understanding and advocacy, the false prophets can be flushed and the system can be fixed.

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  11. PS this post is single best advice I have heard for a college grad trying to find their way in this defunct economy. Thanks!

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  12. thanx for the tips. I am really interested in the law and especially in the Constitution. I used to drive to college and dream one day that if i make it into St.Johns that would he a huge achievement for me. But now that i dove into the facts a little more i just began to feel a little bit more skeptical. However, i do feel i am different than most people. How many 22 years old do you know that follow lewrockwell and EPJ everyday? Or who reads Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, James Bovard, Ludwig Von mises and watch Judge Andrew Napolitano every day? In my neighborhood my nickname is political paul lol I really want to be a politician and i figure law school would be a great start. Thanx for the advice i really appreicate it!

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  13. I strongly advise against law school. Especially if you do not get into a top 20. I graduated in '08 (from a top school) and many of my classmates do not have satisfying (or particularly high paying) jobs. There is a huge glut of attorneys and law schools are misrepresenting the post graduation employment numbers. DO NOT TRUST THE US NEWS numbers. Many blogs are dedicated to this issue. one example:
    http://lawschoolscam.blogspot.com/

    At $46k/year tuition, your total debtload will easily be in $200,000+ range after three years of school and living expenses in New York. Remember that this debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. You will pay the entire amount.


    " [T]he supply of exceptional people is limited. Yet far too many of these rare individuals are becoming lawyers at a time when the country cries out for more talented business executives, more enlightened public servants, more inventive engineers, more able bodied principals and teachers.
    ***A nation's values and problems are mirrored in the ways in which it uses its ablest people. In Japan, a country only half our size, 30 percent more engineers graduate every year than in all of the United States. But Japan boasts a total of less than 15,000 lawyers, while American universities graduate 35,000 every year. It would be hard to claim that these differences have no practical consequences. As the Japanese put it, "Engineers make the pie grow larger; lawyers only decide how to carve it up."

    -Former Harvard President Derek Bok

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  14. For anyone who liked this article, I highly recommend this one entitled The Coming Disruption: Teen Knowledge Work (http://blogs.forbes.com/michaelellsberg/2011/05/10/teen-knowledge-work/).

    As an employer who doesn't care about the credentials of my employees--only whether or not they can get the job done, I can attest that this rings true with my anecdotal experience.

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  15. Paul,
    There are thousands upon thousands of 22 year olds that read LRC, Ayn Rand, etc., etc. HO-HUM!!!
    You also stated that you could be a good writer. Judging from what you wrote here, you are a shitty writer.
    Finally, St. John's is a shitty school. If you go to law school in NYC at least go to Colombia, NYU, or Fordham. St. John's? Jesus God! You may as well put out a neon sign that says, "I'm a first generation college student that wasn't smart enough to get into a decent school!" every St. John's student I have ever known has been of exceptionally low intellectual quality. How poor are the students at St. John's? Let's put it this way: the Archdiocese of NY sends the peasants there before seminary. The stupid but wealthy seminarians go to Manhatten College, and the smart kids from middle to upper class families go to Fordham. You are clearly a peasant; go become a priest in NYC or Brooklyn. You will fit right in.
    My advice to you, if you want to end up being a normal person with a successful career, is become an auto mechanic, HVAC technician, plumber, or electrician. Become a tradesman. Open your own business. Screw politics. Screw Law School.

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  16. I have to say, as a graduating law student, this is terrible advice. This author has clearly never been to law school and has no understanding of the legal industry.

    His advice is essentially, if you really love the law, then go for it! That is HORRIBLE advice. Lots of people love the law, and lots of people love to argue, but even among graduates of tier one law schools (and St. Johns is far from a tier one law school) less than half of graduates are employed in full-time legal jobs.

    This person is running the risk of accumulating a debilitating amount of debt to attend a school that *will not* provide him with a high-paying job. The narrative from this article is that, even if you don't find a $160,000 firm job, you can take a $60,000 job as an attorney. It doesn't work that way. There are plenty of students at UVa Law(a top ten school) who would kill for a $60,000 a year legal job. The jobs just aren't there

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  17. As a law graduate who does not work as a lawyer, I have to agree with the comments made about finding your calling. I graduated from a Canadian school, pursuing my degree while working full time. At our tuition rates ($10k per year), a law degree was an affordable pursuit that added a few interesting skills to my CV. I blunted the opportunity cost by working, albeit one could still argue that there are better uses for that time.

    A law background is actually quite flexible, affording you access to career paths that have nothing to do with slaving away in a big firm at 70 hours a week.

    My gut feeling is that, unless you are a top student with very good connections (or membership in select ethnic groups that engage in nepotism), it will be tough to become partner at a big firm. Unlike other people here, I don't believe it is a matter of your 'skills', since law is not a game of skill. (Compare the hard skills of a lawyer to those of a nurse or physician). Who you know matters greatly.

    If you have the standard liberal arts background, you will also have a tough time. Law grads with English or Political Science degrees are a dime a dozen. Physics, Nursing or Engineering are rare, and will make you more interesting and valuable to potential employers.

    At $46k a year, I would be careful. Make sure you really love the work, that you have enough of a network to succeed, and that you can take that sort of debt. If you really have a passion, go for it. Be warned that only a small number of law jobs actually involve constitutional law, and that you may spend a lot of time writing briefs and memos on particularly useless matters.

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  18. EPJ, you should tell him not to borrow a dime! Enjoying the law, arguing, watching movies etc are not reasons to spend 3 years and 300K + to study the "law" at St. Johns. Unless you are on full ride, someone is paying your tuition in cash, or you are at an inexpensive state school, you should not go.

    For almost all private law students who must borrow, law school is a terrible mistake.

    I have researched this in great detail. There is an entire movement of current students and recent grads who are getting the word out via "scam" blogs.

    Almost all private law schools are huge scams where the profs make about 90-100K. The law school is a huge money maker for the university as a whole. Do your own online tax records search.

    Look at the Law School Tuition Bubble Blog. The research there is very, very well done.

    http://lawschooltuitionbubble.wordpress.com/

    EPJ tell us what you think of these numbers. I don't care how much you love watching Perry Mason. Do not ruin your financial life!!!!!

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  19. NO! NO! NO! Unless you are a trust fund child. Read this harsh review of your prospective school. Reading this might save you a life of debt servitude.

    St. John's University School of Law

    http://thirdtierreality.blogspot.com/2010/08/grab-bleach-st-johns-university-school.html

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  20. Your passions mean nothing. Connections mean everything.

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  21. Under no circumstances should you go to law school. You are not on fire to become a lawyer, and even if you were, working in that profession would soon drown whatever flame you carry for it. You can be an activist without become a lawyer. Actually, in activist circles, your credibility will be greater if you learn and practice an honest trade, such as plumber or electrician. Many trade skills are going to remain in demand even if the famed "new housing starts" are in the toilet because anybody who still has a house is going to want to take care of it. Homeowners are seldom skilled enough to do their own plumbing or electrical work beyond the absolute most basic stuff. Now that we've settled that question, DO NOT go into debt to attend trade school. Get a job and earn your tuition. The best job is one where you work for a person who is a journeyman in the trade you aspire to. Now get out there and make yourself useful.

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  22. I have a bad but valid reason to get a Doctor Juris degree that no one has mentioned: it can be your College Teaching License. The JD and the PhD are both Doctorates, and the Doctorate has (sadly) become mandatory for College Faculty members, at least for those on the tenure track. I have known lawyers who do not have PhDs but have been able to join College Faculties because they have a Doctorate, i.e. their Law Degree.

    Furthermore, the JD is easier to obtain in most cases than a PhD. Three years of full-time Law School with no Dissertation Requirement, and the JD can be yours.

    I know that this is NOT a good reason to go to Law School, but the JD is a strong credential, which can lead to more unforeseen opportunities than other degrees can. (For example, more members of Congress are JDs than MDs.) At the very least, getting a JD would help to develop the strong writing skills that you aspire to have.

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  23. Will Hunting: You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.

    Law school is a form of brainwashing. If you are willing to work inside the beast and understand that...maybe. I've spent some time in law libraries and enjoy the research. I've spent some time in court rooms and try to avoid these places like the plague.

    Spend some time at the courthouse and see for yourself. You become an pseudo officer of the court as an attorney and are at the mercy of the BAR and the Judges. If you go against the grain you can end up like Richard Fine, or like a lady I know of who has been attacked by the justice system imprisoned and now sent to a mental ward for going against the grain...if you can avoid Judges and courtrooms might be worth it....good luck....

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  24. If you intend to become a full-time politician, with all that entails, go for the law degree. Otherwise forget it. You will never get an acceptable return on your "investment".

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