Career Alternatives, Law Schools, Student Loans

In Defense of Going to Law School: A Prudential Perspective (Part 2)

On the Quote of the Day posted over the weekend, a commenter wrote: “In my head I’ve changed the name of this blog from ‘Above the Law’ to ‘The law is f**king stupid and dumb and anyone who goes into it is an idiot forever and did I mention it’s dumb.’ There are still reasons to pursue law.”

This is a fair point. Here at ATL, we do want to encourage debate about the value of a legal education, and we do want people who are thinking of going to law school — many of whom read this site — to go to law school for good reasons, after engaging in sufficient reflection and research. But we don’t want readers to mistake this site for one of the “law school scam” blogs, or to think that we’re opposed to law school for all people under all circumstances. (Of course we aren’t, if for no reason other than self-interest: the more law students and lawyers out there, the more potential readers for Above the Law.)

We’ve previously written in defense of going to law school. See, e.g., my post with that very title.

And last month we solicited from you, our readers, some pro-law-school thoughts. Let’s explore some of them, shall we?

In late October, we shared with you this inquiry, which an unhappy law student sent in to Dear Prudence, the advice column of Slate:

Dear Prudence,

I am just a little over a year away from becoming a lawyer, and I’m miserable because I hate it. I wasn’t forced into the profession. I just mistakenly believed that since I loved to read and debate, law was the natural progression. But I don’t like law, and I’m not applying myself to it wholeheartedly.

I can’t imagine being in this field for the rest of my life or even a few years. My parents have sacrificed and spent so much on my education, and I have no idea how to tell them that I made a mistake. Worse, my mom thinks this is my dream, and I don’t have the heart to tell her that it isn’t.

The only thing that really brings me joy is escaping into books that have nothing to do with law. Please help me.


We requested responses from you in the comments, hoping that at least some of them would argue — as did Slate’s columnist, Prudence — in favor of the correspondent staying in law school (and perhaps more broadly in favor of legal education). We did receive some responses along these lines, which we’ll get to in just a minute.

We received more responses telling the writer to, well, toughen up. Like this one:

Dear Inadmissible,

Honestly, you sound like a whiny baby. You need to stop procrastinating and just start doing the work. Just study. Apply yourself. Go to office hours, do the reading, outline your notes, get a study buddy. For God’s sake, just give it an honest effort instead of throwing obstacles in your own path and then bitching about how much being a lawyer may or may not suck. You’re not a lawyer yet, your a law STUDENT. Now go try to be a good one.

Or this one:

Dear Inadmissible,

Everyone loves to escape into books that have nothing to do with their profession. It’s called “what we do in our spare time.” While you’re at work, you get paid to do things that aren’t at the top of your “fun” list. If you want to read more, take a job that requires less hours. If you want to get paid more, make sacrifices.

Or, even more succinctly, this one:

Dear Inadmissible —

Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.

Other responses offered more practical tips. Here’s one with advice for getting through law school:


None of us like law school. I’m about 95% certain it’s been a waste of thousands of dollars, mental and emotional anguish, and the last tiny threads of my sanity. After the first semester of 1L, I just started pretending I was in college again. While this renders me alone and wasted a lot of the time, I’m having exponentially more fun than anyone else I know up here. My advice to you is to quit taking anything seriously, except for your social life and finals. Those are actually sort of important…but not as important as the gunners will make you think. – Pru

We’re not sure that refusing to take anything seriously is the recipe for getting a job out of law school, especially in this economy. But then again, we’re not sure the depressed law student who wrote in to Slate actually wants a legal job (or maybe even any job; sitting around reading books is much more fun than working).

Finally, a few responses did offer what we were looking for: defenses of legal education, including the value and versatility of a law degree. Here’s one:

Going to law school doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do what you want with your life. A law degree is certainly not going to get in the way of you pursuing whatever career you want, and I know of many, many people who are helped by having a law degree, even in a seemingly unrelated field. Their explanation is quite simple: having a JD proves you’re smart and hardworking, and employers like hiring people who are smart and hardworking.

Another response, along similar lines:

Finish the degree. It sounds as if you don’t really know what you want to do and have a first degree that is of little use to you. Like many that go to law school, it was the easy and/or safe option and now doesn’t look so good but you never thought about what you wanted out of life. However, at least there are some career prospects (albeit diminishing) that can pay the bills while you find what you really want to do. If you leave now, you will likely have even fewer career options and little to show for the work you have put in so far. Many lawyers leave the profession after a few years and people increasingly change careers midstream. Grin and bear it for a bit.

To get an idea of what some of the lawyers who leave the profession end up doing, check out our Career Alternatives for Attorneys series.

We’ll close with a response that nicely combines the “suck it up and deal” angle, a little practical advice, and… some other stuff:

1) Explore careers where employers would find a law degree attractive but also that aren’t too heavily focused on the law itself.

2) Suck it up and work. No one ever said life is fun all the time, or even most of the time. Some people have to dig ditches or clean toilets for a living and have no choice. Be thankful that you at least get to read *something* as part of your job.

2) If you don’t use cannabis already, smoke some (or lightly saute it in oil and then eat the oil). You will get what is known as “high.” During that blessed state of being, instead of playing video games or going to a rave, sit down and think for a while about the direction you want to go in. It will help.

And, finally… legalize cannabis you sick, twisted bastards. If you’re in Cali, vote YES on prop 19 for Christ’s sake.

Alas, Prop 19 failed — but not before receiving more votes than Meg Whitman. Pot might be like gay marriage: it’s only a matter of time before it will be legal.

If you have some pro-law-school thoughts you’d like to share with the student who wrote in to Slate — assuming she hasn’t dropped out, and assuming she’s still out there reading this — feel free to post them in the comments. There are plenty of harsh criticisms of law school available online; let’s balance them out with some positivity. Thanks.

Earlier: In Defense of Going to Law School
Quote of the Day: Personal Responsibility, or Blaming the Victim?

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