Law Schools, Reader Polls, Student Loans

Should You Drop Out of Law School: The Sequel. A 1L Wants Your Advice.

Martin Luther dropped out of law school -- and so can you.

Lat and I have already had a spirited debate about whether or not a 2L should drop out of law school. Predictably, Lat argued that the 2L should stick with it, while I extolled the virtues of running away and quitting. And the readers weighed in too: 66% of you said that the 2L should hang in there and finish law school.

Well, what if the student is a 1L? What if the student is just in his first semester of 1L year and can get out before incurring even another semester’s worth of debt? Does that change your opinion?

As I said earlier this month, I’m done worrying about the soon-to-be-failed careers of many prospective law students. If you won’t research basic employment information before you commit three years and $100K, nobody can help you.

But I guess I still have a soft spot for people who have to physically see law school for themselves before they realize the gravity of their choices. It’s taken this 1L less than four months to realize that law school / the legal profession presents a challenging value proposition.

Now that he has this information, albeit late, what should he do?

Again, I think we all know where I stand on the issue. So let’s hear this 1L’s argument in favor of dropping out of law school before the start of second semester:

I’m 23 and currently a 1L at a [tier 1 law school]. Not [top 14], but respectable. I think I’m going to withdraw before the second semester. Why?

Basically, $150k of Debt + Fewer Jobs + More Attorneys = Law school is probably going to end up being a bad investment.

Debt. The underlying reason for this decision is not stress of law school. Really. I’ve been doing just fine up to this point. Law school is tough, but I knew that going in. I’m willing to put myself through it if there’s a good chance it will pay off in the end. It was true in the past, but I don’t know if it’s true anymore. Being a law student in 2010 is a radically different proposition from being a law student in, say, 2000. Over the last decade, tuition has more than tripled at my school. This has changed the return on investment calculation dramatically.

After I graduate, I will be in $150k of debt because of high tuition and the interest accrued while in school. This includes fairly generous financial aid. This is a big deal. If I were only going to be in $50k of debt, I would be much more likely to stick around.

After this semester, I will be in $21k of debt. I can’t just finish out the first year to see how it goes because it’s another $21k for second semester. At that point, I’m too close to the point of no return. I need to make this decision now.

It’s worth it to go into serious debt if there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Heck, it might be worth it to take on this kind of debt load even if the payoff is only career satisfaction.

Unfortunately, this law student doesn’t see any gold or happiness at the end of his journey:

Job prospects. The job market is oversaturated with attorneys. The supply of lawyers far outstrips the demand. There is no reason to expect this situation to improve anytime soon, as more students than ever have been applying to law school over the last few years to avoid the bad economy.

Being happy. I know that if you want to suceed at anything, you may have to sacrifice work-life balance. However, from what I understand, private practice is an exercise in the permanent sacrifice of work-life balance. Late nights at the office every week or two is very different from working 12 hours every day. It’s very unlikely I’ll be able to make good money in private practice and have a healthy work-life balance. I don’t want to work 60-70 hours a week until I’m 40. The psychological and physical costs of this lifestyle are real and don’t typically fit well alongside goals of having a happy life outside the office. This is not only true for biglaw, but for many midsize and small firms as well.

I’ve found that a good number of lawyers would not go to law school if they had to do it all over again. And these are people who graduated decades ago and were able to pay off their student loans quickly.

I’ve said this to a lot of people: you have no idea what working 60-70 hours a week consistently (interspersed with horrible flashes of 80-100 hour weeks) will do to your life until you’ve actually done it. The only 23-year-olds who even have a concept of what that is like are the ones who spent their childhoods using their tiny hands to make my sneakers.

Remember, 60 hours is a “light” week — if somebody at your firm works 60 to bill 50+ and then bitches about it, that person is liable to get smacked upside the head. As you head upwards from 60, it becomes difficult to have anything approaching a normal life outside of work. During the work week your entire life is spent: at work, preparing to be at work / recovering from being at work, and sleeping so you can go to work the next day. And then they come for your weekends. You simply can’t do that (and be happy) unless you enjoy what you are doing during the vast majority of your waking hours.

Of course, this assumes you (1) can get a job and (2) hold on to that job, until your debt collectors release you from indentured servitude.

You’d think prospective law students would think about that, all of it, before they go to law school. But as this 1L explains, that’s not really happening:

In retrospect, I absolutely should have done more looking before I leaped. I researched law school a lot more than I researched being an attorney. This is a very common mistake. I would say a good portion of my classmates did less research in than I did. Still, it’s no excuse. And it’s too late to do anything about it now.

Is it too late? The kid’s $21,000 in the hole right now. That’s like buying a fully decked out Ford Focus and then totaling it just after you drive it off the lot. Sure, you just wasted a lot of money and still have to take the bus, but did you really want to drive around in a Ford Focus for the rest of your life? Would you really want to buy five more Ford Focuses (Foci?), for the “opportunity” to drive one of them around for the rest of your life?

Of course, with only one semester under his belt, maybe he just hasn’t given himself enough time to figure out if he loves the law or not. Maybe the economy will be significantly better when he graduates in 2013. Maybe he’ll find himself a nice lady who will take care of him and any offspring they have, so he can put all of his efforts into his career while taking his family for granted. Maybe it’s normal that the rose-colored glasses I put on in order to write this paragraph give me retinal burns that cause eye cancer.

(I can’t make the pro-law-school argument with much conviction. Check out some pro-law-school perspectives here, here, and here.)

So, what do you guys think? Should this guy cut his losses, or should he put his head down and keep striving?

Should this 1L drop out of law school?

  • Yes. (78%, 2,492 Votes)
  • No. (22%, 714 Votes)

Total Voters: 3,206

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Earlier: Cut Your Losses, or Finish Law School? An ATL Debate
In Defense of Going to Law School
In Defense of Going to Law School: A Prudential Perspective (Part 2)
In Defense of Law School — Namely, Touro and Other Fourth-Tier Schools
Even If You Told Prospective Law Students the Truth, Would They Care?

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