American Bar Association / ABA, Law Schools, pls hndle thx

Pls Hndle Thx: Should New York’s Bravest Brave Law School?

Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to advice@abovethelaw.com.

Dear ATL,

I am an aspiring law student getting ready to send off my law school application.  However, I have a problem: I can’t go to the only law school that makes sense for me; not because I did not score well enough, but because of an American Bar Association rule whose blanket coverage does not really apply in its intended sense to my situation.  The rule deals with not allowing anyone to attend a full time law program while working more than 20 hours per week.

Currently, I have my full time dream job as New York City fireman and, honestly, I could not imagine quitting it for anything.  However, it does not mean that obtaining my J.D. and having the opportunity to give back more to the community and stimulate my mind on my days not at the firehouse is not also an aspiration of mine.  Unfortunately, it seems that both of my dreams cannot be achieved in an economically feasible manner.  Only one of the schools in the area is a state school and affordable (see: rational) for me to attend, but they only offer a full time program….

The questioner continues:

I understand the basic purpose of the rule; if someone works full time, he or she can have trouble attending daytime classes or internships and balancing classes, work, and studying.  However, the FDNY and city graciously allow employees a school variance, which allows us to move our already flexible work schedules around to accommodate any class and work conflicts we may have.

I contacted the school and they said they have to follow the letter of the law from the ABA for risk of having issues with accreditation, so I contacted the ABA.  After getting sent to 4 different people, each one pawning me off to the next, I was told that the ABA does not offer any individual relief and my only hope is to try to contact the committee that writes the rule and, whenever it might be that they meet, they might consider changing it.  The voice on the other end sure made me doubt that….

Anyway, so I’m at a loss.  I know there are part time programs available that I could attend.  However, being as though I am working a full time job I do not plan on quitting or setting aside when I get out of school, I am hard pressed to rationalize going that far into debt.

Honestly, it almost seems discriminatory to keep people who might be interested in going to law school while they have themselves or a family to support out of the only affordable school in the area.  What do they care about my schedule?  If I pay them the money and want to take on the burden, why does it matter to them?

Is there any recourse for me?

–Hosed

Here’s what Marin thinks:

Dear Hosed,

I don’t recommend going to law school to people who ask me my opinion (see supra, this blog), but for the sake of of appearing open-minded, I’ll entertain a debate on the matter. Here are some common rationales: Where else can I graduate and get a six figure starting salary? (Simon Cowell’s X Factor is currently offering a $5 million prize, and might be a safer bet.)  A JD will open lots of doors for me. (Mainly the ones at Sallie Mae.) But I don’t know what else to do! (Go to your room and think about it).

But in your case, you offer practically no reason at all for attending law. What does “give back to the community” even mean? The nursing home already has Willmaker 2000. And there are plenty of cheaper mind-stimuli that will keep you engaged outside of work. In fact, I hear youjizz.com is free. If your plan was to run into burning buildings with flame-retardant business cards, that would be one thing, but it sounds like you would just be going to go, to fulfill some nonsensical dream of becoming a lawyer. And yet, in abandoning your dreams, you have truly become one.

You know how I know that you have no idea what  law  is all about? You seem genuinely mystified that the ABA would impose an arbitrary and exclusionary rule that law schools would slavishly follow for fear of having their precious ABA accreditation revoked. Welcome to the American legal system. The ABA is just a microcosm of it. Much of legal practice has nothing to do with justice, mercy or any of those fundamental concepts you’ll write about in your admissions essay. I practiced ERISA and I’m pretty sure the Founding Fathers would have ripped up the Constitution and begged for the tea tax back if they knew that convoluted crap was coming down the pipeline.

And by the way, may I remind you that 200 law schools are currently ABA accredited, including the illustrious Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, at something called “Faulkner University,” and the McGeorge School of Law, presumably located in Narnia? The ABA stamp confers about as much prestige as the “Mom Approved” seal on Jif peanut butter, but law schools are terrified of losing it. It makes no sense. And neither does your application.

My advice is, be grateful you have a job doing what you love. And if you start to hate it, stay put anyway, because your defined benefit pension plan is worth sticking around for. Trust me, I know. I’m an ERISA lawyer.

Your friend,
Marin

And this is Elie’s take:

Sure, in Soviet Russia, the fire fights you, but in America you are supposed to be able to choose what you want to do with your life. I mean, the world needs more firefighters, not more lawyers. And you are most likely totally unprepared to go from a profession that is universally beloved and respected to one that is hated and maligned. And Marin’s right that this whole question seems so ass-backwards that it makes me wonder if your firefighting/attorney desires are actually evidence of some kind of self-destructive wish to put your body and soul in as much danger as possible. But you live in a land where you are free to go and die in what way seems best to you.

The ABA is wrong to prevent you from pursuing legal study. We’ll add that to the list of 8 million things the ABA could do better. But since it seems like you want legal training more as an intellectual hobby than a fallback career (God help you if you want the training for professional gains), all is not lost.

I moved this weekend, and in the course of packing up my apartment, I came across all the old law books that my wife and I accumulated over six combined years of legal education. There were about ten boxes worth of casebooks, coursepacks, outlines, notes, flasks, Prozac prescriptions, and hate mail (you try being me and taking ConLaw the semester 9/11 happened). We should have thrown most of this away years ago, but you know how it goes. With the opportunity for a fresh start, we decided we’d keep the casebooks (they look good on a shelf), and dump most of the rest.

As I stared at a box full of brightly colored commercial outlines (if you’d like to know which outlines I recommend, please contact advertising@breakingmedia.com), I remarked: “It seems wrong to throw away $150,000 worth of legal education.” My wife laughed, but I wasn’t joking. I wasn’t joking! Sure, I spent a week reading cases about covenants and easements, but my basic understanding of the terms still comes from somebody’s outline (NOT Kiwi Camara’s). Those outlines and my bar review books form maybe 50% of the foundation of my legal knowledge? Or 75%? All of my legal knowledge in subjects I don’t particularly care about?

I mean, let’s face it, law school is not that intellectually challenging. Not really. In college I briefly audited a theoretical physics class. Now those guys were dealing with some intellectually challenging stuff. If law was a science, it’d be geology: understanding the law just takes pressure and time.

And so, Hosed, that is my suggestion to you. If you really want some legal training, go buy a bunch of commercially-available outlines and read them. Or patronize two of ATL’s advertisers, BarMax and/or Themis Bar Review.

That’s all; all the information is there. If you do this diligently, you’ll know as much about a particular subject as most people who are graduating from law school this spring. The ABA cannot prevent you from acquiring legal knowledge; they don’t have that kind of power. With your newly acquired legal knowledge, you’ll still be able to point members of your community in the right legal direction; you just won’t be able to get paid for your advice. That seems very helpful to me.

Go fight the good fight,
— Guy who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to advice@abovethelaw.com.

Earlier: Prior editions of Pls Hndle Thx

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