Education / Schools, Job Searches, Law Schools, Money, Student Loans

A 1L Who Should Stay In Law School

People think that I believe that nobody should go to law school ever, and that anybody who is currently in law school should drop out immediately. And, to be fair, I do think that many people in law school today have made terrible personal and financial decisions and have entered a world of pain that they will dwell in for much of the rest of their lives.

But I don’t think that every person in law school is there idiotically. I don’t think everybody who is there should drop out of school at the earliest available opportunity. I don’t even think you need a special “love of the law” to justify three years of legal education. The internet is not a great medium for nuance, but on a case-by-case basis there are a lot of situations where a person might be smart to go to law school and/or smart to stay in law school.

Take this one kid who emailed Above the Law asking for advice on whether or not he should drop out after his 1L year. I bet he’s going to be surprised that I’m of the opinion that he should stay in school…

This guy’s situation may not be typical of most American law students, but there are more people in his situation then you might believe. Here’s his question:

I wondered if you might be able to give me some advice? I’m a 1L at [a top 10 law school] and I’m in the precarious — and, unfortunately, unenviable — position of being at the bottom of my class. I worked really hard — as if that matters — but I guess sometimes your best isn’t good enough.

Anyhow, I’m closing in on the end of the year and I’ve almost entirely lost any motivation to continue this law school game. I don’t dislike law school per se, but I am extremely pessimistic about my chances to make this law degree “work” in a dying profession during a horrible economy. I don’t think I’m being unrealistic in harboring these views.

I wondered what advice you might give someone in my position, assuming that (1) I don’t have fantastic pre-law-school work experience, (2) I do have an otherwise useless liberal arts degree, and (3) I’m getting significant financial support from my parents (who are supportive either way).

Thanks in advance,
[Mr. Meh]

Allow me to summarize my thinking on this question, in order of importance:

(a) He picked the right parents.
(b) He got into the right school.
(c) He doesn’t have any other burning passion in his life.
(d) The worst part of law school is over.

Why wouldn’t this guy finish law school? Here is a situation where there is almost no downside. Assuming he’s going to be in a position to graduate debt-free or nearly debt-free, with a degree from an elite institution, what’s the harm? He can do anything he wants after it’s over. No, idiot law school marketers, not because you can do anything with a law degree. But because you can do anything with financially supportive parents.

But it’s not just about the money. This kid is going to a truly elite law school, so whether or not he ends up practicing, the connections are going to last a lifetime. And if he does want to practice, well, at the kind of school he is at, even people near the bottom of the class have a decent chance of getting a decent job.

I’m not saying he should take a Biglaw job. In fact, given what he’s telling us, taking a Biglaw job might be the only way he can screw this up: he won’t like it, might not excel at it, but might get used to the golden handcuffs if he’s not careful. I mean, do you know how much fun stuff $160K will buy if you don’t have any debts to pay off?

And this is a kid who, at least based on the limited information he’s given us, doesn’t seem to have any other burning passion in life that might keep him away from the highest-paying job possible. The worst-case scenario for him is that he graduates law school a free man, but then immediately puts himself into servitude for more money than he needs.

But that’s the only downside to staying in school. If he’s smart, he’ll graduate with the opportunity to do the kind of interesting law so many 1Ls think they’re going to end up doing, but can’t do because it doesn’t pay enough. Or he’ll do something else entirely. Maybe he’ll come write for Above the Law — he’d certainly start off in a better financial situation than I’m in.

I wish Mr. Meh the best of luck. It’s not every day that a person stumbles into a decision that wrecks so many people and yet is able to get through the morass unscathed. Perhaps unintentionally, it looks like this guy made the right choice about going to law school.

Dear everybody who doesn’t have rich parents able to put them through an elite law school debt-free: note how this guy is in a MUCH BETTER POSITION THAN YOU ARE. Yes, people who have financially supportive parents and prestigious pedigrees have a leg up on you. Duh. They can muddle through life, as this guy is doing, without getting themselves into too much trouble. They have that luxury. You do not. Instead, you have the burden of having to fight and claw and scratch your way towards every good decision you can get a handle on. Unlike some people, you will suffer the full consequences of every horrible decision you make.

GET USED TO IT. Just because Mr. Meh can go to a T10 law school for free and find a way to make it work for him even if he might finish at the bottom of his class doesn’t mean it makes sense for you to go to a top 100 law school for full price because you hope you’ll end up at the top of your class. Differences matter.

Earlier: Cut Your Losses, or Finish Law School? An ATL Debate

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