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Should This Young Woman Go to Law School?

A bright, 23-year-old woman is thinking of going to law school. Should she do it?

Let’s learn about the particulars of her case….

From a recent, very interesting New York Times article by Jennifer 8. Lee, Generation Limbo: Waiting It Out (emphasis added):

“We did everything we were supposed to,” said Stephanie Morales, 23, who graduated from Dartmouth College in 2009 with hopes of working in the arts. Instead she ended up waiting tables at a Chart House restaurant in Weehawken, N.J., earning $2.17 an hour plus tips, to pay off her student loans. “What was the point of working so hard for 22 years if there was nothing out there?” said Ms. Morales, who is now a paralegal and plans on attending law school.

Some of Ms. Morales’s classmates have found themselves on welfare. “You don’t expect someone who just spent four years in Ivy League schools to be on food stamps,” said Ms. Morales, who estimates that a half-dozen of her friends are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A few are even helping younger graduates figure out how to apply. “We are passing on these traditions on how to work in the adult world as working poor,” Ms. Morales said.

Stephanie Morales

It would be very easy to warm Ms. Morales against law school: “Noooo!!! You’re only going to get yourself deeper into debt, without improving your job prospects. Don’t do it!!!”

But what else is Stephanie Morales going to do with herself? Paying off her student loans by working as a waitress or a paralegal could take a very long time, depending on the size of the debt. The amount of her loans is not revealed in the article, but we’re guessing the number is substantial: Dartmouth costs more than $50K a year, for tuition, room, board, and fees.

Morales went to an excellent undergraduate institution. She probably stands a good chance of getting into a highly-ranked law school, which some people believe is key to landing the kind of job that can make a dent in those student loans. As my colleague Elie Mystal recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “In most situations, going to the highest ranked U.S. News school that you can is going to be really important for your career.”

(The Post-Gazette piece begins with the somewhat depressing tale of Michael Fink, who graduated #1 in his class from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and didn’t have a job at graduation. It took him three months and two dozen applications to finally land a position, at Buchanan Ingersoll.)

Readers, what advice would you give to Stephanie Morales? Should she go to law school? Feel free to debate in the comments and take our reader poll.

Should Stephanie Morales go to law school?

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Generation Limbo: Waiting It Out [New York Times]
Why a law degree today offers no guarantee [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

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