It’s a question that seems to be on everyone’s mind lately. With the economy in shambles and people out protesting in the streets, many law students and young lawyers have started to question their decision to attend law school.
Given all of the other opportunities that you may have had, was going to law school the best choice you could have made? If you knew then what you now know, would you still have signed on the dotted line and accepted your seat in the class?
What would you have done instead of going to law school?
I decided to write on this topic today after seeing an article about Sharon Riley, a young Canadian woman who decided at the last minute that law school just wasn’t for her. (And with the current articling crisis going on in the Great White North, maybe it’s a good thing that she decided to opt out.) She tells her story in the Globe and Mail:
I decided I had never really thought about why I was on this path, I had never known anything other than the formal education system, and the only thing keeping me going was inertia. Inertia on a path I had started when I was a teen and thought, “Hey, I could be a lawyer.” I was propelled by the challenge of it: “If I can get into law school, that must mean something.” I was wrapped up in the pursuit of a goal without ever having stepped aside to assess whether it was the right one.
I forfeited my law-school acceptance….
So, what did Riley do instead? She decided to ride a bicycle from Alberta, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico, and later back to New Orleans, Louisiana. And she doesn’t have a single regret about reneging on her chance to go to law school.
This reminded me of ex-Sidley associate Tyler Coulson’s journey across the country (and by the way, he made it all the way to San Diego last week; congrats!). Both Riley’s and Coulson’s trips made me start thinking about what I would have done if I hadn’t gone to law school. I got Elie’s take on this question, too.
Elie here: Almost all throughout my senior year of college, I didn’t intend to go to law school. I only applied to five schools, got into four (Yale, HLS, NYU, and Columbia — eff you Stanford), and figured at the very least, I’d defer for a year like my would-be wife did. I had applied for some Congressional staffing jobs in D.C., but the job I was most excited about was doing assistant press for Long Island in Hillary Clinton’s first New York Senate campaign. I had done political internships all throughout college. I knew that if I was going to staff, I wanted to work with the press, and I figured if she won, I’d at the very least have a job in her home office, while if she lost, I could “fall back” to law school.
But family members impressed upon me the wisdom of getting the law degree “out of the way” as soon as I could while I was still in “school mode.” Friends impressed upon me that working for a Senate campaign and being drunk was going to pose some problems. The campaign staffer’s salary reminded me of poverty. And, frankly, I was too much of a pompous ass to turn down both of the top two law schools in the country to go copy edit press releases I hoped would get picked up by Newsday. Vanity: definitely my favorite sin.
So, to answer your question, if I didn’t got to law school, I would have had eight years of press experience before suddenly becoming a very “visible” African-American supporter of Senator Clinton during a racially charged primary. By this point, I might be involved with crafting the message America projects to the rest of the world, and be sitting next to Rachel Maddow once a week as we trade snark about Black Walnut’s nuts. I’d be happy, not in any debt, and nobody would call me fat to my face.
OR… after five months of eating mayonnaise sandwiches, I would have drunkenly said to a reporter, “Look, I don’t want to call Giuliani racist because I don’t want to get shot by the armed gestapo he calls NYPD,” been fired, and gone to law school as a bitter, angry person who didn’t want to work at a law firm, and ended up writing for a legal blog.
There’s always something to be said for destiny.
Staci here: If I hadn’t gone to law school, I think I would have tried to sing professionally. I have been singing for just about as long as I can remember. I wanted to be famous, and I legitimately thought that one day, maybe I could be. But when I graduated from college, I just didn’t know what to do anymore. Back then, I was too afraid of failure to embark upon such an unstable career path. And looking back on my life, that’s hysterical to me, because as we all know, I think that I handle failure pretty damn well. In retrospect, racking up solos and leads was much better than racking up student loan debt.
And if you’re wondering, I haven’t stopped singing. I was selected with one of my classmates to sing the National Anthem at my law school graduation. Have a listen (sorry for the awful quality; this was recorded on a cell phone):
That being said, something has always interrupted my life and prevented me from auditioning for American Idol. I think I might give it a go this summer before I’m too old to try out for the show, but we shall see.
So, readers, now we ask you: if you got a do-over, would you still have chosen to go to law school? If not, what would you have done differently?
I gave up law school to cycle to Mexico [Globe and Mail]