Biglaw, Cheapness, Job Searches, Law Schools, Midsize Firms / Regional Firms, Military / Military Law, Money, Small Law Firms, Student Loans, UVA Law, William and Mary School of Law

Law School Success Stories: The Virtue of Thrift

The teller of this success story had some caveats. According to him, it demonstrates the point “that law school is only a good idea under very limited circumstances.”

But it did work out for him. Here’s his tale:

In 2005, I was working as a low level financial analyst making around $70k a year. The work was boring and the housing bubble provided some extra cash from home equity that I could use towards grad school. I took the LSAT, did well, and applied to a number of Top 14 schools. I was rejected from Harvard (fortunately, in retrospect) and accepted a scholarship for roughly 60% of tuition at UVA Law School (by the time I graduated, tuition had increased to the point that the scholarship was more like 50% of tuition). I did almost no research on what a legal career entailed prior to enrolling; the promise of something different, a Top 10 “flexible” professional degree (how gullible I was), and guaranteed six figures according to the employment statistics on the web-site were enough for me.

My class started in Fall 2006 as “the most talented and diverse in the history of the school, yada, yada,” and we were assured that anyone who wanted a Biglaw job would have it upon graduation. For me, this promise worked out. I summered in the last big summer class in 2008, then sweated out a five-month deferral prior to starting in Biglaw in January 2010. I had mid-five figures in debt, but lived in a non-NY/DC/LA market, so the path to paying off the debt was fairly straightforward.

But a problem surfaced about six weeks into my tenure in Biglaw: it was that I hated Biglaw (Elie takes a lot of crap for leaving, but anyone who has been there understands). And so did nearly everyone I knew at my firm or any other firm who worked in Biglaw. My co-workers weren’t that bad — they were all smart, and, aside from one glaring exception, reasonably personable. But the work was awful; it was tedious, dry, and most of it could have been performed by a mediocre high school student, preferably one with moderate-to-severe OCD. But high school students can’t work for 80-90 hours a week, so they hire law school graduates to do the work (or did at that point in time). I contacted some friends at my pre-law school employer, and, after some back and forth was able to line up a non-legal but law-related job.

I paid off the last of my student loans on my last day at the firm. Now I make about 80% of what I’d make at my former firm and work around 40-45 hours a week, with no debt. It was a law school “success” story: my compensation more than doubled, and I have no debt. And I loved UVA Law, a phenomenal place to spend three years.

But looking back, I was like a toddler who successfully crawled through a mine field. I cashed out on the housing bubble, then moved into the law school student loan bubble, followed by the last of the large associate classes. As in most things in life — even law school exams — it’s better to be lucky than good. But, damn, favorable employment outcomes seem to require a lot of luck for law school graduates today. I appreciate that Lat is trying to bring balance to the discussion, but I don’t think anyone who looks closely at the recent employment stats from the University of Michigan (or UVA) could advise a prospective law student to take out six figures in debt to attend even those schools in good faith. Maybe HYS still makes sense, but I’m not sure any other school does. Thanks again for the reading enjoyment over the years — feel free to use this, but I’d prefer not to be identified by name.

“Better to be lucky than good” — I won’t argue with that. Many of the people who graduate from law school with little or no debt were lucky enough to be born into families that could afford to foot the bill for their legal education.

I asked this UVA Law grad how much debt he had upon graduation and how quickly he paid it off. His response:

1. I had around $40k in debt by graduation.

2. I was in Biglaw a little over a year (13 months) — paying off the debt was my #1 priority for that year. I drove an old, paid-off car, rented a cheap place, avoided expensive dinner/drinks (whenever the firm or a client wasn’t paying), and basically tried to live like someone making $70k a year. This approach is (obviously) more workable in some markets than others, but it’s worth keeping in mind that some people are living on that amount almost anywhere.

Suze Orman would be pleased. Leaving frugally involves sacrifice, but it’s often the best way to go. I have a friend who works in Biglaw here in New York; he lives in Queens, not Manhattan, and he rarely takes out-of-town vacations, opting for “staycations.” Some friends tease him about his cheapness, but he’s enjoying the last laugh: he hasn’t been at his firm that long, and his loans are already almost entirely repaid.

Our next installment of law school success stories will appear after the long weekend. If you’d like to submit a story, please read this post, which contains the submission guidelines. We look forward to hearing your tales of happiness!

ABA head has little sympathy for jobless lawyers [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

Earlier: Law School Success Stories: Submissions, Please
In Defense of Going to Law School

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