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

Should You Drop Out of Law School? An ATL Debate

'I'm ending my 1L year with a B-minus average. What's the point in going on?'

Lat here. Your Above the Law editors occasionally receive requests for advice from readers, to which we sometimes respond. Back in March, for example, Elie Mystal and I debated the merits of Harvard Law School versus Yale Law School, for the benefit of a prospective law student choosing between these two fine institutions. In case you’re wondering, he’s going to Yale.

(The future Yalie explained his decision this way: “I didn’t want to take the chance that even if I worked harder at HLS, I could still be ranked below enough outstanding students to not impress a professor, land a good clerkship, etc. I also got the impression that this risk-averse mentality was what drove many people who were on the fence between YLS and HLS to eventually choose YLS.”)

Choosing between Harvard and Yale is a high-class problem. Today we look at a situation that we’ve addressed before, in 2010 and 2011, and that continues to confront our readers. The question presented: If you do poorly in law school, should you cut your losses and drop out? Or should you keep on trucking and collect that J.D. degree?

We have two fact patterns. One involves a 1L, and one involves a 2L. Let’s hear them out, shall we?

Here’s the first fact pattern. The correspondent did not want us to reveal the law school in question, so we have anonymized. Also, we’re going to treat both of our advice-seekers as male, regardless of their real-life genders. Based on the results of our reader poll on gender-neutral language, we suspect that most of you will be okay with this.

I love Above the Law; thanks so much for the great and interesting work you do! I was wondering if you have a minute to give advice, or perhaps hit me over the head with what I already know.

I am a 1L finishing my first year at [a school ranked between #50 #100 by U.S. News that is located in a major metropolitan area]. I have a scholarship for roughly 50% provided I stay in the top half of my class. The problem is my first semester grades are not stellar (Bs and B-‘s) and I’m not sure I will maintain my scholarship. Should I drop out? I am only now really contemplating what it meant when everyone really emphatically told me not to go to law school.

I have about $15,000 in loans from this year. I live at home so that helped minimize how much I had to take out. The huge increase in loans for the private school is one of my main concerns for staying in school if I lose my scholarship. If I drop out, I get a six-month grace period until I have to start repaying them.

It’s never been my dream to be a lawyer, but I went to law school under the impression it would be a positive career move. When I did my cost-benefit analysis on going, it involved being at the top of my class. Now that I’m not, should I continue? Is it worth it? If I do, do you have any advice on what to do next? I really appreciate any and all advice.

DAVID LAT: This 1L’s situation reminds me of the interesting proposal, floated by Yale law professors Akhil Reed Amar and Ian Ayres, suggesting that law students should essentially be paid to quit at the end of their first year, if they aren’t enjoying or excelling at their legal studies. In this case, I’m torn — in the past, I’ve urged law students to stay in school — but, on balance, I think this student should quit.

Why? Interestingly enough, because quitting wouldn’t be that disastrous. I understand the sunk cost fallacy on an intellectual level, but I still can’t escape its sway as an emotional matter. If the student owed more money from 1L year, I might say, “Stick it out to make your $50K investment worthwhile.”

Here, though, the student owes a mere $15,000. The student never dreamed of becoming a lawyer, by his own admission, and he doesn’t seem to have any particular passion for the law. So he might as well drop out. Sending $15K down the drain isn’t great, but it’s much better than wasting another $50K or $100K, plus two years of his life, on a degree that he neither wants nor can find much use for.

ELIE MYSTAL: I’ll assume Lat has already given you all the rational and economic advice you need to make the right call, so I’ll (as I often do) focus on the emotional side. Why, for the love of God, do something that you’re not that into for two years? Something that you are not even that good at? What the hell? How is this even a question? Imagine me emailing, like, the National Rifle Association and saying, “I don’t really like guns and I’m terrible at shooting, but I’d like to renew my membership even though the cost is about to triple because, well, because I was a member last year and eventually I might want to shoot somebody.”

It makes no sense for you to stay in law school. You know this. The only reason you have to ask is probably because you’re trying to work up the stones to tell your mother or father that you’re not going to be a lawyer. But I don’t have any advice on how you go about growing a pair.

Should this 1L drop out of law school?

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Now, on to our 2L advice-seeker….

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