Holidays and Seasons, Law Schools, LSAT, Student Loans

Don’t Let The New Year’s Blues Lead You To Law School

I find New Year’s to be a fairly depressing time of year. The calendar demands that you reflect on everything in your life over the previous, arbitrary, and finite period. And if you are naturally cynical, depressive, or even just ambitious, that reflection and self-assessment reveals flaws and unrealized potential.

It’s why the whole “New Year’s resolution” phenomenon is a thing. Every New Year’s resolution can be reduced to “I think I suck, tomorrow I’m going to try to not suck.” And, of course, New Year’s resolutions tend to be either petty or wildly unrealistic. If you can look into your soul and decide that the most important “self-improvement” you can make is to lose ten pounds and fit back into your wedding dress, I kind of hate you. But if you find yourself looking in a mirror thinking “okay, January 1, no more cocaine,” as if you can muster the Earth’s orbital transit to aid you in freeing yourself of addiction, then you’re also very annoying.

What I’m trying to say is that I’d bet that the seeds to the most terrible and irrational decisions to go to law school are planted on New Year’s (or your birthday). I have no evidence to back up this opinion, but “I’m going to do something with my life and go to law school” seems like exactly the kind of desperate thought that makes a lot of sense to people when the calendar demands they spend a lot of time gazing at their own navels.

Going to law school should be an intermediate step in a long-term plan, not the first step in a “changing your life” plan you’ve concocted because 2013 sucked and you don’t know what else to do with yourself. If you find yourself considering law school because your life looks like this guy’s, who’s jobless and living in his mom’s basement, STOP. BACK AWAY FROM THE LEDGE, have some Cold Duck tonight, and know that the blues will pass and that there are better ways to spend $150,000….

Unemployed 23-year-old Matthew Mazer took to Salon.com to write one of the more depressing “year in review” articles you are likely to see. Mazer started 2013 by moving back into his mother’s house in Alabama after an aborted attempt to start a writing career in New York. Things didn’t exactly get better for him in his mom’s basement, and his story will probably resonate with a lot of disaffected, under-employed Millenials. He drank, he napped, he developed a bizarre and unhealthy friendship with his cat. Pretty standard stuff for a young person in this economy.

Somewhere in the muck, Mazer started to think about going to law school. He never wanted to be a lawyer (red flag #1), but with no clearly definable way to escape working on a food truck (red flag #2), applying to law school seemed like a way to arrest the downward spiral of his life (red flag #3). Here’s how he describes it:

I enrolled in a class for the Law School Admissions Test with my friend Jim, whom I had punched in the face all those months prior. We spent most of August and September studying for the LSAT to justify our existences. Like victims of a hostage crisis, Jim and I formed a special bond through LSAT-induced frustration and anxiety. Unlike victims of a hostage crisis, we never got to meet Ben Affleck. But after all we went through together, I am now confident I could punch Jim in the face at least two or three more times before it really started to jeopardize our friendship.

Ultimately, I didn’t do terribly well on the LSAT. I have since taken this to mean I might not make the best attorney. I’m fine with this though, because I’d rather not make any kind of attorney, unless it’s a modern Atticus Finch without children in danger of being stabbed. And as a person with a semi-functional brain, I also hate debt. So all things considered, I probably should not go to law school. Yet I am still going through the motions of applying because, as this retrospective has reaffirmed for me, not being in law school has worked out pretty terribly the last 23 years.

I shouldn’t have to explain to all of you why going to law school at this point would be the worst possible decision Mazer could make short of getting involved in Birmingham’s thriving crystal meth trade. But since a law school admissions dean somewhere will openly beg Mazer to attend their law school, let me quickly break down all of the bad calls Mazer is making in these two paragraphs:

  • The LSAT is NOT there to justify one’s existence. You shouldn’t take the LSAT to “figure out if you want to go to law school.” The LSAT has nothing to do with whether or not you should go to law school. The LSAT should be taken after you’ve made a rational decision to go to law school, and ideally only after you know which law schools you want to go to. Only then can you attack the test knowing exactly what score you need to get in order to further your career. Taking the LSAT to figure out where you stand is like signing up for the Olympic sprint trials just to see how fast you are. YOU WILL LOSE.
  • Don’t be content with a crappy LSAT score. Here’s a guy who is ostensibly trying to turn his whole life around. He signs up for the test that will (fairly or unfairly) define the degree of difficulty he will encounter in this new, life-changing career. He takes it once, doesn’t do terribly well, and… that’s it? He’s acting like his LSAT score was handed to him by an all-knowing judge who never changes his mind. TAKE IT AGAIN if going to law school is so important to you. And keep taking it until you score well enough to get where you want to go. The LSAT isn’t an immutable trait, like your height, which can’t be improved. It’s like your weight, which can be changed with time and effort.
  • If you don’t want to be a lawyer, DON’T GO TO LAW SCHOOL. Is there any other profession that so many people freely admit they do not want to be a part of before they spend three years and a lot of money trying to become just that? Like, people don’t want to be prostitutes (I’m guessing), but at some point it just kind of happens that they can earn more money that way than by doing anything else. But nobody goes to school to become a prostitute, right? Nobody says, “I really don’t want to be a prostitute, but I’m going to spend three years in school, not making any money, learning how, because even if I’m a mediocre prostitute four years from now, it’ll be worth it.” Like, nobody has ever said that ever, right? It’s really only law where people say, “I’m going to pay money to become something I don’t want to be.”
  • Applying for the sake of completing something is dumb. You’re a Millennial, you live with your parents, everybody thinks that you are some kind of layabout who doesn’t have the drive or determination to succeed professionally. But you’re going to show them! No, you’re not going to show them by working an awful job and slowly climbing the ladder one demeaning rung at a time. You’re not going to show them by capitalizing on your rent-free life to start your own business, getting out there and hustling for clients, sales, or investors. You’re going to show them by filling out an application! Like, a really complicated one, with lots of forms and checklists that would FLUMMOX lesser men. And unlike your job applications (which mostly end in you still not having a job), this is an application for school, so it’s not even important if you get a job out of it. When you get into school, law school at that, everybody will know that you are not just another screw-up, everybody will know that you are doing something with your life…. If that sounds like your logic behind applying to law school, please stop. Not completing something can also be a sign of maturity. Well adjusted adults have the ability to stop doing something stupid even if they’ve already started.

I guess that wasn’t quick. But it was necessary. This may come as a shock to some of you, but law school admissions people are not in the business of telling you to slow down and carefully assess the decision to go to law school. You’d think that legal educators would be the first people to tell you to think about whether or not you want to be a lawyer before you come to law school. You’d think they’d be the first people to counsel you to improve your credentials through superior performance on the LSAT. You’d think they’d want their classroom seats filled with young people eager to engage in the intellectual pursuit of legal study, not with people who are just looking for a way out of their mom’s basement.

Instead, they just want their seats to be filled. And most of them don’t give a damn how you got there or what will happen to you after you’re gone.

Here’s my New Year’s resolution: I will not overreact to the failures of 2013 with ridiculous, poorly thought-out plans for 2014. Folks, 2013 is in the past. Don’t let it ruin your 2014.

A year in my parents’ basement [Salon]

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