Some guy on Twitter was complaining that Above the Law focuses too much on the negative side of going to law school. Apparently this person mistakes us for a law school admissions office — people who ignore facts when they don’t fit their happy-clappy narrative. We do bring you some law school success stories when we hear of good ones. Do you know why those stories are “news”? Because law schools are so effective at leading people down a path of career frustration and financial ruin that when somebody beats the odds, it’s mildly noteworthy.
Law school is a good investment for some, and a terrible one for many. We say that all the time. The problem is that law schools do not give people enough information to assess whether or not they should go. The problem is that some law schools actively mislead people who are trying to make a sound decision. The problem is that even when law school “works out,” the tuition charged often vastly outstrips the value of the degree.
Sure, some people will succeed despite the high cost, misleading information, and weak job market. Law schools want you to think that those successful people are the norm, but really they are the outliers. (And, given the events of today, I guess I have to say that the folks who contemplate suicide are also outliers.)
This guy who recently bared his underachieving soul to Business Insider is the norm. This guy making $45,000 while carrying $200,000 of law school debt has the kind of life law students should prepare themselves for, regardless of what the admissions brochures and the guy on Twitter who made everything work out will tell you….
Erin Fuchs of Business Insider essentially did an exposé on a 28-year-old law graduate with “deep regrets” about his decision to go to law school. The overall point of his story is not at all new to regular readers of Above the Law (or to anybody who has been paying the slightest bit of attention to legal education). But the details… oh the details are important because they show the real human cost of letting law schools lie to people while the ABA looks the other way.
The anonymous source says that he graduated from a top-20 law school and now makes $45,000 a year working for a small firm while living with his parents in Virginia. If I had to guess (and it’s a complete guess), I’d say that he went to UCLA Law. If he had gotten into a top-14 school, he would have said so. He also talks about how the law degree “isn’t portable,” which seems to me to be something you learn when you have to move back in with your parents in Virginia and try to get jobs there with your California law degree.
But it doesn’t really matter what law school he went to. Except for Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, almost all of the rest over-promise in some way. Here’s what the grad said about his professional aspirations when he got to law school:
Optimal outcome would have been an associate position with a large firm making $160,000. I knew I only had a 20% chance of landing that position, so I thought a realistic outcome was at a mid-sized firm making less than the large law firm salary but still a respectable amount.
Notice how unscientific that “20% chance” is. That’s not this guy’s fault. Law schools do not provide enough information on what chances their graduates really have at landing a $160,000-a-year job. They don’t even try to tell prospective students what a “realistic” outcome might be. They throw together a lot of twice-warmed-over, misleading statistics, and leave it to the student to guesstimate their chances of success. As he explains to BI:
It’s pretty easy to hop on the Internet Wayback Machine and see what law schools do. They told me the median starting salary of graduates was $160,000 and some absurd percentage — like 90%+ ± of graduates were employed within 9 months of graduation.
This reasonably lead me to believe that even if I wasn’t going to be in the top of my class and make $160,000, surely the jobs in the tier below the top big firm jobs would pay a living wage. Never in my worst nightmares did I think I’d find myself with $200,000 in debt, making less than $50,000, struggling to find job openings and to move on in my career…
Law schools will lie to you. Do not believe a word that comes from law schools, law deans, or law professors. They are salesmen and they want you to hand them $200,000 in non-dischargeable law school loans. That’s all they are interested in.
People are always surprised to find out that educational institutions are so willing to use misleading statistics. They’re conditioned to know that all the car and jewelery commercials they see are full of it, but they don’t realize those selling “law schools” can play just as fast and loose with the facts.
Most of the article is your usual, post-grad sob story. He worked for $1,000 a month while he was supposed to pay $1,900 a month for his loans. He went on IBR. He did contract work (and still does in his spare time for extra cash). He makes less than $50K a year in his current law firm job.
His story received some of the usual, completely dumbass responses from people who don’t know any better. Readers criticized him for feeling “entitled” to a job. They encouraged him to “network” and “try harder.” Despite all of the media coverage about what law schools really do, there are so many institutional sycophants out there who find it so much easier to blame the individual instead of the institution.
If this guy felt “entitled,” it’s because that’s what the school told him. If you pay $200,000 for a boat, you are “entitled” to think that the boat will float. If you later end up at the bottom of the sea giving handjobs to Aquaman, it’s not because you were too “entitled” to sprout gills, it’s because the person who sold you the boat turned out to be a liar.
In terms of “networking” and “working harder,” do you know how difficult it is to get even a $45,000-a-year job in this market? I promise you that this guy had to bust his ass and burn up his LinkedIn contacts just to get that job. Stop listening to law schools and pretending that there is a good job market out there for any young attorney who is willing to work for it. That’s just not true. You have to work really hard even to get a contract-attorney job that leaves you underemployed and drowning in your debts.
If we’re going to blame the guy for something, blame him for believing the hucksters who were selling him on legal education. It’s fine if you want to look down on the fool who buys the snake-oil thinking that it will cure cancer, just don’t forget that the real culprit here is the snake-oil salesman. And I don’t have a lot of patience for the plants who buy the snake-oil and then don’t have cancer anymore… since they probably never had it in the first place.
Just look at the human cost of all this ABA-sanctioned misleading. Look at how this grad describes his life:
I consider law school a waste of my life and an extraordinary waste of money. I feel like I was duped and tricked. At the end of the day, it’s my own fault for being a sucker and I learned an extremely hard lesson. Because I went to law school, I don’t see myself having a family, earning a comfortable wage, or having an enjoyable lifestyle. I wouldn’t wish my law school experience on my enemy.
I’m sure that this guy hopes his story will encourage some prospective law students to reconsider their decisions. I hope that his story encourages law schools to merely tell the truth to their would-be students.