Earlier this week, Jim Saksa wrote a piece in Slate entitled “You Can Do Anything With A Law Degree,” where he argued that you can’t do everything with a law degree despite the propaganda of the law school-industrial complex. Apparently he didn’t realize you could herd sheep. All in all, it was a great addition to the growing pushback to the lie that it’s a good idea to blow six figures on a legal education even if you aren’t committed to a life at least tangentially in the law and you get into a microwave law school.
It’s already generated some ridiculous defensive blowback. One carefully constructed rebuttal to the Slate piece, attempting to rehabilitate the “law degree as fashionable accessory” argument, looks on its face like a serious challenge. It’s not….
Greedy Associates begged to differ with the contention that a law degree is — in many cases — a bad idea. Unfortunately, the best argument in this piece is when Gabriella Khorasanee literally says, “nanny nanny boo boo.” Let’s review:
For the proposition that a J.D. won’t help you get a legal job, Mr. Saksa cites the difference between the unemployment of recent law grads (11.2%), to recent college grads (10.9%) — that is, for those of you who hate math, a meager difference of 0.3%. Really, less than half of one percent is going to be the basis of your argument?
Well, yes. You see, the non-law grads have the exact same job prospects and don’t have $130,000+ in debt and three years of wasted time. That’s bad enough for buying essentially no career advantage, but for lawyers it’s even worse when you take a dynamic view. Jobs will come back for most sectors, but the joblessness for law grads will only get worse as law schools pump out 450,000 lawyers this decade with only 200,000 jobs for them.
The H.R. manager sees the law degree as “lost time.” To her we declare, you say tomato, we say tomato. Résumé review is subjective at best, and not everyone who looks at a résumé is going to value the same things. Period. While some prospective employers see a J.D. as “lost time” — others see it as evidence of valued soft skills like work ethic, written skills, and tenacity.
Sure. They could also see the J.D. as a sign you’re planning to bolt for a legal job at the first opportunity, or that you’re going to demand a higher salary than another qualified applicant, or that you’re going to think everything you’re doing is beneath you. There are a lot of ways to evaluate any degree, but let’s not cherry-pick exceptions. The numbers speak for themselves, and the numbers show definitively that law grads have no appreciable advantage over non-law grads in the job market and there is at least a risk that they are worse off even before taking into account the costs they’ve sunk.
I think lawyers CAN do anything with a law degree, but here is the kicker: that shouldn’t be the reason you decide to go to law school.
Here’s another newsflash: You should only go to law school if you want to be a lawyer. I know, mind blowing stuff here. If you are going to law school because you can do anything with a law degree, you are setting yourself up for failure. And, it’s not because you have a law degree. It’s because you don’t know what you want to do. You’re about to throw down at least $150,000 getting an education that is meant for people who know what they want to do: become a lawyer.
This is good advice, but Khorasanee can’t have it both ways. As long as you perpetuate the myth that a law degree is infinitely flexible, you’re inviting people to go to law school without knowing that they want a career in law. You can’t tell people, “It’s totally awesome to eat this, but please don’t.” There are whole religions founded on the fact that this strategy always fails.
I don’t want to sound like a corporate inspirational poster, but you can do anything with a law degree. There are plenty of people that prove that. If you’re not finding success getting an alternative career, consider the fact that it may be your approach, not your J.D. that’s getting in your way. Your cover letter can go a long way in explaining your career change, and dispelling any notions of “failure.”
You’ll also need to highlight skills and experiences on your resume that make sense for your prospective new career. Having a J.D. will alone, not be enough. But the skills you attain by having a J.D. will. Just don’t think the J.D. will do all the work for you — you are your best case — be in it to win it.
If you’re not convinced, we’ll be back in a few days with 101 other things you can do with your J.D. (because 99 was simply not enough).
Just. Ugh. No. This is why tone is so important. Yes, feel free to tell unemployed J.D.s how to find another career, but have the common goddamned courtesy to frame it as “look, we all make mistakes, here’s how to recover” — for example, our approach to celebrating the subjects of career alternatives — instead of deliberately bashing a fine precautionary article that just points to hard truths about how futile it is to get a degree if you aren’t sold on the law.
I Beg to Differ: You Can Do Anything With a Law Degree [Greedy Associates]
“You Can Do Anything With a Law Degree” [Slate]
2010-2020 Math: 200,000 Lawyer Jobs, 450,000 New Lawyers [TaxProf Blog]
Earlier: Now That’s Transparency: ‘Most Honest Law School’ Admits a Graduate Is Employed as a ‘Sheep Farmer’
In Defense Of My Sympathy For A Sad Ivy Law Grad
You Can Do Anything With A Law Degree — Like, Win A $20 Target Gift Card!