Dropout

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Mansfield J. Park weighs in on whether law students should stay in the game or quit while they’re ahead.

Sorry for the tease, but I want to start with Silicon Valley, then get to the sex change. I promise this will all vaguely make sense, in a “isn’t life complex but interconnected, but not in a vapid Crash kind of way?”

In Silicon Valley, I am told, there’s a saying: Fail fast.

Which really means: Fail fast, succeed faster.

The vast majority of startups there fail, so failing fast gets you on to the next project and, just maybe, closer to success. Your own country or whatever. Success is not inevitable in the startup world, but it’s more likely if you quit a failing venture to move on to something better.

Silicon Valley startup life is pretty different from law school. Law students are not known for their appetite for risk. Still, many of the 50,000 or so new law students could take the “fail fast” advice to heart.

Read more at the ATL Career Center…

Times are tough these days for law school graduates, so to be quite frank, we don’t blame you if you’re considering dropping out. Because when some of your post-graduation career options involve document review hell, stocking the shelves at a local retail shop, or performing what’s essentially slave labor to the tune of $10,000, dropping out may be your best bet. But not to worry, because if you were to drop out, you’d be in some pretty good company.

For example, would Gene Kelly have been singing in the rain if had he continued on with his legal studies at Pittsburgh School of Law? Yes, this choreographer extraordinaire and musical jack-of-all-trades attended law school for only two months before he dropped out, and his life was all the better for it.

Who else can be counted among our nation’s most famous law school dropouts?

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This guy isn't a slacker; he's just not wasting his time with law school.

Elie here. Lat and I have debated in these pages about whether or not certain students should drop out of law school. Dropping out has a stark finality to it. And then people call you a “dropout” like your name is Frenchie.

Today we have a more subtle question: should a rising 2L take a year off? He doesn’t have a job or any prospects or anything, but the kid wants to know if hitting the “pause” button on his legal career will do him any good.

Let’s break this down. And don’t forget to take our poll and add your own advice, in the comments….

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As baseball fans are well-aware, the San Diego Padres don’t have a very good record. At 15 games below .500 this year, they’re the second-worst team in the National League West, the fourth-worst team in the National League, and the fifth-worst team in all of MLB right now. The Padres have only won the National League Pennant twice, but lost in the World Series both times. They’re the only team in MLB to never record a no-hitter. To be frank, the Padres suck.

Why anyone would want to apply for a job working with the Padres is simply beyond me. Why that same person, a law student at the time, would apply for a job with the Padres at least 30 times puts her in wackadoodle territory. But who am I to judge?

Anyway, eventually people get sick of receiving rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter — or in most cases, no rejection letter at all. These days, people don’t even have the courtesy to tell you to go f**k yourself. I’m sure recent law school graduates can commiserate.

But after applying and being summarily rejected for an extremely low-rent job with the Padres, this former law student had absolutely had it. She was mad as hell, and she wasn’t going to take it anymore. The result? Possibly the best email ever sent from a repeatedly rejected job seeker….

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'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?

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How screwed up is legal education these days? One mainstream publication recently published an article suggesting law students should be paid to not go to law school, while the paper of record noted that nobody learns how to be a lawyer in law school anyway.

That’s what it’s come to, folks. Can you imagine Slate, which is owned by the Washington Post, publishing an article suggesting that we should pay M.B.A. candidates to stop going to business school? Can you imagine the New York Times publishing a feature article about how medical students don’t learn anything in medical school?

Welcome to law school, the red-headed stepchild of American professional schools….

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Martin Luther dropped out of law school and he did just fine for himself.

Not all of our coverage of law schools is depressing; we bring you happy stories as well. In recent weeks, we’ve written about one law school dean’s creative (and healthy) student outreach program, a law student demonstrating kindness to animals, and someone having fun — perhaps too much fun? — in the library.

Let’s continue the good cheer. Back in the spring, we wrote about a law student who was thinking of dropping out of school. He sought our advice — and, surprisingly enough, my colleague Elie Mystal advised this fellow to stay in school (even though Elie is generally not a fan of legal education).

Some commenters disagreed with Elie (shocker), and urged the kid to drop out. But now we bring you an update suggesting that perhaps Elie’s advice was sound….

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Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

I spent the second year of my social work internship working at a community center, which offered one of the top smoking cessation programs in the country.

One fine spring day I was sprawled, sunning myself, on a bench in the courtyard of the center, when a fellow intern lit up a cigarette. I proposed she give the cessation program a try.

“No one likes a quitter,” she quipped, exhaling a cloud of toxins.

Uh… huh. Except there’s a proviso in that statement — a “carve-out” in the contract language — covering the quitting of something self-destructive. Like smoking.

Or a pointless march through law school.

I’d like to speak in defense of quitting, and quitters….

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People think that I believe that nobody should go to law school ever, and that anybody who is currently in law school should drop out immediately. And, to be fair, I do think that many people in law school today have made terrible personal and financial decisions and have entered a world of pain that they will dwell in for much of the rest of their lives.

But I don’t think that every person in law school is there idiotically. I don’t think everybody who is there should drop out of school at the earliest available opportunity. I don’t even think you need a special “love of the law” to justify three years of legal education. The internet is not a great medium for nuance, but on a case-by-case basis there are a lot of situations where a person might be smart to go to law school and/or smart to stay in law school.

Take this one kid who emailed Above the Law asking for advice on whether or not he should drop out after his 1L year. I bet he’s going to be surprised that I’m of the opinion that he should stay in school…

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