Monday, August 16, 2010

the law school scam...isn't.

[this is a cross-post from my blog, but i thought it may be relevant here to law students and especially potential law students, so i'm posting it here in its entirety.]

i'm no longer a lawyer, but i still keep my toe ever-so-slightly dipped into the blawgosphere. i still read above the law religiously. even though it's a world i'm no longer part of, i still find it occasionally entertaining and more-than-occasionally interesting to keep an eye on that world, since i did make the mistake of dabbling in it myself for a little while.

over the last year or two, there has arisen a whole genre of "scamblogs": blogs written by law school graduates that refer to law school as a scheme that convinced people to part with large amounts of money, enticed by promises of high starting salaries and financial security. these blogs are getting quite a bit of media attention now that the Newark Star-Ledger has recently published an article about the writer of one of the older and more well-known scamblogs out there, big debt, small law [which is currently offline; the link goes to a cached version].

it's an interesting, and on some level, tempting argument made by this genre of blogs, but i think it is completely wrong. i think it's completely wrong even though law school has financially ruined me, and was by far the biggest mistake of my life for that reason and several others.

the argument that law school is a scam is rather tempting. a lot of people who go to law school are enticed by the six-figure starting salaries at Douchebag & Douchebag LLP, and sign their lives away gladly, thinking they'll make big money and be able to pay it off in a reasonable amount of time. it's really easy to blame law schools for this. law schools don't come out of this smelling like roses, since the goal of their recruiting is to bring in a full class of students each year who are willing to pay the tuition and fees...and, preferably, bring in a full class of students with higher entrance statistics than the previous year, so as to raise their ranking and justify charging even more money next year. they have no incentive to highlight the fact that not every marginally bright person who goes to law school gets one of those high-paying jobs, or even gets a legal job at all. they have no incentive to bring prospective students' attention to the bimodal distribution of legal starting salaries. they have no incentive to portray the potential drawbacks of going to law school.

but, that's not enough to make it the law school's fault that law school ruined my life, your life, or anyone else's life. the argument that law school is a scam rests on the flawed idea that it's a law school's responsibility to portray both its good side and its bad side to potential students. in short, it's not.

would it be nice if they portrayed law school realistically? sure. but, law school is a product, just like anything else. very few products are required to advertise how using them could blow up in your face; the only things i can think of that have to talk in their promotional materials about potential negative side effects are prescription drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products. ads for subprime mortgages or credit cards always focused on what you can get, not the stress of paying them off. fleabag motels don't actually put pictures of their nasty beds in their advertisements. dicey vacation areas always show pictures of pristine beaches, not shantytowns. how do you find out what's bullshit in the advertising, and what the reality of the product is?

you do your research.

you find out what kind of work a lawyer has to do, and you find out whether you'd enjoy doing that sort of work or not. you find out what the distribution of incomes in the legal field is. you find out whether you'd be able to stand a job in biglaw if you actually managed to get one. you find out whether you'd realistically be able to pay off the exorbitant amount of debt if you can't get a job in biglaw. you assess your interests, capabilities, and life goals, and decide if being an attorney fits in with that. you decide whether making the sacrifice of going to law school is worth it. and, you ask yourself, whether you're willing to take the hit, to live with all that debt and all those years of your life, lost, if you find out that being a lawyer is not all it's cracked up to be.

for some people, it's worth it. for me and many others, it isn't.

i don't blame law school [either the specific one i went to, or the more general institution of law school] for the fact that law school was the biggest mistake of my life. i blame myself. i did some of my homework, but i didn't do all of it. i had insufficient experience in the real-world to realise how crushing all that debt would feel. i didn't take off my rose-coloured glasses and realise that the legal profession was as stodgy as it is, and that i didn't have the energy or desire to fight the good fight for weirdos in the legal profession. i didn't think critically enough about the actual work that lawyers do to realise that i'd find it unsatisfying--until i was actually out of school and faced with the reality of having to do it full-time. in short, i wasn't scammed. i did something really impulsive and stupid, and i have to pay the price for it for the rest of my life. it's my fault.

in short, calling law school a scam is an excuse. it's an attempt to shift responsibility for doing insufficient research and making a stupid decision away from yourself and onto someone else.

7 comments:

Shantelle said...

Thank you. Those scambloggers nearly singlehandedly convinced me to not do something I've dreamed about since I was a little girl.

However, they did prompt me to do my research and it's because of that I'm going in with my eyes wide open.

Hopefully they serve to scare the shit out of some people enough to get them to prepare better and take it seriously.

Liz said...

I think you're missing a key piont:

- The law school "scam" isn't really directed at students, it's a way to capture federal loans, AND federally subsidized and guaranteed loans, which are basically unlimited. As recipients of taxpayer dollars (the US is on the hook for about 820 BILLION in student loan debt right now - check the CBO) law schools damn well owe someone an accounting of the value of their product.

Michael said...

It's true that the individual students are each responsible for their ill-advised decisions. If a law school ever gets sued for fraud based on fake employment stats, they'll just pull out the student's admissions essay where he no doubt said he wasn't in it for the money. But nevertheless, scambloggers have a point; and that is, that gargantuan sums of money are being lent to people with no visible means of repayment, and no prospects.

Liz said...

The student will then point to the "Enron style" employed-at-nine months statistics released by the law school, which made attending law school look like a decent bet.

I'm not advocating suing law schools, but it's silly to pretend the student made his/her decision without input from the people who benefited from that decision - and that input was, to say the least, VERY inaccurate.

April Elizabeth said...

the BIGGEST mistake of my life.

vivian.w.li said...

amazing, i totally agree with you. kudos for taking personal responsibility and not playing the blame game.

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