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.

notes: typed vs. handwritten

Kelly asks whether she'd be at a disadvantage taking notes by hand as compared to a laptop. it's hard for me to conclusively say...i saw people who did it both ways in class. there didn't seem to be a noticeable correlation between how typists did and how hand-writers did. i always did it on a laptop, because i'm a ridiculously slow hand-writer but a pretty fast typist.

if your biggest worry is about getting distracted with how they're formatted, that's really not a big deal. you'll get the hang of it in the first week or so, and then you won't even think about it anymore. make sure you know how the bullet-point features on your word processor of choice work, and you should be good to go.

one more argument against handwriting them and typing them later, though...are you really going to take the time to recopy all your notes? will that really be the best use of your time? depending on your work ethic and the way you study, the answer to that may be yes. but, think about that. i knew i would never do such a thing on a regular basis...and also, liked having the already-typed notes to condense and edit into an outline come finals week.

Monday, August 09, 2010

a few answers.

alright, we've had a few questions in the last post on here, so i'm going to take a crack at providing some answers. if anyone else has anything better, feel free to comment or write a new post.

Jess asked whether there were any other suggestions to getting law school books for cheaper than the bookstore, other than Amazon or for one, you can always ask around...sometimes people who took the class last year are willing to sell their books for cheap, or even lend them to you. if the edition hasn't changed (or even if it has...shhhh!), this can be a cheap option. Google Shopping can also be full of win in this it books or anything else, i love its site-comparison features, and have had good luck finding things cheap through it.

jumi asked about standard software. first and foremost...i got through law school without Microsoft Office on my box. i used OpenOffice...which was perfectly suited for law school even in 2005 when i started, and has only gotten better over the years. that, Firefox, and a .pdf reader got me pretty much everywhere in law school. the only other piece of software that comes to mind was ExamSoft's SofTest, the computerized test-taking software my law school (Washington University in St. Louis) used. when i started law school, it was Windows-only, and i was pretty uncomfortable even attempting to use a virtual machine to take my test at that point. (fast forward to 2010...i've become a linux geek who has forsaken the legal field to work in information technology. go figure.) i kept Windows on my laptop until graduation for the sake of running SofTest. when i was in law school, people either ran it from Windows, or ran it on their Macs using Windows XP on BootCamp. i never tested it from Linux in a Windows VM; ExamSoft says that SofTest is not supported by any VM software. i'm tempted to find a way to test this claim out just to satisfy my own curiosity...but i understand that law school testing is stressful and high-stakes, so can only suggest that you at least make sure to either have a Windows or Mac box, or one you can borrow, come exam week. i also know there are a few other testing software suites out there, but i'm not familiar with them since my law school didn't use them. SofTest is also the most common.

The Jogger asked if you had to memorize things like the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or the UCC verbatim. that wasn't my experience. as unrealistic as the expectations of law school often are, professors are generally not that crazy. when i took civpro my 1L year, we were issued a fresh copy of the FRCP to go with our exam. we were responsible for being familiar with the applications and caselaw interpretations of the Rules, but as for the text of the rules or the rule numbers for each rule, we could look them up. most of my law school exams were either open-book (bring whatever resources you wanted) or modified open-book (bring your course textbook and whatever else the professor speciically said you can bring). but, one caveat is good to have at least a general idea of the layout of the rules, and the course material. you're not going to have enough time to look absolutely everything up, as well as write a satisfactory response to the questions, during the exam time. even in an open-book test, preparatory work pays off--if nothing else, you'll know where to look, instead of flailing around trying to find relevant information.