Is Law School A Losing Game? We Asked. (Audio Post)

When the New York Times ran an article on January 8, 2011 ‘Is Law School A Losing Game?” it got reprinted in all major newspapers, set listservs and Facebook abuzz because it hit so many chords.  If you haven’t read ‘Is Law School A Losing Game?’ do so.

Sadly, in my opinion, they opted to feature Mr. Wallerstein as their example of the typical law student graduating today.   He went to a law school based upon the climate in Southern California. He borrowed and borrowed and borrowed, spent a month in Prague and then the south of France living the high life on student loan money.
Now he is basically hoping his law student loans will evaporate or the government will bail him out.  He can’t get a legal job but likes the prestige of being called a lawyer.

Simultaneously, they are legitimately lambasting law schools for the profit-making machines they are loan sharking to the uninformed or misled and are in cahoots with the federal government because it is just so profitable to lend to potential law students…. it’s almost criminal.

Rather than hear what I have to say on this subject, I invited SPU’s two terrific columnists, Rachel Rodgers and Jack Whittington, to discuss this article, law school Wallersteins and their own experiences in law school and after because they are in the thick of things.  They are both coming of age in this new economy and Gen Y lawyers. Rachel graduated 18 months ago and Jack is graduating this May.  They have much to share and you’ll want to hear it if you are considering law school, are in law school, or newly graduated.

You can listen below.  Running time is approximately 55 minutes.  Listen to the end.  It’s worth every minute to hear their thoughts and advice to those thinking of law school.

Download (.MP3)

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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17 comments on “Is Law School A Losing Game? We Asked. (Audio Post)

  • Maybe the profession was done a favor by the NYT article. Let the hot house flowers read the article and pick another profession. If I needed an attorney – I would rather have a Rachel or a Jack and pay double than have a chuckle head like the guy featured in the NYT article. I’m glad he can’t find a job.

    • I couldn’t agree more re: a Rachel or a Jack representing me :-). Do you think there is any merit, however, to how the system is gamed against the students (at least this past five years or so) when it comes to student loans and lack of transparency on the part of the law schools regarding job placement? Just asking.

      • Full disclosure: My son is in his 2nd year of law school.

        If the law school is misrepresenting data to their perspective students – yeah, it’s sleazy.But NO ONE can promise you a happy ending. NO ONE. Whether motives are sleazy or motives are pure – each one of us has to weigh all of the variables, throw in the fact that horrific change can happen (9/11, 2008 economic meltdown, tsunamis, droughts, wars) and go out and live life.

        Yes, sometimes it’s not easy. Sometimes it’s hard to find a job – but my God these kids have a JD – they’re not high school grads that have been working on the docks for 15 years and now are unqualified for the few number of jobs available.

        I can’t really be upset about their “plight.”

        (Really enjoy the blog, btw).

  • Just read an interesting article:

    which stated the following and seems to me to address some of the Wallerstein effect::

    “There’s [this] whole notion of ‘drift’ that I think a lot of people fall into with law school. They’d don’t decide, necessarily, to go to law school, but they drift into it, really for a lack of a better idea. And that’s one of the reasons so many lawyers are unhappy. They hear these lines that, on their face, seem to make sense: ‘It can’t hurt to take the LSAT.’ ‘I can always go to law school.’ ‘I can always change my mind later.’ That’s what happened to me. I drifted into it.”

    You get enough of these people thinking this way and vying for the jobs which cause the greatest unhappiness/depression (article states lawyers who are the happiest are in government, small jobs or solo), law schools loan sharking to them and not even discussing solo and small firm possibilities and you have a recipe for what we are seeing today – a glut of lawyers saddled with crushing debt and miserable.

    Everything from pre-law school education about realities of the profession, financial aid, actual legal education and job search needs to be rethought. Seriously.

    • Thank you, Susan!! Finally a response to all of this law school scam talk that I completely agree with. I’m an attorney who is absolutely thrilled to be doing what I do. I’ve only been out of law school for 3 years. I’m not angry or bitter about the job market, or the profession in general. I think too many people drifted in to being a lawyer, without actually wanting to BE a lawyer. Too many people entered law school thinking that there would be a big payoff at the end. When that did not occur, for whatever reason, law schools began to be blamed for everything from accepting too many students to being too expensive.

      Now, to be sure, there should be a more accountability when it comes to reporting but that is in no way the cause of the problems that now exist with this so called “lost generation”.

      What these disgruntled JD’s need to realize is that life owes them nothing. They are not entitled to anything and if going to law school ended up being a bad choice then the only person that any of these disgruntled students have to blame is themselves.

  • This is all so incredibly disturbing. Its almost like the “law school monster.” Its a scandal similar to the mortgage/foreclosure crisis. I am at least glad that the NY Times outted law schools in a big way. Now, hopefully we’ll see some actual real changes.

  • It is all very disturbing and disheartening in many ways. However, it just drives the point further home that you need to have a plan while you are still in law school as to how you are going to meet the challenges once you graduate.

    • Jack, I actually find it empowering. The more information which comes out, the stronger position for change for everyone. With this type of outrageousness highlighted there will be a crescendo building.

      While people should still ethically and morally do the right thing by their loans, I think the time will come in the not too distant future where we will see change and relief from some of these draconian laws and decisions.

  • It’s clear to me after listening to this podcast that these two will be successful. Why? Because they both have a sense of personal responsibility and an awareness that law school isn’t a middle-class ticket to riches and the good life. If more pre-law students would do the necessary research and introspection before committing to law school, there would be fewer lawyers, period, and likely fewer unhappy lawyers.

    I also agree that the NYT article completely ignored the idea of starting one’s own practice. The legal field seems to be structured around getting a job, or not. It’s not a zero-sum game, although the learning curve for both the law AND starting a business can be high.

    • Gretchen,

      I have no doubt Rachel and Jack will be successful. I think they already are :-). While personal responsibility is an absolute, sometimes it’s hard when the deck is stacked against you in ways that are only just starting to come to light. I am appalled at how financial aid is just handed out like candy at Halloween while the lenders and law schools are laughing all the way to bank because their money is protected forever. The more money they hand out the richer they become. It’s the best investment out there when you look at return on investment!! If the law schools had to share in the risk on the loans, maybe they would be more careful who they admitted and educated the student on their financial obligations because repayment turned on being more selective.

      • The student loan industry is appalling. Can I look into my crystal ball and predict reforms will have to start happening soon? The whole thing is on the verge of imploding.

        On another forum, someone suggested that law students and other graduate students taking out huge amounts of debt be required to go through a similar vetting process as someone applying for a small business loan. The idea, I suppose, is getting the person to think hard about the ROI and whether it’s the best investment. The problem is, most 22-year-olds–especially the self-selecting, gifted set of students who choose law school–believe they can beat the employment odds. I suppose that’s no different than an eager new restaurant owner thinking they’ll beat those odds.

        Anyway, I’m 33 and am thinking about law school, and am weighing the risks and benefits carefully. At this age, I have a lot more at stake. Luckily, life intervened and I didn’t pursue the Ph.D. in English that I was considering at age 22. Now THAT is a bad investment.

  • That’s a good article, but is it reasonable to expect to go to school for three years and come out the other end of the process earning $160,000 a year? If someone is interested in going to law school and going into debt for the cost, wouldn’t it be a good idea to talk to other lawyers and find out the truth? Not only that, but arrogance is a poor substitute for strategy. How many very smart people go to law school, naturally thinking they would be in the top 10% of the class and get a GREAT law job, only to find out how average they are in a room full of other law students? Whatever law schools tell you, or whatever they do to dress up their rankings, doesn’t it make sense to make a reasonable investigation of the prospects after law school before committing to a life changing debt? I am really tired of listening to law students whine about that. If you can’t afford law school, don’t go to law school! Think!
    A law school education is good. Very good. I would do it all over again, only sooner. I’m 50 in May, and just started.

  • I covered this article on my blog. I take the position that Canadians face the same issues as the Americans. It’s not a popular position, to be sure, but as was mentioned rising tuition and student loan debt are changing the field here at home.

  • I really enjoyed the audio discussion! I chose my “alternative” career path (working as a Freelance Attorney) for slightly different (i.e., non-economic) reasons–my husband is in the military, and our “geographic insecurity” makes flexibility an enormously important criteria for my job. But the more I learn about other people who’ve embarked on similarly entrepreneurial legal endeavors, the more I feel extremely privileged to be in such good company! Rachel, Jack, and Susan: Thank you for the reminder that there are people out there who are daring to direct the course of their own lives and careers, rather than simply “drift” along (to reference a previous comment)!

  • Finally had a chance to listen to this and appreciated it. The only issue I take is with the idea that most law school students are like the guy in the article. I can say the kids at Texas are good kids. A lot of them (including me sometimes) drop nonchalant “let’s wait for a bailout” comments because they’re totally lost. When I started the Future Solo and Small Firm Attorney’s Group here most of my friends ignored it because they weren’t ready to face it. Now they are owning it and getting involved. They focused on grades and ignored the career planning stuff I focused on, and their grades are better than mine and they probably know more substantive law than I do. They have their strengths and I take it as a personal mission to help them find their path. I’ve learned about technology and marketing and business plans because that’s what I like about the law. Hopefully I can help all of them become successful, if nothing else so I can ask them for a loan later :)

    • Mike,

      Remember, this is just the opinion from two students and their respective schools. But I think there are a lot of ‘Wallersteins’ out there. And I am so excited for the initiative you’ve shown and your generosity with your information. It will be very interesting to see how you all do upon passing the bar!!

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