So You Want To Go To Law School

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AllforOne

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The topic came up in a Cavs thread, and rather than continue to off-topic the shit out of it, I figured I'd start a discussion here.

The question: should I go to law school?

My answer is a very good lawyer answer: It all depends.

Back in the summer of 1991, when I started law school (fuck, that was a long time ago), a law degree was seen as one of the tickets to a lucrative career. Law firms were still scooping up new hires by the armload, and it seemed like the gravy train would never end.

Notice I said nothing about actually enjoying the law in that paragraph. Because very few of us, I reckon, went into law because we actually liked law. Mot of us went into it for two reasons, and two reasons only. One, we wanted to make money. And two, we didn't want to have to go to med school to do it. Oh sure, we didn't say anything like that on our application essays. We slathered on layers of bullshit of "deep commitment to justice" and "rule of law" and "making a positive difference" ... but at the end of the day, it was about money.

Those are really shitty reasons to pick a career. Not that making money is a bad thing; but it's never going to make you happy, especially if you hate what you do to make it. Unfortunately, I had to find that out for myself. I hated pretty much every minute of law school, but convinced myself that everybody hates law school, and that things would be better once I was out in the real world. I clerked for a judge for two years after law school, and then started working for one of the big firms downtown. I had Made It. I was making more money than I'd ever made before, had an office with a decent view of downtown ....

... and one morning, about six weeks in, after that initial sugar rush had worn off, I came into the office, sat at my desk ... and realized that I did not like one thing about law. I didn't like researching the law. I didn't like writing arcane briefs debating the finer points of the second sentence of paragraph (f) of section 110 of the Who Gives A Fuck Act of 1989. I didn't like the always-competitive atmosphere. I didn't like having to work 10-12 hour days damn near every day, plus some weekends. I didn't like the constant pressure to bill, bill, bill.

I told myself to stick it out for three months, then six months, then a year. It never improved. It just got worse. I stopped exercising (because I never had time), gained weight, and was getting stress-related illnesses. I was moody and difficult to be around. (More so than normal, anyway.) Most importantly, I saw no signs of it ever getting better. Law is a treadmill, one in which you're constantly running hard just to keep pace. That's a tough thing to do month after month and year after year.

My "aha!" moment actually came a few months into that time with the big firm. I was at a mandatory Saturday session for all attorneys in our firm, one at which some of the senior partners were imparting their wisdom for the rest of us. One of those partners told a story in which he was in Europe with his family for a skiing vacation, when one of his clients had an incredibly big emergency. (BTW, all matters in law are incredibly big emergencies.) So he had to spend much of his vacation on the phone while his family went out to enjoy the Alps. His takeaway message was "you have to ask yourself if you're willing to make those sacrifices, because this career requires them." I wanted to stand up, say, "no, I'm not willing to do that," and walk out.

Once I hit that one-year anniversary, I left. Didn't even know what I was going to do next. I just knew that this wasn't it, and that I was never going to find it while working 50-60 hours a week at something I hated. It wasn't a rash decision -- I had been putting aside money for months. And I was fortunate in that I had almost zero student loan debt, so I had no "golden handcuffs" chaining me to my desk.

I recognize that big firms are but one type of employer. That said, I had worked at a few other places along the way -- a medium-sized firm during my second year, a small firm during my third -- and didn't like them any better. Maybe I could have found some other way to use my law degree, had I stuck it out. I simply had no desire to.

So would my advice be to stay far away from the law? No. But I would suggest not going to law school unless you have good answers to these questions:

1. Do I enjoy law? That one's a tough one to answer if you've never set foot in a law firm. Just make sure that your desire is based on something more than "I want to make money." Make sure that you really enjoy details and research. Make sure that you are okay with what is often an adversarial job. Make sure that you are okay with stress and long hours. Make sure that you're not doing it just for the money. Make sure that you're not going to law school just because you're not sure what to do after graduating from college and want to delay entering the "real world."

2. Can I afford law school? There's not much scholarship money available for law schools; so unless you've gotten one of them, or you're independently wealthy, then you're probably looking at student loans. These days, that could well mean $150,000 or more in loans by the time you graduate ... and those are loans that will follow you until you pay them (federally-insured loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy). So you'll be starting your career in a deep financial hole, one that will take you a decade or more to dig out of. It will limit your paths to those that pay well. (Unless you want to make $46,000 a year for some public-interest job that dangles the carrot of loan forgiveness after X years.)

3. Am I okay with the opportunity cost? Law school is three years for most programs. That's three years that you won't be earning a salary and getting off the ground in some other career. So not only will you be digging out of that hole of three years of law school tuition and expenses ... you'll also have foregone three years of other income too.

If you can't answer "yes" to all three of those questions, then don't go. If you can, then proceed with caution. Make sure you know as much as you can about what's ahead.

I'm not saying "no." I am saying "know."
 

The Oi

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Went for a year and hated it. Dropped out.

My wife stayed in. She found her way into elder law which is rewarding for her to an extent, but the treadmill analogy you make is a salient one. She says all the time that as an attorney you have to deal not only with your own problems, but everybody else’s who walk into your office. Not to mention that their problems make your own problems worse.

She has learned to manage her stress as well as possible, in part to the fact that she is now the boss at a law firm she shares with her uncle and in other part due to the fact that she’s in a field that is rewarding at least 10% of the time. But the job is terrible for her mental health.

But if she could choose any living to make for 75% of the money, it wouldn’t be this.
 

CavsFinals2016

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Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better myself in any respect. To anyone that thinks All For One’s experience is a one-off story, It’s not. I won’t delve into my own story, but I will say I’m under debilitating amounts of stress and anxiety all the time. I’ve been trying to get out, but it’s really hard to leave and start over. To anyone, even non lawyers, that is about to start their career, I cannot stress how money can’t be the number 1 priority if possible.
 

AllforOne

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Oi, 2016 ... it saddens me hearing your stories. (Or your wife’s, as appropriate.)

I’ve long since fallen out of touch with my law school friends. Most of them were varying levels of unhappy when I last spoke with them.

One more thing. When word got out at my firm that I was leaving ... and not for another firm, or for another law job, but to do something else with my life ... well, I can’t tell you how many associates stopped by my office, wished me well, and then told me some variation of “God, I wish I could do that too.” Still saddens me a little to think of it. These were/are good people, and it’s sad to see people having to get up and do something they hate every day. Life’s too short for that.
 

Alec Zander

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The bimodal distribution of income is scary. I know a few lawyers grinding it out as assistant prosecutors and they hate their lives. Have to be working 60 hour weeks easy for not great money. Pretty much the same for a few public defenders. They’re all chain-smoking hardened SOBs who knows they don’t have the time to throw together halfway decent defense. All of them have told me to stay away from the profession. “Should’ve been a doctor” is the usual line.

this also sounds AWFUL
I didn't like researching the law. I didn't like writing arcane briefs debating the finer points of the second sentence of paragraph (f) of section 110 of the Who Gives A Fuck Act of 1989.
 

AllforOne

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The bimodal distribution of income is scary. I know a few lawyers grinding it out as assistant prosecutors and they hate their lives. Have to be working 60 hour weeks easy for not great money. Pretty much the same for a few public defenders. They’re all chain-smoking hardened SOBs who knows they don’t have the time to throw together halfway decent defense. All of them have told me to stay away from the profession. “Should’ve been a doctor” is the usual line.

this also sounds AWFUL
Another story. One of the cases I worked on was an appellate brief we were filing on behalf of a client in the ... well, whatever federal circuit included Miami.

Anyways, I was practically sweating blood on this thing, researching and writing most of the content, and also trying to comply with every hoop-jumping local rule they had. Finally finished it, and the briefs were mailed out. Several copies, with tons of exhibits copied, each brief the size of a Dickens novel.

A few weeks later, a large package came in the mail for me, from the Whatevereth Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami. They rejected my/our briefs because I had failed to comply with one of their rules regarding how the exhibits were numbered. I shit you not. (Fortunately, we corrected it and re-filed, and all was forgotten. But it still made for some pants-shitting moments.)

That’s one of the things I grew to despise about the law. The hours and hours spent on mind-numbingly small and irrelevant-to-the-real-world rules.
 

Randolphkeys

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Okay gents, here is the professional avenue I wrestle with all the time...

Many people I would consider my academic peers went through law school, I went into education. In the past few years, I became National Board Certified as a teacher, which is by many in the field considered just a bit less difficult than getting an education Ph.D. I have always tested really, really well.

If I went into law, Id have a ready-made expertise that most law students don't have, so I wouldn't have to take crappy starting level lawyer jobs.

Talk me into or out of it.
 

Randolphkeys

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Why do you want to become a lawyer? What do you see yourself doing if you have a law degree?
Representing either a public school district or the labor in a public school district... either way, I'd make Bank compared to administration of a school.
 

AllforOne

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Representing either a public school district or the labor in a public school district... either way, I'd make Bank compared to administration of a school.
Without using the word “money” (or an equivalent), can you explain why you want to become a lawyer?
 

RonG

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My best friend was a Chief of ADa's and worked for the same county 12 years until a democrat was voted in and she was fired last year, so she has a private practice now as a defense lawyer. She loved being a Da, she ran the family violence division for her county. She was being paid approximately 150k a year. Last year in 9 months she made 300k, still loves the job makes more money but still misses being an ADA. She is very popular as a defense lawyer because of our time as an ADA.

My step father was a corporate defense attorney for over 40 years, loved the job made great bank.

My wife is an hr director for a large chemical company but she is currently getting her JD of Law. She would have loved to be a lawyer but it doesn't make sense at this point because of how well she is currently compensated and at her age its not really worth the time or investment.
 

King Stannis

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Representing either a public school district or the labor in a public school district... either way, I'd make Bank compared to administration of a school.
It is a good choice if you never want to see your family.
 

King Stannis

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I left law school because I did not like it.

Decided to join the Army instead. Preferred Iraq to law school.

My partner is an associate at a prestigious firm. He is at work by 0800 and comes home around 9:00 PM. He has not had a weekend off in four months.
 

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