Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fair warning for unsuspecting first-years

There's been a fair amount of discussion in the law blog world recently about jobs that law school grads get. Some of it is terrifying for someone in my position - a 1L at a school that's not Harvard, Yale, or Stanford - but also, some of it is just plain dumb. Simple Justice on criminal law careers here; WSJ post and comments here.

The biggest thing I noticed is a complete and total preoccupation with what they call BigLaw jobs. I can't really blame them, either, since these are the famous jobs - the ones that pay the oft-quoted $160K/year. Above the Law had an ongoing feature, Associate Bonus Watch 2007, with some absurd-sounding bonus figures from the big NYC firms. The NYT had an article about perks available at these firms, including someone to pick up dry cleaning and guaranteeing the first $100K of associates' mortgages. These things sound great. Like, really great. But nothing in this world is free: in exchange for in-house nail salons and yoga classes, these firms will keep associates at their desks for a minimum of 1900 billable hours a year, working over Thanksgiving and other holidays, never giving them a chance to spend all the dough accumulating in their bank accounts. (I think, actually, that the in-the-office perks are and have always been a way to keep people from going home.) Why are people obsessed with these jobs and this life? The way I understand it, the work isn't even really interesting for the first couple of years; maybe they'll let you out of the document review warehouse for a memo or two at some point.

Along these same lines is a (long) post by Paul Gowder at Law and Letters arguing why you shouldn't go to law school. His titles sort of speak for themselves: (1) the jobs suck; (2) lawyers are unhappy; (3) you'll be surrounded by jerks; (4) have I mentioned the debt? (5) the law will make you the worst kind of person. It's clear that the post is stacked on the "con" side of law school and lawyering (in an attempt to "balance the scales," since so much of the information we get from schools about being a lawyer is stacked on the positives). But still, reading all of that from a lawyer - as opposed to an irate poster on the WSJ law blog - was a little rattling.

So, what's someone like me to do? The thing is, I love what I'm doing right now. I enjoy my classes, I am really interested in the material, I love solving legal puzzles, and I seem to be doing okay at it all. What are the prospects for someone who loves the law, wants to be a moral and ethical person, and doesn't want to be in debt for the rest of her life? I'll be honest: I like money, I like being comfortable, I like being able to live alone and save and go on trips. I've lived in New York on $30K a year, and those things are not possible at that kind of salary. I don't want to have to choose between a job I like and a job that affords me a life I like. This is a plea to the (two?) people who read this blog: help me out, y'all! What should I do?


Andrew said...

I think it was Jerry Lewis who said this when deciding what to do you with your life.

"Make someone happy...make eleven million dollars the happy will come later!"

You should check out the Washington CityPaper's article on JD temp work...thats a scary thought.

Andrew said...

Oh, and that's now 3 people who read your blog. :~)

sai said...

Thanks Andrew! It's always nice to expand the audience. Even by one.

I thought I'd post the link to the CityPages article for anyone interested in it: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/display.php?id=34054

It's scary indeed, but at the same time it's nice to know you can make six figures with a law degree without having to work 20 hours a day.

Anonymous said...

I'm the last one to be giving career advice at the moment. I do have a friend right now who just graduated from Columbia and is now with Cravath. Maybe you can ask him why he's doing it.

As for myself, I've noticed that money has been the one (material) thing I've always felt I could use more of these past few years but it has never been something I've been willing to sacrifice a lot just to have more of.

Fred said...

A few years ago, I was at a third tier toilet law school in the middle of the pack, grade wise. I got an offer for a job and dropped out of law school for a year to go to Iraq and work as a government contractor for pretty damned good money. My friends and family pleaded with me not to go.

I returned to finish law school and get my worthless JD degree. I'm taking the bar exam for the third time this July, only to keep the pathetic option of being a lawyer open, should I decide to go that route. If I knew then what I know now, I would have kept making money and never left Iraq. I was getting shot at and having shit blow up now and then, but I was getting paid bank and loving every minute of it.

I'd like to smack whoever said money won't make you happy. I was raking it in and I was positively ecstatic! In fact, I was never been happier before or since then. I paid cash for law school and have no debt, but now grovelling for a law license which will only give me permission to beg for a low paying job. I've already made my mind to go back to Iraq (or wherever else) first chance I get to do the same or similar work.

Don't believe the lies, honey - money isn't everything, it's the only thing. Go be philanthropic when you're fifty and you've already got yours.

Sampler said...

I myself am at a crossroads in my life about what to do next.

I have been out of academics for about 5 years working in sales and doing well after having achieved my BA.

I have had an interest in law since high school, reading judgements, understanding how they work and how the decisions were made, trying to poke holes in arguments or understand the ramifications of the decisions (this was occasional bed time reading for me for years).

I want more education, that is true, and I do have a passion for understanding the law, so I am writing the lsats and getting things in order to apply while I work full time.

I have been looking around at different blogs and the stats...it really seems like the legal profession has been cheapened, and those people who want to make money doing this and have fun doing it are squeezed by a market that is flooded.

So what to do? Get an MBA? get a dual MBA/JD? stay on course with my JD plans and be one of many out there?

I would love to hear how you have been, seeing as how this blog you created is a few year old now...where has your degree taken you?

saisai said...

Sampler: IMO, if you want to be a lawyer (not just "argue" or "debate"), apply and see where you get in and how much money you get in financial aid. Then decide.

I was good at law school and I got lucky. After my first year I transfered to a top 3 school and then got a big firm job, which is where I am now. I like it, and I make good money, but I am in the extreme minority of law graduates in this country. EXTREME minority. I cannot stress that enough.

If you know what you want from your career, and you know law school will help you achieve that goal, and you get in someplace decent, and it costs less than $100K, go. But it's not worth it to go for the academic experience (which is frustrating and sucky) and it's an expensive way to "explore" what you might want to do with your life.

There are lots of successful lawyers, but most of the ones I know who didn't go to a tippy top school and still got a good job knew exactly what they wanted to do and they hustled for it.

If you want to go to law school just for the credential or because you want to do something tangentially related like "policy" or "human rights," I advise you to think very, very hard before writing that big check. There are cheaper, easier, and more fulfilling ways to get those jobs.

Good luck!