Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What is it with Immigrant/Minority Parents?

As I have stated a few times, I am of brown origin.... meaning that I am a woman of color and a first generation American.  Or am I a second?  No matter, I was born here and my parents are excellent but can be backasswards in lots of ways.  As such, I can only speak from my experiences and not that of others.  My mother, in particular, is keen on bragging rights.  She is in the beauty industry and knows many attorneys... but she would never tell them that I was laid off.  Too embarrassing.  And when I visit her, I can't hint to my problems to people at her job.  She loves to act as if her daughter, the big firm attorney, is doing wonderfully. 
After all, the crown jewel of any immigrant family is the lawyer or doctor.  Right?

The funny thing is,  I'm soooo far from okay. My bro, who smartly didn't finish college, is bankrolling money as a salesman. I was fine while working at a big firm.  I was the "smart one".  I wish I had the intelligence and foresight of my brother.  He should have been given that title.  I'm a few dry months away (dry = months without contract attorney work) from being paycheck to paycheck once again.  And everyone knows that it's hard to rebound back to being a "saver", when  you have been "paycheck-to-paycheck."  Your credit card debt grows because you don't make enough to sustain your rather unimpressive life... and you begin to have the debate in your head, "Do you I put this money in savings, or do I pay off this credit card?  What's the point of having it in savings, if I have to pay 15% interest on a credit card?  And saving money doesn't make money anyways."  Then, there comes a point, when you miss having that debate because you look your checkbook squarely in the face and realize that you can BARELY make the minimum payment on your credit card.  Yes, this is the life of a lawyer.  Life was grand for those few years where I broke a 100K. But now, I'm back in the pit with the other crown jewels.

I received an email from a reader who asked for advice in convincing her immigrant mother to lay the hell off and stop pushing the law school dream down her throat. My comments are in blue: 


I love your blog and I'm writing because I'm hoping you can help me talk some sense into my mother.

Like you, I am brown and my immigrant parents worked hard to send me to private schools and to college. I graduated from college a couple of years ago, and I am currently working at a non-profit. I don't make great money, but I'm learning a lot and slowly paying off my undergrad debt. I refused to go to law school (my mom's dream for me, and what I thought was my dream) until I had some solid work experience under my belt and I felt 100% sure I want to be a lawyer. My mom was not okay with that, but I managed to get a job and pay my own bills, which gave her less of a say with what I get to do with my life.  Wow.   You are already more successful as a college grad than you would be as a law school grad. Most law school grads cannot pay their own bills these days because they are crushed by student loans and unable to earn decent wage. 

In my time out of college, I've seen how going to law school has played out for many people. It seems like a very few make the big bucks and the rest generally end up heavily indebted with varying abilities to make ends meet. I've meet lawyers who are happy, bitter, rich, broke and a few in between. I've decided that if I were to go to law school, I would want to do so on a huge scholarship. Getting into huge debt, especially when I'm inclined to want to work in public service doesn't seem appealing to me. You are so intelligent!  You obviously thought this through. Some schools advertise their public interest law programs, but cost over $30K a year... thus precluding a career in public interest law.  I went on an interview last week, to be a lawyer with an AIDS Advocacy Program.  The starting salary was $50K and the position is open for a year.  I told him I can't afford to work for him and left the interview.  On $50K, can you pay back $90K+ of debt? NO!

Since I graduated from college, my mother has been nagging me about going to law school. She insists I need to go to law school so that I can have a profession. I keep telling her that it's too expensive to justify the risk. I tell her that it's three years of my life and that I need to be sure that the path I can envision for myself as a lawyer is plausible given the lack of legal jobs out there. She pushes back and insists that I having a bachelor's degree is not enough and that I need a solid profession under my belt. To be clear, neither she nor I have the resources to put me through law school, so under my mother's wonderful life plan, I would mostly likely owe tons in student loans.  This is reason enough not to go.  I would only suggest going to law school if it was 100% free.  That means.. you must live and eat for free as well.  Does she have room for you to live in her basement?  Can she feed you for the next 3 years?

I know my mother wants what's best for me, but is not in touch with reality. She even provided me with a ridiculous example of an attorney she once met at city hall in a major city who said he or she made 200/hr. This is obviously crazy, as a municipal attorney would not make that much. She tells me I can go work for "city hall and make 200/hr" as a back up plan. She also cites the example of a relative who just graduated from a third-tier law school and she insisted that she had many job "offers" out of law school. I checked with my relative and my relative told me she had offers for job interviews, not job offers. Watch out for family liars.  Brown people hate to admit that their children are failures to family and family friends.  She's a bullshit artist. I'm actually shocked she got interviews at all.  She probably meant that she got registration interviews at temp agencies. 
Talking to my mom about law school as a risky investment isn't working and she gets resentful and angry at me for not wanting to take what she perceives is the next step in my future. Is there anything you think you can say to a brown mom to make her understand how thinks work in America in 2009, not her country in 1980?

Thank you,

Well, had I been as intelligent as you are, I would have told my mother... And I'm totally going out on a limb to assume that your culture may resemble mine....

"The more money I have to give to loans, the less money I will have to help my dear mama."  My mother, being of the old country, looks at children as an investment.  You work hard to get them on their feet so they can serve as the retirement plan one day.  That is, if she wants to move back to the old country or has an emergency, I will feel like I should pay for things because she pushed me through her birth canal and suffered for me.  But, as the situation stands, any money that I could have given to my mother to furnish her third world apartment or hire a cleaning lady or buy lavish gifts-- is being given to my mama that owns me, Sallie Mae.  Alas, there is nothing left for her.  Tell her to trust you ... and you will make money, especially since you will owe nobody anything. 

Anyone else feel familiar familial pressure to go to the the depths of hell law school?


  1. I saw myself in her post and yours. In my case, what is the deal with Asian parents? I've never been able to shake off my dad's statement he made to me when I was in high school: "If you don't earn a degree, people won't respect you."

    I think it has to do with preserving family honor and legacy rather than making actual money. Had they considered the burden of student loan payments, they wouldn't be pushing their children so hard to go to professional school. They, like everyone else, have to understand that many graduates of these programs don't command the kind of salaries that would make student loan payments a cakewalk.

  2. Are you Asian, or do you take the 5th on that for now?

  3. Here is how I see it:

    You are currently paying off your student loan debt. Right there you are doing better than most law graduates. You can pay your bills, save, and have some spending money left over.

    If you go to law school, you will have the following problems: (1) you will have lost a ton of income over the course of three years, i.e. “opportunity costs”; (2) you will go even deeper into student loan debt – even if you get a full-tuition scholarship; (3) if you are planning on starting a family, your plans will probably need to be postponed (I cannot imagine trying to get through law school while carrying a child); and most importantly (4) you would not be going for yourself, for you own reasons. You would simply be trying to make your family proud.

    As far as I am concerned, if you are independent and taking care of your needs and obligations, AND you are happy, your mother has NO RIGHT to try to direct your life! Especially, since she is delusional to think that a city attorney can bill at $200 per hour.

    Send your mother to my blog. If you contact Angel again, ask her for my email. I will be happy to discuss this further with you or your mother. Angel, you have my permission to give this info out to the woman who wrote this letter to you.

    A little about me:

    I did not have ANY family pressure to even go to college. My father was basically happy that I stayed out of trouble, that I had friends, and that I got good grades in school. My mother’s family has been here for 7-8 generations. No one else (on either side of my family) had even completed college! My father was THRILLED to see me walk for undergrad. He said it was one of the best days of his life. (He passed away exactly one year ago today.)

    I went to law school because I talked to older attorneys, and they all said it was a great decision and “well worth it.” I wish I could bitch-slap EACH of them, individually. Or collectively; at this point, I don’t care.

    I figured this was a very smart decision, and that I could at least have a chance to practice law, even if I were to join the DA’s office, Public Defender or work in a criminal defense firm. The reality is that is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to even get those positions, in today’s climate. I have seen defense lawyers with 10-15 years experience jump at these opportunities. What chance does a fresh JD have against these odds?!?!?

    Angel, I apologize for my long comment. One of the MAIN reasons I decided to blog about my experience was to help prevent other minorities and people from lower-class backgrounds from making the WORST decision of their lives.

    I tell people up front and in person, about the realities of law school. I have spread the message to other forums and chat boards; I have gone after sacred cows of the industry; I have crashed law school fairs; I have passed out informational fliers; and I have told those not working in law, about this shameful industry. I have chosen to share my story. I have been insulted by industry apologists; arrogant, know-nothing pre-law students; and other lemmings. And guess what? It has been worth every second of it!

    P.S. I went to a TTT on a full-tuition scholarship. I found a non-law job within 2 months of graduation. I made it out relatively OK, and I still say this was an awful decision. Your instincts are correct. MOST lawyers HATE their jobs, and MOST do not make much money. Make your own decision, and tell your mother to accept that.

  4. It's very enlightening reading your posts. Do you know how are graduates of top law schools like Harvard, Yale, and U Chicago doing these days? Are most of their recent graduates making more than $100K/year? Are their grads having trouble finding jobs that pay more than $80K/year? Thanks a lot!

  5. It's funny that you should ask about graduates from top law schools. I don't know anyone from those schools... but on my doc review project is a UVA grad and a Columbia grad... former in-house counsel for a Nationwide Grocery Store... all laid off. Also, I wasn't the only one let go from my biglaw was a UCLA grad. And a good friend of mine is a Columbia grad. We're all out in the cold. What I can tell you is to read this article: Don't pay any attention to what Suffolk and NYLS are allegedly doing for their grads while they are fucking them over... but please do pay attention to the peaks and valleys of the legal field. Do you know how law schools claim an average salary of $90K? That's the average of a bunch of people earning $40K to $50K and a few people earning $160K. There are VERY few jobs where people are making $80K. And there were recently a bunch of articles about Harvard grads not finding jobs.. of course I can't find it now, but I will continue to look... but read this instead:

  6. page 27 of that article in the national jurist.... sorry.

  7. you should have taken the $50,000 a year AIDS gig unless you were confident that you were going to have solid months of doc rev lined up. that's a reasonable amount of money in this economy. you could always 'trade up' for something better when and if the economy improves.

  8. I was lucky enough not to have family pressure me into going to law school..and I come from an Asian family. I made the stupid decision all by myself! But I got lucky and managed to pay off my student debts ($45K) within 5 years because I bought and sold my first apartment at the right time. Now I'm struggling to make a living as a solo on my terms. In short, I got lucky and I'm still struggling to survive in a profession that is supposed to be decent paying. It's all a lie....

  9. It's wrong to take a job that isn't right for you. Pay and otherwise... it's not worth it to be miserable. Besides, that job was only for a year. I will be fine on unemployment and doc review gigs. Thanks for the advice.

    ED! You will make it. At least you graduated long enough ago to only have owed $45K!

  10. Wow, very interesting blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed this and the other bloggers out there spreading the truth! The reality is, I am lucky. I am employed, I actually like my job, and I am able to pay my student loans and other costs and even save some money. But this is not the dreamboat lifestyle that I had visions of when I decided to go to law school. Not to mention the fact that my husband (who I met in law school) was laid off last year and completely out of work for more than a year. Luckily, unemployment and my salary kept us fine until he found work again, but it was 9 months of bitter searching and banging his head against the wall! While I actually enjoy my job, I think it is important to spread the message of truth to prospective lawyers, so keep up the good work!



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