Friday, March 26, 2010

More Reasons Not to Go to Law School

The New York Times City Room blog recently posted a Q & A with a career counselor. Readers sent in their questions and the career counselor answered them in the most polite, PC way possible. Regular readers here know that Angel and I are more blunt about law school being a big mistake for MOST people who either don't have the grades or law school prestige to enter BigLaw, end up in BigLaw but get laid off or quit in a few years, or end up in an established law career yet feel completely trapped because they are unfulfilled and miserable after spending three years and thousands of dollars on a degree that is useless outside of practicing law. Yay! Here are a few of the questions from an established lawyer and a recent law grad that the NYT career counselor answered. My answer is below in red.


I majored in media arts for my undergraduate degree. Because of my creative interests, I became a graphic/Web designer, but was laid off early in my career. With few job prospects and limited opportunities to make a decent salary in design, I decided to go to law school. I have been practicing trademark and licensing law for the past five years and have yet to find my passion for the law. I do not feel that the legal field speaks to my interests and passions, namely art, design, music, geography, history, etc. I have thought about using my love for music by moving into entertainment law, but the basic job description would be similar to my current role and so I don’t feel that in the end I will be fulfilled.

I am giving serious thought to a complete change in career and moving into architecture, landscape architecture or urban planning (these fields seem to combine elements of several of my interests). Harvard has a six-week exploratory program that would allow me to see what is involved in this field. From there I could determine if going back to school is a worthwhile option. I am hesitant after spending so much time and money on law school to go back to school again, but it is clear that the law is not for me. Do you think that this kind of a program would be a good use of my time and money, and help me find a career better suited to my interests and skills?

— Posted by Oliver


I can certainly understand your hesitancy to spend more money on education and training after investing the time, money and energy into obtaining a law degree and that you’re no longer interested in practicing law.

I think you are certainly on the right track to evaluate how you can integrate your passions for art, design, music, geography and history into what you do next. Your decision to explore architecture, landscape architecture or urban planning seems more aligned with your passions than law does. You state that you are giving it serious thought, which I assume means that you have gone through a thorough brainstorming exercise, generated many different career options and then narrowed it down to those listed above.

Creating numerous options and vetting the interests and risks of those options on paper is an important activity to invest in before actually making a monetary investment. Many of my clients come up with as many as 10 or 15 different career options to evaluate and then prioritize. I encourage you to do the same, if you have not already.

Your hesitancy in making the decision to invest in Harvard’s six-week exploratory training program indicates to me that you might not have enough information to make this investment decision. I encourage you to identify what your concerns are, formulate smart questions and then ask people in these fields to help you address your concerns. By doing so you will gain the clarity you need be able to make a better informed decision.

Good luck Oliver.

HardKnocks' Answer: Hi, Oliver. Law school is a mistake for anyone who considers themselves to be creative and artistic. I fall into that category. Growing up I was very musical, artistic, and enjoyed creative writing. If my college career counselor had any idea what law school was really like, she would've immediately told me not to apply because law is generally not an area where talented people can express their creative side in their work. Outside of public interest law, being a lawyer is for boring people with no passions other than to make a lot of money or dream about making a lot of money in the basement of BigLaw doing temp work while practicing shitlaw on the side. Before you became a lawyer, you worked in graphic/web design. You clearly have more practical non-legal skills that the average lawyer and would likely be able to use that to leave the law for a more fulfilling career.

You are absolutely correct in feeling hesitant about spending more money on an education that may or may not help you find a job in architecture or urban planning. First of all, how much is this six-week Harvard exploratory program?? Have you spoken to people who have participated in this program and did they feel that it was worth the price to attend? If not, what else can you do to work in this field temporarily without having to spend thousands of dollars on a so-called exploratory program? Can't you do the same thing for free with an alumnus from your college? Would it be more worthwhile and cheaper to do an internship with a local architect or urban planner instead? What are the current job prospects for recent urban planning/architect graduates and what is the average salary for a recent graduate?

Finally, do you have a plan to leave law and live off of your savings for a considerable amount of time until you make the decision to return to school or will be able to find an entry level job in this economy? I don't think your hesitancy comes from not knowing what you want to do. I am almost certain that you want to leave the law and I can't blame you. Your hesitancy is from not knowing which option will allow you to spend as little money as possible to get to where you want to be. Law school isn't the only school that is a waste of time and money for most graduates. I've come across intelligent people with graduate degrees in public policy, international relations, journalism, and business who have been unable to find jobs in recent years. Older people established in their careers and school counselors (who are paid to tell you that more school is a good idea) have no idea what us young folks are going through so the best thing to do in your research is to google about blogs like this one started by recent graduates. I just googled "urban planning degree worthless" and came across the following articles:

Don't make the same mistake twice. Do your research and make sure that this is something you really want to do, will pay enough for you to pay off your loans, and will allow you to use your creative side. Good luck.

- HardKnocks


I recently graduated from law school and took the bar exam. Now, I am searching for an entry-level attorney position in a market where there are several more-experienced people competing for the same position. How do I make my résumé stand out among the crowd?

— Posted by Kelly


Yes, it is a highly competitive job market for law school graduates these days, and your question about how to stand out among the crowd is an important one. In addition to your grades and the schools you attended, other differentiators that employers will look at will be how well you balanced school and internships. Within those internship experiences, which I assume you have, be sure to highlight examples of how you demonstrated leadership, solved problems, applied critical thinking, developed new ideas and effectively dealt with change and ambiguity. These are some of the essential resiliency skills that many of today’s employers seek in all levels of candidates.

I also encourage you to demonstrate your people skills to future employers by using networking as a key method of your overall job search strategy and not rely solely on applying to job banks or working with recruiters.

Good luck Kelly!

HardKnocks' answer: Erm, "several more experienced people competing for the same position"? How about thousands upon thousands more experienced lawyers who can't find a damn thing in this market. Just ask experienced lawyers like Angel. Instead of asking the NYTimes counselor for advice, you should have just googled "law school scam movement" and that would've given you the answer you needed. Maybe not the answer you want to here but an honest account of what things look like for recent law school graduates and mid-career attorneys like Angel who were laid off and are currently competing with us young 20-somethings for a job. Because I don't know your GPA or law school, I have no way of giving you an honest estimate of your chances of landing a job right now. I'm sorry to say this, but there is little that a recent graduate can do to stand out amongst thousands of resumes unless you graduated at the top of your class from a T14 school. And even those people (I know a few of them personally) cannot find a job right now. Yep, law review, T14, dual degrees, published articles, prestigious internships, and all that jazz and still can't find a job. If you graduated from a top law school with good grades, the only thing you can do is network. If you graduated from a third tier school or have bad grades, I recommend searching outside of the legal market for a job. Good luck.

- HardKnocks


  1. Penn & Teller on "The Best."

  2. From what I understand, Architecture is not exactly a lucrative career. It's the creative equivalent of the legal profession. Yeah, you might think of Frank Lloyd Wright, but for every one of him, there are thousands of architects whose life consists of designing decks for your porch and enclosing garages to make rooms for the client's 30 year old son who moved back in. Unless you are lucky to be hired by somebody, you end up running your own business...and you think lawyers have no business skills? Just wait until you get creative types in charge!

    And you spend about 5 years of your life taking classes to learn how to do this mess.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.



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