Sunday, September 5, 2010

For the Millionth Time: Don't Go to Law School

I’ve been on vacation so don’t ask me about Zenovia Evans or what new idiotic marketing strategies TTT schools are coming up with to lure unsuspecting prospective students. All you need know is that we are going to be in this depression for many more years. This more than likely means that there will be very little job creation for laid off workers, recent graduates, and future graduates to get back to work.

This is why I disagree that going to a T8 school means you will be in good shape. Whoever came up with the motto “Yale or Fail” has the right idea. Going to a top school no longer ensures your professional and economic safety unless you graduate at the top of your class and have the connections to secure and keep your job long-term.

I will say that college and graduate schools are good places to weather the storm IF you get a full ride. I have friends in other countries that are doing this but the big difference is that they only pay $10k or less per year in tuition compared to $30-50k per school year in the United States. I absolutely do not advocate going to any law school right now if it means you have to risk $200k and a possibility of lifetime debt to get a law degree. If you search hard enough, once in a while you can find some truth in a few of the employment statistics for law school graduates. One example is The National Law Journal’s annual rankings based on the percentage of grads that landed first year BigLaw jobs:

Here are the Top 10 in the NLJ ranking followed by the percentage of grads who
landed first-year positions at the nation’s largest firms.
1. Northwestern University School of Law - 55.9 percent

2. Columbia Law School - 54.4 percent

3. Stanford Law School - 54.1 percent

4. University of Chicago Law School – 53.1 percent

5. University of Virginia School of Law – 52.8 percent

6. University of Michigan Law School – 51 percent

7. University of Pennsylvania Law School - 50.8 percent

8. New York University School of Law – 50.1 percent

9. UC Berkeley School of Law – 50 percent

10. Duke Law School - 49.8 percent

Only 55.9% BigLaw employment for the “top law school”. Think about that. Since schools rarely if ever publish honest statistics about their graduates, I can only go on anecdotal evidence from our readers and I believe that even the NLJ rankings can only be taken with a grain of salt. I have heard that only half of last year’s Columbia Law School class received job offers. We have read the articles about some Harvard Law graduates being unable to find employment. Last year’s Georgetown Law graduates went on NPR to discuss their unemployment woes. And no, the other 50% did not land government jobs. Give me a break. They are more than likely unemployed or working in jobs that paid less than what they could have made straight out of college. I know quite a few people who went to these "top BigLaw" law schools who are reading this from their parents' basement. Don't be arrogant to believe that you can beat the odds just because you got into a T14 school.

Let’s be clear. If you do not graduate in the top quarter of your T14 law school, do not count on any job be it BigLaw, ShitLaw, or with the government. Bottom half of the class? Forget about it. You future was doomed the moment you saw your first semester grades. That is the risk you take when you go to law school in 2010. You can go to a T8 school and come out with no job prospects. It is happening to thousands of students today. Even if you do find a job, who says that you will still be employed a year later? Plenty of my law school classmates were laid off from BigLaw less than 2 years after graduation. Most law students with less than 2 years of law firm experience are in big trouble in this economy. That is not significant experience to compete with folks like Angel who have a decade’s worth of experience. I know people from T8 schools who are unemployed and I know a few “lucky” T14 and T30 grads with jobs as staff attorneys, aka BigLaw doc review. This is the gamble you take when you go to law school today. Is it worth the misery and the stress and the horrible work life to spend $200k and 3 years of your life so you can put JD on your resume?

A BIDER reader emailed me about his cousin who is applying to law school. The BIDER reader thought of all the reasons he decided not to go to law school and all of the reasons not to go to law school that Angel and I have laid out here for the past year. He told his cousin that there were scambloggers from T14 schools who could not find a job. His cousin isn’t even applying to a top school and is applying on a whim after getting laid off from his job. Here is the kicker: this guy doesn’t even want to practice law! He says he wants to be a consultant for the pro sports industry and believes the JD will make him more marketable. No, this is not a joke!

This is why BIDER is so important. We may be unable to save everyone, but people are listening and I think those who do their research deserve to be warned. This BIDER reader was unable to save his cousin, but after a year of reading BIDER he now questions the reasons why people go to law school with no intention of practicing law or believe that if they don’t find a law firm job that they are marketable in other fields. This is the biggest lie of the law school scam. You will be less marketable than the entry level candidate right out of college. And if you are among the majority of law students with not so stellar grades, there is a good chance that employers who care about grades will ask for your transcripts from college and law school. That has happened to me before. That C+ in Contracts could come back to haunt you when you are competing for the handful of respectable jobs left in this economy. For the millionth time, do not gamble with your future at a time when so few opportunities exist for anyone let alone a law school graduate three years out of college with no real world experience or marketable skills, just $200k in debt and a transcript peppered with Bs and Cs. Your life will be ruined.


  1. If there are any students of history, they will know that 1929-1931 was called a recession, and not until the 1931 banking crisis did the reality set it in. This is happening right now. Two years into this "recession" major economists(Paul Krugman & David Rosenberg) are calling this a depression. I dropped out of law school after a frank conversation with the judge that I was externing for, where she expressed to me that, family connections will not get my foot in the door, I still have to pull the grades. I wasn't so I made the smart decision.
    The one thing law students do not realize is that if you are not from the top law schools, you have to have top grades. Why?, because it is a risk that the firm is taking hiring you, even if your daddy is an equity partner. If you quit and went to Harvard law, it is your fault, but if you went to a Tier 2 school and quit, it is the hiring partners ass on the line.
    More than anything, I urge all potential law students to spend as much time in the courtroom to see the carnage that is going on in the legal field at the moment where many attorneys who were rainmakers are looking for any scrap. It will wipe away the veneer that law school creates for so many students

  2. Your blog, and a few like it, have made up my mind. If I have to borrow one dime, I will not be going to Law School. The way I have it planned, I will get paid, not vice versa. If something happens to my funding and they want me to contribute one thin dime, then I will sit out law school as I don't need a job or the money. I was never really looking for a job in the first place, just wanted to have some fun going back to school.

  3. Thanks anonymous 4:34. I have a question. Why is it more respectable to go to law school and be broke for the rest of your life, than to get a job at a fast food and start working your way up the corporate ladder?

    By every calculation I can do, fast food is a much better opportunity. Sure, you do some menial crap in the beginning - flip burgers, fry cook, take crap from people at the register. But if you are reasonably intelligent and you show up on time, how long will that last? Plus, the wages of a store manager outpace shitlaw attorneys (not to mention the benefits).

    I mean McDonalds is one of the most impressive, intelligent, agile global corporation ever to exist. Why do people think they have more social stature doing speeding tickets, petty criminal work and small time family law, than learning the processes of a multi-national corporation. Someone explain please???

  4. The NLJ numbers are a bit misleading; there are a few other career paths that are on par with, or even more competitive/prestigious than big law. A lot of people at Harvard or Yale who would have been able to go to their choice of Vault 10 firms are instead taking highly competitive clerkships. There's also a couple other things that are probably as good or better than big law, like a good government or public interest position, or going the academic route.

    A better statistic would be some combined number of everyone who landed a "top job."

    @8:42: It's not so much a matter of respect as it is one of class. Higher class, even without the matching income level, can drastically change the mating options for a male.

  5. Good point, BL1Y. Here's an idea: Compare the percentages now with the percentages from 2000 or so, when pretty much anyone who graduated from a top-5 school could get a BIGLAW job if they did not have terrible grades and were somewhat presentable.

  6. I actually had good grades from one of those "top law schools," and I ended up in a worse position than I was in before law school.

    Don't believe me? Read my blog at

    Thanks for posting this, hardknocks.

  7. Bl1Y's comment is misleading. Government positions at my T14 were nearly impossible to land. I would imagine that they are even more competitive today.

    Stupid stuff to justify going to law school. Really.

  8. Anonymous 8:42 am.

    I don't think that it is realistic to rise from burger flipper to McDonald's corporate executive. The executive track for most corporations is an elite MBA, followed by management consulting, etc. Only occassionaly does someone rise from the french fry machine or the factory floor.

    BTW, the last CEO of McDonalds, Jack Greenburg, was a lawyer from my alma matter, TTT DePaul.

  9. All good comments here, as is this blog.

    It was bad for the lower tier people already in the early '90's; my crappy grades (although I gave it my all, I really did) from what is now known as a TTT school was nearly a disaster for me. Luckily, I was able to get into the trades, where I am today. Not easy, but I am glad to be working. These "escape routes" are much harder to find now. Meanwhile, a friend of the family who graduated from a T8 in '08 is lookng for work and living with family. Now that the disease has metastasized into the upper tiers, all hell is breaking loose. Consider law school very, very carefully, unless you will be joining the family firm.

  10. Anonymous 8:42 A.M. & 3:24 P.M.

    I,m anonymous at 4:34 A.M.
    I would caution anyone going to law school, even if they think they have family connections. If you do not have the pedigree and grades, really doesnt matter who you are, probably won't get a job, and if you do, it will be such a menial one you will want to quit.
    But there is only so much practicing attorneys and bloggers can do to dissuade prospective and current law students. Speaking from personal experience, I would say that about half of the kids at my law school were completely delusional or had no idea about the difficulties of the legal job market. They think that since they got that summer job at XXXX firm they are in the clear. Wrong. Well keep up the good work BIDER, thats all you can do right now.

  11. The problem with this newest generation of students heading to law school is that none of them think they will be jobless when they graduate law school. I have four friends in law school right now, really smart people and they all have aspirations to work at top law firms. I don't want to be the one to tell them their dreams will be shattered, but most of them plan on pursuing obscure fields of law. Will this be their saving grace? I sure hope so, they have worked much too hard to be unemployed upon graduation.

  12. Knut and anon @ 12:58pm are correct. People think it is easy for T14 grads to land prestigious clerkships. That is another lie concocted by law school propoganda. I also attended a T14 and supreme court clerkships happened at my school maybe once each decade. Many people did not get clerkships at all. That is especially true for T14 students at the bottom half of the class. Grades do matter in the T14 today. The odds are against someone at the bottom half of their class from a school like Georgetown, Michigan, or UVA. Especially today when you have students from the T3 unable to find biglaw employment, those students are the first in line for prestigious clerkships. All I'm saying is that law school is a huge financial gamble. 1Ls should drop out if their first semester grades put them anywhere below the top quartile of the class. That goes for T14 students too.

  13. I also recommend the Legal Dollar's posts on whether or not clerkships make financial sense for most recent graduates:

  14. I will only go to Law School if...

    1. It will make my penis larger.

    2. If, at some point in my life, I get the opportunity to say your honor...your honor. (Have to love Caddyshack.)

    3. If my degree will somehow help me stay clear of any charges in my upcoming 12 state killing spree. (Thank you Back to School.)

    4. If I can use my J.D. for good, not evil. By good I mean by kicking the hypothetical gonads of every prick lawyer that works for collection companies. (Man, I hate those guys.)

    5. If by going to Law School it will teach me how to use the socratic method on those pricks that check my cart at Sam's Club right after they just saw me pay for it. I just want to be able to question them, make them nervous, and have them run away like Jennifer Aniston when someone asks her to act in a decent movie. (Marley and me was her best movie, and the dog made that one. Jen was kind of bitchy if you ask me.)

    6. If I get student loan money, even though I won't need it, I want to be able to buy that Porsche Boxter I have had my eyes on. I won't be a successful attorney, or even a practicing one, but I want to give the appearance of a high profile prick. Of course I could just be a drug dealer and do the same thing, but that has been done to death. Besides, where have all the good crack ho's gone? Used to see them everyday. Now, I have to really search one out when I have 5 dollars burning a hole in my wallet. Just plain wrong.

    7. If by going to Law School I can somehow get on board the impending class action law suit some genius Cooley grad is going to file soon, and I will be forever bathed in the tootsie rolls that said Cooley grad. decides is the only sensible damages award.

  15. @12:58: Reading impaired much? I never suggested that getting these jobs were easy. However, a good number of students from top schools still do get them.

    Looking only at the big law number implies that big law is the best possible outcome, when in fact there are a few other things that are as good if not better.

  16. Read This, what about "Office Space"?? Jennifer Aniston was in that one & it's a cult classic. If you hate your job, it's a must see. Hell, it might cheer some of you up.



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