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August 26, 2009 4:22 PM   Subscribe

This fall, law students are competing for half as many openings at big firms as they were last year in what is shaping up to be the most wrenching job search season in over 50 years.

Had I seen where the market was going, I would’ve gone to a lower-ranked but less expensive public school,” [a second year law student at Penn] said. “I’m questioning whether law school was the right choice at all."
posted by plexi (214 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Went to a name-brand school to get a hot degree so you could land a cushy job at a trendy firm? Yes, I can confirm you made the wrong choice.
posted by DU at 4:24 PM on August 26, 2009 [25 favorites]


I'm sure they'll be fine.

Grande vanilla whole milk latte please!
posted by Artw at 4:24 PM on August 26, 2009 [10 favorites]


I enjoyed that sentence, DU. Name brand, hot, cushy, trendy. Yum.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:26 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Insert lawyer joke here.
posted by PenDevil at 4:26 PM on August 26, 2009


They should sue somebody.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:27 PM on August 26, 2009 [27 favorites]


Yes! *pumps fist* I knew there was a silver lining to the planetwide economy tanking...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:28 PM on August 26, 2009


Going against the tide, here, I guess: I feel sorry for these people, especially the ones who are paying and have paid their own way, and I hope they find work.
posted by billysumday at 4:28 PM on August 26, 2009 [18 favorites]


Meh - Apparently engineering grads have been through the same thing. In my first co-op job in university one of my classmates (this is Canada's top engineering school, fwiw) got a job changing tapes on IBM mainframes. Some years it's shit other years the morons are getting courted with multiple offers.

The economy goes in cycles - you'd think people would have caught on by now.
posted by GuyZero at 4:29 PM on August 26, 2009


I was going to do a name-brand, name-brand, name-brand repetition thing but then went a different way with it. Glad you like it.

your bill is in the mail
posted by DU at 4:29 PM on August 26, 2009


Law graduates are the new philosophy graduates.
posted by qvantamon at 4:31 PM on August 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


We deal here with top students at top law schools looking for jobs at top (city) law firms. But for the many many lawyers that are needed and useful in our towns, small cities, suburbs etc, they will be hired or not, and what happens is of little importance to the article. They do not have the panache of the elite things. Good thing Obama able to get a decent gig at the White House in these trying times.
posted by Postroad at 4:31 PM on August 26, 2009


Went to a name-brand school to get a hot degree so you could land a cushy job at a trendy firm?
We all love to hate on lawyers, of course, but you can hardly describe the jobs at these white-shoe firms as "cushy." Sure, the pay is phenomenal and there's no manual labor involved, but it's difficult, stressful, and the hours are horrible. Plus, you're stuck surrounded by lawyers all day!
posted by deanc at 4:32 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


> Went to a name-brand school to get a hot degree so you could land a cushy job at a trendy firm?

Based on the experiences of my lawyer friends, I don't know about "cushy," unless you define "cushy" as "working 70+ hours a week."
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:33 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hmm. Given the counsel I've been given lately, a little competition can only be a good thing...
posted by Zinger at 4:33 PM on August 26, 2009


"Can you imagine a world without lawyers?" - L. Hutz
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:33 PM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


I find it a bit surprising that elite schools produce people who are so much better. I'd hope the students effort, achievement, and attitude to be the real deciding factor.

Do relatively "better" professors and "better" peers make that much difference?
posted by niccolo at 4:37 PM on August 26, 2009


I came very close to matriculating at law school in the fall of '06. This could have been me and I feel like I dodged a bullet. Or, more accurately, a massive student loan debt shaped like a bullet.

*shudder*
posted by darkstar at 4:38 PM on August 26, 2009


Some of my best friends are lawyers.*

*Some parts of this comment may have been made under contractual obligation, and may not represent the actual opinions of the author.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:38 PM on August 26, 2009 [20 favorites]


Some days you eat the bar, some days the bar eats you.
posted by DaddyNewt at 4:40 PM on August 26, 2009 [14 favorites]


Honestly, no one should feel too bad for these folks. They'll just go on to work in politics.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:41 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


The advice for career picking is about the same as for stock picking. Once your barber is talking about how he wants his son to major in X because that's where the money is, it's sell time.
posted by qvantamon at 4:43 PM on August 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


I graduated this past spring from a well regarded law school, and I thing what's being lost in this discussion is the trickle down effect. I didn't go to law school wanting the 70 hour/week six figure thing. I was interested in law and I wanted to work in public interest/government, or maybe for a small firm. The problem is, that now that there are no jobs at the top, the people who would have filled them are taking jobs at lower levels.

I'm lucky in a lot of respects, my degree is from a good law school, and one that's good enough to give me a stipend so that I can take an unpaid internship while I wait for my bar results. That said, it's was still rough for me to find an internship because of all my deferred classmates looking for work until their "start date" in March(we'll see how many of them actually start jobs then).

Obviously, a lot of the problem here is the massive amount of student debt all law students take on, me included(around $170,000). This looks to be made better by some of the changes in student loan laws, but it's too early to say whether that will actually help. A lot of the problem stems from the massive difference between big law firm salaries in government salaries, which is something like $100,000 difference right now.

My last comment would be that while it's easy to hate on lawyers, this isn't really the time. In three months I'm just as unemployed as anyone else without a job.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:45 PM on August 26, 2009 [16 favorites]


Insert lawyer joke here.

What's wrong with lawyer jokes?

Lawyers don't think they're funny, and nobody else thinks they're jokes.
posted by netbros at 4:45 PM on August 26, 2009 [18 favorites]


Boo-fucking-hoo. It's tough for everyone. Wanna see an awful job-market? Try the academic job-market for humanities PhDs. It's always tough but this year is set to be terrible. I thank my lucky stars I'm not on it. My prediction is that the market for new lawyers will recover long before academia so it's hard for me to have much sympathy.
posted by ob at 4:47 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Cambridge (UK) final year law undergrad here. I do feel sorry for the US guys; we also have a really very poor jobs market but at least we have the undergrad degrees essentially paid for. I have to say that if I was coming into this market as a financial lawyer with a US level of debt I'd be insanely stressed.

Not that biglaw isn't insanely stressful anyhow, it's essentially giving up your life for the large paycheque. But I'm going to be happy and sleep at night, as I want to do legal aid asylum cases. Go socialism!
posted by jaduncan at 4:49 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes, they have debt. But there are plenty of formerly employed folks out there with debt, two kids and a mortgage.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:51 PM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


The graph every prospective law school student should have burned into their minds. And remember, that graph is for the class of 2006. To get something approximating the current picture, shift everything to the left by $10-20,000.

The US News rankings are partly to blame for all of this. The only employment statistic it uses is the 6 month employment rate. The problem with that is that it counts any kind of employment. You could have a JD and work as a fry cook and be counted as employed.

A much better statistic would break the question into two parts: Are you employed in your field of choice? And on a scale of 1-10 how close is your job to your desired job?

The ultimate problem is that there are too many law schools turning out too many law students while charging far too much. I don't know that I would go so far as to suggest AMA-style supply restrictions on the number of graduates, but something needs to be done to stem the oversupply. Better information for prospective students would help as would toning down salary expectations. Directing more students towards other professions like engineering and the sciences would be even better.
posted by jedicus at 4:53 PM on August 26, 2009 [9 favorites]


Hey I start law school in like 2 weeks! And there's an article about how much money lawyers makeohwait what? Really?

Meh, luckily I live in Canada where my tuition at a decent law school is < 10k, which means I'm getting out with less than 50k of debt. And I want to work in law that is not Corporate anyways. So I'm fine.

Bulgaroktonos, although I'm sure you're right on the trickle-down effect, wouldn't that be mitigated somewhat by
1) The choice of courses that you took v. people who wanted BigLaw
2) The fact that it's probably easy for prospective employers to tell who wanted which field of work?
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:53 PM on August 26, 2009


I'm just out of the first round of articling applications in Toronto (well, really it's the second, because the first round is effectively when big firms hire summer students for second-year summer jobs) with no article as of yet. (Articling jobs are a sort of paid legal apprenticeship that you do in Canada for ten months after you graduate law school; you need to article in order to be admitted to the bar.)

Needless to say, I don't have a job yet. I was applying primarily to criminal and public service positions; the utter dearth of hiring in the business sector means that the biz keener kids are all applying to the lesser-paying sectors of law because the competition for business articles is so tense, which means the competition for good jobs outside of biz law is much more intense.

So basically the whole thing sucks.
posted by mightygodking at 4:54 PM on August 26, 2009


The job market for lawyers has been tanking since September 11. The real news is that the legal market itself seems to be undergoing a structural change. The very business model that has led to megafirms has also led to megabloat, with little value to show for enormous bills. With clients everywhere looking for ways to cut costs, it's no wonder that biglaw is suffering. There is a future in law for young graduates, but it's going to involve working hard and not getting sucked into dead end careers as expendable cogs in soulless firms.
posted by norm at 4:57 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ooooh, that lawyer joke thing is so untrue. A funny lawyer joke to demonstrate this:

Two lawyers walk into a resturaunt and start eating their packed lunch sandwiches. The owner runs over and says 'can't you see the sign? No eating your own food!'. The lawyers shrug and swap sandwiches.
posted by jaduncan at 4:59 PM on August 26, 2009 [38 favorites]


Funny how nobody gave a shit when blue-collar workers were facing similar job shortages, or outright losses.
I guess no one at the NYT actually knows any blue collars workers. Lawyers, though...well, that's cutting too close to home. They actually know a few lawyers.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:02 PM on August 26, 2009 [23 favorites]


Awesome. I just got out of a meeting at my law school about the coming round of On Campus Interviews (OCI), so this is perfect timing. Not that I was really expecting to get a job anyway (looking for some interview experience) and I knew that the job market was tough, but this kinda sucks. Oh well, good thing I'm a retired member of good standing in old Local 88. Guess I can go back to slanging deli meat if this whole lawyer thing doesn't work out.
posted by friendlyjuan at 5:02 PM on August 26, 2009


I had an acquaintance who graduated from law school in 2003. I asked which firms she was looking at, and she said "Oh, I don't want to be a lawyer. It was just something I had to prove to myself."

Guess who I won't be asking when I need legal advice.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:03 PM on August 26, 2009


Funny how nobody gave a shit when blue-collar workers were facing similar job shortages, or outright losses.

Really? Damn, you know some jaded ass motherfuckers.
posted by billysumday at 5:03 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Funny how nobody gave a shit when blue-collar workers were facing similar job shortages, or outright losses. I guess no one at the NYT actually knows any blue collars workers.

What a stupid comment. Do you really think the NY Times hasn't run articles about blue collar workers during this recession?
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 5:07 PM on August 26, 2009 [14 favorites]


> I find it a bit surprising that elite schools produce people who are so much better. I'd hope the students effort, achievement, and attitude to be the real deciding factor.

The primary advantage of going to a top-tier school (in law, medicine, etc.) is your access to the alumni network, the peer group you graduate with, and the name at the top of the diploma. It's impossible to get into certain segments of the top-tier jobs in many fields without those bona fides -- because the people hiring you came through exactly the same channels, as did all their colleagues. The teaching is probably better than lower-ranking schools, the competitiveness is probably fiercer, but somebody who graduates from the lowest third of the Top-Tier School Class of 2009 will always have more doors opened for them than somebody who graduates Summa Cum Laude from a minor regional college.

It sucks that somebody from a top-ranking school can't get a job in a firm right now, but they will eventually. It will be the job that somebody from a lower-ranking school would gotten some other year.
posted by ardgedee at 5:09 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm unpleasantly reminded of a study from a few years back:
The recent evidence shows quite clearly that in today's economy starting at the bottom is a recipe for being underpaid for a long time to come. Graduates' first jobs have an inordinate impact on their career path and their "future income stream," as economists refer to a person's earnings over a lifetime...The setback in earnings for college students who graduate in a recession stays with them for the next 10 years.
posted by Iridic at 5:10 PM on August 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


Law graduates are the new philosophy graduates just about all recent grads.

It's an international economic downturn (or is/was it a proper recession?). Some countries are on the level to upswing, others are still trending downwards. I'm sure there are some jobs still in demand, simply because no one really wants those jobs but someone needs to do them. I can't think of what those would be, but I'm sure they're out there.

Hurf durf lawyer jokes are boring, can we get back to throwing pies? That shit is a riot.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:10 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


"...it's difficult, stressful, and the hours are horrible. Plus, you're stuck surrounded by lawyers all day!"

You're right, I never thought of it that way. Poor bastards!
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 5:11 PM on August 26, 2009


"...many are blaming their law schools for failing to warn them about the dark side of the job market."

Just like Trini Thompson who is suing Monroe College because she hasn't been able to find a job in NYC after recently graduating.
posted by ericb at 5:12 PM on August 26, 2009


I do feel for them. Many prospective top-tier law students have a choice between a full-scholarship at a lesser school, or to pay their way at an elite school. Blaming them for choosing wrong seems mean-spirited.
posted by smackfu at 5:16 PM on August 26, 2009


I went to one of those fancy all-girls private schools. There are a good chunk of the girls I graduated with who went on to college and found ourselves some decent careers (or well-targeted grad schools, including law school) and we're almost like real grown-ups. But every time I run in to the ones destined for trophy wifedom -- a good 20% of the class or so -- and I ask what they're doing, the answer is inevitably "Oh, welllll, I'm thinking of applying to law school."

So basically as far as I can tell it's the new MRS degree.
posted by olinerd at 5:16 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fuck. Just when everyone in America was saying that you guys don't have enough lawyers. Who is going to chase all of those ambulances now? And that's before we even start on those ambulances that keep falling out of the sky.
posted by Jakey at 5:18 PM on August 26, 2009


Law graduates are the new philosophy graduates.
I'm glad I studied philosophy!
posted by localhuman at 5:22 PM on August 26, 2009



If each of us donated just a little, perhaps only two, three, or even four thousand dollars each to lawgradswithnowork.org we might all feel that we've done something positive for the day- and we might just save a career.
posted by mattoxic at 5:27 PM on August 26, 2009


Meh, luckily I live in Canada where my tuition at a decent law school is <>

You should look at the comment above re: the trickle-down effect. When I was in my mid-30s, I went back to graduate school in literature at my Local Big 10 University, just for kicks--I thought it would be fun, and it was. I'd been teaching freshman composition at the community college level for over a decade, where a typical department might have 5-10 full time faculty and 50-70 part-timers, many of them people with PhDs in English who had been unable to find full-time jobs. I'd watched friends with PhDs do the nationwide academic job search, often unsuccessfully.

Yet my department was full of people who said, "I'll be fine, because I'd be happy working at a small liberal arts college or a community college. I don't need to be at a big-name, nationally-ranked university." I would just shake my head sadly and think, "Good luck, kid."

posted by not that girl at 5:30 PM on August 26, 2009


I have little sympathy for a profession that as, according to mightygodking, turned the noun 'article' into a verb.
posted by Lucie at 5:31 PM on August 26, 2009


as=has. oops.
posted by Lucie at 5:31 PM on August 26, 2009


I guess they're going to have to stop thinking of their time at university as job-training for some trade, and start thinking of it as an education.

Yeah ok, so an education is nice and all, but it doesn't pay the bills. Except it can help do that too - so they might not get the law job they had in mind, but they now have a degree, and having that kind of education does count when you're starting out in the workforce, even when applying for unrelated positions. (Not so much when you have 15 years of career under your belt)

If you gambled getting a six-figure student loan you couldn't afford against getting a six-figure salary immediately afterwards, well, that's a hard lesson to learn so harshly so young. :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 5:35 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I see you had read the trickle down post.

"...many are blaming their law schools for failing to warn them about the dark side of the job market."

I've never been to law school, but in my experience as a grad student in literature, the faculty range from disingenuous to out-right dishonest when talking about job prospects. When I tried to pin the graduate chair down about the success of grads at finding tenure-track positions, she just kept repeating, "We're very happy with our placement rate," and I would say, "Which is?" and she would say, "For instance, so-and-so just go hired on at [small liberal arts college in California]," and I would say, "And what about the other people who've been awarded PhDs here in the last few years?" and she would say, "It's been really nice talking to you, but I have another appointment now."

Of course, part of what happens in the humanities is that they have an interest in maintaining a high grad student population in order to have cheap labor to teach the more boring and labor-intensive undergrad classes....but it's easy for me to believe law schools are not exactly forthcoming with students about reasons why they should not matriculate.
posted by not that girl at 5:36 PM on August 26, 2009 [8 favorites]


Above the Law carries some related news and gossip, but it was more exciting when the big layoffs were happening earlier this year and late last year.
posted by exogenous at 5:37 PM on August 26, 2009


At some point in my third year of law school way back when, lots of my classmates started talking about how they didn't think they really wanted to be lawyers. (Okay, we). Usually they said they were thinking it might be better just to open a little restaurant somewhere. Maybe a little bookstore. One professor said that for him it had been a bait shop. What an odd lot of law school grads to still be thinking they want to be lawyers at this point.
posted by dilettante at 5:38 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess they're going to have to stop thinking of their time at university as job-training for some trade, and start thinking of it as an education.

The liberal arts ideal may apply to an undergraduate degree, but law school is a professional school. It is very much job-training for a trade. Would you say the same thing to an MD who couldn't find a job as a doctor? What about someone with a Master's in Accounting?

If you gambled getting a six-figure student loan you couldn't afford against getting a six-figure salary immediately afterwards, well, that's a hard lesson to learn so harshly so young. :-/

This, on the other hand, is pure truth. But a lot of the blame must be placed on law schools that sell the six-figure-salary success story as typical when it is anything but.
posted by jedicus at 5:45 PM on August 26, 2009


niccolo: I find it a bit surprising that elite schools produce people who are so much better. I'd hope the students effort, achievement, and attitude to be the real deciding factor.

Do relatively "better" professors and "better" peers make that much difference?


It's somewhat self-selectign as well - those students who really put in the "effort, achievement, and attitude" tend to do quite well at school, and as a result are much more likely to be the ones who made the grade for the top universities. It's a much fuzzier and less hard-and-fast version of the GIGO principle, really.
posted by Dysk at 5:48 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Law graduates are the new philosophy graduates.

Except that philosophy graduates were never making $150K in their first job out of school.

After I bombed out of philosophy grad school, I got a job writing a newsletter called the Lawyer Hiring and Training Report, about all the tips and techniques for law firms to attract those summer interns, keep them as first-year associates, and dissuade them from jumping for better offers after a few years. The money figures involved were five to ten times more than I was earning or might have earned with a Ph.D. in philosophy. Fun job, that.
posted by stargell at 5:54 PM on August 26, 2009


There was a time a couple of decades ago when one could purchase some law books, study them after work, and then sit for his state's bar exam and practice law if he passed. But the problem with that system was it created a competitive market for legal services and the offspring of the upper classes were finding it difficult to get the income they were entitled to, being upper class and whatnot. For example on median worker's income it is difficult to finance driving vehicles off of bridges onto party girls below and killing them and pretending it didnt happen for 10 hours. So laws were passed barring individuals from sitting for the licensing exam without first completing a three-year postgraduate degree at an 'accredited' school. This did the trick, and with the Feds guaranteeing student loans, banks and schools had every incentive to jack tuition rates through the roof. Students pay it though because of those 'high salaries' lawyers receive as a result of restricted supply. And then of course the entire Western financial ecosystem collapses and yep people get fucked. However, all things considered, graduating with 150k debt with a JD is better than having signed up for the Army to "defend" your "country" and get blown up on the side of the road. Life is a big darwinian competition to get the least fucked by your fellow humans. Society is making steady progress; for example those with 150k debts owe about 4 years worth of gross annual income on the principal alone at a median salary. They will never repay this, and yet, they will likely never become slaves. The female members of their families will not be raped (at least not by the lenders, legally) and they will never be sold into forced physical labor. Their debts will not carry over to their children. So yeah, some people are legitimately getting fucked by the whole JD industry, but not big-picture fucked, in the sense of the rape-and-slavery style that used to be the status quo.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 5:57 PM on August 26, 2009 [33 favorites]


At Yale, students accustomed to being wooed by Big Law’s glittering names — like Baker & McKenzie; Milbank, Tweed, Hadley, & McCloy; and White & Case — were stunned when those firms canceled interviews in New Haven this month.


Good. Now, where were we? Oh yes.

I also went into law because I genuinely like it and wanted to dedicate myself to public service. It kills me that these mercenary motherfuckers who went into law solely for the money and who will abandon non-profit as soon as possible are just swooping in and trying to take jobs from new grads who worked non profit or government internships every summer for beans to prove their commitment. And because people are dazzled by fancy names, they'll probably get away with it too. These are the same jackasses who looked down on anyone not doing corporate law throughout law school. I hope they suffer, but I fear they won't.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:03 PM on August 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


This is really very sad -- that students think all they need to do is go to the "right" school and everything will open up to them without effort as if the brand name was a magic pill.

Your life is a series of obstacles and how you handle those obstacles determines your outcome in life -- if you whine and expect others to do all the work, that Ivy League diploma is wasted on you. If you create your own opportunities, make demands, work hard, and spend more time on effort than on cultivating a fake image of monster success, it is amazing what you can do.

University is about teaching you how to use valuable tools -- but they are not supposed to do your thinking and work for you...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:03 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow norabarnacl3, couldn't you just have typed that single-spaced and posted it on some telephone poles around town?
posted by Sr_Cluba at 6:03 PM on August 26, 2009 [8 favorites]


Via abovethelaw.com, I found this choice rant from a blog called Big Debt, Small Law about how Top-14 law school grads are now facing the reality that all other law school grads have had to deal with for most of their careers.
posted by deanc at 6:06 PM on August 26, 2009


just swooping in and trying to take jobs from new grads who worked non profit or government internships every summer for beans to prove their commitment.

The real craziness was last fall, when the firms weren't really interested in actually hiring the people they had given offers to. It was hard enough to keep the people they were currently employing. So they were paying the fresh grads $40-60k to go do non-profit work, rather than paying $120k+ to do what they expected. Try competing with that!
posted by smackfu at 6:08 PM on August 26, 2009


A few things:

"Trendy"? Really? This makes no sense. The top end law firms are the same year after year with little change in the hierarchy, with the last real change in the scene being the founding of Skadden and Wachtell decades ago. It's not like people go "ooh, this is totally the year to work for Latham, and Cravath was so last year." That's like calling Ivy League schools "trendy."

IMO, The hardest part of being a "successful" lawyer, i.e., a lawyer with the "cushy" job at the "trendy" law firm is getting into law school. As someone noted before, law schools aren't differentiated by their superior training (maybe Yale is an exception, as its considered the school for future academics). Contracts and Civil Procedure is the same at Columbia as it is at Brooklyn Law School. Its about the networking abilities, and what it says about you that you "made" Harvard (elite college grades and LSAT score, or deep connections with alumni, or being really famous, all of which are appealing to law firms). Once you are a lawyer at a law firm, you work brutal hours but until last year, you were pretty safe from being fired absent gross incompetence because firms were terrified of being branded "the layoff firm." Now, virtually every firm is a layoff firm, so no stigma.

If you do not make a "name brand" school, your chances of making a "trendy" firm are drastically lower. Many firms will not bother to interview you, while other firms attempt to "Moneyball" the schools by cherry-picking the top graduates from lower tier schools, reasoning that someone who excelled in the cutthroat environment of such schools will make for hard-working associates who will be "grateful" for the chance to work in their halls.

The NYTimes article highlights the unfortunate practice of hiring almost two years before permanent employment, which leads to disasters like firms hiring a hundred law students in 2006, when needing to fire a hundred of lawyers in 2009 (when that hired class would be scheduled to start). What the article doesn't note is that firms do this for at least 2 reasons. One, law firms do want to get at least a summer's worth of observation of what sort of person the individual is before extending permanent offers. Hiring a lawyer based on a couple of call backs is unpalatable for such a risk averse profession. Second, the race to retain premium students means you want to get them as soon as you have a plausible basis for letting them summer in the first place, i.e., after you've seen their first year grades, the most academically rigorous year. So there's an unfortunate confluence of issues causing law firms to hire in such a bizarre manner.
posted by shen1138 at 6:09 PM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


There was a time a couple of decades ago when one could purchase some law books, study them after work, and then sit for his state's bar exam and practice law if he passed.

Seven states allow people to take the bar after an apprenticeship in a law office, no law school required. California, Maine, New York, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. (source [pdf]). Few if any states have ever allowed someone to take the bar without at least an apprenticeship.

Alabama and DC allow people to sit for the bar who have gone to any law school, even one unaccredited by the ABA or even the state/district.
posted by jedicus at 6:11 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


But a lot of the blame must be placed on law schools that sell the six-figure-salary success story as typical when it is anything but.

At what point do these kids learn 'caveat emptor'?
posted by pompomtom at 6:12 PM on August 26, 2009


I keep being tempted towards law school myself. But I'd be trolling the low end schools for whoever'd give me the most money long before I accepted a spot with somewhere that was going to dump me into the job market with six figures in debt. Did none of these people consider things like 'what happens if I don't pass the bar' or 'what happens if I hate this job'?

I mean, OMFG. Median salary twice what I made as a 2006 grad with a graduate degree in accounting, and this is a disaster? I live just fine on $30k/year and I had a lot of student loans. I just don't insist on living like the sort of people who go to law school just to make $100k as soon as they graduate.
posted by larkspur at 6:15 PM on August 26, 2009


But a lot of the blame must be placed on law schools that sell the six-figure-salary success story as typical when it is anything but.

I don't know that they even sell it that way. Everyone knows that T14 means BigLaw.
posted by smackfu at 6:22 PM on August 26, 2009


as=has. oops.

The Cockney thread is over 'ere.
posted by naoko at 6:23 PM on August 26, 2009


Did none of these people consider things like 'what happens if I don't pass the bar'

Passing the bar is not a real concern for students of law schools anywhere near the high end. Most have bar passage rates in the 90-95% range. When you only consider students in the top half of the class, the rate often goes to 100%.
posted by jedicus at 6:23 PM on August 26, 2009


Plexi, you should buy Instapundit a beer next time you're in Knoxville.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:23 PM on August 26, 2009


I'm just starting my 3L year at Georgetown, so let me just offer my thanks to all the good people in this thread who have decided to look at this situation by forming a facile opinion based generally on movie stereotypes, generalizing it to a vast group of people they obviously don't know, and then using that as a chance to say "fuck you" to those people and feel self-righteous about it. I feel like the world is a better place now.

I have no desire to work at a firm - I don't like the type of work I'd be doing and I certainly don't like the circumstances under which I'd be doing it. I'd gone to undergrad for film in the early part of the decade,following a lifelong dream, and after five years of bouncing around from small job to small job I had to make the hard choice that the dream wasn't working and that I needed to have a career that would allow me to actually settle down with some sort of stability. That meant that I needed a salable skill, and law was something that I had an aptitude for. So I worked my ass off for a year studying, got 99th percentile LSAT scores, and moved away from everyone I knew to go to the best school I could.

Most of my classmates do not come from wealthy families and most certainly do not have any sense of entitlement. They are people who had dreams of doing this and worked hard for the chance to do so, and proved themselves capable of getting into the top tier. Some of them kicked ass from the very beginning - law school grades are always curved, and are based entirely on the final exams, which require a very specific exam-writing style which bears no relation to the practice of law. Some people are naturally good at it. Others of us are not. The people at the very top are still getting job offers, which they have earned, by the way. For the rest of us, the trickle-down effect is very real and damaging as fuck.

As I said, I don't have any interest in a firm job. I'm sure I'd like the money, but having no time to enjoy it I doubt it'd even be all that worth it to me. What I'm going for, ideally, is a job with a public defenders' office in some city where I have roots. I probably won't be able to get that. And then, wherever I manage to find a job, my girlfriend's legal job is no longer transferable in any realistic fashion. Then, provided that the economy bounces back in the next few years, my classmates and I will be without the job-finding structure in place at school, and all of the new jobs will be going to that year's crop of students. Not just for biglaw firms, but on down the line.

Law Students aren't craven opportunists looking for their chance at the bloodsucking buffet - they are by and large ridiculously idealistic people who have worked very, very hard to get to the best school they could, many of them from low-income families, in the hopes that they could do work they like which helps people. They are people drawn to a line of work which is always, at heart, about busting your ass to defend somebody else.

In any case, I've been spending the last couple years watching the economy fall to pieces, slipping further and further into paranoia and distress that I've wasted not just hundreds of thousands of dollars, but three years of my life trying to build a skill that can support me. Not make me rich. Support me. But thank you all for the kind words. The mass of you have shown a great understanding of the situation.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:37 PM on August 26, 2009 [60 favorites]


A touch of realism needed here. Grad schools of all types do not want to harm their sources of income and so they never suggest that their field(s) are not useful paths for jobs. You can get 3 decent schools in a smallish area, all cranking out the same courses, graduates, and sending them out to find work. It began some time ago. College profs thought themselves professionals and so distained unions, and, when they did organize, mostly refused collective bargaining. They also neglected to worry about part time people and increasingly administrators brought more and more onboard and hired fewer and fewer full-timers and offered far fewer tenured positions. There was a time when one measure of a college was the percent of full-time faculty to part time. Now, no one cares.

Law schools: they drive up prices because their faculties get very good money (and also manage to do other things on the side to increase salaries). They have a grip on their universities through their guild, the ABA.

What if we suggested that like some bankers and hedge fund people, salaries are overly generous and henceforth, they will not be so ? Would you continue the quest for top law school and top law firm?

We may be moving into a time when, as in India, there are so many trained people that they are willing to work at a much lower salary. In the case of India, many grads, unable to get jobs at home, and seeking jobs elsewhere, came to the US and replaced American workers--this happened at a huge pharmaceutical place I know of and it has happened in the computer field. And the managers of those places then tell the Am govt that they can not find silled Am workers and hence need to bring in more workers from foreign countries (who will work for much less)...wouldn't you do this if you managed?

Where all this is going I am not sure. But to laugh now at the debt and misfortunes of those who got caught in this mess seems not a useful thing to do. As we used to say at Nike, when we make them by 13 year olds in Indonesia, Walk a mile in my 130 dollar shoes.
posted by Postroad at 6:37 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


But a lot of the blame must be placed on law schools that sell the six-figure-salary success story as typical when it is anything but.

We must first consider whether this was intended to be a promise at all, or whether it was a mere puff which meant nothing.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:45 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Based on the experiences of my lawyer friends, I don't know about "cushy," unless you define "cushy" as "working 70+ hours a week."

Right. Your lawyer friends are real iron men.
posted by jayder at 6:48 PM on August 26, 2009


Try being a Sequential Art student.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:51 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


One of the vlaues of a legal education is that it prepares one for living in a democracy. I think that if these grads don't get jobs in law, their knowledge of the legal underpinnings of society is good for all of us.

Law incorporates and informs and illustrates a lot of history. I wish a good year of it were required in any curriculum.

(IANAL, but am married to one and get law by immersion!)

Also, most of these folks have undergrad degrees, of course, and the JD makes them more competitive in whatever fields in which they do seek or find work.

It may be a while before the glut of lawyers is dissipated, as law school was apparently a refuge for some folks who had no direction or immediate prospects a few years back.

Regardless, education, to me, at least, is never wasted, though it may not be immediately economically beneficial.
posted by FauxScot at 6:53 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


As I read this thread, words began to boil up within me, and then I saw Navelgazer's post and some relief, as he voiced much that I intended.

I just started my 3L year, and not at a name brand university. My school just recently celebrated being counted among the Top 100 schools, much less any thoughts of Top 50 or Top 25. I had and have no illusions of gaining entry into any elite law firms (nor do I want to) upon uttering the name of my future alma mater. For two summers, I have interned for an attorney general's office; the first year for free, if only to get my foot in the door.

Now, due to the way the economy has slid, I was left with a shrug of the shoulders at the end of my internship as to whether I would have a job with the entity that I devoted two very precious summers to. It's not a high paying job (the starting salary was just raised to 42k from 32k). I have to be afraid now that someone from a much more prestigious law school will turn to a state job, to bide the time until they can dust off their diploma and go find that firm job that they had been expecting to get upon graduation. My future is growing incredibly more frightening.

It is not to say that I have not watched with dismay the economic misfortunes of others, as there are other people out there, in worse situations and hurting far more than I am now, or will be come graduation (barring any success in the job search filed). But for me, and for many thousands of law students, it is our own private terror. I, too, appreciate those who understand, and to those who scoff, I hope you never need face the same situation, God willing.
posted by Atreides at 6:58 PM on August 26, 2009


I was just chatting today with one of our junior employees about grad school, and I said something to the effect of "don't pay for advanced degress." At the time I mentioned law school with a handy wavy "they get well paid internships", but in light of this news, maybe the point stands on its own. Don't pay for advanced degrees.
posted by pwnguin at 6:59 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm-a-gonna say it: the Universities and higher education system are absolutely to blame.

They're worse than the comic book stores in the '90s that were selling comics and baseball cards as "investments." You are purchasing an education, not a spot in the job queue... but everyone from the Ivy League down to the local night school has been screaming about "earnings potential" and "advancing your career."

What's worse, outside the hard sciences and engineering, they teach you to research and write papers in unreasonably short time spans. They don't really do a lot of practical education - sure there are some work-study opportunities, but these are generally brief, unrewarding, and seldom allow the student to make meaningful contacts or accumulate useful experience. Things you need to, you know, get a job.

They charge you an absolute mint for the privilege, while paying their faculty poorly, if at all. (Hey, there grad student! Want to advance your career? Grade these three thousand papers in between working a real job to keep yourself fed and writing your own papers.)

So! You're supposed to go to college to get an education, but the colleges are promising you a high-paying job, while delivering neither a practical education nor employment.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:03 PM on August 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


The snark in this thread -- well, the Times article encourages it. The interviews are by and large with clueless buffoons who went to law school for the wrong reasons and are now spitting mad that they didn't get their "birthright."

But as Navelgazer says, the majority of people who go to law school are not the stereotypes who are sought out to goose up New York Times trend articles. By the way, those stereotypes are sought out by the Times for fun quotes when the economy's roaring, too. Only then, the stereotypes are even more repugnantly self-fulfilling, and it becomes all the easier to ridicule the stereotypes when their fortunes turn sour because they were such jerks about their fortune when the world was their oyster.

Speaking as someone who worked in what someone above described as "soulless" big law firms for many years, lawyers are for the most part simply people who are trying to make a living, like everyone else, and when you get a JD, the range of choices that you have for jobs that will allow you to support yourself and your family and successfully pay off your student loan debt are not wide open, despite what some of you may believe.

It may be that law school grads are easy to point fingers at and laugh about, but the tanked economy's basically laughing at all of us, in one way or another, and it's not really funny. So boo-effing-hoo, yeah, easy to say, but there but for the grace, etc.
posted by blucevalo at 7:03 PM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


Atreides: But for me, and for many thousands of law students, it is our own private terror. I, too, appreciate those who understand, and to those who scoff, I hope you never need face the same situation, God willing.

I can't speak for everyone here, of course, but given that I have a B.A., I have a hard time digging up much sympathy for people who studied something to find that there wasn't necessarily a relevant job at the end of it. That's the norm for many of us, with no indication whatsoever that it will improve five or ten years down the line. Even now, you've got it good - you're pretty likely to get a job in your field, either now or in a matter of years.

I'm about to start an M.A. as well, and have no illusion that I will get a job in my field at the end of that, either.
posted by Dysk at 7:06 PM on August 26, 2009


Some days you eat the bar, some days the bar eats you.

Your life is a series of obstacles and how you handle those obstacles determines your outcome in life...

At what point do these kids learn 'caveat emptor'?


Somehow, I'm not holding my breath waiting for similar positions in the health care thread.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 7:08 PM on August 26, 2009


Law Students aren't craven opportunists looking for their chance at the bloodsucking buffet ...

You are right. But if you can't take some ribbing by online community members on The Internet about becoming a lawyer, you have a long row to hoe, Navelgazer.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 7:09 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Try being a Sequential Art student.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Ha.

( I learned how to make multimedia CD-ROMs. Sigh...)
posted by Artw at 7:16 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


One of the vlaues of a legal education is that it prepares one for living in a democracy. I think that if these grads don't get jobs in law, their knowledge of the legal underpinnings of society is good for all of us.

Yes, Law and Arts were traditionally the pillars of what was considered a solid, liberal education. Hence, women of good families used to study Law long before they were ever actually allowed to practice. "Preparing one to live in a democracy" is a very good way to put it.

And last time I looked, approximately 50% of Law grads never work in any kind of legal job* - not necessarily because they can't land one, but because the kinds of skills you need to pass Law are the kinds of skills that are transferable to a wide variety of jobs; especially public sector jobs where laws, regulations & policy are part of the very air you breathe, even if you're not actively employed as a solicitor or barrister.

*myself included, unless 9 months of volunteer work in a nonprofit refugee service counts as a job.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:19 PM on August 26, 2009


I'm about to start an M.A. as well, and have no illusion that I will get a job in my field at the end of that, either.

An M.A. is what I got before applying to law school. ;)
posted by Atreides at 7:27 PM on August 26, 2009


And last time I looked, approximately 50% of Law grads never work in any kind of legal job* - not necessarily because they can't land one, but because the kinds of skills you need to pass Law are the kinds of skills that are transferable to a wide variety of jobs
I'm sure that such skills and background could have been gained simply by getting an M.A. in philosophy or taking a few law classes. Law school is a significant investment in time and money. Unless your employer is paying for it, I can't see the point of embarking on such a journey unless you were going to be a lawyer or something closely related (eg, Law Librarian).

No one tells M.D.s that the degree is useful to "learn how to think" whatever you end up doing. Pretty much you know that if you get an M.D., you're going to be a doctor, or at least a biology researcher.

It used to be that a college degree was considered proof that you "know how to think." Can we really claim that law school can impart any of those "thinking" skills that college can't, outside of the skills necessary to practice law?
posted by deanc at 7:32 PM on August 26, 2009


My wife just started her second year at a top-25 school. Luckily she got a scholarship and we're not paying. She sees a lot of her classmates hoping to get Big Firm jobs to pay back the debt they'll have when they're done.

Law schools, of course, want a lot of their students to get these jobs because (1) it looks good, (2) they're the type of alumni that give to the school later and (3) it builds the school's network, making it easier for future students to get into the same firms. So she hasn't witnessed the school dissuading students from thinking they can get these jobs.
posted by nbergus at 7:32 PM on August 26, 2009


I'm sure that such skills and background could have been gained simply by getting an M.A. in philosophy or taking a few law classes. Law school is a significant investment in time and money.

I actually did a BA at the same time in philosophy & sociology, as it happens.

But a fair point, you make. I'd forgotten that you pay through the nose for your law degrees. I did mine at the tail end of Australia's policy of free tertiary education for all (who qualify for the course) so my combined BA / LLB cost me around $10K, all up. And that's in Australian dollars, from the university that was usually ranked best for law in the nation at the time. gloat gloat gloat

No one tells M.D.s that the degree is useful to "learn how to think" whatever you end up doing. Pretty much you know that if you get an M.D., you're going to be a doctor, or at least a biology researcher.

Yeah, that was precisely why I chose law over medicine. I could've done either, but I thought that an MB BS restricted me to mostly being a doctor or being a doctor, but an LLB, in contrast, would open wider opportunities.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:44 PM on August 26, 2009


and the JD makes them more competitive in whatever fields in which they do seek or find work.

Not necessarily. Speaking from experience, it makes employers wonder what's wrong with you, or leaves you overqualified.
posted by dilettante at 7:47 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


( I learned how to make multimedia CD-ROMs. Sigh...)

Beats being a drug mule for sugar addicts.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:08 PM on August 26, 2009


Bummer for you, Ivy League fuckwad. Grab a shovel and go help someone.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:20 PM on August 26, 2009


Based on the experiences of my lawyer friends, I don't know about "cushy," unless you define "cushy" as "working 70+ hours a week."

I'm not sure if I'm buying 70+ hrs a week as a standard, but I'm genuinely curious here: Are there any jobs out there paying six figures that don't require you to work considerably more than 40 hours a week?
posted by billyfleetwood at 8:33 PM on August 26, 2009


Lawyer here; practicing for almost twenty years. I still have my own office, and I am keeping it open, but I am also working at Target to pay the bills.

This is the worst it's ever been in the industry and the profession.
posted by yhbc at 8:48 PM on August 26, 2009 [11 favorites]


Also, I didn't read the whole thread, and I will be going to bed soon. Neither of those facts changes the underlying reality that it is a very, very, VERY tough job market out there for attorneys.
posted by yhbc at 8:50 PM on August 26, 2009


Are there any jobs out there paying six figures that don't require you to work considerably more than 40 hours a week?

Being a member of a board of directors will usually do it quite easily. It's entirely possible to have such a job and work less than forty hours per month.
posted by mightygodking at 8:50 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


My sister's a lawyer. Her experience (and the experience of every lawyer I know) always reminds me of this quote from "Apocalypse Now":

They must have thought he was some far-out old man humping it over that course. I did it when I was 19 and it damn near wasted me.

Whatever the end result, you have to respect lawyers for this accomplishment. Then again, the problem with lawyers is that they're often too smart for their own good.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:54 PM on August 26, 2009


There's a shortage of public defenders.
posted by mecran01 at 9:04 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Are there any jobs out there paying six figures that don't require you to work considerably more than 40 hours a week?

Orthodontists.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:08 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


leaves you overqualified.
posted by dilettante


heh.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:13 PM on August 26, 2009


Is there anyone on the planet who seriously, really and actually has some difficulty understanding why most (lots? many?) people have a problem with motherfucking lawyers? Because I'd like to step through the membrane into your alternate reality where lawyers aren't often a layer of bullshit between citizens and justice.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 9:13 PM on August 26, 2009


Are there any jobs out there paying six figures that don't require you to work considerably more than 40 hours a week?

I hear actuaries are incredibly well paid, and don't work insane hours. They may just have the world's most boring job, though, and it's competitive as all fuck to get a position.
posted by Dysk at 9:13 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Derek and I were 1ls in the same section last year at NYU. He's an incredibly smart, hard-working and all-around nice guy. To all of you in this thread who are reveling in his fear about his job prospects, or characterizing his decision to attend law school as some cushy upper-class fantasy that didn't pan out, do me a favor and go fuck yourselves.
posted by saladin at 9:15 PM on August 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


Bummer for you, Ivy League fuckwad. Grab a shovel and go help someone.

I really hate that.

I've never done hard, physical labor. I don't have calluses on my hands. So I must be one of these fuckwads you're gloating over.

However, I haven't yet internalized the disdain you seem to feel for the legal profession and for the law students who are being affected by the same economy we're all living with. I don't suffer from the delusion that lawyers, even ones who attended prestigious schools, don't help anyone. And if you do, then you're ignorant. Or are you just jumping at an opportunity to shit on someone?

Yeah, bummer for my friends, who have been working their asses off for years. Sitting in a library for 14 hours a day reading and studying complex material is work, though no shovels are involved. Bummer for my friends, who dared to offend you by wanting to be taught by brilliant professors and renowned scholars in the company of intelligent, ambitious, and industrious peers. Bummer for my friends, who weren't born rich and had to take out enormous debt. Those bastards, taking a calculated risk to pursue a dream! They really had it coming.

No, seriously. You're glad that I'm facing a tough job market because you think my law school is too fancy? You think that when I realize my goal of working on legal projects that promote true equal civil rights in our society regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, I won't be helping anyone? I should grab a shovel instead?

Contempt is ugly. Yours is no exception.
posted by prefpara at 9:16 PM on August 26, 2009 [30 favorites]


Being a member of a board of directors will usually do it quite easily. It's entirely possible to have such a job and work less than forty hours per month.

Yes, but it's pretty hard to get such a position on a board of directors paying that much without previously (or more likely, currently) having had a high-powered job independently.
posted by grouse at 9:17 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Funny how nobody gave a shit when blue-collar workers were facing similar job shortages, or outright losses.
I guess no one at the NYT actually knows any blue collars workers. Lawyers, though...well, that's cutting too close to home. They actually know a few lawyers.


Ooh, you mean American blue collar workers, right?
Was it appropriate when they were being laid off to say that at least they weren't Africans starving to death or being killed in the Congo?
Must we do this every time?
Is it really impossible to have any sympathy for people unless they are the absolute worst off in the whole world?
posted by atrazine at 9:28 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


No, seriously. You're glad that I'm facing a tough job market because you think my law school is too fancy? You think that when I realize my goal of working on legal projects that promote true equal civil rights in our society regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, I won't be helping anyone? I should grab a shovel instead?

You may have excellent grades. But you seriously need an education in how not to miss the point.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:30 PM on August 26, 2009


prefpara: Yeah, bummer for my friends, who have been working their asses off for years. Sitting in a library for 14 hours a day reading and studying complex material is work, though no shovels are involved. Bummer for my friends, who dared to offend you by wanting to be taught by brilliant professors and renowned scholars in the company of intelligent, ambitious, and industrious peers. Bummer for my friends, who weren't born rich and had to take out enormous debt. Those bastards, taking a calculated risk to pursue a dream! They really had it coming.

I agree with everything you say, but I don't see why we should feel more sorry for law students now than we do for liberal arts or philosophy majors at any other time. The amount of disdain in this thread doesn't even come close to approaching the amount of sarcastic "would you like fries with that?" bullshit some of us have to put up with all the time. Welcome to a harsh reality. Stings a bit, doesn't it?
posted by Dysk at 9:31 PM on August 26, 2009


Because I'd like to step through the membrane into your alternate reality where lawyers aren't often a layer of bullshit between citizens and justice.

And who, exactly, is going to protect you from them?
posted by Kirklander at 9:33 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


but I don't see why we should feel more sorry for law students now than we do for...

I don't at all suggest law students deserve more sympathy than anyone else. I got mad, so I may not have expressed myself well. I was trying to say that they don't deserve contempt.

you seriously need an education in how not to miss the point

What point is that?
posted by prefpara at 9:34 PM on August 26, 2009


Yeah, bummer for my friends, who have been working their asses off for years. Sitting in a library for 14 hours a day reading and studying complex material is work, though no shovels are involved. Bummer for my friends, who dared to offend you by wanting to be taught by brilliant professors and renowned scholars in the company of intelligent, ambitious, and industrious peers. Bummer for my friends, who weren't born rich and had to take out enormous debt. Those bastards, taking a calculated risk to pursue a dream! They really had it coming.

You could say exactly the same about people pursuing PhDs in the humanities (except for the enormous debt.) Most people either think that once you get a PhD you're all set and any university will hire you, or have a very similar attitude to those who have been dismissive and snarky about the job prospects for lawyers here. We face this stuff all the time. The one exception being that good job prospects in humanities academia right out of school don't pay a third as much as good job prospects in law. So that's why I say cry-me-a-fucking river. For full disclosure, I'm a professor, so this isn't about me. It just strikes me as a massive double standard.
posted by ob at 9:39 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree with everything you say, but I don't see why we should feel more sorry for law students now than we do for liberal arts or philosophy majors at any other time. The amount of disdain in this thread doesn't even come close to approaching the amount of sarcastic "would you like fries with that?" bullshit some of us have to put up with all the time. Welcome to a harsh reality. Stings a bit, doesn't it?

There's a difference between expecting sympathy and not wanting to be piled on. I mean it sucks that anyone's choice of major leads to people putting them down, but the joyful nature of some of these comments at the misfortune of a bunch of people is a bit sour. So surely better to say "don't put down the choices people make, quit being an asshole" than "we've got it bad too, suck it up" - because the latter doesn't help liberal arts or philosophy majors going forward.
posted by djgh at 9:40 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


good job prospects in humanities academia right out of school don't pay a third as much as good job prospects in law. So that's why I say cry-me-a-fucking river

There's always someone who is better off than you (and someone worse off, who would love to have your problems). That may mean you don't much sympathy for people who have some advantage that you lack, but it doesn't justify rudeness.

I'm noticing that I'm kind of posting a lot, so I'm going to hit the sack.
posted by prefpara at 9:46 PM on August 26, 2009


The amount of disdain in this thread doesn't even come close to approaching the amount of sarcastic "would you like fries with that?" bullshit some of us have to put up with all the time. Welcome to a harsh reality. Stings a bit, doesn't it?

I'm an ex-phil student, now law student. I don't see why you would think the two are mutually exclusive. Philosophy students do quite well on the LSAT, and in law school I read as much Hart and Dworkin as I did in undergrad.

Anyway, you're supposed to feel more sorry because they take on more debt, with some promise of the ability to repay.
posted by maledictory at 9:49 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don't understand why disenchanted adjunct humanities Ph.Ds can't coexist with unemployed public interest lawyers...should we all just go into computer science?
posted by Kirklander at 9:49 PM on August 26, 2009


"Come live with me and be my love
And we will all the pleasures prove
Of a marriage conducted with economy
In the Twenty-First Century Anno Donomy.
We’ll live in a dear little walk-up flat
With practically room to swing a cat
And a potted cactus to give it hauteur
And a bathtub equipped with dark brown water.
We’ll eat, without undue discouragement,
Foods low in cost but high in nouragement
And quaff with pleasure, while chatting wittily,
The peculiar wine of Little Italy.
We’ll remind each other it’s smart to be thrifty
And buy our clothes for something-fifty.
We’ll bus for miles on holidays
For seats at unpopular matinees,
And every Sunday we’ll have a lark
And take a walk in Central Park.
And one of these days not too remote
You’ll probably up and cut my throat."
posted by Your Disapproving Father at 9:52 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


djgh, it seems to me that nobody seems particularly interested in helping liberal arts or philosophy majors. Certainly, we've been given no sympathy, and now it's expected of us, for a group that are normally more privileged (in terms of pay, social standing, etc) because they're now at what's the norm for us?

Note, also, that I've heaped no scorn on lawyers or law students in this thread, merely explained why some might have grievances that they feel the need to air in a thread about how tough it is for lawyers and law students.

(No sarcasm is intended in that last sentence, I know it parses like that, but I do realise it is tough at the minute, and I'm not re-writing it at six in the morning)
posted by Dysk at 9:57 PM on August 26, 2009


The point to me seems to be this: Most of the times when people have to deal with lawyers ... it sucks for everyone but the lawyers. People are going through criminal trials, divorce, bankruptcy, or civil litigation. People are losing time, energy, life and money when they are dealing with lawyers. People are being screamed at in a deposition, made to look like shit in front of a judge or jury, or being talked down to ... by lawyers.

And during these times of depression and duress lawyers have historically been rolling in multi-hundred dollars an hour of billing. Literally making money off of human hardship.

And now the non-lawyers of the world, those of us not bright enough to recognize that "LA Law" and James Spader don't realistically represent the profession, get a brief fucking moment of schadenfreude.

If through the huge amount of privilege of accruing private law school debt you can't see that is what is going on here, please do get some sleep. But to the rest of us unprivileged, unanointed millions, to be in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt would probably keep us up at night.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:58 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


maledictory: I'm an ex-phil student, now law student. I don't see why you would think the two are mutually exclusive. Philosophy students do quite well on the LSAT, and in law school I read as much Hart and Dworkin as I did in undergrad.

I'm not saying you're academically inferior or anything like that, but your job prospects and social standing have far exceeded that of a humanities student who doesn't study law, so you fall into a different, more privileged, category.
posted by Dysk at 9:59 PM on August 26, 2009


Well, I'm sure when we all declare bankruptcy, and are so adjudged ineligible to practice law and are subsequently unlikely to be able to repay our non-dischargeable government debt, we'll take comfort in our superior social capital.

I'm Canadian, so I'm not in as much trouble as my $40k/yr American colleagues, but this year has been pretty bad. Many people are without jobs, and in Canada you need an articling position to be called to the bar (in some provinces, to be able to take the bar course). It's rough.
posted by maledictory at 10:06 PM on August 26, 2009


djgh, it seems to me that nobody seems particularly interested in helping liberal arts or philosophy majors. Certainly, we've been given no sympathy, and now it's expected of us, for a group that are normally more privileged (in terms of pay, social standing, etc) because they're now at what's the norm for us?

Note, also, that I've heaped no scorn on lawyers or law students in this thread, merely explained why some might have grievances that they feel the need to air in a thread about how tough it is for lawyers and law students.


I'm not saying anyone needs to help them any more than anyone else. I'm not even saying that people should give them sympathy. All I'm saying is that people should avoid the outpouring of scorn etc. above what they would apply to anyone in this situation. I couldn't care less about ambivalence, the point I'm trying to make is that whilst it might feel great to vent now (and I'm not saying you are), surely for the benefit of all students - law, liberal arts, whatever - the better policy is a blanket one. So if you would do X in a situation for Y, do X for Z as well. The extra vitriol because of the fact they're law students is massively unfounded when applied to the group as a whole.

Anyway, I'm off to bed now. I just wanted to say that the "well, we have it bad also" angle, whilst true, doesn't help anyone involved at all.
posted by djgh at 10:14 PM on August 26, 2009


Bummer for you, Ivy League fuckwad. Grab a shovel and go help someone.

I'm currently a lawyer at a big firm. Both my grandfathers were coal miners, both my parents grew up dirt poor during the great depression. My dad picked vegetables for money until he joined the Navy; the big treat he remembers from growing up is that once his mom made him a whip cream sandwich -- two slices of white bread with some whip cream in the middle. He never finished elementary school. My brothers and I were the first kids in our large, extended family ever to go to college. I grew up knowing that our family was precariously balanced between being in the middle class and living in poverty like my parents had. There was no safety net.

I took a calculated risk 13 years ago to go to law school. It worked out really well for me. It got me out of my hometown's deadening service economy and woke up my brain again. And it put me on the road toward financial stability. We don't live beyond our means and have a nest egg in case something bad happens. I've given the firm much more of my time and life than I would have liked, but I'm grateful because they freed me from falling into the abyss of living hand to mouth that has haunted me since my childhood. And I've done lots of pro bono work that has helped indigent women -- both individual clients and as a class through the case precedents I've helped set.

I don't think lawyers deserve special pity because of this tough economy, but the schadenfreude level in this thread is disappointing if not surprising. The risk that paid off for me 13 years ago is not going to pay off for alot of the current crop of graduates, and some people here seem positively gleeful about it. Okay, I guess, but I'm not sure we're as shallow and you're as righteous as you think.
posted by onlyconnect at 10:20 PM on August 26, 2009 [27 favorites]


djgh: Anyway, I'm off to bed now. I just wanted to say that the "well, we have it bad also" angle, whilst true, doesn't help anyone involved at all.

You're right, you are. But what makes people indignant is that there seems to be a feeling in this thread that it is unacceptable to make jokes at the expense of poor, jobless lawyers, yet society as a whole has always seemed to feel that it's fine to make jokes at the expense of poor, jobless philosophy majors. So what people are getting annoyed at is the double standard.

Obviously, I'd much rather see a world where nobody who is poor and jobless as a result of their choice of education gets mocked, but it is somewhat galling that it'd take a disaster for law as a profession to bring this about.
posted by Dysk at 10:26 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


The point to me seems to be this: Most of the times when people have to deal with lawyers ... it sucks for everyone but the lawyers. People are going through criminal trials, divorce, bankruptcy, or civil litigation. People are losing time, energy, life and money when they are dealing with lawyers. People are being screamed at in a deposition, made to look like shit in front of a judge or jury, or being talked down to ... by lawyers.

And during these times of depression and duress lawyers have historically been rolling in multi-hundred dollars an hour of billing. Literally making money off of human hardship.


That's an understandable, but incredibly naive view of the world.

To draw an analogy, it's like saying "Cops are bad because I once had to deal with one when he pulled me over & fined me for running an orange light & that sucked" whilst disingenuously ignoring the fact that most of the time police are actually working away in the background, securing public order & safety, and not being assholes towards you.

In other words, it's naive to judge an entire diverse profession, based solely on a handful of very limited encounters with a tiny, public-facing subset of them, during times of personal crisis or misfortune.

Chances are, you're not going to be dealing with attorneys doing pro bono work for charities or the underprivileged. You're not going to be a party to lawyers making submissions to government inquiries into environmental policy or civil liberties. You'll happily make use of infrastructure multiple times daily - things that make your life easier & better in so many ways, like banking networks, public transport, utilities - hell, just about everything you do or use will have required legal advice in in their setup, if not also in their ongoing operations.

But go through a messy divorce & somehow it's lawyers who become the whipping-boys & scapegoats for your problems, and who make society suck for everybody.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:30 PM on August 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'll be honest, I'm a recent law school grad and I'm sick of people defending how bad lawyers have it. You know who else has it bad? College baseball players at division II and III schools who can't make the pros. Blame Atticus Finch or Sam Watterson, or whomever you like, but there's this incredible idea that just about anyone can go to any law school and get a dream job as a civil rights attorney, international public law attorney, or public defender. It's hard to make it in the big leagues, whether we're talking baseball or public interest lawyering.

I have it good. I graduated from a top law school, got a job at one of the top non-profits in my field doing the work I love, and a fellowship at a top school to help out as well. And to maintain the baseball analogy, I'm not even an all star among law students; more of a Jacoby Ellsbury. My friends who clerk for the supreme court, they're the all stars. I'm just really fast and play for the right team.

There just aren't that many jobs where you can do interesting and challenging work for a cause you believe in that comes with prestige, a good salary, and reasonable hours. They go to the absolute top students who are dedicated, passionate, and hard working. There are slightly more jobs where you can pay off your debt working long hours at a place with interesting colleagues doing largely mindless but sometimes challenging work. As you start relaxing these constraints, the pool widens. That's how it's always been.

If I hadn't gotten into a very top school and done well, I wouldn't have dreamed of getting to where I am now - just like the starting second basemen for Oberlin doesn't think he's going to be playing for the Cubs. Of course there are the rare exceptions, but why would people be shocked about this? Yes there are changes on the margins in a recession, indeed the market is worse now than it's been in a long time. But these things are relative and the changes are not having significant distributional effects within the industry. Maybe the second basemen for Oberlin should get a shot at the big leagues, the egalitarian in me likes the idea. But let's be honest with ourselves; he shouldn't be surprised when he can't. There are interesting distributional questions here as well, but those are never raised in discussions like these and are largely tertiary concerns, interesting only to those with the background to get teaching jobs. Speaking of which, why is nobody mourning over the extreme difficulty of become a law professor?

Also, the idea that law students at top schools are somehow upstanding activists who aren't from privileged families is ridiculous. I lived through it (and am now a fellow doing it again from the other side). It's just an extreme misrepresentation of the kind of person who goes to law school.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:30 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


The point to me seems to be this: Most of the times when people have to deal with lawyers ... it sucks for everyone but the lawyers. People are going through criminal trials, divorce, bankruptcy, or civil litigation. People are losing time, energy, life and money when they are dealing with lawyers. People are being screamed at in a deposition, made to look like shit in front of a judge or jury, or being talked down to ... by lawyers.

And during these times of depression and duress lawyers have historically been rolling in multi-hundred dollars an hour of billing. Literally making money off of human hardship.


Ok, this is the type of attitude that drives me insane. Guess what, 9 times out of 10, lawyers didn't create whatever mess you now need a lawyer to fix. We aren't making money off your misery. We are making money for working countless hours researching your problem, writing about your problem, trying to figure some creative way to get you out of your problem. Do you have any idea how much pressure is on an attorney when their client's lives hang in the balance. When someone might lose their job, their house, their business, their kids, their freedom?

And I'm sorry making money off of human hardship? Do doctors make money off of human hardship? Do social workers? Oh and my friends off doing human rights work for pennies, they are just rolling in the human suffering and they just manage to pay their rent while doing it!

And please if you ever find yourself in a really bad situation. You've been arrested, your being sued for enough to bankrupt you, you've been in a horrible accident and need to pay your medical bills, please don't call a lawyer. I'm tired of people like you who hate us just until you actually need us.

And now the non-lawyers of the world, those of us not bright enough to recognize that "LA Law" and James Spader don't realistically represent the profession, get a brief fucking moment of schadenfreude.

If through the huge amount of privilege of accruing private law school debt you can't see that is what is going on here, please do get some sleep. But to the rest of us unprivileged, unanointed millions, to be in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt would probably keep us up at night.


Um yeah guess what it does keep me up at night. Glad someone is enjoying it.
posted by whoaali at 10:36 PM on August 26, 2009 [12 favorites]


Filthy bloodsucking lawyer jokes aside...
The only potential bright spot I can see is that perhaps the bright, hardworking folks going to law school and getting crapped on for it in the job market will join the ranks of disillusioned people who have a beef with how the current higher education system in the U.S. is structured.

Why, exactly, should we force people to take risks with their futures or teach them to value materialism as an end in itself when we're completely wasting intellectual resources?

I mean, screw lawyers. The reason so many lawyers have to work so hard and be self sacrificing, do pro-bono work, strive for equality and liberty, is because there are so many other lawyers working hard in opposition to them. Hey, good on the first group, but across the field, it's a wash.

But if I'm joe employer, gee, it'd be nice to have folks who are well trained for my field rather than having to go to a school, learn something tangentially related, and then I have to retrain them.
Hell, all that does is take money out of mom and dad's pocket. What the hell is education in this country if it's going to be this kind of parasite?
To pull from Glengarry - it's supposed to help us help people get jobs and have careers and fulfill their potential, not fuck us and them up for money.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:39 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


(to be fair the same charge can be levied at the military - the reason you need so many rough men ready to do violence on your behalf is because out there there are so many rough men ready to do violence against you - so I can sympathize with the attorney's busting their ass fighting the good fight)
posted by Smedleyman at 10:41 PM on August 26, 2009


I'd like to thank Navelgazer for saying clearly, concisely, and civilly exactly what I had been motivated to say from reading some of the comments to this post.

I'm a 3L in another non-prestigious school. The only thing I have wanted to do since the beginning is to work in the public interest. I've been dying to work for the EFF, Public Knowledge, and the like or alternatively for the FCC or other tech/internet-focused government body. Now, all the graduates who wanted to go into corporate law or any other big firm field have had their employment deferred. By "deferred" I mean that they are being paid by their firms to take pro bono work in the public interest, flooding the applicant pool for what would otherwise have been a largely ignored niche. The nonprofits are happy to have their pick of the litter, but they're bringing in people who have little to no interest in staying on once hiring goes back to normal. Meanwhile, people like me, who want to dedicate their lives to these causes, are crowded out.

Let me reiterate that for those of you enjoying a nice cup of schadenfreude: I am a law student and I want to devote my professional life to the public interest. For every slimy ambulance chaser or big oil lobbyist, there's one of us in the DA's office, the FCC, or the ACLU tearing his or her hair out on your behalf. And getting paid fuck-all for it.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:54 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't see why it isn't possible to feel schadenfreude toward the horrible lawyers and law students while sympathising with the nobler ilk aspiring to good work. That's my position on this, anway.
posted by Dysk at 11:03 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I submit that jobless philosophy majors and jobless JDs are not the same thing.

Lawyering is a productive enterprise, in the sense that our nation requires the services of lawyers in large numbers (or did, until very recently) in order that civil life and the economy keep humming along.

Crushing student debts and class resentment and a supply-restricting lawyer cartel and arguments about the over-litigiousness of societycan be put aside for the moment: they're not to the point.

What is to the point: A student out of high-school opting to study a law degree in order to enter that profession could be credited with the determination to apply themselves to something useful. To do productive work that society will value. It's a bitter disappointment when they graduate three years later and find that they can't.

Can we say the same for students who decide to study philosophy?
posted by magic curl at 11:09 PM on August 26, 2009


magic curl: A student out of high-school opting to study a law degree in order to enter that profession could be credited with the determination to apply themselves to something useful. To do productive work that society will value. It's a bitter disappointment when they graduate three years later and find that they can't.

Can we say the same for students who decide to study philosophy?


I'll give a few responses to this:

1) Given (or assuming) that we live in capitalist societies, we have, as a society, decided that the transfer of currency determines some quantified "value" to all goods or services. Given that decent-paying jobs for philosophy graduates exist, then yes, by the rules of the game we all play, philosophy graduates can (and do) do productive work that society values.

2) If we don't accept capitalist valuation as legitimatly correcting societal value, then we immediatly have to rule most law graduates out from doing valuable work as well - society clearly doesn't value (in a non-economic sense) a lot of the work lawyers do, or we wouldn't hate on ambulance-chasers and the like. Sure, that still leaves some valuable lawyers, but then it still leaves some valuable philosophy graduates too, going into things like teaching and so on.

3) The supposed 'higher value' of a lawyers work is reflected in the higher average salary they command. So your supposed 'higher value' is already compensated for, and it's the same bitter disappointment when you find out you can't get a job in the field you've dedicated you life to.

4) See, this is exactly the sort of attitude that makes people revel when lawyers and law students suffer.
posted by Dysk at 11:18 PM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


In other words, it's naive to judge an entire diverse profession, based solely on a handful of very limited encounters with a tiny, public-facing subset of them, during times of personal crisis or misfortune.

The funny part is, the people who do it the most are usually the ones who benefit the most from the existence of what they're complaining about.

But on the flip side of the coin, i think it's rather disingenuous for those here defending their noble profession to pretend not to understand where the negative public opinion comes from. Even if 90% of them are saints, the other 10% can cause a disproportionate amount of grief.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:28 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


And the other 10% are, in fact, doing their best to represent their clients, within a system that was not of their own making.

So, an attorney is giving you grief in court? That's his job. Just as your attorney will be giving the other side grief. In that subset of legal work, that's the game that the players have to play: talk up your own side, talk down the other.

To paraphrase Churchill on democracy, it's the worst possible way of settling a dispute, apart from all the others.

Having said that, it's heartening to see a continual shift towards court-ordered mediation & so-called alternative dispute resolution, often as a mandatory prerequisite before cases will be heard, especially in family law.

But enough of this...I'm putting on some popcorn & settling back into my deckchair, now that magic curl has upped the ante in what promises to be a very entertaining clash between lawyers & philosophers.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:08 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Brother Dysk, thanks for your responses.

I don't disagree that many phil majors get jobs, but what are these decent-paying jobs that require a philosophy degree, and how many of them are there relative to the number of philosophy graduates?

The only material answer to the first Q that I can think of is "teaching or researching philosophy" -- and given an average class size of 15, my guess at the second Q would be 7%.

This is why I argued that a philosophy student's lack of job prospects in their field should not be a surprise or a shame: no one in their right mind would have undertaken the study in order to get a job.

(Also: Under our capitalist assumptions X Y and Z, transfer of currency doesn't determine value. Value, to the extent it is accurately quantified, determines the transfer of currency. The money that lawyers earn is a signal of the work's value, but whether it's fair compensation or not is beside my point.)

4) See, this is exactly the sort of attitude that makes people revel when lawyers and law students suffer.

other people's attitudes aren't "making" you do anything.
posted by magic curl at 12:11 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


But on the flip side of the coin, i think it's rather disingenuous for those here defending their noble profession to pretend not to understand where the negative public opinion comes from. Even if 90% of them are saints, the other 10% can cause a disproportionate amount of grief.

I'd just have said that reveling in the misfortune of others in general is distasteful. And that's not speaking as a law student, it's speaking as a human being.
posted by jaduncan at 12:14 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


magic curl, then replace "makes people" with "leads to people to". And regarding value, replace "determines" with "reflects". Jesus, it's almost like you're making an effort to misunderstand.

...and is teaching philosophy (something that happens at schools so well as universities) any 'less' of a vocation than lawyering? Is it fair that people whose interests and skills lie with studying law should be able to expect a better life than those whose interests and skills lie elsewhere? Why should those of us told to have lower expectations have sympathy for somebody moaning about now being in our position? We've been in it all along, and we've been given shit for our choices since day one.
posted by Dysk at 12:32 AM on August 27, 2009


I sincerely feel bad for anyone having to look for a job in this economy, and ten times more so for folks who have upwards of a six-figure debt on their back while they're doing it.

That, I think, is the most heartfelt contribution I can make to this thread. Not that, you know, the whole Philosophy Majors vs. Law Students Thunderdome hasn't been entertaining...
posted by darkstar at 12:39 AM on August 27, 2009


Heh, it's very easy to misunderstand people here. No effort required.

Philosophy is no less of an interest, or calling, or passion, than lawyering... at least as far as I can tell. I have no measure to judge by there.

But... yes, teaching philosophy is less of a vocation than practising law, by most available measures. We don't need nearly as many people doing it. And we're not prepared to pay nearly as much for them.

Wouldn't know how to say whether this is a "fair" situation or not. I'm just saying that it is, in fact, the situation. And students know it from day one.

(Still, I'm glad you raised the issue of pursuing one's interests because I hadn't really thought of it. Personally I'm a lot less "interested" in my current field of work than I am in philosophy, but that never entered into my choice of undergrad degree.)
posted by magic curl at 12:56 AM on August 27, 2009


on a personal note brother dysk i sympathise with your frustrations looking for work & i hope you find something you like.
posted by magic curl at 12:58 AM on August 27, 2009


magic curl, oh I'm not frustrated about my job prospects at all - as you say, I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for. It did, however, bother me to see people getting indignant at the lack of sympathy (which is what statements like "cry me a river" convey) for people being denied opportunities not avaliable to most of us.

(It isn't just about preference and interest either, of course, but also skills. I'd argue it's just as difficult to do a proper theology degree, for example, as it is to do one in law, but they're different skillsets, and Lord do those two professions pay differently...)
posted by Dysk at 1:03 AM on August 27, 2009


"Why should those of us told to have lower expectations have sympathy for somebody moaning about now being in our position? We've been in it all along, and we've been given shit for our choices since day one."

Brother Dysk, I really have to bite my tongue and not write the insulting answer I want to write. I shall merely note the irony that this restraint is an example of Kant's categorical imperative, a philosophical principle that you have apparently utterly failed to internalise.

Secondly, they aren't complaining about being in your position. They are complaining about having gone through an education that costs far more only to find that the choices they were given have unpredictably put them at risk of bankruptcy due to huge market changes. This would be something to be empathise with in any subject. You however appear to be blaming law students for the attitudes you have detected in others towards philosophy graduates whilst ironically embodying the same utter lack of sensitivity and empathy yourself to law students.

The apparent attitude and hypocrisy in that statement thus genuinely sickens me, and if it is not an emotional mistatement of your true views I would hope that some part of you is ashamed of it.
posted by jaduncan at 1:06 AM on August 27, 2009


jaduncan, where I live at least, a law degree does not cost significantly more than any other degree. It only starts to get expensive with the physical sciences (due to the labwork) but then that's where all the grants are.
posted by Dysk at 1:11 AM on August 27, 2009


Wait sorry, did I say not significantly more expensive? I just checked my university's website, and a Law degree costs two thirds of what a Politics degree costs, for example, and half of what an economics degree costs.
posted by Dysk at 1:15 AM on August 27, 2009


From Harvard: "2009-2010 Standard Student Budget (9-mo. academic year)

Tuition $ 43,900
Room/Board/Personal* $ 18,457
UHS Health Fee (mandatory) $ 1,126
Blue Cross/Blue Shield Insurance Fee (waivable) $ 1,714
Optional Student Dental Insurance (estimated) $ 253
Books and Supplies $ 1,100
Travel Allowance $ 1,350

TOTAL BUDGET $ 67,900"


It is obviously somewhat disingenuous to make the point that a UK law degree does not cost more than a UK philosophy degree (and as a UK law student, I know this) when the people you are expressing your lack of sympathy for are US law JD postgrads. This gives you a flavour of the cost per year. A JD is 3 years long, meaning that the total budget comes to $203,700, or £125,454.21 on total debt. This generously assumes that the students break even over summer, and do not do unpaid internships. I would very strongly imagine that a philosophy degree does not cost this much, and I know people at Cambridge doing both graduate and postgraduate legal and philosophical degrees. You are (perhaps unintentionally?) comparing utterly different debt loads.

Please note that the wider point about empathy and personal ethics remains.
posted by jaduncan at 1:31 AM on August 27, 2009


jaduncan, postgraduate degrees at my university for overseas students are £13950 per year, and that's just for tuition fees. Room and board is an additional £5000 (minimum) and does not include bills (probably another £1000, once you tally up gas, electric, and internet). The Room/Board/Personal from your link includes living expenses (!!) which I have no idea how to estimate. A few hundred pounds on books, an equivalent amount to the Harvard figure on travel allowance (roughly £830), and it all comes to £21000 a year, or thereabouts, plus living expenses. I do not know what a fair estimate is for this, really, but if we take a roughly equivalent figure for room/board/personal as Harvard's, the yearly total becomes £26310. Given a four year average to complete a Ph.D, this works out to just over a £105000, or $170900.

Okay, that is a little less than a law degree at Harvard, but not by anything like the margin you seem to think. It's not all roses here, either.
posted by Dysk at 1:45 AM on August 27, 2009


jaduncan, to address you wider point - I don't want sympathy myself, so I don't see it as hypocritical to not feel sorry for people in my situation. What I don't want, however, is an expectation of sympathy, just for being in my situation, because I don't think it's reasonable to expect it.

If you look, while I have explained what it is that leads people to some degree of Schadenfreude, I do not share it for the vast majority of law students (I'm sure there are some bratty rich kids there for the money, and I do feel Schadenfreude toward them). However, I don't think a sentiment like "cry me a river" (as somebody said upthread) is an abominable thing to say (as some in this thread seem to) - it's just a less tactful way of saying exactly what I said in my the first paragraph of this post. If you look back at my comments in this thread, I've specifically avoided saying anything denigrating or gleeful. "Stings, doesn't it?" is easily misread as hurtful, when it was intended as a dry empathetic joke ("ha, we're shit, eh?") but text is not the best medium for this sort of thing.
posted by Dysk at 1:53 AM on August 27, 2009


Please cite your figures, Brother Dysk. To illustrate the discrepancy I have drawn up a comparison below. From your mefi profile location it would appear you attend Warwick University (please tell me if I'm wrong there, your GPS location is only a few blocks away). Warwick fees (and I'll note they are not a top rated law school in the way that London, Oxbridge or the T14 US schools would be) are as follows.

"Band 1 courses £10,250
Band 1 courses are those in Humanities (excluding Theatre and Performance Studies), Education degrees, Mathematics and Statistics degrees including MORSE, plus the Mathematics and Physics joint degree and degrees in Social Studies (excluding Warwick Business School).

Band 2 courses £13,350
Band 2 courses are Theatre and Performance Studies, Warwick Business School degrees and Science courses excluding Mathematics and Statistics, Mathematics and Physics joint degrees.

Fees for Overseas students are payable to the University at the start of each academic year."


These would be £3,225 for UK/EU students, but I have again assumed the worst case for you. Assuming that you mean to say that law is in band 2 (and I see no reason why, unless it comes under the Business school, but again I shall be generous) a 3 year course results in academic fees of £40,050 or $65,029.19 dollars as compared to Harvard figures of $131,700 in academic fees only.

From your Scandinavian name, I would however guess that you are an EU national. The fees for a undergrad degree would thus be £9,625, or $15,709.29 compared to $131,700.
posted by jaduncan at 1:57 AM on August 27, 2009


I grew up in Hong Kong, and the university have decided that I am not eligible for Home fees. Since you provided the total budget for Harvard, I provided a similar budget for Warwick, using the cheapest accomodation avaliable to Ph.D students to judge the accomodation figure, a low estimate for books and course materials, and similar figures for travel and living expenses.

Typically, it takes four years to do a Ph.D in philosophy, but many people take longer.

You are also looking at undergraduate fees for Warwick, rather than postgraduate.
posted by Dysk at 2:07 AM on August 27, 2009


TUITION £13950
ROOM/BOARD/PERSONAL £5000 + £1000 + living expenses
BOOKS & SUPPLIES £200 (low estimate)
TRAVEL £800 (same as Harvard)

TOTAL £20450 + living expenses.

Four years: £81800 + living expenses.
$132800 + living expenses.
I have no idea how Harvard calculates room/board/personal (i.e. what proportion is room, and what proportion is board/personal).
posted by Dysk at 2:16 AM on August 27, 2009


Gamien Boffenburg Is there anyone on the planet who seriously, really and actually has some difficulty understanding why most (lots? many?) people have a problem with motherfucking lawyers? Because I'd like to step through the membrane into your alternate reality where lawyers aren't often a layer of bullshit between citizens and justice.

Here's a perfect example of that alternate reality, GB, based on too little information, a lot of apparent bias, and some definitional problems.

Just as there aren't athiest's in foxholes (supposedly!), when Joe Cop tasers your ass for fun, who whines to whom? When your neighbor builds a garage on your land, where do you go? TO the gun cabinet? When Bush trashes the constitution, who at the ACLU calls his fauxTexas ass on it? Not the 'citizen'. When your athiest kid is forced to pray in school to someone else's mythical god, how do you deal with that? When the state wants to take your kid, your property, your life, do you think your momma has any sway with them? When an invoice gets unpaid for a decade, or your ex-wife lies about your child abusing ways to obtain custody of your swarm, who you gonna call?

Yes, they are paid advocates. Yes, there are creeps (always on the other side, of course). Yes, they are expensive, but who likes to work for free? You? Yes, they benefit from conflict... YOUR conflict.

There has always been a disconnect between justice and law. The entire affair is about making these things converge, and making my original point, the more you study it, the more you see it. One hires an MD to make assessments about things they know more about. One hires a lawyer to compensate for one's ignorance about how to express oneself, how personal/state/community rights balance against one another, and to deal with the nuts and bolts of documented conflict between parties.

In short, the problems you suggest find their roots in lawyers in fact find their roots in conflict. If you have a problem, other than with gross overgeneralization, perhaps you have a more civilized suggestion for resolving conflict? Duels? Dictatorship? Religion?

Law and lawyers are what makes civilization civil. Condemning them globally is unwarranted, inaccurate, and uninformed. It's also disingenuous, frankly.
posted by FauxScot at 3:49 AM on August 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


Just like bankers, I fail to see the value-add that most lawyers bring to the table that can justify a 6-figure salary.

There are a hundred different ways simply being able to practice in a state can give you a competitive advantage over others in the job market. So to those of you looking for work, I have to ask: why do you need a big firm? There are hundreds of people getting fucked over every minute. Those people would love nothing more than to legally dish out some comeuppance, but there's no recourse when you see how much justice costs these days.

I can't count the number of times I've been in a situation where I would have loved to sue a company for some of the small, illegal bullshit they employ to push the boundaries and increase their margins ever-so-slightly because they know they can get away with it. Well, shit, you folks complaining can actually do something about it. That's power. Go fucking use that power.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:34 AM on August 27, 2009


Kids today, they don't know they're born. In 1990, employment at graduation was 90% for engineers. In 1991, when I graduated, it was 10%. Newspapers with There will be no employment section today on the front page.
posted by scruss at 4:34 AM on August 27, 2009


*ahem*
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:08 AM on August 27, 2009


> Just like bankers, I fail to see the value-add that most lawyers bring to the table that can justify a 6-figure salary.

I wonder that sometimes myself. But there's a "My job is hard, your job is easy" equation that makes people whip together a "logo" out of half the 5,000,000,001 CLIPART SHITSPLOSION PACK!!! box set when they should hire a graphic designer, and put it on a website full of pictures swiped from the GoDaddy homepage when they should hire a web developer. Or buy a book about vitamins that heal everything instead of seeing a doctor. Or fix a gas leak with duct tape instead of calling a repairman. And so on. Many times, the details of the task you hire a professional or tradesman for is easy in execution; the high price you paid is for their ability to diagnose the problem, not fix it.
posted by ardgedee at 5:21 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not only that. The people attracting the six figure salaries are most likely working with clients for whom the risks & rewards are often measured in seven or even eight figures.

It's like in advertising - if you're McDonalds or Coke, every gain or loss of 1% market share amounts to fucktons, so it's worth forking out for advertising people who know their shit.

If big money is involved, then it's worth investing a tiny proportion to get good advice.

In legal terms, this might be anything from ensuring that an intellectual property contract worth millions is well drafted, to making sure that the conveyancing of your house proceeds without a hitch. With great responsibility comes reasonable recompense.

Closer to home, imagine that the owner of a community weblog was concerned about what his personal liability might be if somebody posted an inflammatory American Nazi Party link that resulted in somebody else - in Finland, say - going postal & burning down a bunch of synagogues.

Would it be worth $1000 for an expert's opinion on the liability risk before this ever came to pass, even if the expert knew the answer like the back of their hand & only spent a one-hour meeting on the topic? I'd think so.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:44 AM on August 27, 2009


Yes! *pumps fist* I knew there was a silver lining to the planetwide economy tanking.

You do understand that unemployed lawyers run for office and become your "leaders" right?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:50 AM on August 27, 2009


but something needs to be done to stem the oversupply.

Congress has your back via passing more laws!
posted by rough ashlar at 5:54 AM on August 27, 2009


Everyone bitches and whines wishing for a true meritocracy. Until a bunch of bullshit law degrees hit the market, and somehow they're entitled to employment and their student loans somehow point to that.

Here's a hint: Get a skill.
posted by rulethirty at 6:15 AM on August 27, 2009


Like being able to make a coherent argument, for example?
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:21 AM on August 27, 2009


Given that decent-paying jobs for philosophy graduates exist

Totally serious here: What are those jobs besides teaching? I was a phil student, and admittedly not wise to occupations when I graduated.
posted by josher71 at 6:31 AM on August 27, 2009


A little more understanding is due.

It has been the case for decades that people who went to the top 10 law schools were virtually certain of a big law firm job after graduation if that's what they wanted to do -- very much in the same way that a graduate of any MD-granting US medical school has been assured a job practicing medicine. A recession might require one to scale down the ranking of firm one chose, but that's about it. There was simply no precedent for a recession which could change hiring practices to the extent that a substantial portion of even top-10 students could be excluded from big law employment altogether. It's rough to have a paradigm change around you, especially if one incurred $150k in non-dischargable debt in reliance upon the old paradigm.

This may actually be constructive for the legal profession in the long run. The elimination the certainty of high-paid employment fundamentally changes the proposition of going to a big law school, and the risk-reward of people who lend for the same. Discounting pressure on tuition is going to be huge and class sizes may shrink significantly -- once you change it from a no-brainer return on investment to a serious risk, you really change behaviors, especially of the kind of people who go to top law schools.
posted by MattD at 6:36 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Until a bunch of bullshit law degrees hit the market

Yale Law is a bullshit degree now?
posted by smackfu at 6:37 AM on August 27, 2009


Meta-observation upon reading this thread: now I understand the whole IANAL, IANYL, "You need a lawyer!" phenomenon on AskMe.
posted by hecho de la basura at 6:48 AM on August 27, 2009


Are there any jobs out there paying six figures that don't require you to work considerably more than 40 hours a week?

Teaching in New York City public schools.
posted by Perplexity at 6:55 AM on August 27, 2009


But... yes, teaching philosophy is less of a vocation than practising law, by most available measures. We don't need nearly as many people doing it. And we're not prepared to pay nearly as much for them.
Whoah whoah whoah. Stop right there. A vocation isn't "less of a vocation" simply because less money is paid for it. Also, like philosophy Ph.D.s who want to become professors, we don't need nearly as many people being lawyers, and we're not prepared to pay much for lawyers.

Being a lawyer is technically a vocation, but it's not treated like one: anyone who has a law degree and passes the bar can call themselves a "lawyer." There are simply too many of them running around. It's not a productive enterprise as much as it's a service cost. There are a certain number of lawyers that are needed to address a certain set of issues, much like medicine. Instead of having a general idea of how many new lawyers are needed and acting with universities and bar associations to create that general supply, we have a flood of people calling themselves lawyers. In fact just like philosophy, we have entered a state where we are told that the reason to get a law degree is not to be a lawyer, but rather because a law degree "teaches you how to think" (which is the much more valid justification for getting a philosophy degree). I'm really not sure what your point it, magic curl: the truth is that if you get an undergraduate degree in philosophy, you have less debt and job prospects that are just as good (if not better) than if you go to law school.

For the record, I know a few people who have law degrees who aren't practicing lawyers: two guys are lobbyists, and one of those does part-time work as a patent lawyer-- his original plan was to work for a firm, but he couldn't find anyone hiring. Another woman was a management consultant, went to law school, decided she didn't want to be a lawyer, and then went back into consulting. In her case, the law degree didn't impede her job search because she had pre-existing professional experience, along with the fact that since she lived in the DC metro area, everyone around here has a law degree, and if employers turned away people with JDs as "overqualified," they'd hardly have anyone in their applicant pool.
posted by deanc at 7:22 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why don't lawyers professionalize like doctors do? Close down lousy law schools and keep out crappy law students until the supply for lawyers falls below demand. Then you can guarantee jobs for everyone who comes out, which makes it worthwhile for the top students to invest in an M.D. It's just too much money to risk otherwise. Keeping out the unemployable people before they invest is a good thing.

(The reason is probably that there's lots of money to be made in giving crappy law students a crappy education, which isn't much of a reason)

(This advice sort of applies to philosophers as well, though the situations are apples and oranges because humanities phds are generally funded, so there isn't the debt risk of medical school or law school, and I'm not sure why we're discussing them here. Did you get at least five years of guaranteed funding at a top 25 philosophy phd program? Don't bother going; there's almost certainly not a job for you. Again, this situation is unlikely to change: it's a lot cheaper to pay grad students to teach than professors, so it behooves a university to have a bunch of crappy grad programs to hook suckers.)
posted by Kwine at 7:24 AM on August 27, 2009


(The reason is probably that there's lots of money to be made in giving crappy law students a crappy education, which isn't much of a reason)
It feeds in on itself: there are more capable lawyers than there are jobs for them. Because of this, there's a push to create more law schools to give them a place to teach. Which then create more lawyers.

We also have a funny, very American, attitude towards lawyers: the idea that "anyone" can be a lawyer-- you just need the degree -- and if there aren't enough open slots in schools, we'll just make more -- and a passing score on the bar exam. We don't say the same thing about doctors: you either get a slot in med school, or you don't. If you don't get in, you have to reapply the next year or give up. If you want to be a dermatologist, you have to get accepted to one of a limited number of residency programs, and if you don't get in, you can't become a dermatologist.

I get the idea that if there were a push to close law schools and limit the number of people admitted to the bar each year, some would argue that people are being unfairly "shut out" of the legal profession.
posted by deanc at 8:19 AM on August 27, 2009


Why don't lawyers professionalize like doctors do? Close down lousy law schools and keep out crappy law students until the supply for lawyers falls below demand. Then you can guarantee jobs for everyone who comes out, which makes it worthwhile for the top students to invest in an M.D. It's just too much money to risk otherwise. Keeping out the unemployable people before they invest is a good thing.
As I said above, in Canada you need to article for a year before you can be called to the bar, and in some provinces you need an articling job before you can take the bar course, which puts you further behind. There are people who graduate with (less than American) debt, but are unable to find such positions, and so might not become lawyers anytime soon.

It's generally not as bad here since Canadian firms weren't as leveraged as their American counterparts in terms of associates per partner—there wasn't a need to fire as many people when the economy got rough—but hiring is still down. Until it picks up, many people won't be able to get called and will thus be unable to fight the good fight, etc., even if they wanted to.
posted by maledictory at 8:42 AM on August 27, 2009


But what about the lawyers who someday dream of having a phone number like 213-ACCIDENTES
posted by wcfields at 9:30 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Law school debt (and the inability to get a job or $$ to pay it off) is a gigantic barrier to anyone who is not independently wealthy, and is a huge deterrence for people who might otherwise be interested in law, or in having the credibility/tools to more effectively work on systems change. The LSATs are pretty much the only thing that matters getting into law school, and they're definitely geared towards rich, white folks.

It's really freaking unfortunate that the entire system is built to support and create an elite class of people who, after incurring so much debt, are somewhat financially compelled to reinforce the same messed up system.

A law degree is, in my mind, pretty much equivalent to power. And like most kinds of power in the United States, only a privileged few have any real access to it.

Which is to say, basically, this article makes me sad.
posted by lunit at 9:39 AM on August 27, 2009


Lunit makes a good point. For everyone hating on the scummy lawyers, a lot of those folks naively thought they'd be able to do good work with their law degrees, but then were smacked in the face with reality. You can have scorn for them for being naive, but that's kind of sad. The barriers to working in low-paying public interest jobs are pretty significant. If you have huge debt, children, or other relatives who rely on you for some financial assistance, you just can't do it.
posted by Mavri at 10:07 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but I can't sympathize with people who go to law school without researching the choice first and see a $160,000 a year job as their birthright. Before you go into such massive debt, you need to do the proper research.

As jedicus' link above shows, the median income for a lawyer is $62K. This is not some closely guarded secret. The data is fully available to all who seek it.

If a person makes a decision to go to law school with idealistic notions of a stable and easy life, they are often going to be in for a rude awakening. There is no such thing as job security in today's economy unless you are running your own successful business.
posted by reenum at 10:07 AM on August 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


A law degree is, in my mind, pretty much equivalent to power.
Did you read the same article as the rest of us? From what I gathered, most law degrees are pretty much worthless.

I will say that I've known for years and years that only a few top law school grads "make it." That said, I've seen people go to less prestigious law schools, get jobs in government, and then either work their way up into better positions or transition to private firms where their connections with the government are valuable. Those were people who finished law school in the late 90s and early 00s, though, and it's clear that we've since had a "lawyer bubble" which has popped in a big way.
posted by deanc at 10:13 AM on August 27, 2009


I'm sorry, but I can't sympathize with people who go to law school without researching the choice first... As jedicus' link above shows, the median income for a lawyer is $62K. This is not some closely guarded secret.

That $62k figure is for all law grads, including those at fourth-tier schools. The median income for all Harvard Law grads was always significantly higher, with close to 100% employment. That's the point. Even two years ago, going to a top law school meant a practically-guaranteed six-figure income, barring abysmal grades or being a social trainwreck. Now everything's changing, but you can hardly blame the people who matriculated in relatively-sunny 2006 and are now fucked.
posted by naju at 10:51 AM on August 27, 2009


Fuck the lawyers.
posted by zzazazz at 12:29 PM on August 27, 2009


“You almost bank on the big firms hiring you because they’re really the only ones who can help you pay your debt,”

This is the part I don't get. Even if you've got $200k in debt, how do you have to have a $130k/year job? I can see how that might limit your lifestyle, but describing that as an "absolute disaster" might be a bit of an exaggeration.

You'd think all of these idealistic go getters would be so happy just to be able to live their dreams. Why do the still need a new car and house to make them happy?
posted by betaray at 12:33 PM on August 27, 2009


naju, so those who went to top-tier schools and can't get the six-figure salaries they expected, they can still get lesser paying lawyer jobs, then? $62k for a graduate salary is not fucking bad.
posted by Dysk at 12:34 PM on August 27, 2009


$62k for a graduate salary is not fucking bad.

OK, but add a $200k debt to that (from Harvard Law's estimated cost upthread). And possibly more for undergrad debt. Factor in where you might be living. Think about interest. It's easy to see how this becomes financial hell for a few decades before you can even think about a mortgage or the kids' tuition. I mean, yeah, not the end of the world, but a far cry from the life they were legitimately expecting. I don't have an ax to grind; I have a decent job (knock on wood) and manageable debt. I just feel pretty sorry for my friends, all of whom are far from the spoiled rich kid stereotype. (Hint: the spoiled rich kids are probably not the ones freaking out. They have parents to support them and connections to get those few available jobs.)
posted by naju at 12:50 PM on August 27, 2009


Here's the tragedy as I see it-- a large proportion of the law school population is made up of bright people who, before law school, excelled in whatever they did, especially in school. This was the case 25 years ago when I started law school and from what I hear, it's still the case today. It's not surprising that they would expect this trend to continue wherever they went...and they see that top grads of law schools, and grads of top law schools, go on to high-paying jobs. For someone who doesn't have a clue about what they want to do with their life, going to law school makes sense.

Nobody tells them that only the top-school grads and the top-of-the-class grads of the other schools get the six-figure offers and the attendant seduction by "top" law firms...and if someone did tell them, well, they would believe that they would be one of those top people. But the odds are that they'll be wrong, and they'll wind up hustling to get whatever job they can get.

So as a result, we have both a glut of lawyers and a large proportion of lawyers who probably shouldn't even be lawyers, because they're not suited for it. I was about to say that a law degree only equips the graduate to practice law, but it doesn't remotely do even that...but that's another thread entirely. It definitely doesn't equip the holder to employ critical thinking or analytical skills or any of that folderol-- it's a glorified trade school degree, one that doesn't do a good job of teaching baby lawyers how to practice law.

BTW-- I went to a second-tier law school's night program while holding down a full-time job during the day. I am doing what I love to do, and I do it well. By contrast, most of my classmates are burned out from practicing law, and many are doing something entirely different now.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 1:18 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I went to what could loosely be called public interest law school. It was also a private law school with ridiculously high tuition. The thing was they really did push public interest work like nothing else. Almost to the point that they screwed up our chances of getting a job that might enable us to pay back our loans in under 20 years. Career services was focused on non profit and government jobs. Many of these jobs paid less than the school's yearly tuition. And the school attracted many many students who dreamed of prosecuting war crimes, representing battered women, returning land to indigenous people, public defenders, immigration, truth and reconcilliation, it goes on and on.

Of course beginning of 3L year I also found one of my friends, who came to law school to do international relief work, sobbing in a corner because she had passed up fall recruitment her 2L year for a big law job (which with her grades/journal she probably would have gotten) because that wasn't why she came to law school. Now of course, despite her amazing credentials there are no international relief jobs to be had, she has crushing debt, and she passed up her only opportunity to pay it back because she came to law school to make a difference and now doing that was impossible as was paying her rent after law school.

The dean of my school was always so frustrated that all his students kept graduating year after year and going to big law or really anywhere in the private sector that would take them. But he was willfully naieve and really I had very little respect for him because of it. Our law school was georgous and high tech. We had amazing professors shipped in from every corner of the globe. Tuition went up year after year. And that promised loan repayment plan?? He forgot to mention that the rules were so strict that on average only 2 people qualified a year. It really was a good school, it was just one that was designed for how they wanted the world to be, not how it really was.

This is really the problem, there simply are in no way enough public interest jobs out there that pay anywhere near a living wage. There aren't even enough out there that pay 30k. If you want lawyers out there doing good work, guess what, you need to help them pay their rent some way. Legal training is long, intense, and expensive. A lot of people go into law for all the right reasons and find themselves at the end with an ugly realty check. It's funny how people are both disgusted by lawyers that are practical about making a living, but also call them idiots for thinking they could get this expensive education and then go into public interest law.
posted by whoaali at 1:38 PM on August 27, 2009


A law degree is, in my mind, pretty much equivalent to power.

Did you read the same article as the rest of us? From what I gathered, most law degrees are pretty much worthless.


I meant power as in political capital. And for that, it's pretty indisputable.
posted by lunit at 1:48 PM on August 27, 2009


I meant power as in political capital. And for that, it's pretty indisputable.

I still have no idea what you are talking about, given the context of the article. Some lawyers make lots of money and hobnob with politicians, sure. Others toil away in miscellaneous departments of city government, indistinguishable from most other members of the bureaucracy. Others send junk mail in search of personal injury clients. A lot end up with temp agencies that farm them out to firms to spend hours doing mindless document review.

I think a lot of people labor under the perception that a law degree will give you political capital and power, and law schools feed off that to sell that promise to their students. The reality is that, these days, most anyone willing to take out $100k-$200k worth of loans can get a law degree, and it makes you indistinguishable from all the other people with miscellaneous law degrees that the economy doesn't have any room for.

Maybe I'm jaded: I live in DC where you can't throw a dead cat without hitting a few lawyers.
posted by deanc at 2:16 PM on August 27, 2009


Looking at the bimodal salary graph, it's probably not very helpful to say that $62k is the median salary for lawyers, either. If you're in the lower tier, which generally you would be unless you a) graduated from a top tier school and b) were lucky enough to get into a BigLaw firm, then your salary is more likely going to fall into that $30k-$50k range. Just sayin'.
posted by darkstar at 2:21 PM on August 27, 2009


IANYL, but I would advise throwing dead cats at them.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:09 PM on August 27, 2009


Advise AGAINST, I meant; whoops.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:10 PM on August 27, 2009


(Freudian slip)
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:10 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just like Trini Thompson who is suing Monroe College because she hasn't been able to find a job in NYC after recently graduating.

Arthur Sellers, CEO
"I authorized my secretary to get on the phone and offer this Trina Thompson a position in the sales department. This is precisely the type of litigious mediocrity I want on my team!" :P
posted by kliuless at 4:21 PM on August 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Others send junk mail in search of personal injury clients.

I'd be impressed if any of the people I knew who went to law school had enough of a sense of what working is about to do that. There's a lot of things they won't do, and only a few things they will do, and judging from the number of resumes we get from JDs for a very jr. level program assistant position at my organization (it's closed now, no resumes needed, and it actually only pays $30K), the work they will do has to sound important (more important than it really is) or be attached to something that sounds big and "good."
posted by anniecat at 4:29 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


The resentment for attorneys comes from several factors that I can think of. It's not just movie perceptions and stereotypes. I don't really agree with these perspectives, but they're the essence of what I've heard people from my home town say.

First is the perception that because lawyering skill is very important in cases, mercenary attorneys and who has the most money decides the winner in our courts rather than the facts or justice. The high cost of our legal system (much of which goes to salary) creates a huge barrier for access to justice.

Second, because of our adversarial system, attorneys explicitly do not seek to generate just outcomes; they seek to get the most favorable outcome for their client. Your defense counsel will get your guilty as sin ass off with a technicality if they can. The DA will prosecute and convict based on evidence they don't believe in. The attorney for the other party drawing up a contract will write terms that cheat you if he can. Yours does the same. These actions all look bad; they look like the activities of amoral individuals, and that casts a bad light on the profession. Also because of adversarial justice, for almost every "good" thing you can think of attorneys doing, there is one on the other side doing something to oppose them. The person doing pro-bono work for the ACLU spars with a state's attorney defending an unjust law. The defense for some downtrodden individual spars with either a state's attorney seeking to railroad them or a private one seeking to take advantage of them. What's worse about this is that because of (1) the "good" activities are perceived as exceptional and the bad ones routine. The slumlord always has lawyers, and it's the rare case that the tenets do.

Third, it's widely perceived that the cost and complexity of the legal system do not generate value in the form of more just outcomes, and hence that the cost solely benefits attorneys. The US has the highest number of attorneys per capita (if google can be believed), and in return it looks like what we get is more litigation and well paid lawyers rather than less injustice.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:38 PM on August 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


a robot made out of meat, that's really quite an interesting argument, though it's absolutely an indictment of the American justice system than it is of lawyers themselves. Mind, as a group, they have an interest in keeping it as fucked as it is, since they're the ones that benefit, but we ought really to be placing the blame where it belongs - on dozens of successive administrations that have done nothing to fix the system.
posted by Dysk at 5:56 PM on August 27, 2009


I actually do understand the hatred for lawyers that permeates some of this thread. It's true that, for the most part, when people are dealing with lawyers, it's always a negative experience. That's partly because one only deals with lawyers when they need a guide through an inscrutable, often arcane system that handles people's most valued interests, and partly because of the adversarial system, which means that there's always a lawyer on the other side. Doctors and Accountants and Undertakers and Police Officers are generally also only dealt with in bad circumstances, but in those cases there's not going to be another doctor, accountant, undertaker or cop on the other side (maybe if you count auditors.)

a robot made out of meat makes some good points, and what's more they hit home with me because they point out the reasons I'd be no damn good in any number of areas of law. I couldn't try to convict based on evidence I don't believe. I couldn't try to write contracts that screw over the other party. This is because I don't have the mentality of a prosecutor or contract lawyer. Will I get a guilty-as-sin client off on any technicality I can? God I hope so. I'll get them off any way possible, but "on a technicality" is the absolute best. That's a victory I can feel good about. This is because I have the mentality of a defense attorney. I expect that most people don't, and will find my logic for this at best bizarre and at worst morally repellent. It makes perfect sense to me though:

In my mind, the penal system does no actual good for anyone for any number of reasons. It doesn't rehabilitate the prisoners, it doesn't lower the crime rate, it breaks up families, it stunts possible future endeavors, it costs too much and it contributes to the continuance of a completely fucked social underclass. It is a broken system that does nothing to help and much to hurt not just those who are processed through it, but the rest of society as well. With that, how can "justice" have any meaning? I certainly don't know what it means, and I'd be willing to bet if people honestly considered it, they'd have to admit that all it ever can mean is "what I personally would like to see happen." And I can't truck with that.

I also don't have any real solution. My concerns aren't novel, but virtually every society in history has come to the same basic conclusions on how to deal with those who "break the social contract" so I don't feel too bad about that either. Still, what accounts for "justice" is simply a group of people in a certain context agreeing to do something to someone that would itself be illegal outside of that context, including killing them, depriving them of freedom, and taking their property away.

So given all that, to me it doesn't matter whether a client is guilty, because submitting him to "justice" will only make things worse. So it's my solemn duty to keep as many people away from the bowels of that fucked-up system as possible. The reason it's even better on a technicality is because technicalities are hard-fought victory's for the rights of all people who enter the courts. They're what keeps the judge and prosecutor from railroading you. Victories on technicalities (which are also known as "constitutional grounds," just so's you know) are, to us, victories for the people against the state. So, you know, double good.

Other lawyers will have other perspectives which will help explain their actions, but that's mine. May be neither here nor there for this thread, but I thought I'd throw it out there.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:00 PM on August 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think people are still focusing too much on the adversarial, courtroom drama aspect of legal work.

Just now, for example, I had to clear something with our internal lawyers to ensure it complies with the Trade Practices Act. Nothing adversarial about that - actually, it's something that protects consumers, within standards set up by the Government about how corporations should behave vis a vis customers & other corporations.

Similarly, the idea that contracts are all about screwing over the other party is unduly pessimistic. Whether you're talking about conveyancing for your house, or perhaps companies entering into business relationships, the aim of contracts is overwhelmingly to create regularity & certainty about behaviour, so that each party knows exactly what is expected of them, and what rights & responsibilities apply should things not work perfectly.

Without that kind of predictability & regularity, capitalism could simply not operate.

To give one example, there are so many layers of supply contracts, licencing, IP, industrial relations, taxation, customs, safety regulations, liability issues etc that have combined to make it possible produce the very computers we're using to have this discussion, and that's only touching the tip of the iceberg.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:02 PM on August 27, 2009


In other words, it's naive to judge an entire diverse profession, based solely on a handful of very limited encounters with a tiny, public-facing subset of them, during times of personal crisis or misfortune.

I don't disagree with that. And I haven't made any jokes at lawyers here. I was just making a declarative statement of the use of humor by non-lawyers at lawyers expense.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:56 PM on August 27, 2009


Yes, I realised you were playing devils' advocate there, so my response wasn't aimed at you but at people who might hold those views.

(i'm not quite sure why the devil employs somebody who is apparently a programmer - "declarative statement" - as his advocate, but i suppose god had first dibs on all the lawyers. either that, or the devil has them all working on more strategic projects)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:00 PM on August 27, 2009


A robot made out of meat: and just to add to that list, many clients are not exactly crazy about the billing system lawyers use. I'm not sure if minutes billed is actually even close to minutes actually worked for many lawyers. If I'm wrong, please correct me here.
posted by thisperon at 3:02 AM on August 28, 2009


Are there any jobs out there paying six figures that don't require you to work considerably more than 40 hours a week?

Senators have no minimum number of hours per week. We often see them spending almost no time at work. Look at Kennedy, Obama, Clinton, etc.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:26 AM on August 28, 2009


Of course beginning of 3L year I also found one of my friends, who came to law school to do international relief work, sobbing in a corner because she had passed up fall recruitment her 2L year for a big law job (which with her grades/journal she probably would have gotten) because that wasn't why she came to law school. Now of course, despite her amazing credentials there are no international relief jobs to be had, she has crushing debt, and she passed up her only opportunity to pay it back because she came to law school to make a difference and now doing that was impossible as was paying her rent after law school.
Some people I know did their time at BigLaw to pay off their loans and, once that was done, left to do what they actually wanted to do.

Another part of your school's dean's willful ignorance on this matter is that when he was in law school, tuition was much more manageable. Tuition has skyrocketed far faster than incomes have, and it's tough to understand what it's like to deal with modern-era debt burdens unless you have one yourself. Now, granted, his ignorance is willful because as a Law School dean, it's his job to understand what the students are confronting, but the truth is that neither he nor any of his peers have experienced anything like what the students are dealing with.
posted by deanc at 7:36 AM on August 28, 2009


many clients are not exactly crazy about the billing system lawyers use

Is there a better system?
posted by smackfu at 8:03 AM on August 28, 2009


Flat-fee instead of hourly, for example.
posted by exogenous at 8:35 AM on August 28, 2009


Is there a better system?

WSJ from a few days ago - 'Billable Hour' Under Attack

I've done both flat-fee and billable hour work. I think the flat-fee structure works well for certain kinds of tasks. For example, if you're writing a patent application you can come up with a reasonably accurate estimate of how long it will take, with few surprises or roadblocks. But if you're in the middle of a complicated, year-long patent infringement case, I don't really see how a flat fee can work all that well. But I do feel the billable hour system should be replaced somehow. I was constantly trying to rack up as many billable hours as possible to meet my monthly requirements, while being forced to take on flat fee work (which didn't help my requirements due to the conservative estimates) and simultaneously trying to be honest and efficient so I wouldn't overcharge the clients for my time. It's difficult and stressful, especially for a new attorney. While it's never excusable, I can understand how less scrupulous attorneys would be tempted to 'embellish' due to the strains put on them. It's a system designed to squeeze the most work out of the lawyers and the most money out of the clients.
posted by naju at 9:09 AM on August 28, 2009


Another part of your school's dean's willful ignorance on this matter is that when he was in law school, tuition was much more manageable. Tuition has skyrocketed far faster than incomes have, and it's tough to understand what it's like to deal with modern-era debt burdens unless you have one yourself.

This is also a problem with low-paying public interest jobs. The people setting the salaries came up through the system at a time when debt load was smaller and the pay disparity between public-interest/gov't work and private work was much smaller. (Of course, there is also limited funding, so I'm not saying us public interest types could ever make the big bucks, but many employers could do much better by us.)
posted by Mavri at 12:28 PM on August 28, 2009


Another part of your school's dean's willful ignorance on this matter is that when he was in law school, tuition was much more manageable. Tuition has skyrocketed far faster than incomes have, and it's tough to understand what it's like to deal with modern-era debt burdens unless you have one yourself. Now, granted, his ignorance is willful because as a Law School dean, it's his job to understand what the students are confronting, but the truth is that neither he nor any of his peers have experienced anything like what the students are dealing with.

I agree, the other problem is even in order to be a professor at our school you would almost certainly have to be from the top of your class at an ivy league school. All my professors could pretty much go back and forth between big law, government, teaching, non profits, whenever it suited them. The people I know from ivy league law schools just can't fathom a world where at the very least a low Amlaw 100 wouldn't be available to them.
posted by whoaali at 1:15 PM on August 28, 2009


This is really the problem, there simply are in no way enough public interest jobs out there that pay anywhere near a living wage. There aren't even enough out there that pay 30k. If you want lawyers out there doing good work, guess what, you need to help them pay their rent some way. Legal training is long, intense, and expensive. A lot of people go into law for all the right reasons and find themselves at the end with an ugly realty check

I just don't get this. Your friend who was upset seem to me to be an undrafted division II baseball player complaining that there are not enough players in the majors. I mean, would I like more funding for public interest lawyering? Damn straight I would. But people who go to law schools ranked outside the very top and are shocked that they cannot get prestigious and profitable jobs at the ACLU, EFF, or PD office in NY or DC, well, they just need to let go of an noxious sense of entitlement that is largely detached from reality.

There's probably someone who had more impressive experience than they had before they went to law school, who went to Harvard or Yale, who worked hard within their field to make connections and specialize in an area of expertise under the guidance of leading scholars, and who had the resources of their law schools to take impressive clinical placements and summer positions that will help them get these positions. These are the students who get fellowships and other means to support themselves to do the work your friend was crying about. Of course it would be nice if there was more support for public interest lawyering, but anyone who goes to a school ranked in the 25-50 range really needs to adjust their expectations. In this economy, maybe make that 15-50 range, perhaps even tighter.

There are plenty of public interest jobs out there, most of the whinging appears to be about either pay or prestige. Again, there is no right to an impressive public interest job for anyone who really really wants it and has good motives and is like totally into activism or whatever. This is hard work and those who get these positions have been working for multiple years, usually preceding law school, to get to where they are. It may be a bummer to not get to play in the bigs. Then again, I got over the fact that I was never going to play for the Boston Red Sox in sixth grade. When my Little League batting average was .000 (seriously).

Personally, I blame parasitic law schools which give students false ideas of employability before draining them of 160k - but I just can't muster much sympathy for someone who wanted to fight for justice but was so naive as not to realize how society works in something as obvious as this. What kind of activist is surprised that the world isn't given to them on a silver platter and what kind of cause lawyer would such a person be?
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:06 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry but at any point did I say she was upset she couldn't get a prestigous public interest job that paid well? Half of my friends are trying to get any public interest job that pays anything.

There are plenty of public interest jobs out there, most of the whinging appears to be about either pay or prestige.

No, no there are not. I know several people who took unpaid jobs upon graduations at public defenders hoping they might get hired on permanently for around 35-45k. And even after working for 6 months they didn't end up getting a job.

I have another friend getting paid nothing at a start up non profit immigration organization. At least she now qualifies for our school's loan repayment program. She's living on a friend's couch and her parents are helping pay for her groceries. Everyday she goes into work for nothing and tries to prevent children from getting deported to countries where they know no one and will have no support of any kind.

I seriously have no idea where you are getting that they want "prestigous" public interest jobs. The vast majority of public interest jobs are in no way prestigous.

I just don't understand how people could think, oh this kid who just got out of the peace corps and maybe is a little overly idealistic, but they want to help people, so they go to law school and work really hard, get lots of internships, volunteer everywhere, and then they are heartbroken when they can't get a job doing anything that helps anyone. And I'm talking a job that will just barely pay their rent and loans (and when I say rent, I mean for a bedroom in a small apartment with 3 other people an hour from their work). I mean christ what a sense of entitlement.
posted by whoaali at 7:26 PM on August 28, 2009


Half of my friends are trying to get any public interest job that pays anything.

Then they are being overly limiting in the scope of their search, probably limiting themselves by location. PD jobs are tough to get everywhere, but especially in high-demand cities. They're underfunded, sure. But let's not pretend that these people couldn't get work as a permanent clerk for a traffic court. That's public service too. And when people insist they just have to be PDs and ideally in a nice city, that's where I think they're being entitled. In law school, I lived with two returned peace corps volunteers, both of whom are pretty well along their path towards the careers you're describing. But honestly, being the peace corps would make just as little a difference in trying to walk-on to the Red Sox as it does when it comes to being a public interest lawyer. I mean, it may have given you a whole new perspective at the plate and renewed your commitment to hitting the ball really hard, sure.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:02 PM on August 28, 2009


allen.spaulding, my hazy long-ago memories (~2000) from a then Close Personal Friend who did public defender work in DC (or perhaps the federal court in Arlington) was that it was not terrifically difficult work to get, but it was also not a dedicated, full-time gig. There was a pool, and assignments went out to the pool round-robin style. That lawyer went to some Kansas school that, to my recollection, was not considered a major prestige school, and had a "day job" at a private defense firm.

Both parts of that career generated a total income that the tax preparer mistook for the bonus without the salary added to it. It seemed like a grinding path through life, dedicated to serving a sketchy and rarely grateful clientele, that generated no community esteem whatsoever, but rather hoots of derision of the type so gracefully displayed above.
posted by NortonDC at 8:11 PM on August 28, 2009


I think your hazy memory betrays you. The PD office in DC is usually considered by many to be the most best/most prestigious in the nation and is arguably harder to get into than DOJ honors. The director of the office are often extremely well known within the law (see Angela Davis and Charles Ogletree, among others). Students at the top schools know this quite well. If your story is true, I have to imagine your friend worked for an underfunded local office, although that doesn't really describe Northern VA now (perhaps it did in 2000, but I'm skeptical). It's possible that short-term budgeting issues led to the hiring of part time PDs, but even that sounds odd for the area.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:23 PM on August 28, 2009


And I want to emphasize I have a lot of respect for Public Defenders and think they deserve more support. Many of my friends took this route and I would love to see them get better funding, additional resources, etc. I just don't understand why people think that everyone who wants to be a PD gets to be one. Indeed, I hope that increased resources might make the pool more competitive and draw talent from places it might currently be routed due to other concerns. That would make even more students at lower-ranked law schools unhappy. Just because you want something really badly and think you'd be really good at it doesn't make it so.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:26 PM on August 28, 2009


I can only pull two fragments of the same story, apparently.


Call for Public Defender;
Arlington Activists Seek Creation of Office to Represent Poor

Brooke A. Masters
The Washington Post
August 10, 2000

***
Some Arlington community activists want a full-time public defender's office to replace the county's system of appointing private lawyers to represent poor people accused of crimes.

The idea has met with growing support in the Latino community, where some activists say that defendants who do not speak English well are being rushed through the criminal justice system by court- appointed attorneys who fail to explain what is happening. Activists also say that some court-appointed attorneys either do not realize or fail to tell clients that pleading guilty to even a minor crime can damage their ...
***
In Arlington--and a number of jurisdictions across the state--the county government supplements prosecutors' state salaries to ensure that the prosecutor's office can attract and retain experienced lawyers. Alexandria provides office space and telephone service to its public defender, but no Virginia jurisdiction supplements salaries for public defenders, [Overton P. Pollard] said.

In Arlington, the salary supplements for prosecutors range from about $5,000 to $15,000, depending on experience, said Commonwealth's Attorney Richard E. Trodden. He said he thought a public defender's office would be helpful largely because the low pay for court- appointed lawyers is "asking too much" of private lawyers.

The growing debate in Arlington comes on the heels of a decision to create a federal public defender's office to represent indigents in the U.S. District Courts in Alexandria, Richmond and Norfolk. In the federal system, once the indigent caseload tops 200 per year, a district can qualify for a public defender's office. The Alexandria office is expected to be up and running by the beginning of next year, said Karen Redmond, spokeswoman for the administrative office for the U.S. Courts.
***

So, yeah, hazy, but not completely off the mark.
posted by NortonDC at 8:49 PM on August 28, 2009


I'll be honest, that catches me by surprise. I'm a new DC resident and while I know I'm living in the South, I didn't realize that it really means something. I know NoVA has changed a lot in the recent past, but to not have a PD office, well, that sounds a lot more like MS than the Mid-Atlantic. It's especially crazy when DC has long had such a great office. Sorry to have doubted you.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:10 PM on August 28, 2009


A modern update, from one county over, still in the Heart of Northern Virginia:

Fairfax Isn't Paying Fees, Say Lawyers For Indigent
posted by NortonDC at 8:42 PM on September 15, 2009


Hoo, boy:
Virginia's court-appointed lawyers, used when criminal and juvenile court parties can't afford an attorney, are among the lowest-paid in the country, many studies have shown. For representing an abused child or a criminal misdemeanor defendant, a lawyer is paid a maximum of $120, with the possibility of another $120 under extenuating circumstances. For criminal felonies, the maximum is $650. When the court appoints a lawyer to serve as a guardian ad litem to a child or a parent, often in cases determining who will get custody of the child, attorneys are paid $55 an hour out of court and $75 an hour in court, with no cap, subject to review and approval by the judge in the case.
posted by NortonDC at 8:45 PM on September 15, 2009


Hoo, boy oh boy. From the comments on that article:
If they investigate further, they'll find very interesting patterns in who the clerks choose to pay and who mysteriously never gets paid. Matt Greene and Anne Norloff, for example, are stellar attorneys who regularly challenge the Courts on biased or unfair rulings. It's not surprising that the Clerks "accidentally" forget to process their invoices. Other attorneys who play the game get their invoices sent right through.
posted by NortonDC at 8:49 PM on September 15, 2009


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