June 11, 2010

Why do people keep going to law school?

An interesting question. Another interesting question is: Is that picture of me now the universal icon of the student?

81 comments:

former law student said...

Carly's dad expected her to. Besides, what do you do with a Medieval History BA?

John said...

Ann,

Sorry but that picture really is the icon of the miserable hagard law student during finals. It is not a flattering picture. But it is a great one none the less.

C Black said...

@ FLS: Renaissance Fairs, Knight's Templar Treasure Seeking Adventures, Go to Law School, Write Books about Knight's Templar Treasure Seeking Adventurers, Have a TV Show about the Knight's Templar (BIG Demand at the History Channel these days), Prostitution/Pimping, Blogger... the list is endless really.

@AnnAlthouse: Yes, Miss, you are an official internet meme; advance to GO and collect your 200 meme-monies *(not transferable with any actual currency)

David said...

Article: "But people do think that going to law school is easy and being a practicing attorney is a breeze. There’s just no respect for the skill of the profession."

Could the reason for that be that so many practitioners are careless and lazy and somehow get away with it.

Mark in Spokane said...

As one of my colleagues likes to say, law school's greatest marketing tool is dreams. That's why so very many students keep showing up -- a successful and finacially secure future without having to do a lot of math. That's the dream most have. Now, the reality is more than a little different...

Windbag said...

When I was an undergrad history major, I was surprised to discover that 70% of the graduates of our department went on to law school. I considered joining the ranks, but for various reasons decided against it.

Why do people keep going to law school? Money. It's like an elitist lottery that few can play. You never know whether the next client who walks through the door is your ticket to fame and fortune. On the other hand, when someone walks into my restaurant, I know that they're going to spend X-dollars on average. Not as exciting.

Hagar said...

In the old country, people went to law school because it was open enrollment and it was thought that, if the student worked at it, he/she would learn to study and acquire some intellectual skills and knowledge that would be useful in most actual vocations the student might fall into later.

The "working at it" was entirely up to the students, no attendance was ever taken at lectures, and graduation would stand or fall on the final examination results.

The problem in this country may be that the students think that if they graduated from law school, the necessarily must practice as lawyers.

Pogo said...

I still find that picture fascinating, not only because you're lovely in it, but it captures a moment perfectly, a learner's trials, her hopes and fears and their clash with reality.

RuyDiaz said...

A) No idea. The law, as a profession, holds no appeal to me. Join the Army.

B) Yes, yes it is.

Damon said...

I wish I had someone give me the low-down before I went to law school. I did a bunch of reading - 1L, Law School Confidential, etc., but I did not know anyone who was an attorney.

People encouraged me to go into law based on the incorrect assumption that it was an instant ticket to success. That is not true to the same extent it was in the past.

Law seemed more accessible than medicine (no bio undergrad requirements), and more universal. I heard many times that you can do anything with law.

I am in the business world as a non-attorney, and it does give me instant credibility along with the ability to argue circles around everybody I come in contact with. It was a very expensive price to pay though.

As time goes on the degree becomes more valuable... but, that said... I am not sure I would do it again. The cost in time and $$ is just too great.

PS- I sometimes dream of going to med school. My brother-in-law, a family doc, complains about his 8-5 that pays him $160K+ right out of residency. Can't touch that for cush.

Bob_R said...

I just can't see anyone taking out huge education loans (or loans of any kind) without making even the most basic financial calculations.

If the kid who considered law school marking time was being funded by a trust fund - fine. But it's a damned expensive way to mark time.

Now I say that as someone who wound up as a math professor because I couldn't believe that major universities would be willing to PAY ME to study math. I figured it was kind of like stealing, only legal.

So maybe the answer is that there are a lot of people in the world looking for a way to steal legally. Some of them don't have the talent to do so in a productive manner and have to settle for being lawyers.

GMay said...

"Besides, what do you do with a Medieval History BA?"

You get medieval on someone's ass.

Damon said...

correction - I am sure law has always required hard work for success, but competition has never been fiercer for an overloaded market.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

Law is the ultimate "I don't know what else to do" education- I fell into that, to a degree- I knew I wanted to and could do something better than what I could do on my Psych B.S. (work for an insurance company), but I had lost faith in the study of psychology and didn't see anything else that I could do without starting over (to a degree) in undergrad (I considered MBA, but couldn't figure out what to do with that).

Of course, I started in 2006, when it was still expected that I could get a 6-figure job right out of school in some cities. (Now, with a clerkship under my belt and a summa cum laude degree, I'm not sure I can get any job.)

Ultimately, it is a symptom of the uselessness of most college educations (but do what you love, kids! follow your dreams to spend $200K studying philosophy!) and liberal arts studies in general.

Lem said...

So we can allways have a fresh crop of lawyers to torment Trooper ;)

c3 said...

Beats me.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

To build on what Damon said,I also did a heck of a lot of reading, so it wasn't lack of research, there just wasn't much out there that gave you realistic expectations.

Also, I never thought that I wouldn't have to work hard, and I have, I just needed a path to work hard down, which I thought (and still hope!) law would give me.

John said...

Lyssa,

Spoken like only someone who actually went to law school could. You are my favorite Althouse comenter.

Lem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Treacle said...

The problem is, Ryan is right. Being a lawyer is not easy. But being a law student is.

Ron said...

You look like you're looking at some guy in the doorway who has the new Dylan album, a bottle of Annie Greensprings, some scrubweed in a baggie, and a desire to discuss What It All Means.

Your thought balloon should say "Someday I'll blog this...whatever that means!"

t-man said...

I applied to the law school and the graduate program in architecture at the same university. I went to law school because I was wait-listed for the architecture program.

It may not have been the best reason, but I have to say that law school was pretty easy, and I make a good living doing something that is mentally challenging, if not always the most exciting thing in the world.

Calypso Facto said...

Once implemented, Obamacare will be a windfall of eligibility/payment/service/care lawsuits, ending the lawyer surplus. Hence the support for O-care from the association of trial lawyers.

pro said...

This might be happening because an image search of "law student" returns your picture on the 3rd page of results.

http://www.google.com/images?q=law+student&hl=en&gbv=2&tbs=isch:1&sa=N&start=40&ndsp=20

Damon said...

Good luck Lyssa. Wishing you the best.

Treacle - yes, the decision to go to law school is easy (if you are smart), but law school is not easy (sorry t-man). Being a lawyer is not easy, but more importantly it is not rewarding for everyone. Being a hired gun and dealing with other lawyers who are a-holes isn't something you learn without going through the process.

6 weeks into my 1L year my professor profoundly said to the class "You are ruined. You can't go back now."

Rockeye said...

The boobs don't hurt that picture's appeal one bit. Did I say that out loud?

edutcher said...

For some people, I don't doubt visions of Perry Mason, LA Law, or William Kunstler had as much influence as anything else.

Ann Althouse said...

Another interesting question is: Is that picture of me now the universal icon of the student?

Only for creamy hippie love chicks who see law as a step toward immortality in the fields of blogging and romance.

WV "ememeim" How do you spell MMIM?

lyssalovelyredhead said...

Hey, thanks John!

Paddy O said...

I don't know.

After doing well on the LSAT, I went to seminary instead.

Irene said...

" Besides, what do you do with a Medieval History BA?"

Get a PhD in Medieval History.

BWAAHHH. That's what I did.

Seriously, I don't know why Fiorina keeps saying "BA" in "Medieval History." Maybe she concentrated in medieval history, but most universities grant BAs in the discipline only.

Fiorina is a good model for the versatility of a degree in the liberal arts.

Trooper York said...

"Why do people keep going to law school?"

Because the devil always needs more minions.

Trooper York said...

"Why do people keep going to law school?"

Because every year they make more ambulances and somebody has to chase them.

Trooper York said...

"Why do people keep going to law school?"

Because a fool and his money is soon parted.

And they need scumsucking weasels to do it.

Trooper York said...

"Why do people keep going to law school?"

Because they don't want to get a real job and would prefer to steal from widows and orphans.

Trooper York said...

"Why do people keep going to law school?"

In the end, you can't explain the existance of such much evil in the world.

We just have to pray for God's mercy.

Big Mike said...

Another interesting question is: Is that picture of me now the universal icon of the student?

Affirmative.

Youngblood said...

"Why do people keep going to law school?"

Despite our impressive advances in medical science, we have yet to come up with effective antiparasitic drugs to prevent this.

Old Dad said...

Ok, three lawyers go into a bar...no, can't tell that one.

OK, what do lawyers and sperm cells have in common? Both have a one in a million chance of becoming human. Yuk, yuk, yuk. I kill me.

wv: chari. Jeopardy answer: What is Chan's first name?

bagoh20 said...

With all do respect to our host and the legal clientele here, what the hell do you see in this work? It can be interesting, but all day everyday? I would need my office in a the Psychiatry mall. Plus you got to wear a tie. Eeeeuw! I'd honestly rather dig ditches. I do love you all, but it's tinged with pity.

bagoh20 said...

Due

You got to be able to spell and stuff too, Yuck!

Windbag said...

True story: We were playing Taboo with a group of friends, the game where you have to get your team to guess a word without using certain words to clue them. Example: get your team to say "volcano" without using the words Hawaii, lava, Vesuvius, etc. So, I draw the card with lawyer on it, so I say, "Bottom-feeding scum-suckers" and my team explodes in unison, "LAWYERS".

wv: readevil

Treacle said...

Damon - "law school is not easy (sorry t-man)"

Me: As long as nearly every class does no mid-semester testing, and as long as everything rises or falls on one end-of-semester exam, law school is easy. And once you get the hang of things after that first semester, it's easier still.

Being a lawyer: hard. Being a law student: easy.

HDHouse said...

Wie schade.

Stone said...

It's a great picture. No wonder they keep using it.

Chip Ahoy said...

Another interesting question ...

Why yes, now that you mention it, I suppose it is. Here, lookie, tineye reverse image search shows ten, count 'em, 10 results for this image used on various blogs under various names, Quiz.jpg, law-school-studying.jpg, prepare-ahead-of-time, mew-learning-thumb, etc, and even sarah.jpg.

Michael in ArchDen said...

Good choice, Paddy O.

I believe it was Happy Chandler (but i'm sure it was one of baseball's commissioners) who famously dropped out of seminary, and decided "to go the opposite direction" and became a lawyer.

ALP said...

I find this question fascinating, as I considered going to law school about 15 years ago. To educate myself I looked for books on the profession. I noticed right off the bat there were MANY books published by ex-attorneys about how to get OUT of the profession. I think for every book I could find about the legal profession, there were three or four on how to NOT work as a lawyer, or what ELSE you could do with a law degree. That gave me pause.

I decided to take the intermediate step of going through a 9-month paralegal certificate program offered by our state's flagship university (a BS/BA was required for the program) and working as a paralegal first. This was one of the wisest things I have ever done in my life. I worked for ten years as a business immigration paralegal, and I made pretty good money for having a useless BS degree and a 9 month certificate. While I was not making near the type of salary lawyers make, this was a trade off I was willing to make in exchange for: zero debt, time and half wages for any overtime hours, and the ability to leave the job at the office a the end of the day. More importantly, I got to see the legal profession up close and personal.

I never did go on to law school. How did I decide to scrap my plans? I NEVER, NEVER - not once, did I look at the attorney I worked for and said to myself: "I'd rather have your job."

Doing paralegal work can be highly rewarding, providing you work for an attorney you are compatible with and is willing to delegate more and more complex tasks as you gain proficiency. In fact, as a business immigration paralegal, I did 95% of the work as long as a specific petition was run of the mill; even in more complex cases, I usually took the lead in solving the problem once I had discussed strategy with my attorney. We paralegals used to joke that the attorney could just show up to sign papers around 4:00 in the afternoons and we'd be just fine!

Nothing wrong with doing paralegal work at all; I highly recommend it to those who, like me, have one of those Fun But Useless BS degrees. (BTW: I had to constantly lend my attorney cash as he was so burdened by law school loans he was always out of lunch money!)

Chase said...

I would like to . . . uh, . . . how do I put this . . . uh . . .oh well . . .

thank you for wearing a tight shirt.

Whew. There I said it.

avwh said...

My son keeps saying he wants to go to law school. Doesn't have a clue what being a lawyer is. We tried to get him to do enough informational interviews two years ago with a dozen lawyer friends.

We figured he could leverage those interviews into summer interning in a law office and find out if pushing paper and long hours is what he really wants.

He foiled us by not following up, so he still has no clue. Oh well.

Mark O said...

I went to law school in the early 70's quite simply because I wanted to learn the law. I was fortunate enough to have studied at a law school whose name would be immediately recognizable and whose diploma has eased my life immensely, but that part I did not know nor did I care about anything except learning. Some sort of '60's romantic; Greening of America or something.

I can't imagine going for any other reason. My son once suggested to me that I had chosen my law school because I knew it would bring me a lot of money. He didn't seem to believe me when I told him the thought had never crossed my mind.

I really wanted only a fine education in one of the professions. Silly me.

Finally, but not least important, I would have loved to have sat across the table from you in that dingy library and made a list of incorporeal hereditaments. Our hair was the same length.

Kev said...

With all do respect to our host and the legal clientele here, what the hell do you see in this work? It can be interesting, but all day everyday? I would need my office in a the Psychiatry mall. Plus you got to wear a tie.

I'm pretty sure our esteemed bloghostess has never worn a tie to work--not once. (And seriously, the only time that the lawyers with whom I'm acquainted actually wear ties is on their days in court.)

former law student said...

Law school, minus the terror of 1L, was a lot of fun. I don't know why Carly dropped out after only one semester.

Damon said...

Kev - Of course law professors don't have to wear ties, though most of mine did. They aren't trying to sell their time for $300+ an hour.

That said, I don't know who you are acquainted with that practices law. Any lawyer I have ever known wears a suit, and the ones worth their salt know they need to be the best dressed person in the room. You can almost always spot an attorney 100 yards away.

buster said...

Why do people go to law school?

In my case, I was a graduate student in philosophy and became interested in philosophy of law. I came to realize that I wouldn't be very good at it without a legal education, so I went to law school. After I graduated I spent ten years teaching jurisprudence in a very good law school. Then I decided to practice law and became a lawyer.

traditionalguy said...

There is also no present reason for anyone to go to Banking School, or Real Estate School, or Business School. There are zero jobs open now for lawyers or for real estate developers/financers or capitalist entrepreneurs that expects to start a business with a Bank loan. Ergo: all of those educational institutions are now selling snake oil to poor young people to keep a flow of Federal Grants and Federally guaranteed students loans pouring into their coffers. The MBA degree programs are the biggest scams that I have seen in my lifetime

Kurt said...

I am intrigued by the persistence of the picture's popularity. It looks so dated to me, so much like a product of its time in the early 80s that I can't imagine how or why it would be iconic of students now.

As far as the law school question, after I finished my PhD (in American Literature) and was facing the dismal job market for humanities PhDs, one of my former grad. school housemates (who had gone to law school) said that I should really go to law school next instead. Except for the fact that I knew I didn't want to assume that level of debt, I might have considered it, less because I wanted to be a lawyer than because I thought it might have been interesting to engage with the intellectual questions of law school and because it might have been more useful to have a law degree than a humanities PhD.

Joe said...

"Why do people keep going to law school?"

Because working on a fishing boat is damn hard work and doesn't pay very well.

Joe said...

"Why do people keep going to law school?"

Because they aren't smart enough to study computer science! (Except Eugene Volokh.)

Joe said...

"Why do people keep going to law school?"

Because it's the only thing they can spell.

former law student said...

Because they aren't smart enough to study computer science!

Companies can hire a guy in India who'll work for 1/10th the salary, while yoor divorce attorney (or public defender) must be a US resident.

former law student said...

man I have to get some stronger glasses. "yoor" indeed.

Dead Julius said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

Companies can hire a guy in India who'll work for 1/10th the salary

It's more like 1/2 to 1/3 now and they mostly do lousy work.

I'm sure someone, somewhere is trying to figure out how to outsource public defenders. That would be some show!

Besides, it was humor. Or humour if you prefer.

(If I had the patience and was a little bit younger, I'd go to law school with the intent of being a patent attorney. As it is, I can barely even sit through a seminar on computer crap I'm interested in! I should also add that I wish my company would hire an employment lawyer instead of having the CFO cut and paste employment contracts from the web. He still doesn't get why I refuse to sign one.)

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dead Julius said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

Mr. Julius, I honor your courage to post that since the CIA will be after you next.

AC245 said...

Dead Julius said...
So here we go, you conservatives! Nice job! You set up this system under Bush where the President can designate anyone he wants as an enemy combatant and take them out, or bring them to Gitmo and torture them.

It's one thing when that applies to captured Al-Quaeda fighters.

But what about when it applies to a journalist and webmaster? And what about when the issue at hand is not about any danger to troops, but rather about information that is politically embarrassing to the Obama administration?

It'll probably be presented as an accident or a suicide, like Dr. David Kelley in Britain. Strangely, it was ruled that the evidence on Kelley's "suicide" is to be kept secret for 70 years. Bizarre, isn't it?

We are now at the point where it is quite possible that Obama is going to start killing political enemies. Sure, he's not an American citizen, but he does stand up for the values of honesty and transparency in government, and for truth in general, that we are supposedly fighting for in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So do you guys think that Obama is justified in considering Assange to be an "enemy combatant"?


I think you're a grade-A loon, Julius.

Fred4Pres said...

Some because they were inspired by LA Law.

Some by Law & Order.

Others by Boston Legal.

But a bet a couple were inspired by...

Matlock.

reader_iam said...

Why do people keep going to law school?

Because a disproportionate number--not to mention an over-represented proportion--of people in power have those degrees.

reader_iam said...

Also, our very culture, across lines, has been exhibiting a preference for lawyer-culture for at least 20-25-30-so years, the time-span depending on how one looks at it.

AllenS said...

Perry Mason.

rdkraus said...

I went in 1979 because I thought it was a way I could own my own "one man type" business, be my own boss and do something daily that was more enjoyable than not enjoyable. Thirty + years later, amazingly, that was mostly right.

I doubt it's the same now. Even more lawyers, way too many, not nearly as easy to start your own practice, and the practice itself, compared to thirty years ago, is not nearly as enjoyable for a host of reasons.

Skyler said...

As a manufacturing engineer I could see that that line of work was no longer stable. I may never be wealthy as a lawyer but I need never depend on a big corporation for a job.

It makes sense for college grads to go to lawschool in the hope that the job market and economy will be better I. A few years when they graduate.

ken in sc said...

My stepdaughter went to law school because she realized she was as smart or smarter than the lawyers she worked with in her real estate job. Her original interest was in historic preservation. She now has two law degrees and is a successful corporate tax lawyer.

Richard Fagin said...

I was perfectly happy being a patent agent. My former employer made me go to law school (no, really). Most of my night school classmates were more or less contemporaries (late 30s to late 40s) and wanted to change careers. In many cases it was for the prospect of money. There were a few divorcees that wanted to use the system to get revenge on men (before you protest, Prof. Althouse, I can name names and many of my female classmates would agree on this point). There was the occasional idealist.

My perch was relatively comfortable, and I would not done the same as most of my classmates without essentially guaranteed post school employment.

Hagar said...

And studying law was not all that expensive, since the University did not have an Athletics Division and professors got paid by the lecture.

Hagar said...

No teachee, no cheque!

Dr.D said...

From the original article, "But people do think that going to law school is easy and being a practicing attorney is a breeze."

Not only do most attorneys project the image that they do little or no actual work, but many give clearly project the image that that are amoral thieves. For the large numbers in our society today with no conscience, this looks like easy money with little or no effort. You don't even have to get your hands dirty. That has a lot of appeal.

lewy14 said...

Does he like the law? Does he even know what it is?

Stop right there. Think about this.

I would submit that when lawyers don't expect the "layperson" to even "know what the law is", then lawyers have lost the plot - which might explain to them something of the lack of respect people have for the profession.

It's reciprocal, you see.

Howard said...

For all you guys feeling wood from Dr. A's "swell" pic... you might be disappointed. As I recall, the Palin-effect in the subject case was due to lactation.

In my experience, nothing turns a postpartum breastfeeding Mom on more than some too cool for school suave and deboner horndog salivating over her swollen tits and raw nipples.

Her look says: you aint getting anything for a while bubba.

king jack said...

Implants! Her boobs definitely look bigger.