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Susan Estrich
29 Jul 2015
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Don't Go to Law School

Comment

Seriously. Don't go to law school unless you actually want to be a lawyer. Sure, "thinking like a lawyer" — that is, analytically — is useful, but probably not as useful as spending three years actually doing or studying what you are interested in, not to mention the $200,000 in debt you'll probably owe, more or less making your only option to practice law, since no one will pay you nearly as much to do anything else. If you get a top job, that is, which most law graduates don't.

"Top jobs," as they are thought about in today's legal culture, are generally the top paying ones, which is to say working in "Big Law" (full disclosure: in addition to being a professor, I am a partner in one of the top "Big Law" firms in the world) where it's a very long journey from junior associate to senior partner, and one few manage to make. The most prestigious jobs in law — being a judge on the state or federal bench — tend to pay less than we pay our new associates. It makes no sense. But even if you go Big Law, you'll likely make less than your pals who go the finance route, and aren't billing by the hours worked. Law just isn't a very good way to get rich, unless you were a charter member of the team that took on tobacco, or you spend all of your time doing "bad baby" cases, which takes a kind of John Edwards capacity to compartmentalize (I think Edwards was the only presidential candidate to have a baby with a mistress while running and while his wife of forever was dying of cancer) and make your fortune off the worst tragedies. To each his own. Everybody needs a lawyer, but they don't necessarily need you.

Some people love practicing law. It can be a wonderful life — if you don't get caught by golden handcuffs before you've really decided what you want to do, or know what you want to do and simply can't find a job doing it.

But if you want to practice law, no matter what, do not go to an unaccredited law school.

I'm going to anger some people in my home state for saying this, but California is allowing shysters and fly-by-night operators to lure vulnerable folks who don't know better with the promise that they can be "lawyers" in just four short years. Or at least that's what the matchbook says. I call them matchbook law schools, although technically they are unaccredited law schools, and they suck up money and produce almost no lawyers.

Check out the detailed analysis in the Los Angeles Times of California's unaccredited schools, where 9 out of 10 students drop out, and 80 percent of those who don't drop out — who go for four years to real or virtual classes — never become lawyers.

When I moved to California, I took the February bar, often called the "losers bar" because almost everyone had failed at least the preceding July, if not multiple times. I was taking the bar a little incognito; I was teaching at Harvard and dating a guy who lived in California, so just in case. I stood outside the Hollywood Palladium while a guy who was a bicycle stripper (I didn't know either, but that means a stripper who travels on his bike) was holding forth on the best approach to an essay question about how you would handle an issue if you were an aide to the chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I had actually been that, for now-Justice Stephen Breyer — but I figured whoever was grading my test probably hadn't, and might not get off on some of our legislative tactics, and so I just gave them the answer they wanted — which was not the answer my new friend the stripper insisted was the only approach.

The women he was convincing started to cry. Enough was enough.

"He's wrong," I said.

"How do you know?" the guy demanded, and I explained I was a tenured professor and the former special assistant to the chief counsel and the rest.

The women felt better, at least for a moment. But they had all gone to matchbook schools, thrown their money away, held on to dreams these schools had no right to suggest and were likely to have just failed one more time.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Comments

2 Comments | Post Comment
I see them do it on Legally Blonde and think to myself I could do that. But after tutoring somebody who was in Criminal Justice in college I've learned that I understand that better than any other subject. I'm just not as dedicated to being as good of a lawyer as Reese Witherspoon in that movie. And who needs lawyers that aren't dedicated to getting the truth out and doing the right thing.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Daphne
Fri Jul 31, 2015 9:21 PM
Ms. Estrich makes a case about unaccredited law schools but fails to note how many people go to college in general and can't earn a living. Does she make the same speech to other higher education programs? Don't go to Theater Arts? Don't take a degree in Anthropology? Don't study the tuba? Ms. Estrich belongs to a different class than the people who run unaccredited law schools. She teaches at an accredited college and if the students waste their time and money and don't find a career at the end of the rainbow, at least the money they have paid will support the faculty and other friends and colleagues of Susan Eschrich. God forbid that money goes to someone else! Overall we are paying too much for classroom credits in all forms of higher education. But since the government/educational complex gives jobs to her friends, Ms. Estrih will never complain about that.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Cowboy Jay
Sat Aug 1, 2015 12:10 PM
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