Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Law School Angst

Law school angst gets people in different ways. The best way to go through law school is to figure out what role you fit and accept it. That said:

Law school admissions is a combination of LSAT (which MENSA accepts as an IQ test) and undergrad GPA. At the top there may some with relatively high scores on both ends but most of the students are either bright and lazy or industrious and not as bright. Because law school has figured out the rubric, almost everyone in your class is equally capable. The lazy geniuses are about as capable as the hard working. The law school grading scale then takes these virtually indistinguishable masses and tries to tier out their ability through scaled classes. Most of these exams are very similar. Few excel, few are really terrible. Most of the rest of us wind up in the block of random grades between B+ and C+. The only difference between B+ and C+ papers is the discretion of the professor.

These grades, while mostly random, mean everything. A student ranked at the 24% can expect double digit on campus interviews while a student ranked at the 26% will get almost none. You would never be able in a million years to tell the difference between these two people outside of those two numbers (most likely the difference between a B and B+ in a two hour course). But based on these percentage numbers from your first semester (one sixth of your law school career), you are either in or out. By the time you finish your first year, you likely have all the grades you will ever need if you get employment during your second summer. After the first year, any student trying to improve his/her standing will never really catch up for bigger law jobs.

Most law students go to law school to make a difference in the world. At least that's what we write on our admissions essays. But the entire law school experience is set up to dangle prestigious, high paying, legal cog jobs in front of us. Almost no public interest, criminal, plaintiff, or small law firms are invited to interview on campus. This means that if you want an alternate career that will lower the average starting salary of our grads which will reflect poorly on the US News rankings, you're on your own.

In short, you work and find out it makes no difference in your grades. You get the honors they make a big deal out of and find out it isn't enough to get the jobs you want. Law school is a big exercise in contentment when you realize that no matter what your mama told you, you really aren't that special. No matter how awesome you were in undergrad, no matter what kind of juggernaut you used to be, here, you will likely be one of the masses. Half of the people will be below average and they remind you of that every time you open your report card. It's being told that the reasons you were going to law school were wrong, discouraging you from helping, then letting you know you aren't qualified for the jobs they pushed you towards. That is the center of the angst.

At least, that's how I see it.


nicolle said...

that's dead-on.

Liz said...


Guy Fawkes said...

Agreed. The next logical question is does anyone care enough to start changing the profession or the educational system to make it more effective AND less angst-filled?

Work Related said...

At least being "unqualified" for the jobs that you were pushed towards (the ones that you didn't want in the first place) will allow you to pursue the type of career you originally preferred. And though law school may make you feel inadequate through this admittedly ridiculous practice, you still have the opportunity to leave law school and pursue a job that helps someone or some opportunity that you can be passionate about (read: not a job in corporate law).

That is, you can still be successful if you were honest on your entrance essays and you did indeed write about helping others. If you were actually pursuing a law degree to achieve a quality of life only afforded by a position in a corporate firm, you may be out of luck.

So what if you don't have significant career support at school? This doesn't mean the education system has failed. I simply cannot believe that law school has only prepared you to be a corporate attorney; you are still well-educated and intelligent people with the ability to make some change in the world. Of course, this means the law school concept needs to evolve to place its alumni in appropriate jobs.

You are intelligent and have a specialized education that gives you the capability to provide services that everyone needs. You can be advocates for any issue you choose. You cannot simply be defeated because your law school is oriented towards a certain career path that you can't or won't follow. Make your own opportunities, find your own jobs that you are passionate about. Who cares about US News and salaries and benefits and fancy business cards? Do what you profess to want to do.

We (the lay public) understand your angst and we will not ask you to stop complaining. We do, however, make a demand that you don't simply complain your way into a mediocre corporate job that neither excites you nor sufficiently utilizes your talents. You have earned your right to complain, but you have not lost the responsibility that comes with your education and intelligence.

Don't just sit there, do something about it.

mootgoescow said...

Saying "Do something about it." isn't productive or helpful, unless you plan on giving us cash to pay our student loans with. We can't simply just sit on our ass and search for public interest opportunities as interest accrues. That being said, public interest opportunities are out there, but you need someone to explain to you the basic structure of how it's organized. Fellowships are competitive; someone needs to tell law school students that they need to prep and mold their resumes around pursuing them if public interest law is what you intend to do. Most non-profits don't hire many lawyers. They hire policy analysts or social researchers and the like. But, if public interest law is what you want to do, then you can try doing immigration law or child protection laws or criminal defense.

El Guapo said...

The trouble is, you quickly find out that there is no money at all in helping people. I worked in several places where you could help but they weren't hiring new lawyers. Most of them barely have enough work to keep themselves busy. You can hang up your own shingle but you run the risk of starving before you make it.

Fewer jobs than you would think at the top. Almost none where people can be helped. That's how most people wind up in insurance defense and real estate closings.

mootgoescow said...

It's true. If you want to find work to help people, you have to move to the east or west coast. Even in cities that fund public defense work, however, the offices tend to be small and understaffed, but "not hiring." It doesn't really make much sense. There's always estate planning though.