Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Man Behind the Curtain

Remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the main characters discover the wizard is not so magical after all? It sort of reminds me of a blog I recently came across, entitled, "Exposing the Law School Scam." It completely sucked me in. The lawyers on this blog contend that law school is nothing more than a "man behind the curtain" scenario, as in the Wizard of Oz. Law schools falsely advertise misleading employment and salary statistics and trick uninformed young hopefuls into believing that a J.D. is a magical, Golden Ticket into the land of wealth and prosperity. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

At least that's what the lawyers at "Exposing the Law School Scam" claim. I can't say I experienced the same trouble finding gainful employment after law school, but I will say that I definitely had a rosier picture of the legal profession when I entered law school than when I left it. I recall attending orientation about a week before the start of my 1L year, when one of the deans pontificated on how many doors a law degree opens. Pffft. Man, if only I had a time machine and a large polo mallet. The only "doors" my law degree opened were to my therapist's office and the temp agency for which I currently work.

It's not all the law school's fault, though. Sure, they probably inflated their employment statistics, but that's not the real problem I have with them. My beef is they tell incoming law students that a law degree is a great career investment for just about any field you may want to enter. This is simply not true. The truth is a law degree is a terrific investment if you want to be a practicing attorney. If not, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL. It is a waste of time and money unless you are absolutely, positively, one hundred percent sure that you want to represent clients for 60+ hours per week, most of which will be spent arguing with other attorneys and reviewing long-winded case law in search of a magic piece of dicta that you can include in your brief to win your client's case. If this does not sound like an appealing career path, run, don't walk, to the registrar's office and drop all of your classes. If you do it soon enough at the start of the semester, you may even get some of your tuition back.

My other beef with law schools is what they do not tell you at orientation: if you do not fall within the top 10-20% of your class, you will not be earning a six-figure salary upon graduation. The reason they do not tell you this is because were it not for the bottom 80-90% of students, there would be no such thing as the order of the coif. Big Law firms could not tell their clients that "our attorneys were all in the top twenty percent of their law school classes." So, law schools and big firms need that bottom 80-90% in order to distinguish the great legal minds of tomorrow from the Lionel Hutzes of the legal world. The truth is that if you do not rise to the top of your class, you will most likely be working as a prosecutor or public defender, or will be working for a small firm that will pay you only a fraction of what Big Law pays, which will probably not be enough to cover your law school debt. The other alternative is that you can hang out your own shingle, which, from what I've heard, is not exactly lucrative.

What do you think of the law school scam? For those of you who did not graduate in the top 20%, what kind of work did you find after law school?

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