A 29-year old woman graduated from Fordham Law School in 2007 and landed a “BigLaw” job in New York paying $160K a year but was recently laid off and is now a cleaning lady. Story here.
The higher education bubble is bursting, college grads are seriously questioning the value of their education, especially the ones who went heavily into debt to finance their college tuition and expenses. Student loans are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, so that’s not an option. Law school grads may be the hardest hit because they are likely the deepest in debt and law firm jobs are harder and harder to find. A law school education does not seem to qualify you for much of anything else, especially if you have spent some time practicing law. You may reach a point where a law job is all you can ever get and if you can’t get that you may have to…clean toilets.
Think this through very carefully. You may be more employable if you don’t go to law school than you will be after law school. How do you pay off a hundred grand in student loans for law school on the money you make…cleaning toilets?
Remember, bankruptcy is not an option. Law school debt can be an albatross you will carry forever.
I remember an old joke. What is the difference between love and herpes? Answer: Herpes is forever. Change the joke to: What is the difference between having a job as a lawyer and student loans for law school? Answer: Student loan debt is forever.
If you’re still not convinced, you’re still determined to go to law school, then here is something you can do. Go to a night law school or at least one that isn’t in the high tuition range. Decide that it doesn’t matter whether your school was prestigious because you’re never going to seek a law firm job. Those prestigious law schools don’t teach you how to be a lawyer anyway. Decide that you’re going to hang out your own shingle when you graduate and pass the bar. Your future clients could not care less where you went to law school. Go into litigation because that’s always going to be busy. Decide also that you are going to learn everything you can about the court system, court rules and procedures, and how to win arguments in front of judges and juries. Decide that you are going to be so good at trying cases and winning them that you are going to be busy with new work all the time. Remember always that you are a problem solver. You can’t save the world. You can’t even make a difference. Read as much of Abraham Lincoln’s life as a lawyer, both his own writing and other contemporary writing such as that of his law partner William Herndon, as you can. Harry Jaffa is the preeminent Lincoln scholar and the only one you need. Then work like the devil to make all of that true. If you do all that, and don’t borrow any money, you will make a living. Maybe a good living. You will have an interesting life. You will have many friends and many enemies. The latter are the ones to keep close. Only downside is this: Do you have the tough skin that will be necessary to see lots of injustice occur before your eyes? You can’t prevent it, you will have to endure it. Be sure you can. If so, you can make your own world. Good luck.
[Note on passing the bar: It’s not a knowledge test, it’s a memorization test. I passed one at age 30 and another at age 63. It’s not hard. Remember, a lot of dumb-ass lawyers passed it.]
UPDATE: From How [Student] Debt Can Destroy a Budding Relationship:
Nobody likes unpleasant surprises, but when Allison Brooke Eastman’s fiancé found out four months ago just how high her student loan debt was [$170,000], he had a particularly strong reaction: he broke off the engagement within three days.
The level of debt was incurred to get a Bachelor’s Degree in photography. Ansel Adams was home schooled until he was nine and had little formal education after that. Of the brief time he spent in school he wrote the following:
…Each day was a severe test for me, sitting in a dreadful classroom while the sun and fog played outside.