What grad student hasn’t considered a law school degree? I can think of several former peers who have shifted from PhD to JD. Lawyers had a good run for a while there, hopping on the fast track to decent jobs that helped them pay off student loans.
But something went wrong, something similar to what happened to grad schools. While grad schools gloss over the numbers of PhDs who get jobs, some law schools lie outright. One professor from Indiana University tells the NYT in an expose: ““Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm…. Every time I look at this data, I feel dirty.”
A lawyer who feels dirty for reasons other than being associated with ambulance-chasers and embarrassing ads on late-night TV? That’s something. At least this professor admits there’s a problem. The author of the NYT article, David Segal, goes all the way there and calls law school a shell game: “Or perhaps this is more like a game of three-card monte, with law schools flipping the aces and a long line of eager players, most wagering borrowed cash, in a contest that few of them can win.”
The one thing law school has that grad school doesn’t is that there is still a chance of winning the game. Go to a good school, and you might get that high-paying job with a big firm. The situation isn’t so bad that it all boils down to blind luck and nepotism. But it’s still a shell game, and scarier than the one offered by grad school.
Why? Loans from law school are, to paraphrase the Wu-Tang Clan, “nothing to f&ck with.” It’s more expensive than grad school because you don’t receive TA-ships, and fellowships are rare. On a financial level, you might be smarter taking paralegal training. You won’t get the prestige, but you also won’t get the debt.
TAPPED sums it up nicely: “The bottom line — which also applies, with some differences, to grad school — is that if you can get into and have a chance of good grades at a top-tier law school, a law degree may be a sensible investment.”
If you are ever urinated upon, call this guy. Video from YouTube, originally spotted on Consumerist.
Given the state of the economy, attending law school might be as bad of an investment as attending graduate school–a situation that several publications have noticed recently. Now Psychology Today is getting into the act with some practical advice for those considering a postgraduate education in the legal realm.
For anyone tempted to go to grad school or considering quitting, this post is a must-read. I say this a lot, but the article makes it crystal-clear that the life of the mind isn’t right for everyone, especially those who are already in a troubling financial condition.
The smartest tip from the article is to calculate your best-case-scenario hourly wage after you get out of law school. In this case, take the law school stats in the post and substitute with the stats you think are likely for your career or debt situation:
–Suppose you land a legal job after graduation paying $65,000 (which sounds good). First, assorted taxes will take about 25% of your salary, so now you’re earning about $4000 per month. (And if you’re working 60 hours a week– not uncommon in the law– your net hourly wage is about $16.00/hour).
–Now let’s say you have $100,000 in student loan debt at an average interest rate of 6.8% … and you plan to pay it off in 10 years. That means you’ll be paying about $1150.00 a month for the next 10 years– making your actual law school debt about $138,000. (If you lower your payments by extending the loan for 20 years, your overall debt for law school becomes $184,000.
On the bright side, grad students tend to get a free ride plus stipend, so they don’t rack up the kind of debt that law students do. But keep in mind that, even with all the handwringing and hairpulling that law-school students are dealing with right now, they still have a better shot at a job.
To be blunt, it sucks that those who have the talent but not the funds can’t pursue their academic or lawyerly dreams, but do you want to roll the dice on getting a job and losing? Do you want to be the guy or gal who defaults on a student loan because you can’t find a job? Even if you choose to go anyway because it is your passion (and no one here at Post Academic wants to get in between you and your passion), you need to know the numbers up front, and you can’t always count on your advisors to reveal them to you.
Caricature of lawyer and politician Jules Favre from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Another burst of “Advanced Degrees Are for Suckers” articles has hit the Internet. The Wall Street Journal profiled various law school grads who are un- or underemployed, and Gawker rebroadcast the story with a beyond-depressing image of a guy hanging himself.
Suicide snark and scary job shrinkage aside, the WSJ article had some optimism. The lawyers are starting to go Post Academic:
Bar associations say more lawyers are asking for tips on ways to apply their skills in other fields.
When the New York State Bar Association originally created the Committee on Lawyers in Transition, it was meant to help attorneys re-join the profession after an absence. But when the economy declined in 2008, the committee changed its focus to help attorneys who were laid off and exploring other industries.
A law degree is well known for being flexible, and is it really a sign of failure that lawyers are taking their skills elsewhere? Even the guy in the WSJ article who is a comedian is using his legal abilities. After all, a keen understanding of slander must help anyone in charge of writing punchlines.
More after the jump! Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
In the past, law students could shoulder massive amounts of debt because they could be fairly confident of getting a job. Now they are facing a situation that should be eerily familiar to Post Academic readers: Firms aren’t hiring the way they used to, and that student loan debt isn’t going anywhere.
Above the Law sums up the anger at the situation: “But do you know what the real bitch of it is? If it turns out you made a terrible investment by going to law school, it’s impossible for you to get out from under your mistakes. You can’t discharge law school debt through bankruptcy absent a showing of undue hardship.”
You sure can’t. But, chin up, o lawyer friends. Post Academic can help you look on the bright side! You still have it better than grad students! Here’s how:
Going to a big-name school can still help you. In academia, there are so few jobs that an Ivy League PhD can only get you so far. In fact, it might not get you far at all. A JD from an Ivy or otherwise big-time school still means you’re hot stuff, however, or at least you’re well-connected.* Even if you don’t have a JD from a top-tier school, you have a better shot at a job than your peers in the humanities.
More reasons for lawyers to feel a little better after the jump! Image of The Illustrated London News – Tichborne Case (1874) from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Remember the guy who is trying to sell his law degree? Well, Above the Law got in touch with him, and what he has to say, especially regarding loans, might hit a nerve with people in other graduate programs, too:
I think my post has hit a nerve because lots of lawyers feel that the system is broken. The student loan industry is killing us. Law schools aren’t even teaching marketable skills. Lower ranked schools are selling a product that has no value. The supply of lawyers far exceeds demand.
A law school grad fed up with the lawyerly life has decided to scrounge up some escape-hatch cash by selling his diploma. If you always wanted to hang a diploma from “from one of those elitist BS institutions that accept people like George W. Bush cause their daddy donated $20 million” you can get the diploma for a song–$59,250.
How much do you think your degree might be worth if you sold it today? The Craigslist poster is selling his diploma at the degree of his student loan balance, which seems like a good place to start.
My Law Degree (Seriously) [Craigslist]