This message goes to all of those undergrads that are anxiously awaiting or have already received their law school admissions decisions: Don’t go to law school.
At least, for now.
I know what you’re thinking. “What else do you do with a B.A. in English?” “But I’m going to go help the less privileged and promote justice.” “Yeah, I know things are bad. But I’m going to be the top of my law school class anyway.”
Time for a reality check.
Law school can be a terrible place that has the potential to ruin everything. You will constantly find yourself with an enormous amount of reading that will consume your days and nights. You will face humiliation in lectures at the hands of professors who will ask questions to which you will have no answers. The time you once put into your social life will go towards questions of who has the property rights of foxes or whether there was an implied warranty of merchantability for seafood chowder in Massachusetts. Even worse is that you’ll bring these topics up during dinner with your non-law school friends, whom you will eventually alienate. The relationship with your family will devolve into sporadic once-in-a-while conversations pertaining to why you do not call as often.
In addition to the functional destruction of your personal life, law school also has a nasty habit of bringing students down to size. The majority of those who enter law school come with an excellent academic background with good grades. In law school, however, you will be graded on a strict curve that puts you in direct competition with every other law student. For most of you, all of the work in the world will result in a B+. The amount of work necessary to boost your grade to meet your prior expectations will destroy whatever remained of your personal life and your sanity.
This sacrifice was once worth it when jobs were plentiful. But, the current reality is clear and well publicized: Law school is not a smart financial investment. Statistics show that law schools produce close to 45,000 new graduates annually, even though there are only projected to be 25,000 new openings each year through 2018. Yet even as the job prospects of graduating students suffer, law schools continue to increase tuition. For three years of law school, a typical student will pay nearly $150,000 in tuition. For that price, law students pay for a curriculum that, in most cases, does not actually prepare them for the rigors of practice. While some law schools are getting better, the majority of law school curricula emphasizes the theoretical implications of law rather than the practical knowledge essential to good lawyering.
Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine that a 21-year-old student who has just graduated from college could readily drop the amount of money necessary on a law school degree. Most students turn to more student loans to afford their legal tuition. Borrowing large sums of money in order to learn something that does not really prepare you for a job that you will have a difficult time obtaining — that sounds like a losing proposition to me.
Many students who have been frustrated by this maelstrom of circumstances have taken to suing their law schools for fraud. There may be some underlying truth to these claims, as some schools have used the reprehensible practice of inflated LSAT scores, GPAs and employment percentages to attract paying students. But here’s the kicker: Regardless of what price you are paying for law school, you are paying for school, not a job. Placement in law school is no longer a guarantee for a well-paying job directly after graduation. Law schools do not control the economy, the local job markets or the skills and abilities of the individual student.
Let me clarify my initial advice, law school is the right decision for some, but not many. If you are trying to delay entering the real world for three years, there are better ways to do that than through law school. If you are not passionate about the study of law, law school can be a difficult, trying time. Do yourself a favor. Take a year off. Get out of school for a while. Go work and have some life experiences. It does not matter what you do, but take some time off. Perhaps many of you have already gotten this advice. The Sun ran a front-page article last week stating that law school applications are down across the board. Even so, many of you will still go to law school, thinking that you will avoid the fate of so many current law students. If you do, I wish you nothing but the best of luck.
But you have been warned.
Jeff Catalano a is a third-year law student at Cornell Law School. He may be reached at email@example.com . Barely Legal appears alternate Fridays this semester.