Yesterday, I received a call from one of my blog readers, somewhat out of the blue. A rising 2L at a top tier school, the student explained that he was interested in learning more about the feasibility of starting a law practice right out of law school. Yet as we talked more, however, it seemed that the student had another, more basic question on his mind: whether to go further into debt, to the tune of $150,000, to obtain a law degree or to cut his losses. And then he posed this question to me:
Knowing what you do about the today’s economy and job prospects in the legal market, would you have gone to law school?
For me, answering yes was fairly easy for a couple of reasons. Foremost, I really like practicing law. Corny as it sounds, I cherish my law degree and revel in being part of a profession that, as imperfect though it may be, is also comprised of amazing people with amazing stories. After twenty-two years in, I still get a thrill when I step up to the podium to argue an appeal. I still marvel that a lowly solo like myself can do stuff that matters, whether it’s preventing a multi-million dollar pipeline company from condemning my clients’ property (and winning attorneys’ fees to boot) or helping a financially troubled homeowner hold on to his house just a little bit longer or just showing up. Most of all, I’m amazed that with nothing more than my law degree and stubborn persistence, that I’ve been able to build something – a law firm out of thin air and on my own terms.
But I also recognize my bias in answering my reader’s question. For starters, I’m the kind of person who makes the best of things and doesn’t like to dwell on any regrets. And yes, as my critics claim, I’m prone to being annoyingly positive, if only because a cheerful attitude, even if occasionally deluded, is far preferable to wallowing in perpetual and debilitating despair. Finally, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been fortunate: I worked for five years before starting my firm (albeit in jobs that paid modestly), so by living frugally I was able to make a dent in paying off my own $70,000 in loans. Today, even that route isn’t an option for many graduates.
So to try to shed a more objective light on the question, rather than look back on, and justify my own choices, I’ve asked myself how I’d advise my own daughters if they wanted to go to law school. Would I tell them to take on $150,000 in debt with no guarantee of a steady job, and to jeopardize not only their own future financial stability, but that of their children as well?
The truth is, it’s hard to say. I suppose I’d start by suggesting that they avoid or limit debt to begin with, either by finding ways to work through school or perhaps choosing a less expensive law school that wouldn’t limit their opportunities. Then, I remind them that choosing law as a path to financial stability isn’t so much an option as it was back in my day.
Still, if my daughters are committed to practicing law or have a feeling, after exploring other options that it’s right for them; if they’re passionate or excited about the prospect of serving clients – solving their problems and changing their lives or seeking justice and if they’re willing to be absolutely dogged in doing whatever it takes to succeed, then I’d tell them to go for it. I think.
And now readers, it’s your turn. Would you do it all over again if the economy was the way it is now? And would you encourage your kids to go to law school? Comments are open.