Sunday, July 30, 2006

Should I really go to law school?

Since I'm considering law school, the following speech by Tucker Max is relevant. Along the same lines, this WSJ article about why not to go to law school is also interesting.

[editor's note: here's a whole lot more on this subject appropriately titled Should I do it? Thanks to author/commenter Terence Herlihy. And for the record, I have now decided against it]

Should I go to law school? The Speech Text

Lots of people asked to see the text of the speech I gave. This is what I wrote out and took in with me to the speech. During the actual speech I expanded on some areas and went on a few tangents, but this is very much the drift of my speech.

"Should I go to law school?

Whenever I am asked this question, my initial response is always the same:

F**K NO!

-All jokes aside, I can say that for 90% of you, law school is--without a doubt--the wrong choice.

-How do I know this without even knowing any of you? Well, not too long ago, I sat where you are sitting, thought all the things that you are thinking now, went to law school and worked as a lawyer. I have already been down the path that is in front of you and I know what it's like. I know the decision making process that is going on in your mind, and chances are, you are going to law school for the wrong reasons.

-When deciding if law school actually is for you, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself, "Why do I want to go to law school?" There are many more wrong answers to this question than right answers, but almost all the wrong answers fit under six main reasons:

1. "I don't know what else to do": If you are lost in your life, that is ok, you shouldn't feel bad about it. You are barely old enough to drink, you don't need to know what you're going to do with your life at this point. Relax. I am 30, and I only figured it out a few years ago.

If you feel like you need more time to find your calling in life and figure out what you want to do, that is fine, but if this is true, the WORST thing you can do is commit to a three year school and over $150,000 in debt. How much sense does it that make? At that point, when you finish law school, even if you have decided that you don't want to be a lawyer, you are handcuffed to the profession. You have to take that six figure corporate job just to pay off the massive debt you racked up.

2. "It's the only way I can think of to use my humanities degree": Majoring in English so you had more time to drink wasn't such a good idea now, was it? But to be honest, having a soft major is nowhere near the death sentence that so many make it out to be. The world is changing, and the US economy with it. Most manufacturing and production jobs are moving off shore, and the hard science jobs required to staff them are being taken by Indians and Chinese and other cultures who actually require that their students learn something in science class. But the good news is that our economy is shifting to a service and information based economy, and soft majors are going to become more and more valuable.

I run an internet company right now, and I can tell you that it is VERY hard to find literate, intelligent, well read people who can write and communicate ideas effectively. The demand for these people is not going to flutter out. In plain English: A humanities major now has many many options that they didn't have in the pre-internet era. Do not make the mistake of thinking law school is your only option. That is not true.

3. "Everyone says I am good at arguing, so I should go to law school": I cannot recall a single person that has said this to me that I did not make want to punch in their mouth. Being a lawyer has almost nothing to do with arguing in the conventional sense, and very few lawyers ever engage in anything resembling "arguments" in their generally understood form. Beyond that, to be genuinely good at legal "arguing," you must be smart. I have never met a smart person who made this statement. This really is the stupidest reason you could possibly have to go to law school.

4. "I want to be like Ally McBeal or Jack McCoy from "Law & Order", or [insert your favorite Hollywood bullsh*t legal character from your favorite bullsh*t Hollywood legal drama]": Maybe I spoke too soon about the stupidest reason to go to law school. Let me just be very clear about this: Being a lawyer is NOTHING AT ALL like what you see on TV. If you don't understand this fact, it means you are an unrecoverable moron, and you should immediately drown yourself in the nearest toilet to save the world the frustration of having to deal with you and your stupidity.

5. "I want to change the world/help homeless people/rescue stray kittens/whatever": If you are one of those people...I feel sorry for you. Look, wanting to help others is fine and dandy, but if you are one of those rosey-eyed dipsh*ts who sign anti-sweatshop petitions while wearing Nikes, you know what's going to happen when you try to change the world equipped with just a law degree and a healthy dose of optimism? Life is going to kick you in teeth. Repeatedly.

There are some people who have a very clear idea of what sort of public service they want to do and how a law degree will help them, and even those people usually find their dreams crushed against the rocks of reality. If you go at law school with just some vague notion of public service, I can promise you that you'll regret your decision. The first day at Duke, the entire 200+ person class was gathered in a class room and they asked everyone who wanted to be in public service to raise their hand. At least 80 people did. Do you know how many ended up in a public service job three years later? About 3 of them. 2 of them were the very dedicated type I referred to, the other was a trust fund baby who couldn't get a real job. Most people don't think about what $150,000 in debt actually MEANS until they are faced with the option of helping poor people for $30,000 a year, or helping Skadden Arps for $140,000 a year, while having to make 500+ a month loan payment.

and the very worst reason,

6. "I want to make a lot of money": You can unquestionably make a lot of money being a lawyer. Right out of law school even, you can get a job with a big corporate firm that pays $120,000+ to start. Sounds like a lot doesn't it? But have you not stopped and thought about why they pay so much? Do you think it's because the job is rewarding and fulfilling? Didn't your parents ever tell you what it means when something looks too good to be true? There is a reason that there are so many lawyer jokes. There is a reason that the legal profession has one of the lowest job satisfaction rankings of any profession in America. There is a reason that so many lawyers leave the legal field: Being a lawyer--especially a lawyer at the type of big corporate firm that pays so well-- SUCKS.

The American Bar Association has published several studies about the incredibly low job satisfaction of lawyers and in every survey they publish, most lawyers say that they would NOT be a lawyer if they had it all to do over again. Just look at my specific example: Of my ten closest friends from law school, the ones I always write about like PWJ and SlingBlade, only 4 are still practicing law. Five years out of law school, and only 40% are still doing what they racked up a six figure debt to learn how to do. I don't really follow anyone else in my graduating class because most of them were worthless pricks, but from what I understand, the others are just like us: Most are now doing something else.

But beyond that, there are NOT an unlimited number of jobs that start at $120,000 a year. In fact, there aren't many at all, and pretty much ALL of them go to kids who come from the Top 15 law schools. If you go to a law school that is even in the bottom of the first tier, unless you are top 10% of your class or on law review, you are probably f***ed. Really. I cannot be any clearer about this: YOU ARE NOT GUARANTEED A JOB OUT OF ANY LAW SCHOOL, MUCH LESS A JOB THAT PAYS SIX FIGURES. They aren't going to tell you that at law school receptions, but it is the truth.

-If any of these reasons are factors into why you are going to law school, stop now. Seriously. No qualifiers on this statement, just stop. Plain and simple, don't go.

-OK, but let's say that none of the ridiculous reasons I listed above apply to you, that you want to go to law school for a what you consider a valid reason. I know when I was in undergrad, I had what I thought was a great reason to be a lawyer: I wanted to be the next great American trial lawyer. I intended to model myself after Vince Bugliosi (in case you don't know, Vince Bugliosi wrote Helter Skelter, prosecuted Charles Manson and the Palmrya murders and is generally regarded as the best prosecutor in American legal history) and fight the same battles that he fought.

Well, I was wrong. I quickly realized that being a prosecutor sucks and it takes years to try murder cases if you ever get that opportunity, all while working just as hard as your corporate brethen, for a pittance of what they make. Beyond that, the system is totally f***ed up in many many ways. Granted, someone needs to fight that battle, but by the end of first year I determined that it wasn't going to be me.

So, being in law school, I decided to do what everyone else was doing and be a corporate lawyer. Hated it. Got fired after three weeks. It was just awful. Law school is full of small, pedantic, little dorks and corporate firms are no different, except here they are in charge. It SUCKS.

-If you think you have a good reason to go to law school, the best advice I can give you is this: Work first. Preferably in a law firm, either as a paralegal or a secretary or even a gopher. Do it as a summer intern or full time for a year or so after undergrad. Explore what it is actually like being a lawyer, not by asking lawyers or reading books, but by immersing yourself in the actually day to day life of a lawyer.

Think about it: When you go clothes shopping, you don't just walk around and grab whatever looks good on the rack and buy it, do you? No, you try things on, you deliberate over your options, and you consider all possibilities. Why do you think life is any different? Stop trying to pick out your life off the rack; go out and experience all sorts of different things, try on different jobs and see what fits. If, after trying it on, you still want to be a lawyer, then by all means, go for it. You're probably making the right decision at that point. But I can promise you that if spending some time working in a firm were a requirement for admission to law school, the application rate would probably drop by at least 80%. What does that tell you about whether or not you should go to law school?

-All this being said though, I had a great time in law school itself. Law school is a f***ing joke; if anyone tells you different they are either lying or they are stupid. It's REALLY easy. By second semester of my first year I'd stopped going to class, and by second year I'd stopped buying my books altogether. I had many classes where if my exam were to pick my professor out of a line-up, I'd have failed. How do you think I got all these great stories? Not by going to class. My friends I went out 4 nights a week it was so easy. Of course, I went to a Top 10 school, which most people don't go to, and I got lucky in that I had a crew of ten friends who were all awesome. I have had several friends go to other law schools, very good ones and very bad ones, and not many shared my experience. And even the ones who did very much enjoy law school, hated their lives after law school. Why? Because they went on to be lawyers.

-Here is the funny thing about this speech: Someone--in fact, a lot of people--told me all of this before I applied to school. I did not discover any of the points I am making to you. Every bit of it was conferred to me BEFORE I got to law school.

You know what I did? I f***ing ignored it. I mean, sure all of those other douche bags may be miserable and may hate the legal profession, but what do they know, they're only lawyers? I AM TUCKER F***ING MAX, I'm going to revolutionize this b**ch!'d that work out for me? You can believe me now or you can experience first hand, but you'll eventually see that I am right.

-I'll leave you with this last quote. I have a pretty big message board attached to my site, it gets like 30,000 people a day or so that view it, and many of them are disaffected lawyers. In response to a thread about this topic, one of them posted this paragraph:

"As I write this, it is 85 degrees, sunny, with a slight, cooling breeze coming from the West. The only reason I know this is that I took twenty minutes to run to get a sandwich to eat at my desk. I am sitting in a basement office which houses three of us, putting off research on state law fair debt collection vs. the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the definition of a creditor to write this post. If that paragraph alone doesn't deter someone from law school, then I don't know what will.""
Now, I'm not in any position to give you advice, being an undergrad PoliSci/Econ myself, and I know lawyers who definitely never regretted their choice. But I think this advice is sound: if you're going to saddle yourself with that kind of debt, at least know roughly what it can realistically accomplish for you. That kind of debt will close down your options as surely as many law degrees will open them up.


At 30/7/06 20:41, Anonymous garlic said...


At 31/7/06 21:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Law school?
You already grew tired of watchinig soap operas and surfin the net all day?

-Big Sexy?

At 1/8/06 12:43, Blogger TSS said...

Not everyone likes soaps as much as you do.

At 21/8/06 11:27, Anonymous Terence Herlihy said...

Your understanding of Tucker Max's speech is right on point. I have written a manifesto on whether or not a person should go to law school, which is posted at

My only motivation in writing this is that I be able to help at least one person make the correct decision as to whether or not they should go to law school.


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