About this time 30 years ago, my wait had begun. It would end sometime in the spring when I got a letter that would change my life.
I was accepted into law school.
One hot day in August 1985, I took my place as a 1L. Three years later I had passed the bar and was a lawyer.
The timing of my entry into the legal profession was good. The generation of lawyers who had gone to law school on the GI bill was retiring and while their children, the baby boomers were replacing them, the supply of lawyers did not exceed the demand of clients.
In the fall of 1985, a tragedy befell the legal profession and it has never recovered from it. That tragedy was the hit show, LA Law. LA Law was not the first lawyer show on TV. It was the first one that made lawyers look really cool. They were hip, sexy, not focused exclusively on the courtroom and Arnie Becker was sleeping with half the beautiful women in LA. For a number of years, the image of the actor playing Becker driving down the LA freeway with the top down in his Porche was an icon of the 80’s lawyer.
When I returned for my second year of law school, the 1L class coming in was twice the size mine had been.
That trend has continued for thirty years with law schools admitting more and more students and more and more graduates taking and passing the bar.
People periodically ask me about going to law school. Some are asking because they are thinking about it or their kids are. My message is consistently the same.
Don’t do it.
There are far too many lawyers chasing far too few jobs. There are far too many lawyers chasing far too few clients. Ten years ago, when the economy was booming, even the most marginally talented lawyer could hang out a shingle and make a good living.
Today the fastest growing area of law is what is known as “E-Discovery” or document review. Lawyers are hired in batches of 50 or 100. They spend eight hours a day or more sorting through emails and corporate documents for discovery in major litigation cases. They are paid $20 to $25 an hour and they are temporary workers. Their projects can last for a day or as long as a year. Most of the firms that hire them do not offer benefits. Usually after a few weeks, a project ends and they are looking again.
Mama’s don’t let your babies grow up to be lawyers.
Most young lawyers who graduate today are buried in debt. Many of them are shocked, shocked, that their law schools lied about job placement rates. Many unemployed lawyers or even employed lawyers have to supplement their incomes with second jobs to pay their student loan debts.
A lawyer’s primary job is to give advice. Lawyers do not have to be in practice long before discovering the truism that that people don’t always follow your advice.
My advice is don’t go to law school.
Some people are going to ignore that advice.
Okay. Then here is what you need to do.
If you go to college, you will have to endure something known as an academic advisor. As soon as you mention you want to go to law school, they are going to try and push you into a pre-law program.
Understand this. Your academic advisor is a moron. If he or she were not, they would have a real job.
Get a real degree. A real degree is a degree that can land you a job. These are degrees such as business, math, science, or engineering. Just because you are admitted to law school does not mean you will graduate. Some people flunk out and some people have to drop out.
Any of those degrees will help you find a job as a lawyer after law school. If your undergraduate degree is women’s studies you deserve to be both broke and unemployed.
Before you go to law school, decide what kind of lawyer you want to be. The days of the generalist are over. The sad truth is most lawyer’s area of practice is dictated by their first job out of law school and the first job is dictated by who will hire them.
There are many different career paths for lawyers. You can be a career prosecutor, criminal defense lawyer, civil litigator, patent lawyer, international lawyer and the list just goes one.
Decide what you want. Then find a law school that offers a track of study to help lawyers in that era. 30 years ago, the only real specialization lawyers found was at the graduate (LL.M.) level. Today many law schools are known for their programs in specialized areas such as litigation, bankruptcy or international law.
To maximize your chances for success, look for a niche area of practice. In addition, consider a joint degree. A J.D./MBA is very popular right now. A J.D./Masters in Nursing is also very desirable for certain practice areas. If you really want to punish yourself, a couple of universities offer joint J.D./M.D. programs.
A number of law schools are radically cutting admissions. A couple of law schools may close.
Finally, if you insist on going to law school, what ever you do, remain debt free. There are programs that will help pay off your student loans in exchange for several years of employment. The problem is you have no guarantee of getting one of those jobs and the entry level salary of most attorneys (assuming they can find a job) is not enough to service $100,000 in student loan debt.
The market for lawyers may not shake itself out anytime soon. As long as the economy remains mired in the Great Obama Depression, jobs will remain scarce. Many baby boomer lawyers are at the age their parents retired but they cannot afford to.
If you really, really want to be a lawyer and plan your steps out, you can do it.
But the real question you should ask is why would you want to?