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Young Lawyers Crusade Against Going to Law School

What's the best way to avoid dissatisfaction as a lawyer?  Don't go to law school to begin with. That's the advice of Kirsten Wolf and David Wold, two new lawyers whose respective crusades against legal education are making their rounds in the blogosphere.

Yesterday, the WSJ Law Blog interviewed Kirsten Wolf, a 32 year old Boston University Law School grad who is on a one-woman crusade to spare others from making the mistake of going to law school, as she did.  (H/T to  ABA Journal).  In her interview, Wolf explains that following several mundane, dead-end jobs, she decided to attend law school, which she believed would satisfy her intellect and also ensure her of future job security.  After graduating with a B+ average (middle of the class) from BU Law School, Wolf couldn't find a job, despite the fact that BU's promotional materials represented the average starting salary of graduates as $85,000/year.  Eventually, Wolf moved to New York and found a position in the publishing industry which she enjoys, but for the financial reality that she will likely be repaying her $87,000 in student loan debt through retirement. 

Wolf enjoys her job and believes that her law degree has value, but not for the price that she's paid.  As a warning to other students, Wolf says:

People say a law degree will always be worth something even if you don’t practice. But they don’t consider what that debt is going to look like after law school. It affects my life in every way. And the jobs that you think are going to be there won’t necessarily be there at all. Most people I know that are practicing attorneys don’t make the kind of money they think lawyers make. They’re making $40,000 a year, not $160,000. Plus, you’re going to be struggling to do something you might not even enjoy. A few people have a calling to be a lawyer, but most don’t.

Kirsten Wolf isn't the only law grad who feels this way. Last week,

Susan Cartier Liebel posted about David Wold, an angry lawyer who decided to auction his diploma on eBay, hoping to recoup his useless investment.   In his ad, Wold wrote:

Why am I selling this great item? Because it has been nothing but a curse and aggravation in my life. Going to school for this degree has been a joke, and has only brought me stress and misery. This degree has been a great invitation to work at least 60 hours a week at a place where I don't want to be for people that I don't care about. It has helped me develop great relationships with bill collectors as I can't afford the cost this great privilege has afforded me. It has limited my ability to pursue other work options as people just can't understand why someone with a law degree wouldn't want to be a lawyer.

Cartier Liebel empathizes to some extent, believing that Wold "has been sold a bill of goods about job prospects and not been provided reasonable alternatives during the course of his education which included entrepreneurship with his degree.  He came to believe, as many, that going to law school is a ticket to making money and that jobs abound."  Scott Greenfield shares some insight about his decision to start his own firm, and cautions students to think twice before going to law school.

Surprisingly, I haven't seen much discussion about this topic in the academic blogosphere.  Surely, most law professors (who generally have top credentials that would qualify them for jobs at large firms) must realize that the job prospects for lower performing students are dim.  Yet, I've not seen any law professors offer advice on whether to attend law school.

While I admire Wold's and Wolf's efforts to spread the truth about the true cost of a law degree and the realities of job prospects in the legal profession, I'm not sure that their advice will make much difference.  Ultimately, every person believes that he or she is a unique exception to conventional wisdom.  And despite grim predictions, many do go on to law school, either with high hopes of graduating at the top of the class, or that somehow, based on their determination and work ethic, they'll find a job where many others of comparable credentials failed.  For those intent on deluding themselves about post-law school realities, all the education in the world won't change their minds.

Readers, what's your view?  Would you advise graduates to go on to law school if they're not 100 percent sure that they want to be lawyers?  And if you could do it all over again, would you have gone to law school yourself?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 17, 2008 at 03:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)


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