Vibrational Manifestation of the Law School Debtors’ Dilemma

When Brian Tannebaum suggested that unemployed law students might want to rethink approaching their job hunt from a position of desperation, he got the Slackoisie response.

Unfortunately, this is a new era. The jobs just aren’t there. 
Personally, after seven years of school, a six figure loan balance (undergrad and LS), rent to pay, car payments, insurance, gas, etc etc, I cannot afford to cherry pick employment. I would never grovel or sound deseprate either, but I did have to accept emplyoment in a practice area I am certainly not enamored with. This is not a sense of entitlement. This is reality.

Not all recent LS grads are as bad as you paint them to be BT.
Yes, I would love to go solo and do what I love, but my Landlord, the bank who holds the note on my car, and Sallie Mae and a whole host of other creditors don’t give a rats ass about what I want, they want their check every month, so I have to take what the defense gives me and keep my eyes peeled for other opportunities…

He’s right.  The creditors don’t care.  But neither does anyone else, including Tannebaum.  Or me, for that matter. It’s not that we don’t wish happy things for others, including (if not especially) new graduates.  I do and I’ve no doubt Brian does as well.  It’s that our “feeling your pain” doesn’t do much to help your status.  A good, swift kick in the pants is a lot more useful.

When I left law school, the going rate was $32,000 a year.  I’m a bit older than Brian, who says that the rate when he graduated was $55,000.  Big money back then, but not nearly as big as $160,000 is today.  In relative terms, we were pikers.  But many things were different back then, not just the going rate.  There were no Tier whatever law schools.  Some were great and some were lousy, but nobody cared after you got your ticket.  Back then, U.S. News and World Reports did stories about things like U.S, news and world reports.

The other thing that was different was us, the law students.  For one thing, we appreciated the fact that we were a bunch of snot-nosed kids who didn’t know anything.  We weren’t busy demanding that lawyers respect us, and getting all sad and weepy when they treated us like the kids we were.

Since I’m so fascinating (aren’t I?  You certainly are, when you tell me all about you since you’ve no doubt that I want to hear every detail of your lives, so suck it up and read a little something about mine), here are some more reflections of the good old days.

I drove a used ’69 Beetle that had been in a tiny front end collision. If you know anything about the old Beetles, the engine was in the rear and the front crumbled when you looked at it too hard.

I had a 13 inch black and white TV, with rabbit ears.  I was the envy of my friends.

I bought my mattress for $10 from the guy upstairs who was moving out.

My desk was made of a discarded door and two saw horses that I got on sale at Rickles.

I went to Beefsteak Charlie’s  once a month with a package of plastic bags hidden under my coat to take home the free shrimp, on which I would feed for the rest of the month.

I washed windows. I was a warm body for a Tandem Van der Graaff Accelerator. I was towel boy in a low rent sex club. I tended bar. I was a counterman in a deli. I was a law clerk for an old time lawyer. 

I didn’t suffer.  Not one bit.  This was just the normal stuff that one went through to reach a goal.  My goal was to become a lawyer.  It never occurred to me that, once I became a lawyer, I would earn $32,000 a year.  That was crazy talk.  I just wanted to be a lawyer.  Once I was, I would do lawyer stuff.  That’s what I would spend my life doing. That would be my career.

At the beginning of my third year of law school, I took the money that I would otherwise have used to buy books and purchased a blue suit made of the finest double-knit polyester I could afford.  I wore it to a few interviews. The only one who thought I looked snappy was the CIA guy, who kept talking about Ivan and Igor.

And one day I became a lawyer, and I went to work.  I was blessed to have the opportunity to be what I wanted to be.

It’s tough out there?  The hardest thing you had to endure up to now was your Gameboy running out of juice before you saved the high score.  Now you’ve dug yourself into a hole and there’s nobody pulling you out of it.  It’s my fault (as I’m told regularly) since us boomers ruined everything that matters in life.  So what?  If you think complaining about us boomers is going to get you anywhere, you might as well be staring at your dead Gameboy.

You’re lawyers now.  Figure something out.  And stop whining to those of us who try to tell you that whining isn’t going to solve your problems.  Life sucks.  Life is unfair.  And it’s not going to get any fairer.

What do you plan to do about it?

38 comments on “Vibrational Manifestation of the Law School Debtors’ Dilemma

  1. Gideon

    I’m not sure where you see the whining in that comment. I see someone who realizes that they’re in a load of trouble and has accepted the fact that they’ll have to take whatever job is out there to make ends meet.

    How can that be a bad thing or indicative of a sense of entitlement or lack of desire to do good honest work?

  2. SHG

    I’ll try to help you see it.  The whininess is throughout, the detailing of all the difficulties suffered to become a law school graduate.  The rest is in the expectation that once you’ve become a lawyer, there was some assurance that life would be happy and fulfilling, and at least reasonably comfortable. 

    To put it another way, did you go to law school to become a lawyer?  Well, you got what you asked for and now you’re a lawyer. So why are you still complaining?

  3. Gideon

    But doesn’t everyone have that expectation? Did you go to law school to live a life of hard labor not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from? Why would anyone go in with that expectation? That doesn’t make any sense. I went to law school in the hope that I’d get a job and live a fairly comfortable life with a good secure job.

    No one goes to law school just to gain a silly degree with no attendant benefits. You go to law school so you can become a lawyer, practice law and get a job.

    Recognizing that that is no longer a sure thing isn’t whining.

  4. Gideon

    So, when you went to law school, others were there with the expectation that…what? They’d get a degree and then what?

  5. Dan

    Somewhere between the time I seriously considered going to law school, and the time I was several years out, the “going rate” went from 83k to 160k. I had heard that this was done because during the late 90’s and early 2000’s, investment banks and dot come type companies (remember those?) were luring away the top law school grads with big money. To compete, the law firms had to go to 160k. And in the sense that they were interested in getting people who were interested in making money to go into law, or attempt to go into law, they’ve succeeded, and we’ve now got a generation of law students who think law school is business school- a ticket you get punched on the way to earning a high salary.

  6. 0L

    I think SHG’s article and comments are in tension with Gideon’s above post, because they are operating from two somewhat different underlying views of law school. SHG’s posts indicate that people who want to become lawyers should go to law school, and they shouldn’t expect the law school to give them anything other than a legal education. Where as underneath Gid’s comment there is an outlook that getting a job is somewhere in the deal. This isn’t the first article I’ve read about the boomer generation’s view of law school (go to become a lawyer) vs. the Slackiosie’s view of law school (go to gain social rank and make bank).

  7. Gideon

    To be clear: my view of law school isn’t to “gain social rank and make bank”. But it would be silly (I can’t think of the word I want to use, so I’ll use silly instead) to suggest that anyone goes to law school with the genuine expectation/hope that the degree will enable them to get gainful employment.

    In other words, no one goes to law school for the sake of simply becoming a person with a juris doctor degree, with no benefit stemming from that piece of paper – which is most often employment.

  8. 0L

    Dan, I couldn’t agree more. As someone who is 25 and entering law school this fall I have definitely encountered this attitude/outlook among some of my peers. I have interacted with several peers whom, from as far as I can tell, are interested in law school because: that is where you go if you weren’t a science major and want to make 100K plus salary.

  9. Gideon

    Sure, but practice law where? In the abstract? Your quibble seems to be that people who expect that they will be able to put their degree to use by getting hired at a company or firm of public defender office and thus put their degree to use (which would be the point of the degree in the first place) are acting “entitled”.

    It is that that I disagree with.

  10. UNLV 3L

    But brand new law grads aren’t capable of competently representing clients.

    We have to get some experience and training, and that experience and training comes working working for or with older attorneys.

    So what do we do when jobs (that we expected would give us the training we need to competently represent clients and be a lawyer for the rest of our lives) disappear?

    A law degree is a wonderful thing. But the degree without a job/experience is kind of like a pool without water. Sure, you can dive in, but it’s not really a good idea.

  11. SHG

    Good use of my old post (and I’m glad you read it), but bad use of your imagination and understanding. 

  12. NEB

    If someone’s going into the law simply (or mainly) in order to make a lot of money, they shouldn’t be allowed in the door. First of all, not everyone makes the big money, especially in the first decade — most don’t.

    Secondly, although there’s nothing wrong with making a lot of money as a lawyer, there IS something wrong with being a lawyer simply in order to make a lot of money. The profession is weakened by such mercenary attitudes. There needs to be a calling, to serve other people or the law itself. The law is not a business; it’s a profession. There’s a big difference, and if someone can’t tell the difference then perhaps they should try a different career.

  13. BRIAN TANNEBAUM

    Gid, here is the issue from my perspective. I think there are a ton of people in law school because they watched too much LA Law and heard about the $160,000 salaries. They have no concept of lawyering. If they heard tomorrow that truck drivers started at $160,000, they’d go to truck driving school.

  14. BRIAN TANNEBAUM

    Juan “had” to take a job in an area he didn’t like. Why? Because his goal after law school was to get out of debt. He thought he would be able to do that based on why he went to law school. I know you get it.

  15. My Shingle

    My Own Blast From the Past: Everything’s Going to Be Alright

    I am not supposed to be posting here. My blog is moving platforms and this post will be lost in the transition. Oh well. There’s a good conversation taking place on line and I wanted to join in. Today, Scott…

  16. Daniel

    I am not a lawyer. Every time I think about being a lawyer I wind up reading a post like this and it reminds me of why I never will be a lawyer. I like the law; it’s fun. But I don’t want to go to business school. I want to go to law school. Today, you can’t tell the difference between the two.

  17. R. Pointer

    You had a black-and-white tv in law school? Aren’t you a Slackoisie just for having time to watch the boobtube?

  18. Kathleen Casey

    Should have traded the B & W as a partial payment at the body shop after you m*a*s*h*e*d the Bug.

  19. Adrian Dayton

    Not everyone graduating law school is strapped with over $100,000 of debt.
    This is not a generational problem, this is case of poor financial planning.

    Scott, your point is well taken. You worked your butt off to graduate with very little debt. Some students still do that, and those that sacrifice in law school have far more freedom to choose to work in the area of their choice afterwards.

  20. SHG

    Debt is only one aspect. There’s much more involved, but it’s only observable from a greater distance.

  21. Juan

    Gid, thanks for the heads up and understanding where I was coming from. I had no idea my comment would surface this way. Believe me, I went to law school to become a lawyer, I never thought about the attendent consequnces or what I was going to get paid. BT your logic is flawed – I got into debt to become a lawyer; I did not become a lawyer to pay off debt. I never wated or cared to have a high paying job right out of law school, I simply wanted to learn how to be an effetive lawyer (law school does not teach this). I had to take a job, not my first pick. I didn’t get hired for my first pick. I lost out to a better student. Point blank. There it is. I waited and applied for a few more jobs was offered one that I liked but was not what I envisioned myself doing out of law school. I didn’t feel entitled, I felt empowered to have a job and begin practicing. The silver lining being that I don’t have to stress or worry about making the minimum payments on my loans or stress about having to worry about my wife and new baby’s future in the face of mounting debt and interest.

    My issue with your post was simply that you discarded new lawyers as slackers, willing to drop their pants to the highest bidder in an attempt at doing “whatever”. I think that is far from the truth, at least in my experience, and what I hear from people in my position. I went to a second tier school that pumps out more ASA’s and APD’s than any other in Florida. I knew that I had to be top 5-10% to even be considered for a Big Law job, and thought I rather do what I want than be beholden to any scyscraper firm with 1000 lawyers. Now, what do I do about the 100K bill? I could bartend, waiter, make copies at Kinko’s (all jobs that I held throughout undergrad or law school and pay slightly less than what I am making now) or take a job that I felt that I would learn something build my resume and possibly create more options for myself in the future. I chose the latter, simply because I rather be lawyer than be a bartender or a waiter. Narrowing my job search would have inevitably landed me in Kinko’s Managemnt program sooner than I wanted it to.

  22. SHG

    The schools, like the banks, are certainly complicit in this failure.  But like the homeowner who signs onto a mortgage that requires him to pay twice is monthly income, students (especially law students) need to do minimal due diligence before jumping on what they think is the gravy train.  Blaming the law schools (or the banks) is fine, but doesn’t diminish the fact that there’s plenty of blame to go around.

  23. mglickman

    That’s a generalization. I, and several of my classmates, hold down full-time jobs during law school and we are still forced to take student loans.
    I’ll agree that there’s no reason to whine about it, though.

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