Friday, February 3, 2012

Don't go, no jobs, die alone

Most people who know me to a moderate degree - either through email or IRL conversations - know that I'm a failed not-a-lawyer, and that I avoid talking about it. If you're newer to the blog, you might not even know that much.

In 2007, when I was busily trying to get admitted to law school, an internet forum that I've been a part of for years had a lawyers & law school thread titled "Don't go, no jobs, die alone." Ha ha, I thought, somewhat nervously. They think they're funny, don't they. I read the thread and decided that Big Law was not for me, but hell, I just wanted to live on a modest hobby farm in Mississippi and be a small-town jack of all trades lawyer. So I went to law school. I graduated completely without distinction from a third-tier school in 2009, passed the bar in MS, moved away before getting sworn in there, moved again, failed the NV bar, and am about to move yet again.

Many people I've talked to are super excited for me, and they're some variation of puzzled or annoyed that I am not equally excited about the thought of moving to California and spending thousands of dollars on prep classes, paperwork, and exam fees. Yall, my prospects of actually getting a remotely tolerable (much less fulfilling) job are extremely bleak. If you've wondered about the lawyer thing (or god forbid considered attending law school yourself), please read this long piece. It's worth a look, I promise.

I hate to just quote chunks of someone else's work when it's just a click away. The author (a tier one professor) talks about the huge disconnect between what you (and I, when I decided to attend) think of the lawyer's career versus the actual 2012 reality of it. Many of the lawyers lucky (or unlucky) enough to have jobs are pretty unhappy, but they're not culturally allowed to let down the facade. And those of us who haven't even managed to break in have it even worse.

The stigma of a spoiled identity haunts legal practice, but it is found most powerfully outside it, where it appears in its most unforgettable form among the rapidly increasing number of law school graduates working in low-status, low-paid, non-legal jobs, or who are completely unemployed, while trying to manage enormous amounts of non-dischargeable high interest educational debt. Every year, tens of thousands of recent and not-so-recent law graduates come to realize at long last that, despite dedicating many years of their lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars to attempting to enter our profession, they will never get real jobs as attorneys.

Pretty much.

I'm bitter that I owe $76,945.67 in loans. I'm bitter that I had the misfortune to graduate right as the economy tanked, and that law schools all across the country have punched out three more years' worth of better-looking job candidates than me. But mainly I'm furious at myself for not doing better due diligence before I took out those loans. I didn't check to see what the quality of life for big-city lawyers is like, because I figured I'd stay in Mississippi forever. I bought the post-grad employment statistics hook, line, and sinker. I feel like I made such a colossal series of screw ups that I second, third, fourth-guess myself all the time.

Anyway. Now maybe you'll understand why I change the subject when you ask if I'm excited to be getting ready for the California bar exam, or why I smile politely when you tell me your inspirational story about your friend/relative who took the bar X number of times but is now a happy partner/senior attorney at a firm/government agency!

Don't go. No jobs. Die alone*.


*Not necessarily alone, if you have a truly wonderful spouse who fully supports all your mistakes.

22 comments:

  1. Well.... the title of the post says it all.

    Somehow part of project management, I have to work with our corporate attorney to negotiate parntering contracts. I often times wonder if, as we discuss the terms of how this partner company could sell our insurance, if he thought he would be working out the finer points of dental insurance when he started his career in law.

    We just got a contract signed that we have been negotiating for 1.5 years. He sent me an email today and said "good job". I told him that HE gets the pat on the back. HE had to ride the bucking horse; I just hung on to the roper. He said "it always comes back to horses, doesn't it?" I think he'd rather be a cowboy than a lawyer.

    Hang in there.

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  2. Yea, well...I have 3 degrees and the only one I ever felt like I got any use out of was my Equine Management degree. I learned a ton of 'class room' stuff that was organized into understandable and relevant topics. Oh sure...I probably would have eventually learned it all if I had just went into horse training, but I think it would have taken longer and not been as coherent.

    The degree that I got that really pissed me off was my BS in Business Administration. When I was applying for management positions in the bank I was working in, they kept telling me it would have been better if I got a Business Management degree. WTF? There was only like 3 classes that were different between the Bus. Admin and the Bus. Mgm degree...

    Oh, and I got to spend 10 years paying off the damn loans and never once worked in the field of which the degree was supposed to 'be for'! So much for the great American college education.

    So as you can imagine...I laugh at the college recruiters that keep calling for Megan. They get rather pissy when I tell them my daughter will NOT be attending college right out of HS. 'How could I ROB her of that OPPORTUNITY?" they ask. And I tell them quite bluntly...My daughter is not college material at this time. She gets crap grades, hates school and doesn't know what she wants to be. Why the hell would I waste thousands of dollars on that?

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  3. I really like honesty, even when it's tough to write. Thank you.

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  4. Big hug across the internet.

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  5. Wow, Funder, I had no idea that things were so tough for lawyers. I knew they worked really long hours (when they do have jobs), that's about it. That's a rough story, and I can see why you'd feel bitter.
    I got a teaching credential in college, cause I figured I'd live in a small town and be a teacher in the local school. And I did do that for awhile. But then I got interested in horse training, and then writing, and all in all, I've gotten maybe two years of income/employment out that teaching credential. Fortunately I didn't take out any loans to get it. But I have to say, I will actively discourage my kid from putting himself in debt for any kind of college degree. In my experience of the world today, it mostly doesn't work out favorably.

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  6. Sorry to hear about the spot you are in, but not surprised - not about you but about the law. I worked in law enforcement for most of my life, met thousands of lawyers and found that most of them were looking for a way out. They liked a lot of what they did but didn't want to work 100hrs a week forever.
    Have you looked at spending some of that money to transfer your credits toward another degree? Something that you would rather do?
    Just a thought.

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  7. I haven't done the math on my various degrees (two undergrad--English and Secondary Ed--plus the Master in Library Science) to see if my salary has redeemed my tuition...however, I *do* know that when all the ladies at work were using the "calculate your retirement" tool last week, they all wanted MY retirement salary.

    When I graduated from teacher's college, the world did NOT need any more teachers, so I paid the bills by working at the library as a clerk. When I graduated from library school, the dot-coms were hiring all the librarians, so public libraries were desperate for folks like me. I got lucky: 8 months later, the dot-com market died and there were (still are) tons of librarians looking for work, and lots of "due to retire" librarians are NOT going to retire until the economy improves.

    My undergrad education didn't teach me anything useful, unless you count an appreciation for poetry (I do count that as useful, though). Grad school gave me some skills I didn't know I lacked, but use frequently to this day. So it wasn't a complete waste.

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  8. I am sorry to hear this. Education is just another industry out to create demand. Here in Britain, when university education ceased to be free, suddenly it was all about increasing numbers. A quarter of young people to get a degree! Half of them! And all taking out fat loans. The system is ripping people off across the Anglo-Saxon world. I'm sorry that you were cheated by the system. The only thing I can say is that maybe the precise mind that enabled you to learn legal stuff can be put to other uses - there is always a need somewhere for clever people with sharp minds.

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  9. I think that's the sad reality of a lot of jobs these days. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more schooling, time, and money to become a lawyer than most other careers.

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  10. Wow, that's a lot of money! I had no idea it was that bad. Hugs.

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  11. Interesting to hear it from a lawyer's point of view. I've been a civil litigation secretary for 20+ years, and for the first time, I'm unemployed. In looking for jobs, I'll find one once in a blue moon that I am perfect for, the job is perfect for me, the interview goes really well, yet they choose another candidate. More times than not, the candidate they choose for the legal secretary position is either a paralegal ... or a lawyer. The job market right now sucks. Hang in there. It will get better. And when it does, you'll be in a good position.

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  12. I shared this post with my husband. Yikes, I am sorry. I don't know if this will make you feel any better, but my hubby's college pal, does have a one man law practice in a smaller town in Wisconsin. He's not rich, but he wanted too wanted to be a jack of atrades, so he stayed small... so it's possible. I think he's pretty happy with his gig, which is what's important.
    I wish the same for you.

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  13. Not sure what to write... Can you imagine my face screwed up in a sympathetic-that-really-sucks-for-you way? Because that is what I did when I started writing this comment...

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  14. I got my law degree 23 years ago, practiced for one year in a small firm and realized that I was grossly underpaid and very unhappy. Since then I have worked in school administration, as a farrier, a state govt attorney and now as a project manager in IT. I am happiest as a project manager.

    Does California have reciprocity with Mississippi? It may be worth activating in MS if it does, or apply for a fed'l position as your MS membership would work for the feds.

    I wish you good luck in finding a job. I know how hard it is.

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  15. I so hear you. :( I really shouldn't have gone straight to college upon graduating high school, I really had no idea what I wanted to do aside from liking artwork and horses. I went for art because I didn't even realize that I could have gone to a college specializing in horses in some way or another. My loans are about 1/3 of yours, but it's still overwhelming, especially when I'm earning a pittance.

    If I could do it over, I would probably train up to be a trimmer with minor training thrown in. I know they don't earn much, but I'd love working with horses every day, even to just BE with them.

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  16. I was wondering what your take was on that series of threads. They really make the profession seem so rosy and promising.....

    At least you have a degree that gets respect. I just put BFA on my resume and hope that no one asks what it stands for. Yeah, that was a good use of my college time.

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  17. Hi there from a friend of a friend who forwarded me your post. I rarely comment on blogs, but this seems really important and I want to support you!

    Sorry to read such rought times from one lawyer to another! I have my own small firm - I've been at this for many years, and I honestly enjoy my job and my clients. My two cents are that there is a lot of value to higher-ed degrees, law in particular despite all the $ it involved. What I love about being a lawyer is that this is a 'trade school' higher-ed degree: I mean that one can do anything with it anywhere in the world. Yes, it is WAY expensive and yes, the economy sucks. But the economy sucks for everyone, and at least we lawyers get to keep our degrees forever and have marketable skills. Unlike other degrees that can cost quite a lot, we can be our own bosses (yes, it is hard and scary) and we can set our own schedules (I work for myself; I don't work for 'the man'). Yup, I'm still paying off my loans 15 years later and have more to go. But I love that I have control over my life and the choices that this degree opened for me. No, I won't retire early, or maybe ever, but I have skills to take care of myself as long as I need (and I don't work or want to live in California and didn't take that bar; apologies to anyone there - lovely state but not for me). Maybe instead of retiring, I'll work abroad, or own a horse, or work with a nonprofit that changes lives. My law degree gives me the skills to do that. My degree cost beaucoup bucks, but it opens doors. I have to actually find those doors and walk trough them, but I am grateful for my education. I really believe you can make this degree worth all that $ if you keep up your search. In the meantime, take care of yourself!!!!

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  18. As if this post didn't have enough comments, here's one more for you to slog through.. Here's to those of us that have huge school loans that don't use them but we pay on them every month, and every month we get pissed all over again..I got my degree in Sociology/Archeology.. don't see my self ever using that, did for a while, sort of, as a mental health worker, gutted it out for 7 years and decided it wasn't for me. Now I have a job that does allow me to pay for that loan and leaves a little extra at the end of the month but I hate my job, which I have turned into a career... but it sucks. Now, I am beginning the process of pursuing what feels right and it may take me a while to get there but so what and so what that it's taken you this long to get your bars done..Best of Luck..

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  19. I have a completely useless master's degree in museum studies. During orientation the department head actually told us not to take out too many loans because we wouldn't make enough money to pay them back.

    I graduated in '03 and have yet to work in a museum. Right now I'm a secretary. Oh sorry, editorial assistant. Fortunately I had the sense to marry a very smart man and his income paid off my loans.

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  20. I have a journalism degree that has proven itself pretty much useless and becoming more and more useless as the industry tanks FAST..and I'm back in school working on a paralegal degree. I thought about law school and decided it was not for me. But with my current background/experience paired with the new degree I will have a whole new arena of jobs (and not just those in the legal field) opened up to me.

    My ultimate dream is to turn my little farm into a small organic produce/poultry/egg/honey/rabbit farm and live on what I can earn from selling what I grow/raise. But that takes capital and capital I don't have at the moment. :)

    Whatever you do, do what makes you happy! I'd rather be poor and happy than wealthy and miserable.

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  21. Yeah. It sucks. I don't have much more than that. I know you probably don't want to hear it - but I actually think you are an inspiration, not a failure :). And yes, that sounds icky, sticky sweet and gushy - but I love how flexible you are, how you move and thrive in lots of different places. How skilled you are in a variety of talents. California isn't the greatest place, but it isn't the worst either. The bar sucks, but I'm glad you are trying again - gives me hope I'll pass my boards and if I don't - life goes on. And if I love being a vet, GREAT! But if I don't....life goes on. I hear you on the student loans - with close to a quarter of a million in student loans upon graduation and d*amn sure hope I haven't made a mistake....but it sounded like a good idea at the time. and I made the best decision I could as the person I was at the time. This comment is WAY too long and I'm ending it now. Because I have lots of posts to get through - you've been busy while I've been away!

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  22. OK - after reading all the comments I do have to say a word in favor of education :). I had 10 grand of student loan debt after my bachelors - went to a JC after high school, was very motivated and focused, transfered to a university after 2 years and finished in another 2 years. Landed a fabulous job that I would NOT have gotten without the degree, and even though I chose to go back to school after 5 years, the money I paid for my education paid itself several times over during those 5 years.

    I would be lying if I said I wasnt' worried about the amount of debt I'll have coming out of vet school. 10 grand is manageable - esepcially considering I managed to graduate and start working several years before the economy crashed. Is a quarter million feasible in ANY economy? Is any job, no matter how fabulous, worth that type of debt? I'm busy trying to find a sponsor for my endurance because I don't see myself being able to do endurance any other way - it will be a long time before I have disposable income again and I'm willing to sell my soul (or at least my dignity) to be able to do endurance until then. Alhtough I may have reservations about the vet school part of it - I have never for an instant regretted my undergrad degree and use the skills I learned in college DAILY - and it isn't the skills that were taught in the classroom - it was the skills I had to learn in order to get through in four years and pay for most of it out of pocket and hold down a job(s) during that time.

    College isn't for everyone and the debt must be considered - but I think it does teach valuable life skills - IF the student is willing to learn and recognize that college is more than the sum of the classroom time. :)

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