Another Underemployed Lawyer Says Going To Law School By Default Is A Mistake

Our Q&A with a miserable law school grad has inspired an overwhelming response from readers, including another recent law grad who has some wise advice about law school.

“The single most determinate factor I noticed from all those I know from law school was not grades, class rank, or school attended,” our source said in an email, “but rather whether they had a set goal, a motivation for going.”

That lawyer graduated in 2011 from a school ranked “somewhere in the 70s-80s” of U.S. News & World Report. While he works at a top firm, he’s a contractor who makes half that of other associates and does “purely doc review” (the grunt work of the legal profession). He doesn’t get benefits.

Still, he knows others who graduated from his school and fared better. To be sure, one of those lawyers graduated in the top 10% of their class, but another of the lawyer’s friends was “definitely below the 50th percentile” of the class and landed impressive summer positions and eventually a job at a medium-sized firm.

“This friend got his positions through pure ambition and focus. Academically he was mediocre, but when it came to selling himself, he excelled and is an example of someone that knows what they want,” our lawyer writes.

For other people, though, law school was the default choice.

We previously interviewed a lawyer who pursued the law because it was “intellectually challenging” and ended up getting laid off and abandoning the law completely. Indeed, it’s easy to see that employers would be disinclined to hire someone lacking a clear and meaningful motivation.

Our contract attorney who has no benefits was never able to articulate exactly what he wanted to do with his law degree. From his email to me:

Knowing what you want out of law school and what you need to get it is essential. I went for the wrong reasons, and when asked what kind of law I want to practice, I have no answer. A general answer is insufficient. So, yes, people shouldn’t just randomly attend, but if you know you want to do criminal law and can articulate a detailed response to the inevitable “why” then you are probably on far better footing.

On the other hand, if you’re extremely eager to do a particular kind of legal work — say, being a prosecutor or a divorce attorney or an intellectual property lawyer — then law school might be worth it after all.

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