I spent the second year of my social work internship working at a community center, which offered one of the top smoking cessation programs in the country.
One fine spring day I was sprawled, sunning myself, on a bench in the courtyard of the center when a fellow intern lit up a cigarette. I proposed she give the cessation program a try.
“No one likes a quitter,” she quipped, exhaling a cloud of toxins.
Uh…huh. Except there’s a proviso in that statement – a “carve-out” in the contract language – covering the quitting of something self-destructive. Like smoking.
Or a pointless march through law school.
I’d like to speak in defense of quitting, and quitters.
Quitting can be about more than stopping whatever you’re doing. It can be about waking up and asking yourself if what you’re doing makes sense and is worth continuing.
If you’re plugging away dutifully through the legal education process with no real idea why – it might be time to quit.
Does this mean I’m seriously advising young law students all over the country to give up and drop out – simply abandon their legal education mid-way through?
I am prescribing a mass exodus from law schools. A semi-mass exodus might do the trick.
Tune in. Turn on. Drop out.
If you don’t know why you’re there – and you’re not sure what you’re getting yourself into – if you’re not at a top school, or even if you are, and your grades are a little iffy, and likely to stay that way – then please, get out. Today. Before you spend another cent.
The legal education scam works because it follows two key rules of all successful Ponzi schemes:
First, it plays to your greed. You dig your own hole because you’re in it for the money.
Second, it keeps you distracted. You never realize you’re getting fleeced.
The process is like a cattle chute. From the LSAT to the bar exam, you never look up because you’re moving too fast, racing to compete against the others…right up to the bolt gun in the forehead. Even if you awakened midway and realized you weren’t having fun and wanted to flee, there’s no obvious route of escape. That’s how it’s designed.
Along the way, you sign documents to borrow the purchase price of a Rolls Royce Corniche with nothing to show for it but a piece of paper saying you’re theoretically prepared for a job you know nothing about.
You end up $200k in debt and either stuck in a field you never understood and don’t like – or unemployed (the unemployed part isn’t the problem since it turns out you really want to be a jazz drummer anyway, not a lawyer.)
But that $200k in debt is there to say – sorry, you work for us now. In fact, we own you – own your future. Just like that cow on the feedlot.
You don’t have to go out like that.
Last year a sweet little 24-year-old Jewish 2L from one of the dozen or so legal factories of learning in the New York metropolitan area arrived at my office with the news she was quitting school. She wanted to talk to me first. She said she felt guilty.
I’m Jewish too. I know from guilt. It’s a sacred gift of our cultural heritage – but it’s no reason not to quit law school.
She told me she didn’t see the point of sticking around. She didn’t enjoy law, her grades were so-so, and her friends who recently graduated were dealing with terrible workplace conditions and/or unemployment. She’s already $50k in debt – and to her credit, at the age of 24, she seemed to have an inkling of the years it will take to pay back that relatively minor insult to her finances.
Her parents support her decision. Her mother is an accountant, so she sees the importance of avoiding debt. She also seems to realize there are plenty of other, better choices for a bright, eager 24-year-old.
When I asked the 2L what she actually wanted to do when she grew up, she told me she loved clothes, and dreamed of working at her favorite chain, where she could happily wear almost anything, right off the rack. She’d have to start at the bottom, at a store, and work her way up, but she had some fight in her, and a little imagination. She was ready.
Her mother liked the idea. Lo and behold: a cool mom.
The 2L’s plan was to quit school right away, but she wanted to see me first, and make sure she wasn’t missing something.
There was no point in waiting until the end of the semester. A month in law school costs something like three or four thousand dollars. That’s a lot of new clothes.
She quit last week. With my blessing.
Madness? Think again.
This 2L is cutting her losses – saving the next $150k in loans, not to mention another two years of her life that could be spent acquiring priceless real world experience in fashion retail.
She’s no longer living a fantasy of graduating, jumping into a big law firm and making $160k per year. She’s abandoned that pipe dream.
The new plan is to start at the bottom (where, with all due respect, 24-year-olds belong), and earn an honest wage in a business she enjoys. If she’s as good as she thinks, she could work her way up to management in a few years’ time. But she’s smart enough to know you don’t pick up the important stuff in a classroom. Eventually, the money she saved on legal tuition could come in handy if she decides to go back to school for an MBA or a fashion merchandising degree, but that’s a ways down the road. In the meantime, she’s looking forward to the challenge of proving herself.
This 2L was different. She got it. I don’t know why, but she did. Maybe she’s a harbinger of good things to come. I hope so.
If reading this column makes you stop and think about staying in law school, I’ve done my job.
If it triggers a mass exodus of 2L’s waking up and realizing they’re losing that hankering for the bolt gun in the forehead, it might be the start of a movement.
No one likes a quitter?
This isn’t about quitting anything – at least anything that matters.
It’s about getting started leading your own life.
This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.
If you enjoy these columns, please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning
I also heartily recommend my first book, an introduction to the concepts behind psychotherapy, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy
(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)