Posts Tagged ‘graduate school’

My client is in the horns of an uncomfortable dilemma.

Here’s the scenario:

He and his wife are both in law, and both want out. Resources exist to permit one to escape. The other must remain behind to pay loans.

Who makes it to freedom? Who gets left behind?

Arriving at that decision can wreak hell on a marriage.

A successful partnership requires an alliance, which depends upon shared goals. If the primary shared goal was being wealthy, powerful lawyers, and that goal cartwheels in flames into the tarmac at three hundred feet per second… the alliance fractures. Sometimes the alliance transforms into opposition.

You do law. No, YOU do law.

That kind of opposition.

My client met his wife at a first-tier law school. They were in the same class, and their shared dream was simple – they would graduate at the top of their class, join powerful, big-name law firms, and make a lot of money. They would have a nice house, maybe a couple of kids, fabulous vacations – and a kitchen with granite counter-tops and an AGA stove.

This was a simple, bourgeois dream – stability, money, family. Naturally, they were intellectuals, so they’d have a subscription to the local symphony – but their dream was about making it, in predictable, concrete terms.

Then reality hit.

They hated their firms. He got laid off, which came as a relief. She went in-house, and to her surprise, hated it even more than the firm. She ended up quitting.

They relocated to another city, where he found a job at a smaller firm. He hates it less, but still basically hates it. She’s still out of work, dragging her feet. He’s paying both their loans every month – and resenting it.

She says she can’t do law anymore – it would crush her soul. She needs to go to grad school and study art or she’ll go crazy.

He wants to go to grad school and study history – or he’ll go crazy.

They both think the other should stay and do law to pay the bills.

Remember the old shared goal? Charred embers. There are new goals – and they’re no longer mutual.

When he’s not slaving at the firm, they’re fighting. That’s driving them both nuts.


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One of my clients told me last week he went to law school because he “didn’t want to do an MBA.” Apparently he’d only considered those two options.

Another client told me he’d decided between a PhD in History and a JD, and went with the JD because he “didn’t think there would be jobs for academics.” Fair enough. Unfortunately, there weren’t many jobs for lawyers, either, and at least with a PhD, as opposed to law school, he might have received some sort of “stipend” ( i.e., a meagre handout), or adjunct faculty position (i.e. cafeteria work.) That way, he might not have ended up both unemployed and in hock up to his eyebrows.

Going to graduate school has become a popular substitute for finding a job, especially in this recession. Grad school sounds easy – basically a few extra years of college – but it only puts off a lot of tough decisions that have to be made sooner or later.

The problem here is proverbial and involves carts and horses. In a perfect world, you would explore a career and make sure it is right for you first, then head off to get a degree.

Instead, we have the situation I see every day in my office: young people in their mid-twenties, who grind through law school, then face not only a moribund job market, but the deeper horror of realizing they don’t enjoy the work. They end up fighting to find a job in a profession they don’t like simply because they have to pay off debts.

It would be great if the law schools seemed to care – if they insisted that prospective students work as paralegals for a while and make sure they know what they’re getting into. But law schools are money-making concerns and they’re raking in cash the way things are. They’re not about to start telling the truth about their massive profits on law student tuition or the feeble job market. As they see it, that’s not their problem.

What sent you off to law school, more than any other factor? Probably fear – specifically fear of being a disappointment to mom and dad. When you decided to go to law school, you saw only two options – graduate school or loser-dom. In law school, you would be doing what you’d done your entire life – going to school, which always kept your parents happy in the past. It seemed like a no-brainer. And in your early 20’s, things that happen a few years from now (like paying off student loans) seem far away – they take place in another universe with another person cleaning up. Hey, plenty of people go to law school and they do whatever, and it works out, right?

Now, in many senses of the word, your loans are being called in.

One of my patients says he wishes he’d gone the burn-out route, stayed home and smoked weed. He has buddies from college who drifted after graduation. Some are working retail jobs, or in restaurants. Some have office or sales jobs. Mostly, they’re blowing off work and playing in bands and part-timing as ski instructors during the winter or hanging out and talking about that back-packing trip to Bhutan they really want to do some day.

From where he’s at – an unemployed quasi-lawyer waiting to hear whether he passed the bar exam while he processes the reality that he doesn’t like law – being a burn-out sounds pretty good. As a burn-out, he wouldn’t have loans, so he could afford to spend the whole day studying the lyrics to “Paranoid Android.”

I’d like to suggest a “third path” – an alternative both to the mindless lemming-march towards graduate school and complete burn-out. (more…)

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