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Posts Tagged ‘MBA’

A law student client – already an MBA – said she needed convincing to drop out of her third-tier school.

I told her to calculate the return on investment for the final three semesters.

She crunched the numbers.

“Debit-wise, I’ve burned $80k in savings and I’m looking at another $100k of borrowed money. On the credit side, I might find a low-salary doc review gig.” She pretended to scratch notes. “So… big loans, interest payments, inadequate cash flow…opportunity cost of eighteen more wasted months learning legal mumbo-jumbo followed by the bar exam…”

“In other words…” I egged her on.

“I’d be totally screwed.” She affixed the cap on her pen. “Thanks. I’m convinced.”

I posed the question we were dancing around: “Why are we having this conversation?”

My client laid out the background: “My dad’s a lawyer. My mom’s a lawyer. My little brother’s taking his LSAT. This is what my family does. If I quit, I feel like I’m failing.”

She added: “It seems like it was different in my parents’ day.”

That’s because it was. A generation gap has opened in the legal world. On one side there are lawyers over-50, for whom law still looks like a safe, reliable ladder to the upper-middle-class. From the other side – where their kids are perched – law more closely resembles un ascenseur pour l’échafaud.

My client’s parents live in a time warp – a world trapped in a snow globe. Mom’s worked for 25 years as an in-house lawyer for a state college – safe, not terribly stressful (or interesting) work, with a decent salary, good hours and benefits. Dad’s worked for decades as general counsel for a local business. It’s no wonder that for them – and their generation – law still epitomizes a safe, low-stress career with good pay and benefits.

These over-50 types can’t imagine how bad it gets nowadays for someone calling himself an attorney. Their Weltanschauung doesn’t encompass windowless warehouses packed with contract lawyers logging 18-hour shifts of doc review for hourly wages, no benefits. Mom and Dad haven’t seen young partners at top firms getting de-equitized and struggling to snare in-house positions. If they knew that reality, they’d also realize their own sort of safe, steady work with benefits, a decent wage and reasonable hours constitutes a pipe dream for a kid graduating law school today.

Another client of mine – a 20-something from a decent school entering her third year in biglaw – summed up her reality thus:

“Really? I spent myself into life-long debt, endured hours of property law lectures, analyzed Erie problems on brutal exams, crammed for the bar…all so I could waste two years on doc review, then wait to get laid off (with the de rigueur bad review and zero career prospects) so someone younger and cheaper can take my seat? Really?”

If she’d studied computer science, or gotten an MBA or just quit school after college, she might have become a better-paid “e-discovery provider.” As a JD, it’s strictly “e-discovery peon.” In any case, five years from now a computer program will do doc review all by itself. As one client put it: “that’s when attorneys start living in cardboard boxes on the sidewalk.”

This isn’t your grandfather’s biglaw.

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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?

Yes.

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.

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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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