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Posts Tagged ‘New York Law School’

A visit to my office has evolved into something akin to the road to Lourdes. Pilgrims arrive red-eyed and defeated, faces etched with misery, searching for a way out of a trap.

The standard story is some variant of the following: You are either out of work or loathe your work. You have $180k in loans. You have either no income or an impermanent income paid to you in exchange for any joy life might offer. You see no hope.

Let me spell out the critical element here: You are one hundred and eighty thousand dollars in debt.

Just to fully drive the point home: that’s bankruptcy-proof debt.

You’ve yelled at your parents, but it’s not really their fault. You’ve wept and wailed and gotten drunk and stoned and consumed a script of Xanax. You’ve tried sleeping and pretending you don’t have to wake up.

Then comes the pilgrimage. Perhaps I can heal with a laying on of hands.

Okay, here’s the feedback I’ll receive for what I’ve written so far:

You’re exaggerating. You’re bringing me down. Law isn’t so bad. I love law.

Yeah, well good for you. I’m not exaggerating.

It’s their own damn fault. No one made them go to law school.

Yes. They. Did. Stop kidding yourself – the entire system is engineered to lead smart, conscientious kids exactly where it leads them. And get off it already with the no sympathy/blame the victim routine.

How bad are things? How many times can I pose that (at this point rhetorical) question?

Young lawyers look me in the eye and ask, how am I supposed to carry on with my life? What they mean is – how is one supposed to live a life worth living – a life that satisfies one as a human being – trapped in the hell of law and law school loans?

Sometime, I ask them what they would be doing with their lives, if they didn’t have loans. Here are some of their answers:
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At Barnes & Noble, where I once worked as a marketing exec, we bandied about the phrase “aspirational purchase” to portray a small, but profitable segment of our sales.

Aspirational purchase meant you bought the book not because you were going to read it, but because you aspired to read it. You might even convince yourself you were going to – but in all likelihood it would serve as a pretentious coffee table tchotchke, an impressive (if un-cracked) spine on a decorative bookshelf, or a useful device to prop up a little kid’s butt so he could reach the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.

An aspirational purchase is intended to impress – you want to be seen buying it. It tends to be something conservative as well. And long. And difficult. “War and Peace” is the classic aspirational purchase, but you might also pick up something with a political message that makes you look wise and open-minded, like “The Satanic Verses” (which, for the record, I actually read.) (No, I’ve never plumbed War and Peace. However, I embrace the fact that plenty of you certainly have read it and, yes, loved it and desire for me to acknowledge you’ve read it and how much you loved it – to which I reply, in advance, how very nice for you.)

Law school is an aspirational purchase.

You choose law because it’s more impressive than an internship or “assistant” job – which is how you’d have to start out in an ordinary career. With law you jump directly to the land of the grown-ups without passing Go. From the moment you graduate, you have a “profession.” That means (at least in theory) you wear a suit and people take you seriously. You’re an “attorney” – not someone’s assistant.

Law is conservative, too. It’s about the least imaginative thing you could do. A law degree establishes (at least in theory) that you are serious and focused and down-to-business. No more staying up all night partying for you. It’s time to retire that giant plastic bong with the “Steal Your Face” decals and step up to adulthood, dude.

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