July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
There comes a time when reflection is appropriate. Usually, an anniversary of some sort, maybe a birthday, or an accomplishment of a goal is such a time; Time to take stock of where one happens to be, and look back at how one got there. Whether the road was long and winding, or just a jump (to a conclusion, a la Office Space) does not matter as much as how one is affected by the journey. To borrow a cliche from an even more used-up source, it ain’t about what’s on the other side, it’s the climb.
I have been intentionally staying away from the Chronicles, as well as all other forms of social media and similar idle pursuits for a while now. Yet, a fire that burns deep within, like a golden flaming hawk within my loins, yearns to express itself. Whatever mysterious forces kindled the flames, the phoenix is ready to spread its glorious wings once more.
Or maybe I just want to express my opinion on something. So let’s cut the B.S.
I want to state this for the record, nay, scream it from a mountain top, not because I expect anyone to listen or to care. And let me preface it with the disclaimer that all of this, of course, is my opinion. As always, feel free to disagree. In fact, some of my personal friends will no doubt emphatically oppose what follows, not only because in their view it is ill advised to express such thoughts, nor because a dead horse can only use so much beating, but also because they have a genuine difference of opinion on the subject. So be it. Regardless, perhaps expressing my opinion on this matter will prove therapeutic. I hope so.
This concerns, what I believe, was the worst decision I have ever made. So here it is, in the unedited, raw style of insane ramblings loyal readers (are there any?) of the Chronicles have come to expect.
That decision: law school. In particular, McGeorge School of Law.
About a decade ago, I decided to go to McGeorge School of Law, the law school campus of the University of the Pacific. In doing so, I gave up scholarship offers and cheaper options, banking on the higher ‘rank’ and reputation of McGeorge. I completed my Juris Doctor in 3 years, and passed the California Bar Exam on my first try. I also incurred an unbelievable amount of student loan debt.
I have done many, many stupid, hurtful, regrettable things in my life. But I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the worst decision I have ever made was to go to law school, and in particular, to McGeorge. I absolutely, completely, and thoroughly despise this institution, and, to borrow a phrase from the honorable Ron Burgundy, if McGeorge were a man, I would punch him.
Now, it should be stated that I am saying this despite the fact that I happen to be (1) currently employed in the legal field (which is unbelievable enough, given the statistics) and (2) in a job that I actually like, which is downright miraculous. So how can I nonetheless so thoroughly despise McGeorge?
Nothing will ever justify the enormous disaster of an investment I made in my Juris Doctor. McGeorge ruined me financially, stole the best years of my life, chewed me up and spit me out almost completely unprepared to work in the legal field; McGeorge raped me… in my opinion…
I think that the cat is out of the bag, for the most part, regarding how much of a rip-off law school is. Don’t believe me? Just do a search for the phrase “law school scam” and see what comes up. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Moving on… Apparently, as word got out, applications plummeted, which is good news for those who want to pursue a legal education despite all the ample warning signs such as the ABA’s own commission of some sort stating unambiguously that the average debt incurred by law students is not one that they can realistically expect to pay back. (Really, they said it. I blogged about it elsewhere, go find the link to the study if you care to research the issue)
But it wasn’t just the money and the years of my life that I feel this institution stole from me. Never mind the fact that this ‘prestigious’ degree is in my experience actually an impediment to getting hired, because there simply aren’t enough jobs within the legal field, and outside the legal field a J.D. signals one of two things: (1) overqualified, or (2) litigious troublemaker. Neither is likely to get you hired in a non-legal job.
No, beyond the financial ruin and life-long wage-slavery, this evil, soulless institution did something far worse. You see, unlike many of my classmates, for whom law school was a mere rite of passage before they were welcomed into the family business, for me this represented something more. I came to the land of opportunity as an immigrant, brought here by parents who wanted their children, especially the youngest, to have the chance to make more of himself than what they could do. And I wanted to make them proud. This was my chance. I was the first in my family to earn a college degree. A J.D. on top of that, now that meant something truly special. It was an accomplishment to justify all the sacrifices my parents, and especially my mother, had made on my behalf. And it would be my way to pay them back with interest. My goal wasn’t only to get a respectable career and financial security for myself; I wanted to show that my hard work, and all the hard work my parents had done on my behalf, was worthwhile as proof that sweat and perseverance pays off in a meritocracy, that upward mobility isn’t just the stuff of Hollywood stories. In short: Law school, to me, was the American dream.
Well, I did my part. I made it through, I passed the Bar exam.
Then came the rude awakening.
As much as my prestigious alma mater would like to pretend, my Juris Doctor is not quite as influential as one might think. You might even say that the value of the degree was grossly misrepresented – at least that is my opinion (as is of course everything that follows). Lest anyone be tempted to get on their high horse and say: caveat emptor (to use legal jargon, appropriately enough). The know-it-alls today claiming ‘you should have known better’ should take a trip back in time to 2004, when the public outrage driven by disenfranchised (yes, I used that word) law grads was pretty much non-existent. Instead, there were ‘official’ guides with unbelievably high employment statistics and average salaries, stamped with the American Bar Association’s own seal of approval stating those statistics were official ABA approved data, or something to that effect. Not only the guides, but everyone in the general public, as most people still today, chanted the same mantra: a law degree equals prestige and the power to command a salary that more-than-justifies the investment.
How wrong those voices were.
There is no way the investment I made in my J.D. from McGeorge can ever be justified. If, by some miracle, it does end up paying for itself, that rare fact won’t be due to McGeorge, but certainly to some other fortunate circumstance. In fact, in my opinion, a law degree in and of itself is almost completely useless. That’s because law school simply does not teach students to practice law.
I am not kidding. Ask any lawyer. Law school does not teach you to practice law. They don’t even claim to do that.
So what do they claim to do? To teach students to “think like lawyers.”
This, in my view, is a bunch of B.S. Law school is essentially a 3-year (or 4) hazing ritual that makes a mockery out of the Socratic method. There is good reason for that: it is based on an antiquated model, where upon graduation the ‘gentlemen’ of the graduating class would be welcomed into the gentlemenly circles of barristers, equipped with secretaries, paralegals, and other minions who would do their work, and they would have the luxury to be limited to “thinking like lawyers,” i.e. bullshitting. It is a period of grooming, not education, and not even skill acquisition.
Of course, the reality is far from the idyllic picture of times past based on which the current model of legal education continues to operate.
The truth of the matter is that most people who graduate from law school will not find employment in the legal field. The employment statistics do not reflect this, at least they did not do so in the past, because – in my opinion – they are indeed misleading. Whether this amounts to fraud or misrepresentation or some other legal term is still being played out in the courts because, in recent years, disgruntled law grads have filed class action lawsuits against about 20 institutions. Some of these were thrown out, others, to my knowledge, are still ongoing. Never mind the irony of law school grads suing their schools… The point is there was (and is) real outrage, because there is a real wrong… in my opinion…
The proof is in the pudding, in my view. No one in their right mind would invest a couple of hundred thousand dollars in an education unless they thought it would pay off. Of course people were convinced by the employment statistics and other advertising material that they did not expect to be misleading. They did not think law school was a Ponzi scheme. They expected the official looking statistics from an educational institution to reflect the truth. They did not realize that when counting employment numbers, everyone from a barista to a professional figher would be counted as employed (with no indication as to the type of employment), whereas when counting average salaries, only the 15% or so voluntary survey responses (from the A-holes who were probably on scholarship and at the top of the class, anyway) would be counted. They probably expected that the employment percentages bore some relationship to the salary figures.
Due to the public outrage in recent years, better reporting of employment statistics has been mandated. More information is available through organizations such as Law School Transparency. Again, none of this was around when I went to school.
When I started, the expectation was what most people (in the general public) still continue to think about aspiring lawyers: a prestigious career awaits that is surely worth the investment. When I graduated, the perfect storm had hit: economic recession, combined with factors independent of the economy such as downsizing, automation, outsourcing, and other job-eliminators in a changing legal industry, which combined led to absolutely dismal job prospects. I applied to hundreds and hundreds of jobs. I did not get any interviews for years. I had the luxury of being able to supplement my income through other ventures… but I continued to seek employment in the legal industry. At times when I eventually did land an interview, I was not selected. This pattern repeated a few times. I later learned that interviews are essentially just formalities, and employees are pre-selected through other ‘networks.’ A degree, in itself is wrothless; it is just a gateway to get licensed… in my opinion.
Even when I doubled, then tripled my efforts motivated by the urgency of my mother’s battle with cancer, the results were the same. You can bet your ass I tried my best to get any job that could possibly provide me with whatever additional financial means to help her in whatever way I could, not to mention the piece of mind I would have loved to give to a terminally ill mother who sacrificed everything for her children, to have a chance to show her that it was wroth it, that it would all work out. The hallowed halls of my institution now seemed to be filled with hollow promises. The dreams stolen were not just my own.
I tried my luck at practicing on my own, but building a practice takes a significant financial investment and guidance. Competing against experienced attorneys who had just been laid off through the ongoing downsizing, mergers, and other factors forcing them on the job market makes it all the more difficult. The complete lack of training for running your own business and the multitude of other hats (besides attorney) one must wear as a solo practitioner just add to the difficulties. Then, simply put, market rates are driven so low by competition that survival is difficult at best. Not to mention paying a mortgage without a house, because that is what student loan payments are. I dare say that without help (financial and mentorship wise) and a great deal of preparation, surviving as a solo is damn near impossible. You can be the best at figuring out legal intricacies and solving complex cases, but that says nothing about whether or not you will make money.
Of course, it might be worthwhile to return to a couple of things I stated upfront: (1) I am currently employed, and (2) I like my job. So why dwell on the difficulties of the past? Well, even though both of those statements are true, I happen to be taking advantage of certain programs that allow for income-based repayment and loan forgiveness for certain types of work. The good fortune of having a job I like does not at all improve the value of my investment in McGeorge.
I cannot say it forcefully enough: I completely and with all my soul absolutely hate this institution. Really, there aren’t strong enough words in the English language to express how I feel about what others have termed a “third tier toilet” describing it in such colorful language as a “putrid, moist fecal matter.” I cannot take credit for that description, but who am I to disagree? In my view, those words do not adequately describe the deep revulsion that grips my soul each time the “M” word is even mentioned. The best way I can put it is that I feel as violated as though I had been raped. This is not to diminish the suffering of victims of rape. Rather, it is to emphasize the point that (in my opinion) McGeorge stole my dreams, and violated me in a different manner, more painful, repetitious, and long-term; each regularly scheduled monthly due date a continued reminder, a cyclic slap in the face that tears open the old wounds; a jilting, not just my own, but my dying mother’s disappointment.
I hate you McGeorge, and if you were a man I would punch you.