There’s always something to howl about

Tell it from the Mountains: Don’t Go to Law School

When, after deciding that think tank and political advocacy were a lost cause (as is true of many things, I should’ve consulted Greg Swann earlier about this), I went back to law school, I decided to go to law school, I had only the vaguest notions of what being a lawyer actually meant.

I knew I wanted to earn a good living. I knew I was pretty smart. I also “knew” that my years in managing non-profits had left me with precious few skills that might be attractive in the for-profit world.

Three years and more than $300,000 in direct and opportunity costs, I emerged from UNC-Chapel Hill (having completed my first year at Arizona State) with a law degree, the privilege (I mean that in the technical sense) to practice law upon passing the bar, and not much more. The economy had collapsed, and in the interim we had sold two homes in Phoenix, one for about what I bought it (thanks to Greg) and the other at a vastly lower price (through a broker my wife selected).

There were no BigLaw jobs for me to take, coming from a good, but not great law school, with good, but not great grades.

Fortunately, I had spent a year and a half getting my hands dirty as a glorified intern at a local Public Defender’s office, where I worked on some very serious cases, and helped win a trial for someone accused of a robbery, the evidence I located would show, he could not have committed.

More importantly, it turned out that I had skills that were much more important than lawyering. Technical and technological skills. And I discovered that I am, while introverted and contemplative, pretty good at interacting people through the crucial hiring (sales?) process.

If I had it all to do again, I don’t know that I would go to law school exactly. Don’t get me wrong: I am probably one of the few lawyers who loves practicing the law.

But I’ve found that I also like building things. I have tons of ideas on how to make things, and provide more efficient services to people. Unfortunately, the law and all the players in this system are extremely conservative, in the sense that they hew to established rules, practices, and technologies. The databases and computer systems, to take one small example, are archaic. Everything and most everyone is resistant to change.

So here I get to my point: If you are young (by which I mean, under 40) and at all entrepreneurial, or have what you think is a good idea, do not go to law school. First, Inside the Law School Scam has the goods on what an incredible waste of money law school is for the vast majority of people who go.

If you do want to go to law school, be very, very sure you want to actually practice the law. And that you know what the “practice of law” means beyond receiving a better-than-average paycheck. The days when a law degree was a ticket to a six-figure income are over.

Mostly, the American system of education has been a scam, that has only become increasingly apparent in the past 5 years as the average debt of recent grads has soared, nearing the six figures. Law Schools are at the center of that scam.


6 Comments so far

  1. Sean July 23rd, 2012 7:20 am

    Perhaps Sebastian Thrun has the right idea. A Research Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and a Google Fellow, Thrum just stepped down from Stanford to go start his own university. It’s online and its free. It currently offers a certificate of completion for course study but the goal is to have an accredited tier one engineering college online for free available to anyone in the world who wants to register and do the work. The content is the same as he taught at Stanford.

  2. Mike P. July 23rd, 2012 8:59 am

    I never gave law school a serious thought, it sounds like the driest dust on Mars to me. From what I have heard from others and from reading, a four year degree is (depending on the major) not worth much. The same for some graduate degrees. Ever had a masters degree carrying barista serve you at Starbucks?

    I saw an excellent debate online: “Too many kids go to college”.

  3. Don Reedy July 23rd, 2012 1:39 pm

    Damon, this is some of the best advice someone like yourself can give, and here’s why:

    I went to law school myself, four years, and never practiced a day in my life. For a long time I rationalized that I was somehow “smarter” or a clearer thinker, a byproduct of this type of schooling. And like you, the only passion I found in the law was related to criminal law, the practice of which I found my rather bubbly and sometimes out of control personality didn’t mesh with.

    But it’s writing that has made me “smarter” and a clearer thinker. I can find all the law I need on-line, and when in need of a really good lawyer, there are still guys like you whose passion and skill will deliver me from all the harm I am entitled to be delivered from.

    Write more, Damon…write more. Think and do, and cast off the chains of the system where possible. And when you’re practicing, do (like it’s clear you’ve always done) your best.

    Thanks for perhaps saving a soul or two from the misconception that the law makes you a better citizen or thinker, or doer. I’m going to have to repeat myself, Greg Swann has the secret to that.

  4. Sean Purcell July 23rd, 2012 9:48 pm

    Interesting post Damon, added to which some interesting comments elicited. I wonder if your point isn’t true on a much more general scale…

    I can definitely see the point in education for education’s sake: reading and discussing great ideas, learning to think logically, and most importantly (and lost in our current system) learning to write one’s thoughts clearly. But educational degrees as a bar to entry – much like licensing – is being usurped by the internet.

    Love the online universities… Open Kimono learning (as Brian Brady might put it). The would be tyrants have lost the war and they don’t even know it yet. 🙂

  5. Derek August 7th, 2012 4:05 pm

    You should have just gone to ECU instead. 🙂

  6. Willy August 13th, 2012 7:06 am

    I love examples of how getting a formal education can be dangerous. I do still believe that a college “experience” is very important to your overall character because you do a lot of finding yourself there. But, I shake my head at people who want to go back to school for something that isn’t very career focused.