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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.

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