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Slaying the Law School Myth

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Slaying the Law School Myth
So a story about a concerned would-be law school student came to our attention. Prospective legal student “Terrified” wrote to Salon.com in a panic because (to synopsize):
1. her father is a lawyer and she’s concerned she’s following his dream, not hers
2. she actually wants to be a writer
3. she has 100,000 in undergraduate debt

She writes a letter to a well-known columnist who responds that she should (to paraphrase):
1. create a vision of a happy life as a lawyer
2. find a box and fill it with items like bubble bath and feathers
3. go to law school because “you can always quit” and “law is not a dead-end career. You can still be a writer, or be president…”

This is precisely the myth about lawyers in America that must be found and ruthlessly uprooted. There are many reasons to go to law school and take the LSAT (some of which we detail here). We have met so many students who, as liberal arts majors, go to law school as a back-up thinking that a JD can’t hurt them and that they can always move onto something else with the skills they’ve learned from going to law school.

But this is only true if you’re able to adequately deal with the debt.

Just last week we covered a news story about a new loan forgiveness program that explained how much money one would have to make in order to pay back 100k in debt. “Terrified” is right to be leery of the 100K she owes, because it’s likely she’s going to rack up at least another 100K or so by the time she obtains a JD, which means she’ll probably have around 200k in debt when she graduates. In other words, she’ll have to pay approximately $1700 a month if she wants to repay her loans in 15 years (at 6% interest). Which means she needs to make approximately $2,800 a month just to make the payment. And that’s only for her loans. This does not count anything else, like knockin’ out that rent, or making a car payment to get to work to knock out that rent, or eating some food to have the energy to knock out that rent…(you get the picture).

I’m sure that Cary Tennis is well-meaning, but how for goodness sake during a recession does someone fail to mention the grave consequences of the amount of loans with which Terrified is about to entangle herself? (Indeed, has already entangled herself). Is it a continuation of the near-fatal cavalier American attitude toward debt? Or perhaps the unexamined regurgitation of an edict about education that worked for a different generation but is running into trouble now—namely, that educational loans are the best investment you’ll ever make because you’re investing (cue inspirational music) in yourself. Which can be true. Except that some educational investments, like sub-prime mortgage loans, aren’t paying off. At the beginning of 2009, Forbes wrote an article discussing how many students were having trouble paying off their educational loans. The highlight? Two law students who eventually divorced, citing the size of their law school loans as a “major source of stress in their marriage.”

A likely scenario for “Terrified” is that she comes out of law school with 200k in debt and can’t pay it back any other way except for getting a job as a lawyer. What writing job pays $5,000 a month right out of the gate? Which means her first love—writing—is very likely to be strangled under a flood of blackberry alerts and late night filings.

Does this mean don’t go to law school or educate yourself in general? Of course not. But the dialogue surrounding whether or not law school is a good idea for you has got to take debt into account, as well as the job landscape in the midst of a severe recession. We can’t keep sending students to law school with the myth that no matter how much debt they incur their education is worth it, because they might be doomed to work in a job they don’t even like in order to pay back debt that no other job can begin to tackle.

So Terrified, if you’re listening, you’re right to be concerned. And no amount of bubble bath in a heart-shaped box should tell you otherwise.

Article by Jodi Triplett of Blueprint LSAT Preparation.

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