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Is law school worth it?

November 22, 2011

2. Law

Is law school worth it?

I had a good number of my students – graduate and undergrad – tell me that they were going to go to law school because of my teaching.  They liked the way I think, they said.  That kinda sorta felt good.  And I know that some of them actually went through with it (as opposed to blowing sunshine up my skirt when the semester was done but final grades were not yet submitted).

I caught a few article headlines recently suggesting or questioning whether the expense of law school was worth it.  I don’t read stuff that doesn’t apply to me, so I have no idea where they went with it.  I suspect they concluded that the expense was too much.  My clue was the frequent invocation of $150,000 in the title or lede.

Is law school worth it?  It’s three years full-time and four years part-time.  The tuition is whatever – varies by institution – but certainly not on par with a community college.

Let’s address the cost.  How much is that undergrad degree in English Literature at an ivy-covered university?  Yeah, probably not much different from law school.  And as a general statement, being taught English Lit qualifies you to – after a Masters and Ph.D. is added so the cost exceeds law school – teach it to others.  It’s similar to people that buy Alpacas.   After ducking the spitting by those long-necked creatures, the only way to make money off them is to sell the babies to some other unsuspecting person.  There just isn’t enough wool on them to break even.

So, to me, cost is a red herring.  There’s plenty of equal or more expensive avenues in this world.

So let’s go to the substance.  Why would you consider law school?  For the same reason you’d consider the Marines.  You want to think like an attorney – or think like a Marine.  You don’t graduate anything knowing how to do the job.  You learn, instead, to think like people that do that job.  An attorney knows how to research upon graduation.  They know how to deconstruct situations into finite facts.  And, well, that’s about it.  Sure, we learn cross-examination – and what we learned in the classroom is perfect until the first adverse witness is on the stand.  It’s no different than a good battle plan – outdated the moment battle begins.

I do not accept in even the slightest shade that law school does – or should – teach you how to practice law.  The streets cannot be replicated in a classroom.  Trials are battles.  Even pleading out a client is a form of intensely personal negotiation that you learn as you mature.

What struck me as I sat in law school was the depth of history and breadth of its application.  I learned to solve a present legal problem based upon a decision made centuries ago.   The law touches every aspect of our lives.  It isn’t just criminal.  Laws govern how you get your driver’s license, how you can build a house, whether you can burn your garbage, and if you can assemble in a city park (assuming you’re of the Tea Party ilk rather than Occupy Whatever – the volumes of zoning laws do not apply to the latter, as, apparently, neither do the social senses of good hygiene).

Is law school worth it?  I know you’re not so prosaic as to pick a career – something that will define your life – based purely upon average salaries published in US News & World Report.  You go to law school because you want to think like an attorney.  And maybe you’ll practice law, although a lot of graduates don’t and never intended to.

If you want to learn pottery, you study with potters.  You learn clay.  You learn wheels.  You learn firing.  You learn color.  You won’t learn those things by studying English Lit surrounded by ivy.  You might go to Kendall School of Art & Design or you might find people willing to teach you outside an educational environment.

If you want to learn the law, then you start in law school.  Once you have your JD, how you further your knowledge is your business.

You got a dream?  How utterly insulting to your very existence to put a price tag on it and say, “Naw, too much.”  Dreams are not compromised because of money.  If it’s that important, you’ll find a way.

When people write articles that claim that law school is not worth the expense, I smile.  They think they can quantify life.  How absurd.  But then I am saddened because it reminds me that people give up too easily on dreams.

If your dream requires you to pass through law school on the way to fulfilling it, then do it.  End of story.

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About Clyde

Clyde is the lead attorney in the firm. Licensed to practice in 1993, he's also taught Constitutional and Criminal Law for several years at a private university, primarily at the Master's level.

View all posts by Clyde

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