Ferguson Ate My Homework

Wednesday, December 17, AD 2014


Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels so frequently on behalf of the Church that I have named him Defender of the Faith, at Midwest Conservative Journal brings us up to speed on  a novel excuse to get out of taking finals dreamt up by some Harvard Law students:


The following essay by one William Desmond, a third-year student at Harvard Law School as well as an editor of the Harvard Law Review, is either the most infuriating thing I’ve ever read or the most unintentionally hilarious.  I can’t figure out which.  Seems Des would like Harvard Law to delay whatever exams he’s scheduled to take.  Why?  Ferguson, natch:

Over the last week, much has been said about law students’ petitioning for exam extensions in light of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police officers. Students at Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School, Georgetown University Law Center and several other schools requested that their administrations allow extensions on final exams for students who have been confronting the aftermath of the recent failed grand jury indictments of the officers who killed the unarmed black men.

Des already knows how people are going to react.

In response, opponents of exam extensions have declared that to grant these requests would be a disservice to the students. Law students, they argue, must learn how to engage critically with the law in the face of intense adversity. Drawing comparisons to events surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and other times of intense turmoil, these opponents portray today’s law students as coddled millennials using traumatic events as an excuse for their inability to focus on a three-hour exam. In essence, law students are being told to grow up and learn how to focus amidst stress and anxiety—like “real” lawyers must do.

They’re all wrong, of course.

Speaking as one of those law students, I can say that this response is misguided: Our request for exam extensions is not being made from a position of weakness, but rather from one of strength and critical awareness.

How’s that, Des?  Because in the last couple of months, the single most traumatic events in the entire recorded history of humanity have occurred.

Although over the last few weeks many law students have experienced moments of total despair, minutes of inconsolable tears and hours of utter confusion, many of these same students have also spent days in action—days of protesting, of organizing meetings, of drafting emails and letters, and of starting conversations long overdue. We have been synthesizing decades of police interactions, dissecting problems centuries old, and exposing the hypocrisy of silence.

Yeah, sure you were.  And doing lots and lots of high-grade ganja from the sound of it.  Out: the dog ate my homework.  In: I was so upset by this country’s refusal to frankly face the effects of slavery that I couldn’t possibly study, never mind do any homework.

I have seen the psychological trauma brought on by disillusionment with our justice system send some law students into a period of depression. After all, every death of an unarmed youth at the hands of law enforcement is a tragedy. The hesitancy to recognize the validity of these psychic effects demonstrates that, in addition to conversations on race, gender and class, our nation is starving for a genuine discussion about mental health. But to reduce our calls for exam extensions to mere cries for help exhibits a failure to understand the powerful images of die-ins and the booming chants of protestors disrupting the continuation of business as usual in cities across the country.

You’re just embarrassing yourself, kid.  Hey shut up, we’re not spoiled children.  We’re…you know…prophetic and crap.

Where some commentators see weakness or sensitivity, perhaps they should instead see strength—the strength to know when our cups of endurance have run over and when the time for patience has ended. Perhaps they should instead see courage—the courage to look our peers in the eyes and uncomfortably ask them to bear these burdens of racism and classism that we have together inherited from generations past. We have taken many exams before, but never have we done this. We are scared, but no longer will we be spectators to injustice.

Des?  I’ve got a real life rule.  When you have to tell others to perceive you as strong and courageous, you’re nothing more than a particularly sniveling, gutless little douchebag.  Oh, and attention furniture companies and stores.  Want to make a boatload of money?  Stock up on fainting couches because guys (?) like Des are going to need one once he starts his law practice.

Our focus and critical thinking are at an all-time peak while the importance of our textbooks is at a low. It is not that law students are incapable of handling their exams. It is that we are unwilling to remove ourselves, even for a few days, from this national conversation.

Uh huh.

As future practitioners, professors, judges and policymakers, we have all been trained not only in the faithful application of the law but also in the critical examination of its effectiveness. And by our analysis, responsible members of the legal community can no longer defend our criminal justice system as exemplifying fair process when that system so frequently produces the same unjust result—life drained from an unarmed black body by a barrage of government-issued bullets.


If I ever had to do a nickel for some crime and Des was my lawyer, I guarantee that this snowflake will be waiting at the prison gate when I get out.  To inform me that he was suing my ass into the ground for causing him emotional distress because I was guilty.

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5 Responses to Ferguson Ate My Homework

  • Will the law student focus on his exams or concern himself with the greater problem of Ferguson?

  • I thought it was all funny until this part scared me to death.

    As future practitioners, professors, judges and policymakers….”

    Explains the fall of the republic.

  • Moral of the story, don’t hire Harvard.

    I will remember this when an Ivy grad is nominated to sit on the US Supreme Court.

  • “Perhaps I could allege psychic trauma due to the Potato Famine”

    That wouldn’t fly because it isn’t a current event. If law students are going to use some great social evil or social movement as an excuse to beg off finals because they can’t bear to be left out of the “national conversation” for even one day, they could at least aim a bit higher — cite something like, say, ISIS slaughtering tens of thousands of Christians in the Middle East or their own fellow citizens slaughtering thousands of unborn babies per day. Of course, that will never happen, because 1) the conservative types who care about those issues are sensible enough to realize they also have to fulfill their other duties in life, and 2) no one, least of all the liberal elite who run institutions like Harvard Law School, would ever take them seriously.

  • Donald R McClarey wrote:

    “Perhaps I could allege psychic trauma due to the Potato Famine to have them postponed?”

    and Elaine Krewer responded:

    “That wouldn’t fly because it isn’t a current event.”

    Actually folks variants on this particular plea are not uncommon in my own neck of the woods and, indeed, throughout the wider Irish diaspora…

What Law School Was Like

Saturday, December 1, AD 2012

Yesterday, when I should have been working on a myriad of tasks piled high on my desk, I took time out for about an hour to take part of an LSAT, Law School Admission Test, practice test on-line.  My son, who is half way through his junior year at the University of Illinois, and who wants to be an attorney in spite of my warnings, has begun preparation for taking the LSAT next year.  Go here to read, or if you are a masochist take, parts of an LSAT sample test.  After an hour or so of this I was overjoyed at the fact that I am a third of a century beyond having to take the LSAT!  When I took the LSAT for the first time in the fall of 1979 I bombed it, which is unsurprising since I had done almost no prep for it.  I took it again and jumped a hundred points, the test used a different grading scale back then, which was not supposed to be possible.  I assume that I must have learned something from the first attempt to take the test.  All I recall is that after my second attempt I was certain that I probably had done far worse than my first attempt.  This trip down memory lane has caused me to recall some aspects of law school that I have not thought much about, or repressed, lo these three decades.  Here are some of them.

1.  Law School Taught Me Little About Being a Lawyer-  Considering that I spent three years of my life doing it, it is astounding to me how little I learned in law school about actually being a lawyer.  Actually it is not astounding.  Most law school professors have very little experience in being attorneys.  Take them out of their little niche of knowledge as to the law and most of them have little to impart, except moth-eaten stories about their halcyon days as young clerks to Justices so and so.  I often heard them say that they assumed that we could find our way to the court-house door.  Well sure, but what to do after I got there took me, literally, five years of trial and error, and a rugged five years it was for me and my clients.  There is something wrong about a system of professional education that teaches you little about the profession.

2.  Moot court-the exception-The only class in law school where I learned something about the nuts and bolts of the profession was moot court which was run by actual attorneys and judges.  That gave me an inkling that law school and the practice of law were like comparing a movie about flying to actual flying.

3.  The first year-Most law students regard their first year as a hellish experience and mine certainly was.  I routinely stayed up until 1:00 AM reading cases.  The boredom and tedium were unbelievable.  Classroom was somewhat better, as I enjoyed the Socratic method at least by those professors able enough to do it well.  Alas that was not the case with most of my professors, quite a few of whom would ask a few perfunctory questions and then lecture non-stop.  However, some were quite good at it.  The standout for me was Wayne LaFave who taught Criminal Procedure.  Although I didn’t think at the time I would do any criminal law, I took every course he taught, a fortuitous event since I did end up doing a fair amount of criminal defense and he was the go to expert in the field of search and seizure.  Professor LaFave has retired from full-time teaching and I regret that my son will not be able to have the same experience that I did.  His class my first year was a bright spot in a bleak landscape.

4.  Social Life-What’s That?-My undergrad girlfriend went off to SIU to go to law school.  She did not really want to go to law school and she flunked out.  That was probably fortunate for me, as a first year law student had little time for socializing if they were not going to flunk out.  I dated little in my first year or my second year.  In my third year I met my wife and the rest has been a happy thirty years for me.  Some law students dated each other which I always thought was a mistake.  The last thing I wanted to think or talk about on a date was the law, and law students, like lawyers, will usually talk about the law when they get together.

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21 Responses to What Law School Was Like

  • Pingback: What Law School Was Like | SAT/LSAT ?????
  • In Scotland, intrants for the Faculty of Advocates, in addition to a law degree and Diploma in Legal Practice, must have worked for 21 consecutive months in a solicitor’s office as a trainee. They must then spend 8-9 months as a “devil,” working with a practising advocate (a “devilmaster”), as well as attending a number of practical skills training courses (seminars and small workshops. Senior judges regularly preside at moots)

    The practical training is very important, as every advocate is a sole practitioner, firms or partnerships between advocates being strictly forbidden. Once admitted, they are on their own, although, in my experience, colleagues are very generous with their advice.

    As for Law School, it had changed little since the 18th century Scottish judge, Lord Kames, observed, ““Law, like geography, is taught as if it were a collection of facts merely: the memory is employed to the full, rarely the judgment.”

    It was pleasing to recall that the Chairs of Civil and Scots Law at Edinburgh University were established by the Town Council and paid for out of the Beer Tax; to which law students, in my day, contributed lavishly.

  • Let’s be honest: it’s not that law students have no time to date, it’s that the rest of us don’t want to be around them. Five or ten years down the road, when you’re through the bar exam, we may hang out with you for the free legal advice. And if it seems like you’re going to make a decent living , you can find a spouse. But you’re always on probation with us. The club of non-lawyers is more exclusive than the club of lawyers.

    I’ve heard it said about medical school that it takes 45 minutes to train someone to remove an appendix without complications, and the rest of the 4 years for when there are complications. Is law school similar? A person could be taught how to go through the (I guess literal) motions easily, but needs to be grounded in all the other possibilities for those rare exception cases?

  • “Let’s be honest: it’s not that law students have no time to date, it’s that the rest of us don’t want to be around them.”

    I deeply resent that remark Pinky especially since in many cases it is true! 🙂

    “Is law school similar?”

    Not remotely. In law school they train you to “think like a lawyer” which translates into thinking like an appellate judge, something almost all of us will never be. As for learning how to do things: preparing a bankruptcy petition, arguing a motion to suppress, doing a real estate closing, drafting a motion for reconsideration, taking a dep, and thousands of other things, attorneys largely learn through on the job training by copying what other attorneys are doing. First law school to get the JD. Then monkee see, monkey do, to learn how to do something with the JD.

  • “I was anxious to escape living in a shoe box sized dorm room”

    Funny, a small two man room in the barracks felt like a mansion after five years living aboard ship sharing a berthing compartment with eighty other guys.

  • Pinky

    The great difference between Law School and practice is that, in Law School, subjects are studied and examined in isolation, Obligation, Property, Trusts & Succession, Commercial Law, Private International Law, Evidence and so on, whereas, in practice, an individual case may engage all of them, mixed and blended together. Disentangling and identifying the strands is usually the first task.

  • I guess it’s for my many sins: I often provide accountung and business policies/practices advice to our llegal department.

    Our attorneys are a great bunch.

    I asked one of our legal eagles what was the most important concept he learned in law school. He answered, that the first response to any issue/question is two words, “It depends.”

    In public accounting it’s, “Whatever the client wants.”

  • Then monkee see, monkey do, to learn how to do something with the JD.

    John VanVoorhis, one of the most prominent appellate judges in my home town, was admitted to the bar in 1919 after reading law in his father’s office. His father told him he was theoretical enough in his inclinations and wanted him to learn law “through the soles of my shoes”. What you seem to be saying is that law schools are most adept at… employing law professors.

  • I exaggerate a bit Art, but not much. The law is largely a matter of learning how to draft documents, how to advocate effectively in court, for the minority of attorneys who appear in court, and how to deal with clients. Law school gives an attorney grounding in basic legal theory, and gets him familiar with the vocabulary of the law, but everything else he picks up largely through copying documents and copying what other attorneys do. Eventually most attorneys develop their own style but that takes a while. I truly believe that one year of law school would be sufficient with a two year apprenticeship, followed by passing the bar exam and being approved to practice by a panel of two attorneys and a judge who have observed the prospective attorney during the two year apprenticeship.

  • Great article. I attended law school at roughly the same time that you did. After law school I “practiced” law for about 2 years and then said the hell with this and got on with my life. I strongly agree with your point #1 – law school teaches little about being a lawyer; and also your point about law school needs to go towards an apprentice system. After all, prior to the “professional” education system and the consequent licensing powers of the states, many so-called professionals – lawyers, doctors, dentists, teachers, nurses, realtors, even beauticians, and the myriad of other licensed “professionals” – became proficient through a much more sensible system that included some very basic education and then an apprenticeship. The whole licensing system, which includes the the “continuing education” racket, is designed to limit entry and participation in the industry, hold fees/prices high, exclude competition, and line the pockets of lazy and/or incompetent practitioners.
    I had been out of college a few years, had been in the military, and had traveled and worked around the world a few years before going back to law school. My experience was a little different in some respects – I sharpened my pool skills at the local pub and perfected the art of cramming. But I can really relate with a lot of your article.

  • I truly believe that one year of law school would be sufficient with a two year apprenticeship, followed by passing the bar exam and being approved to practice by a panel of two attorneys and a judge who have observed the prospective attorney during the two year apprenticeship.

    Sounds great. Maybe we could replace the B.A. degree for aspirant lawyers with a two-year certificate program (covering courses in philosophy, Anglo-American institutional history, criminology, social psychology, political theory, rhetoric, accounting, finance, and insurance). The fewer professors we employ, the better.

  • “The whole licensing system, which includes the the “continuing education” racket, is designed to limit entry and participation in the industry, hold fees/prices high, exclude competition, and line the pockets of lazy and/or incompetent practitioners.”

    Certainly that is how it tends to work out in regard to the law.

  • The sort of rent-seeking that can be derived from occupational licensure you can see readily, but in terms of time lost and talent wasted in the pursuit of labor market signaling (not to mention expense), the baccalaureate degree cannot be topped.

  • Art Deco

    Providing the right of audience is restricted to those who demonstrate the requisite degree of competence (to prevent court time being wasted and expenses inflated) I do not see why the rest of legal practice should be subject to licensing at all.

  • I couldn’t agree more. My experience at Mercer University School of Law in Macon, Georgia from 1988 – 1991 sounds remarkably similar to yours. After 20 years I have now been a prosecutor, a criminal defense lawyer, a private practice lawyer and a judge. As a part time trial court judge in the lower courts, law school prepared me more for that role than for any other. I remember a classmate during our senior year asking “When are they going to teach us how to sue somebody?” They never did.

  • “I remember a classmate during our senior year asking “When are they going to teach us how to sue somebody?” They never did.”

    It is an odd experience Mark when you think about it. I remember thinking when I was going through it that I seemed to be learning almost nothing about what an attorney actually did on a day to day basis. The senior partner at the firm I worked for when I first got out of law school bluntly told me that for their first three years new attorneys were only a “damn nuisance”. Sadly, I quickly realized he was right.

  • I have to agree with most of the article and the comments. Some law professors are better than others and it was always helpful when they could speak English. The Constitutional Law courses were rewarding for a history/poly sci nerd like me. the Business courses made you ill.
    Fortunately, I got an interesting job with a prosecutor’s office and tried my first case about 6 weeks after I started. that is where you get a real legal education .

  • Don

    I was thinking of going to Law School. Took the LSAT and did pretty well. I also figured out that while the subject seemed interesting I would hate the actual work of being a a lawyer and went to other things.

    You have my respect for taking a tough profession.

  • “I also figured out that while the subject seemed interesting I would hate the actual work of being a a lawyer and went to other things.”

    If only about 25% of the attorneys I have encountered Hank, who truly hate being attorneys, had possessed your wisdom!

  • Providing the right of audience is restricted to those who demonstrate the requisite degree of competence (to prevent court time being wasted and expenses inflated) I do not see why the rest of legal practice should be subject to licensing at all.

    We do not have a distinction between solicitors and barristers in this country; prosecutors are public employees (modally of county governments) and seldom if ever do any other sort of work while so employed; rank-and-file attorneys are the ones most likely to mix transactional and trial work.

    The problem you get with occupational licensure and certification in this country is not that there are screens but that the screens are stupid. This is most grossly manifest in schoolteaching. Sometimes the whole occupation as constituted is stupid (social work and library administration), sometimes the occupation as constituted seems an odd artifact derived from social conditions that do not quite obtain anymore (optometry, podiatry), and sometimes the occupation is not constituted but fragmented between several licensed occupations (as is the case with psychotherapy, which is within the book of four or five licensing boards commonly).

    Believe me, when I needed an engineer to inspect a building on the property here, I checked the register maintained by the New York Secretary of State.

    Libertarians sometimes cite figures that such and such a percentage of jobs in this country require an occupational license. Those figures are factoids.

  • One does wonder if in this country we could have a junior grade of practitioners in the realm of legal services, as they do in Japan. I would be most pleased if those mega-law firms were busted up as well.

One Response to You Have Been Warned !

Irony: Law School Grads Suing Law Schools

Thursday, October 6, AD 2011

As faithful readers know, I have long sent out warnings to the unwary about the pitfalls of going to law school.  Read previous posts on the subject here, here , here here and here.

Dissatisfied law students are now suing their law schools.  Such law suits have always existed, usually filed by some desperate unemployed attorney with crushing debt, and such litigation has gotten no place.  Now this type of litigation has been taken up quite a few notches:

Two law firms, Law Offices of David Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC, have announced their intention to jointly file class action lawsuits against 15 more U.S. law schools (full press release below). The law schools are located in seven states:

  • California: California Western School of Law, Southwestern Law School, and University of San Francisco School of Law (3)
  • Florida: Florida Coastal School of Law (1)
  • Illinois: Chicago-Kent College of Law, DePaul University School of Law, and John Marshall School of Law (3)
  • Maryland: University of Baltimore School of Law (1)
  • New York: Albany Law School, Brooklyn Law School, Hofstra Law School, Pace University School of Law, and St. John’s University School of Law (5)
  • Pennsylvania: Villanova University School of Law and Widener University School of Law (also has a campus in Delaware) (2)

These complaints will follow previous complaints filed against New York Law School, Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan, and Thomas Jefferson School of Law in California.

With these lawsuits, nearly 10% of all ABA-approved law schools across eight states will be accused of tortiously misrepresenting job placement statistics and violating state consumer protection laws. As with the previous complaints, the relief sought will include tuition reimbursement, punitive damages, and injunctive relief such as mandatory auditing of employment data and cessation of false advertising tactics.

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Civil Litigation: The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth

Wednesday, January 12, AD 2011

Well, even the New York Times is reporting what a dismal choice law school tends to be for so many would be attorneys these days.  Read all about it here.

My favorite passage in this story is this quote from a jobless law school grad who owes 250k :

“It’s a prestige thing,” he says. “I’m an attorney. All of my friends see me as a person they look up to. They understand I’m in a lot of debt, but I’ve done something they feel they could never do and the respect and admiration is important.”

I had a root canal done yesterday and I really appreciated the roar of laughter that paragraph elicited from me.

I have written several posts in the hopes of giving people thinking of law school some idea of the debt ice berg they are probably sailing towards.   This is the start of a series to give some idea of what the practice of law tends to be in reality, rather than in theory as set forth in law schools. 

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18 Responses to Civil Litigation: The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth

  • Is there any avenue more appeasing for the young law student today?

    I’m planning on starting in the fall. Preliminary plans were that I’d maybe focus on Con Law, and/or estate planning/tax?

  • I have always had a deep love for Constitutional Law and have found it almost completely useless in the actual practice of law, outside of my criminal law practice. Tax law there is always a demand for, especially if you also have an accounting degree. Estate planning less so, unless you are dealing with very large estates indeed. In reference to Constitutional Law, a firm that specializes in appellate work would be the ticket, although there aren’t many of them. Most large law firms will have a section devoted to appellate work, but do not count on landing a position with such a firm in this economy. I would spend the summer with a law firm if at all possible seeing what they do. If it doesn’t cost them anything, I think you will find that a lot of attorneys wouldn’t mind showing you the basics of what they do. That is a piece of advice I would give to every would be attorney. A state’s attorney’s office or a public defender’s office would also be a great place to observe quite a bit of actual court room procedure. Cout hearings are usually open to the public. Just sitting and listening would be beneficial if not inspiring.

  • My own observation is that foreign language skills are in heavy demand for law grads and paralegals. Immigrants, especially those with poor English skills, stay away from police, the criminal justice and the civil courts. If immigrants were to contact lawyers with the same frequency as fluent English speakers, there would upswing in business, so lawyers who communicate well with them are well-positioned to reach out to that untapped market.

  • My wife has a master’s degree in Spanish and is fluent in that language, as well as a few other languages. She has assisted me with Hispanic clients in the past, and knowing Spanish would be a plus for attorneys in areas with a heavy Hispanic population. I have received referrals from Hispanic clients I have represented in the past, and that is a market that can be tapped by an enterprising attorney.

  • I, too, love learning about, reading, teaching, etc. constitutional law. I have never used it in practice in six years. Most con-law cases come up to bigger firms or specialty defence firms (Alliance Defence Fund, for instance), or indirectly, as when I had a client sued in Texas with little to no jurisdictional contact with the state.

    Tax is likely to land you a better position than con-law. If you enjoy the tax, and especially if you do well and go on and get an LLM in tax, you will likely be hired, and maybe even by a tax consulting firm (Deloitte, for instance). Estate planning is up in the air right now – the law changes by the day, and is becoming increasingly complex. Many firms do not view it as a “money” area of the law, and do not devote resource to it. I interviewed with two firms where there one and only estate planner was retiring, and they were not interested in the estate planning aspects of my education despite that fact.

    In this day and time, I would seriously consider avoiding law school. The market is flooded, and the nearly 100k in debt that most students graduate with comes up VERY quickly.

    Speaking of con law – Donald, did you ever get a look at my video on Xtranormal? (I keep pushing it, because I think it’s good – no legal ego here….much….. :P)


  • I have watched it Jonathan and enjoyed it. I am designing a post around it, which will arrive in due course.

  • “In this day and time, I would seriously consider avoiding law school. The market is flooded, and the nearly 100k in debt that most students graduate with comes up VERY quickly.”

    Amen. I would only go to law school today on a full ride scholarship, if the military were paying for it, or I had a parent willing to pay for it. I graduated in 82 with only 7k in debt, and I paid for the entire thing through loans and part time work. The days when it was possible to pay for a large portion of law school through part time work are as dead as Julius Caesar unfortunately.

  • Thanks, Donald!

    BTW, I am a solo practitioner because of a law firm layoff, running my own firm since January, 2009. I can confirm what you say about trial work. I would add that if one is interested in courtroom work, doing domestic work will result in being in court quite a bit. I defend against forced adoptions as an appointed attorney, work in divorce matters, custody matters, and so on. The work is steady, but usually consists in “one offs” – non-repeating clients, and can be very gut wrenching.

  • Oops – make that “January, 2010” – laid off in late 2009.

  • Ah family law, Jonathan, the bane of my existence! I am often appointed to be GAL for children in dissolution and adoption cases because I am “good with kids” in the words of one Judge who appoints me to such cases. Seeing kids go through that mill is indeed gut wrenching. I often threaten to refuse appointments and sometimes do, but usually I accede thinking I can do some good for the kids, although often I wonder if anything good ever comes from cases where the law attempts to sort out the fallout after parents decide to go to war with each other.

  • The most I have used Con law as a civil litigator in the past 16 years has been in combox arguments. Occasionally (like maybe 7 times in the last 16 years) I have had a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

    I would imagine criminal law practices would run into con law issues more often. My typical day is spent figuring out how not to answer discovery and looking through thousands of pages of irrelevant documents to find the 5 or so that really matter. Oh, and drafting the same motion to compel/response to motion to compel over and over and over again for each case. I love my life.

  • People who wish to attend law school cmatt would benefit from hearing what attorneys really think about practicing the law, a staple of conversation whenever attorneys gather. We give them only a taste of how unpleasant the practice of law is for so many of the brethren and sistren of the bar.

  • “but usually I accede thinking I can do some good for the kids, although often I wonder if anything good ever comes from cases where the law attempts to sort out the fallout after parents decide to go to war with each other.”

    I have had debates with people on this very issue, concerning the law and courts. We usually reach a point where we agree that there is very little the law can do. One fellow (a lawyer and counselor) with whom I dicussed this (not a Catholic), said that the parents had to try and co-parent – that is, had to try and do whatever was best for the children regardless of their feelings for each other.

    Given ToTB and other writings recently, my own thought is that the parents hate each other because what is going on is really the attempted murder of a third person, the married body, and each parent hates the other because they blame the other (usually unjustly) for the death. In addition, as the law does not take fault into account, people’s sense of injustice is aroused because while one parent may have stayed with the child, worked hard, been sober, not cheated, the other parent may STILL get custody because of a better job or keeping the house, or whatever, and rage arises because, truly, it is unjust to reward misbehavior and bad parenting.

  • Back when I practiced law, I worked on exactly one case that involved a Con Law matter, and that was as a summer associate in which I wrote an extensive memo on the Lord Mansfield Rule for the partner who was lead counsel on a case in which a man with whom a wife had an affair before reconciling with her husband was trying to assert his paternity over a child that may or may not have been his. Beyond that … zip. Big-time Con Law matters are just far too rare an occurrence to decide to practice law in hopes of doing Con Law stuff. I suppose constitutional issues arise more often in criminal matters, but hardly the stuff to write home about.

    Donald, didn’t you post one of these videos a few months ago in which the experienced attorney told the young lady who was thinking about law school that, unless you went to Harvard or Yale and graduated at the top of your class, you had a zero percent chance of ever doing extensive Con Law work? That’s probably a 100 percent accurate assessment.

  • I suppose it’s also pretty darn difficult to make it to the academic side of things as a law prof?

    I’m going to have to seriously weight scholarship money in my decision of where to go. Applied to 10+ schools, 5 of them top 14, 7 or 8 of them top 20. The tension, then, is that the lower ranked school is likely to give me more money, and the higher ranked school is likely to land me more opportunities and greater earning potential. This is terribly general, but which side would y’all tend to err on: better ranked school or better scholarship package (while still being “tier 1”)?

  • Francis,

    If you want to teach or pay back debts with any rapidity, go to the highest tier school you can, and graduate in the top 10% or better of your class. Be on the law review and publish articles. Then, you might have a chance at a good firm position or clerkship, and might have a chance of teaching afterward.

    If you plan to practice with a small firm / local firm, or solo, then don’t amass the debts, and get as much scholarship money as possible. Still try and graduation in the top 10% of your class, though.

    Good luck!


  • “Donald, didn’t you post one of these videos a few months ago in which the experienced attorney told the young lady who was thinking about law school that, unless you went to Harvard or Yale and graduated at the top of your class, you had a zero percent chance of ever doing extensive Con Law work? That’s probably a 100 percent accurate assessment.”

    I did Jay and I would agree with the sentiment. One of the many problems with the law as a career is that what attracts people to it, is almost always not what they will be doing to earn a living. Fiction is partially to blame, usually giving a completely false view of what an attorney actually does. Of course I can just imagine people aching to watch a television show about a bright young attorney and her adventures working 80 hours a week at a major law firm and touring some of the more elegant document warehouses in the country in a never ending search for documents in cases that no one ever will read. As the season cliff hanger she gets to attend an 8 hour deposition to hold the briefcase for the attorney giving the deposition. Must see TV!

  • Must see TV!

    I also blame John Grisham. Did he write the Pelican Brief? The only thing worse than trial court litigation is appellate work. Your life is more in danger from paper cuts than any mind blowing argument you might come up with or secrets you may unearth (yeah right – secrets after 5 years of discovery and a two week jury trial and if it wasn’t entered into evidence it doesn’t exist in the appellate universe anyway). And Westlaw/Lexis has made things only worse. Nothing more disheartening than crafting what you think is a well pointed issue search only to come back with 1,345 results (only 4 of which will actually be relevant)! Oh joy! Or worse – nothing in your jurisdiction, so your boss suggests you do an ALLSTATES search. Why? Because you CAN, that’s why. Even though you seriously doubt a state court judge in Oklahoma is going to care much about a Puerto Rican magistrate court judge’s opinion on the intricacies of other insurance clauses under Florida law (by the way, you, not your boss, will be the one arguing said golden authority before the court if it ever comes to it – good luck with that).

    As we pan back to our hero still in front of his PC reading the 347th case from his search (tune in next wek when he decides to use the “focus” feature!!).

Message From the ABA: Uh, Maybe Going to Law School Isn’t Such a Great Idea

Wednesday, January 5, AD 2011

As faithful readers of this blog know, I am an attorney, and I have written several posts which may be read here, here and here, warning about some of the pitfalls of the profession, especially the financial cost of attending law school.  The facts of law school debt as opposed to the job market have become so grim that even the American Bar Association has now issued a warning on the subject that may be read here.  This is significant since the ABA has studiously ignored this problem for over a decade, even denying  that there was a problem, and has passed out accreditation to new law schools with a glad hand.  Well, better late than never.

Far too many law students expect that earning a law degree will solve their financial problems for life. In reality, however, attending law school can become a financial burden for law students who fail to consider carefully the financial implications of their decision.

You can underline and put several stars by that!  The general public has the illusion that the law is a quick path to riches.  Few things are farther from the truth.  Except for the top 10% of the top law schools most new attorneys, if they can find employment, will be starting out at around 40-45k a year.  When I graduated from law school in 1982 I started out at 16k.  Earning 40k a year and having 100k in law school debts is a very bad situation, and decades of dealing with a huge debt, which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy except under the most extreme circumstances, await.

Obtaining a degree from an ABA-accredited law school is not cheap. Over the last twenty-five years, law school tuition has consistently risen two times as fast as inflation. Consequently, the average tuition at private law schools in 2008 was $34,298, while the average in-state tuition for public law schools was $16,836. When one adds books and living expenses to tuition, the average public law student borrows $71,436 for law school, while the average private school student borrows $91,506. Many students borrow far more than $100,000, and these numbers do not even include debt that students may still carry from their undergraduate years.

The numbers speak for themselves.  I would never have taken on this type of debt to become an attorney, and if I had, I can’t imagine how I would have serviced that debt in my first lean decade as an attorney.   There is more good news for people about to begin law school:

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9 Responses to Message From the ABA: Uh, Maybe Going to Law School Isn’t Such a Great Idea

  • I came out of law school making very good money (over 50K per annum nearly 20 years ago) and with relatively less debt than today’s law students (around 50K – I paid it off in less than the 10 years in which I was obligated to do so).

    I was still miserable practicing law.

  • All in all, I have rather enjoyed my legal career, but at least half of the attorneys I encounter wish they were doing something else, and about a quarter of the attorneys I know really despise being an attorney.

    Most of my friends and fellow law students have been pretty fortunate in the job search and have good jobs. Even among that subset – the lucky ones – I’d say more than half wish that they had not gone to law school. I don’t personally regret it, but I’m thankful every day that I failed to get into my target school and as a result graduated with very little debt. Working as a lawyer is exceptionally demanding compared to most other jobs; there are wiser courses of action than getting into $100k of debt for an uncertain shot at a job that will require you to work more hours with less pleasant people (and possibly at less pay than the alternatives).

  • I wish I had gotten a finance degree and gone into trading instead.

  • I mentioned the ABA report to a judge I appeared in front of today and his comment was, even leaving income and law school debt aside, that the law was a suck “posterior” profession.

  • Thankfully my situation is not as dire. What the ABA report does not mention is that you can get subsidized loans for the tuition amount and then unsubsidized for an amount afterward (about $6,000 per semester). The problem is that the tuition amount is frequently determines before schools set up their tuition and/or fee amounts. What frequently happens is that the tuition is set by the loaner and then raised by the school. Thus, you often need to get the unsubsidized loans as well (these loans collect interest while in school).

    It’s pretty much a racket.

  • I suppose that the suck-posteriorness of the job could be assuaged by the high pay in some corners. My college roommate got into “Preparation H” along the Charles River and is now a partner at a blue chip Manhattan firm. I imagine he paid off his law school debts pretty quickly. The loss of his soul is another matter.

  • Is it not to a cause for rejoicing that we may end up by having fewer lawyers?

    Did Our Lord not warn lawyers: “Woe to you lawyers!” [Luke 11:46].

    With such a warning from on high, how can one lament so poor choice?

  • Add to the mix about five grand to take courses and tests both to get into law school and to pass the bar as well as the annual fees and CLE costs.

    I was well into my career before going to law school; good thing since servicing my debt eats up almost a quarter of my salary and I haven’t found a legal job that would let me make as much as I make now. My last application joined more than 3800 others; 3800 applicants for one job!

    I am grateful for my present situation but the constant solicitations from my alma mater is all the more tiresome for my not being employed as a lawyer.

  • G-Veg, I get calls from my alma mater all the time for contributions to my Law School. I’m polite, since they dragoon students into making the calls, but I have never, and will never, give them one thin dime, especially since my tax dollars already go to them, not to mention the fairly large sums I’m spending to have my son attend my alma mater.

Pro Bono Publico

Friday, October 22, AD 2010

Hattip to Instapundit.  To all would be attorneys who read TAC, I have warned you about the law as a profession on several occasions, here, here, and here.  You have been adequately warned!   For those of you who ignore my advice and are jobless on graduation, you can always sue your law school.   (Of course my first born is planning on following me in the law, so my warnings must be inadequate!)  Now this post will have to be brief, because I have 10 calls to return, three bankruptcies to prepare, 2 trials to get ready for, and all the other charming events that the day will bring me in the law mines!

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19 Responses to Pro Bono Publico

  • Our attorneys at work are all outstanding people – no reservation.

    Two more I need to pray for! The wife’s brother-in-law and a nephew are (GASP!) lawyers.

    “Pray for the living and the dead.”

  • This is very funny. I actually clean the classrooms and offices of Saint Louis University Law School.

  • Oh My! That was very funny. I laughed out loud several times.

  • “Pray for the living and the dead.”

    By praying for lawyers, you can do both at once.

  • “Pray for the living and the dead.”

    “By praying for lawyers, you can do both at once.”

    Ah, that one is a keeper Michael.

    Nate, lawyers are a sloppy bunch, or so I’ve been told by numerous secretaries over the years.

  • There must be a special talent to writing dialog which sounds hilarious when delivered in the halting monotone of this movie generation software. Love it…

  • Funny and sad and accurate all at the same time. Well done. I recently had a conversation with friends and co-workers and none of them thought, in retrospect, that going to law school was a great decision – even with low-to-non-existent levels of debt. At the same time, some people really enjoy law practice – they are just a minority of the people who hold law degrees in my (necessarily limited) experience.

  • I loved law school. Let me re-phrase that: I loved going to UVA Law School, which, at least when I attended had a reputation for being a much more laid back and enjoyable atmosphere than other law schools.

    We referred to it as “Withers High” – the name of the building in which the Law School was located was Withers Hall – because it was so much like high school.

    John Henry, I don’t know whether your experience some 15-20 years later was similar, but that’s how it used to be, at least. So, it’s hard for me to say I regret going to law school – even though I HATED practicing law – because the experience for me was such a good one.

    But I would not encourage others to do it. I would NEVER encourage anyone to go into law.

  • Yeah, let me clarify. I loved law school too – UVA was and is a great school in a great location. I could not have been more impressed with most of the faculty. The conversation was more about going to law school to become a lawyer (which all of us currently are). I would not recommend that to pretty much anyone, unless they have spent significant time in the legal industry (or, like Don’s son, are very familiar with the work).

  • I hated my first year of law school at the U of I. The second was tolerable and the third was a breeze.

  • 9 out of 10 of the poli-sci post-grads at my school were on their way to law school.

  • By the way, having this video pop up while I’m scrambling to finish my submission I’m required to do for law review was perfect timing.

  • “By the way, having this video pop up while I’m scrambling to finish my submission I’m required to do for law review was perfect timing.”

    Ah that reminds me of the case note I did 31 years ago. I think I had done 31 drafts on a manual typewriter by the time that wretched thing was in print.

  • My younger daughter was not selected for a jury this week, largely on the grounds that she is related to too many attorneys. Both grandfathers, two uncles, a great uncle and she has a brother and a cousin in law school.

    When my father’s law school retroactively changed his LLB into a JD, he began making restaurant reservations as “Doctor Duffy,” in the belief that doctors got better reservations.

    Of course poli sci grads want to go to law school. Isn’t that the logical next career step in their plan to become President? Follow with a few years doing poverty law or something similar, polishing your credentials as a protector of the working man, and then you run for office… Oh, wait. I’ve already seen this movie.

  • I can’t help but to watch it over and over – The blackberry line was classic 🙂 I am going to use it at work… (no I am not and never have desired to be a lawyer – I am in aviation and there are plenty of nutty things in this profession as well LOL)

  • “I am not and never have desired to be a lawyer”

    Just one of your many good qualities I am sure Robert.

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  • I ended up getting a job as a paralegal because that is the only thing I could get in this economy. I do a lot of complex cases in immigration law, and even though I feel pretty low on the totem pole, it pays the bills and whatnot (barely). Six figures of debt and three years gone in my life are not things that I want to do at this point in my life, all for a job that may or may not be there.

    My question, then, is this, if anyone is game: if you have paralegal experience, and there is a temptation to go to law school since you know that you are smarter than the lawyers you are working for, what other options does one have? I am just brainstorming ideas, because I don’t want to do this job forever.

  • Join the military cassianus. I assume you have your undergrad degree. The military has programs to pay for law school while you are in if you qualify:


Has Law School Become a Dead End Trap for the Unwary?

Wednesday, June 16, AD 2010

Hattip to Instapundit.

Law Prof Brian Tamanaha explains it all:

It’s grim reading. The observations are raw, bitter, and filled with despair. It is easier to avert our eyes and carry on with our pursuits. But please, take a few moments and force yourself to look at Third Tier Reality, Esq. Never, Exposing the Law School Scam, Jobless Juris Doctor, Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition, and linked sites. Read the posts and the comments. These sites are proliferating, with thousands of hits.

Look past the occasional vulgarity and disgusting pictures. Don’t dismiss the posters as whiners. To a person they accept responsibility for their poor decisions. But they make a strong case that something is deeply wrong with law schools.

Their complaint is that non-elite law schools are selling a fraudulent bill of goods. Law schools advertise deceptively high rates of employment and misleading income figures. Many graduates can’t get jobs. Many graduates end up as temp attorneys working for $15 to $20 dollars an hour on two week gigs, with no benefits. The luckier graduates land jobs in government or small firms for maybe $45,000, with limited prospects for improvement. A handful of lottery winners score big firm jobs.

And for the opportunity to enter a saturated legal market with long odds against them, the tens of thousands newly minted lawyers who graduate each year from non-elite schools will have paid around $150,000 in tuition and living expenses, and given up three years of income. Many leave law school with well over $100,000 in non-dischargeable debt, obligated to pay $1,000 a month for thirty years.

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17 Responses to Has Law School Become a Dead End Trap for the Unwary?

  • This post really cannot be written enough. Law School has become an extremely risky financial decision. The cost of a legal education has risen dramatically over the course of the last 20-30 years, and the earning potential of most law school graduates has not kept pace. For instance, here were the statistics on graduation for students who graduated in 2008, which was a much better economic climate than the current one:


    Spending $150,000 in order to gain access to jobs that pay $40-65k (42% of the jobs in a relatively decent economy) is a very questionable financial decision, particularly when lost wages during the period spent in school are taken into account.

  • Grim reading John Henry. It is even grimmer when consideration is given to the fact that most law schools do not bother to find out what other than the top earning grads are making. Certainly I never had anyone from the University of Illinois law school phoning me to learn about my first 16k year as a new attorney back in ’82! I also remember the law school dean blithely telling us that we should take out loans that we could easily repay from future earnings! Fortunately back in those Halcyon days I was able to defray quite a bit of the cost by my part-time employment, something which is far more difficult today with the astronomical explosion in the cost of law school.

  • Amen and again I say amen. It took well over ten years to repay my loans, and I am only now, after 15 yrs practicing, getting close to the “First Tier, First Year” salaries. If I had to do it all over again, I would have chosen a different path.

  • Yeah, if I hadn’t felt that God wanted me in law school, I wouldn’t have gone. Even so, I’ll be coming out with what my generation would consider relatively low debt (probably $30,000, with most of that due to non-tuition loans to give me and my wife and soon to be baby some breathing room). Even so, if I wasn’t in the top 10% or close to it even at a fairly good law school like LSU, I’d be very nervous about getting a job. I feel very bad for those who go to some of the private/more expensive law schools in the country.

  • Law school may not be worth it even if it were free. Debt aside, most entering law school don’t realize they’re probably spending 3 years to make less than the school’s IT guy.

  • I try to discourage people from going to law school. I’m pretty sure I sent some warnings against going to law school Michael D’s way, but he didn’t listen.


    At least he listened to my advice about which law school to attend and which one not to. That piece of advice is well worth his naming his firstborn after me.

  • I agree that law school has gotten more expensive but so have all the other four-year colleges in the country. Although, I didn’t realize that it was so hard for lawyers to find jobs. I would say that it all depends on what the person’s passion is, how deep their passion is, and whether that person is willing to go into debt (big time or a reasonable amount) to fulfill one’s dreams.

  • In a word – college is a racket

  • Jim: Ditto.
    I’ve been an advanced practice nurse for many years & it makes me sick to see the nursing students (male & female) who are being basically legally held-up by those in academia who stand to make money on their decisions. Nurses, like lawyers, are finding it harder to find jobs in a slowing economy & an industry that’s been turned upside down by this administration. Nonetheless, students are urged to go on for higher degrees (& more loans) than they’ll ever really need.
    Thanks for posting this.

  • I apologize in advance.

    “Can you imagine a world without lawyers?”


    Just kidding!

  • I think you will appreciate this T.Shaw. This is an old lawyer joke, but as an old lawyer I have earned the right to tell it.

    Most people do not realize this, but there is a common wall that separates Heaven and Hell. By an ageless agreement it has to be maintained on both sides. It comes to the attention of Saint Peter that Satan, surprise!, has not been maintaining his side of the wall. Saint Peter calls up the Prince of Darkness and advises him that the Almighty has authorized litigation if Satan does not comply with the terms of the agreement regarding the wall. Satan responds, “Where will you guys find an attorney?”

    The joke really doesn’t work with a Catholic audience since our immediate retort: “Saint Thomas More! See you in court!”

  • I agree that law school has gotten more expensive but so have all the other four-year colleges in the country.

    Yes, but you go to law school in addition to those four-year colleges, not instead of them. Frequently, you even get a Master’s degree in between. That kind of student debt is staggering.

  • Andy, while that is true, lawyers have both more opportunity and potential to earn a decent wage up to being quite wealthy. A year at a private college costs around $18000 (at least that amount) per year but graduates only start out earning $10/hour or around $22,000 per year ( earnings depend on the location where one is living) and imagine having to pay $200 per month paying back loans only earning that type of wage.

  • They were talking glut when I graduated back in 1996. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for the newbies right now. The University of Miami LS was offering to pay incoming admitted students to defer entry.


  • St. Thomas More, pray for us.

    And, God bless all lawyers.

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16 Responses to 10 Reasons Not to Go To Law School

  • Well-said! May I also add that if one has philosophical ideas about learning the ins and outs of legal thought through the ages (jurisprudence), do not go into law. Your philosophical urges will be crushed – it’s really a business in many ways. Make the cleanest argument one can for one’s client, throw in equity if you must (though judges will usually ignore it), but don’t gum up the works with such arguments.

    Go into philosophy, political history, or somesuch.

  • Excellent list, Don, highlighting many of the reasons I left the practice of law early on in my career (I still do “law-related” work for a legal publishing company).

    When people ask, I recommend against going to law school.

  • I think number 7 says it all. I’ve considered law school many a time – even as I was winding down my Ph. D, but then basically sobered up. Many if not most of my friends are lawyers, and I’ve seen the consequences of said profession. You have to go to some miserable law firm for five years of hell if you want to be able to pay off your debt. If you get a job that you actually enjoy, your compensation will make it difficult to pay off that debt in a timely fashion.

    Law school just seems like a big fat racket. I know that the laws have multiplied many times over since the time of Lincoln, but he managed just fine without once setting step inside of a law school. Learn what you need to know, get some real experience, and then practice law. That seems like a reasonable way of doing things to me.

  • Speaking of the Simpsons and law school, who can forget:

    Jimbo Jones: You let me down, man. Now I don’t believe in nothing no more. I’m going to law school.

    Homer: Noooo!

  • A classic Paul! I would have posted that if I could have found a video clip of it.

  • As a fellow shyster, and in the spirit of Proverbs 18:17, let me offer this rebuttal:

    1. I know it’s going to sound like I’m saying molten lava makes a great skin cream, but if anything there are too few lawyers in this country (if you are inclined to doubt this, consider how expensive hiring even a lousy lawyer can be, and what that suggests about the relative supply of and demand for legal services).

    2. It’s true that much of legal work is, well, work. My understanding is that this is true outside the law as well.

    3. Lots of lawyers aren’t rich. However, I’ve found that attorneys tend to have an exaggerated view of what it means to be “modestly compensated.” When I was in law school I interviewed for a position at a county prosecutor’s office. The guy doing the interview emphasized how poorly paid the position was, and how other students had turned down offers when they found out how much it paid because “you can’t live on that.” He then quoted me a figure that was above the median salary for Americans.

    4. If you go into certain areas of the law, you will see people at their worst (the same would be true, I suppose, if you become a cop, or social worker). On the other hand, most legal jobs involve either transactional work or civil litigation that doesn’t involve dealing with heroin addicts on a regular basis.

    5. People dislike lawyers in the abstract, but I’ve never had anyone be rude to me or treat me with contempt or disdain when I tell them I’m a lawyer. The truth is that being an attorney is actually a fairly high status profession in these United States. And it’s a good way to learn some funny jokes.

    6. See supra at 2.

    7. College tuition is reaching frightening levels in general, though it is probably worse with the law. On the other hand, student loans tend to be low interest, and as one of my law professors said “if you die before you’ve paid off your student loans, it’s like you’ve pulled one over on them). Most schools also have a loan forgiveness program if you do a couple years of “public interest” law after you graduate.

    8. I can’t argue with this. A lot of lawyers are jerks, particularly among litigators. If you can’t cope with this, the law may not be for you.

    9. It’s true that a lot of what you need to know about the practice of law you don’t learn in law school. So what? Maybe it would be better if you could skip straight to legal practice. But that ain’t the way it is, and all things considered school ain’t that bad.

    10. Lots of people hate their jobs, and attorneys have better exit options than most. If attorneys say they hate their job but keep going, this strikes me as being cheap talk.

  • I feel what you’re saying, Donald, but I like what Blackadder says a lot.

    And I’ll toss in another good point about the profession: Every now and then, you participate in something that looks–to even the most disinterested and objective observers–a whole lot like justice.

    [And, yes, I borrowed the essence of that last line from “Philadelphia.” It’s no less true for that.]

  • “Every now and then, you participate in something that looks–to even the most disinterested and objective observers–a whole lot like justice.”

    Oh I have had those moments too Dale. What I have seen more often however is the application of the law, which, depending upon the circumstances, may or may not be justice. One of the courtrooms I haunt has the motto “Fiat Justicia” on one of the walls. I have often translated it to clients, frequently to their intense amusement.

  • Then there is Our Lord:

    “46 But he said: Woe to you lawyers also, because you load men with burdens which they cannot bear, and you yourselves touch not the packs with one of your fingers”. Luke 11.

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  • Blackadder said:
    I know it’s going to sound like I’m saying molten lava makes a great skin cream, but if anything there are too few lawyers in this country (if you are inclined to doubt this, consider how expensive hiring even a lousy lawyer can be, and what that suggests about the relative supply of and demand for legal services).

    More lawyers won’t make their services any cheaper. There are lots of unemployed lawyers.

    I don’t regret law school but it’s definitely oversold.

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