f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

August 16, 2005

1L of a risk

Filed under: — David Giacalone @ 8:38 pm

Although Prof. Yabut is on sabbatical, he asked us to post a few of his

customarily-crusty sentiments for the edification of new law students.

[They were prompted by an inquiry yesterday from Prof. Rick Garnett,

via Leiter.]



                                                 1L of a Risk



Because we’re all adults, I’m going to be totally frank in this short homily to  prof yabut small flip

new law students: Your decision to attend law school is very likely to be one

of the riskiest that you will ever make in your life.  Law school will test your

stamina and your sanity, leave you with a mountain of debt, and prepare you

(some say rather poorly) for a profession that is universally disliked, and is rife

with dissatisfied, self-loathing and depressed individuals, who feel helpless to

redeem their lives and selfesteem. (see, e.g., the links and discussion here and



The experiences of his clients make lawyer and career counselor Ronald W. Fox

angry every time he hears the words “law school.”  He explains:

“They entered law school with confidence, talents, smarts, dreams

of justice and high hopes and left three years later with few legal

skills, limited awareness of the values of the profession, little knowledge

of the range of options for a career, not a clue about how to look for work

and a mountain of debt. They were transformed into cynical individuals

with a false, narrowed perspective of their choices and a dramatically

reduced sense of self-worth.”

As we reported last year, lawyer-author Steven Keeva has made a similar


“Recent research demonstrates how a majority of first-year students

who come to school with an inner motivational focus—that is, a desire

to help others, make the world a better place and so on—move rather

rapidly to an external focus, such as earning a lot of money or impressing

others. Such shifts typically coincide with plummeting levels of well-being[.]”

boy writing  If you did the Homework we suggested last Spring, you already knew the

risks, and you’ve done your best to minimize them by figuring out your own motivations,

adding up the true cost, assessing realistic job options if saddled with large debt,

and seeking out unbiased and experienced opinions about law practice.   But, if

you’re among the multitude who didn’t do the soul-searching and legwork necessary

to choose law school intelligently, you better start doing them now.  Yes, now, despite

all the other pressures of 1L life.


Why now?  Because (1) the entire law school experience should be geared toward

deciding whether law is the right career for you (not your parents or friends!); (2) if the

answer ends up being “no,” you need to cut your losses as soon as possible; (3) if 

the answer — after really working on the question — turns out to be “yes,” you will

have both a great sense of relief and a reassuring sense of direction for your legal

career; and (4) self-assessment about your career in the law should be a perennial

task, to help assure you’ll get the most out of it, while being prepared for a wide variety

of possibly upsetting surprises. 


Derek Haskew presents what might be the best reason to start your self-assessment  podiumS

— asking who you are and what you want from a law degree and the legal profession —

as soon as possible:

“[T]he person you are before you enter law school is certain to be different

from the one who leaves three years later. Given that, the question becomes,

what part of you do you wish to have around to celebrate at graduation? 


“In retrospect, it is easy to see how nearly anyone who is accepted can

graduate from law school. The challenge is in not being changed so much

by the experience that you forget why you went there in the first place.”

I’m not trying to scare you, as you start law school.  But, I do want you to feel very

uncomfortable if you are unable to say that you’re already sure you want to be a lawyer,

that you know yourself well enough to know your career goals (or at least your

bedrock values), and that you’ve thought through the practical issues surrounding

graduating with a large amount of debt. 

podiumSN Please don’t think that there are no happy, satisfied lawyers. 

For example, see here, here and there.  I think many of the

satisfied are the kind of folk who would find a way to be

content almost anywhere.  Unfortunately, most of us tend

to be easily disappointed and frustrated.  We need to try

harder to avoid career angst and burnout. 

There are some excellent web resources for law students who are trying to find out

who they are and what they want in a career.  The Decision Books Law Student Page 

is very good place to start, with many free exercises to help with career asssessment.

The Values Inventory could even be a good parlor game for friends on a weekend night —

letting you sort out and prioritize values, and here the choices and comments of your

fellow students. 


Many college websites have an excellent Pre-Law Advisor, that was put together by

Notre Dame’s Ava Preacher and uses helpful input from career counselor and lawyer-

author Deborah Arron.   Note that there is only One Good Reason to go to law school:

You want to be a lawyer (and actually know what that means).  Take a look at the

Things to Ponder” list of characteristics of contented lawyers and of those who might

be ill-suited for the legal profession. Be honest with your self about how those lists

make you feel as a law student.  [check our homework posting for more sources]

tiny check  No, none of these tools and exercises will spoon-feed

you answers and remedies.  Sorry, it will take your attention

and commitment.

Don’t be surprised if you start wondering whether you’ve made a bad choice.  Listen to

your gut and your heart.  Cutting your losses is a lot better than “investing” in a career

and lifestyle that will make you (and your loved ones) miserable.   If you think you need

more time to discover whether a lawyer’s life is the right one for you, consider asking

for a leave of absence (after completing your semester or year).  Most schools will

be supportive.

school bus I want to point out one especially good webpage for law

students.  It’s Derek Haskew‘s 1L of a Challenge, which aims at “Staying

Healthy and Whole in Law School.”  It has columns, Q&A interviews,

and occasional news on innovative approaches to humanizing legal

education.  It’s a gem, and I was shocked that a Technorati search

turned up only one weblog link to 1L of a Challenge.  Check out


“penny small” Rhymes with Google:  While you’re in school and deciding your place

in the legal profession, there is one very important way to lower your risk and any

losses: Be Frugal — not to mention sparing, thrifty, and economical.   This probably

sounds even more difficult than discovering the real you, but it is essential that you

keep your debt as low as possible, in order to keep your options as open as possible. 

(See Going to Law School, or Just Going Broke? by Derek Haskew, and see Sherry 

Fowler’s comment and my reply here about getting into and avoiding debt).  After

graduation, it is far too easy to allow “golden handcuffs” caused by high mortgages

and lifestyle/spousal “necessities” to become manacles that keep you from finding a

fulfilling career and balanced lifestyle.  You can help avoid it, with sacrifices that are

far from draconian.  As I told Scheherazade in a comment two years ago:

“To be honest, it seems to me that those handcuffs are self-imposed.

The key to releasing the cuffs is deciding that a less expensive lifestyle is

acceptable — including less expensive neighborhood and home, auto,

wardrobe, vacations, hobbies, and social life. It sounds like a rather flimsy

excuse for someone who does not yet have a family to support to say,

‘I want to use my degree to change the world, but my debt is too high.’


“Maybe I should blame my generation of middle-class Baby Boomers for

raising, on the whole, a generation of children who feel entitled to most of

the amenities of a successful middle-class lifestyle, even when first entering

their careers [and while still students!]”

Some commentators, such as John Steele, scoffed at the article “Javanomics 101:

Today’s Coffee is Tomorrow’s Debt” (WashPost, June 18, 2005).  In our blurb, we


“John’s right that expensive coffee alone does not create the massive coffee cup gray

law-student debt that so limits career choices.  However, it is a very

representative symbol for a generation whose spending habits are so

impractical and uncessarily expensive, that they price themselves out

of a lot of career options.”

If you take a hatchet to those living expenses — especially entertainment and

meals outside of your home — you just might have an extra hundred dollars or two

a month for life’s true necessities once it’s time to pay back those loans.

“noyabutsSN”  I want to end with a bit of tough love, by repeating a message for law students

from New Jersey Appellate Judge Jose L. Fuentes: If law isn’t your passion, get out of

law school.  More expansively, Judge Fuentes pleads (emphasis added):

To all these unfortunate souls: to the perpetual child, to the risk manager, to

the ambitious social climber, to the mindless would-be robo-lawyer, I have but

one [piece of] advice: GET OUT! Get out now while you can still leave with

your soul intact. Do not allow life to catch you from behind, one day when you

least expected and are least capable of resisting.


Get out now and rediscover yourself. Ask the hard questions that you avoided

asking when your parents told everyone that their child was going to be a lawyer.

Ask, who am I? Not what am I going to do? [At] no other time in your life are

you ever going to be as free as you are right now to make these hard choices and

then act upon them.

Okay, you’ve got you’re foot in the door of the legal profession.  Now, make sure it’s the

right door, or at least make sure you have an exit strategy.  Best wishes, from the Old




admissions week —

two fat envelopes

and two skinny ones









prairie twilight…

the glow of the cattleman’s

branding iron


                Ed Markowski






during discussion

on the meaning of life . . . the crunch

of a student’s apple



                         George Swede

                                   from Almost Unseen

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