Why You Should Not Go to Law School
by Tucker Max
At some point
in their life, everyone thinks they should go to law school. You
may in fact think you want to go to law school now.
I don't know
you, I have no idea what the facts of your life are, but that doesn't
matter, you aren't the exception. For the overwhelming
majority of people (>99.9 percent), law school is the wrong choice.
How can I know
this? Because I've been you I went to law school for the
same reasons you think you should go and I was wrong. I should
never have gone to law school, and you shouldn't either.
If you're not
thinking about going to law school, you can skip this whole post,
or just send it to your friends who are thinking about going and
thank your god that you're not them. But if you are one of the many
thinking about law school, start by asking yourself one simple question:
I want to go to law school?"
Yes, it's an obvious question, but almost everyone in your position
either overlooks it or avoids it with rationalizations. So answer
it, right now, to yourself. You want an easy way to stay in school,
you want to be guaranteed a good high-paying job whatever
reason(s) you think you want to go to law school, spell them out
and make them explicit to yourself.
I have heard
every single answer to this question there is. These are the 6 wrong
reasons I hear most often (see if your answer is in this list):
6 Wrong Reasons to Go to Law School
1. "I like
arguing and everyone says I'm good at it."
Of all reasons
to go to law school, this is the worst by a large margin. Know who
else likes arguing? Sports talk radio hosts, cable news talking
heads and teenagers i.e., idiots. If you like to argue just
for the sake of being contentious, you shouldn't pick a job based
on this unresolved emotional issue of yours, you should get counseling
If you like
arguing for the intellectual challenges it can present, that's an
understandable and reasonable position. Everyone likes a healthy,
intelligent debate right? Well, understand
that being a lawyer has almost nothing to do with arguing in the
conventional sense, and very few lawyers ever engage in anything
resembling "arguments" in their commonly understood form. You aren't
going to be sitting around a fine mahogany desk sipping scotch with
your colleagues discussing the finer points of the First Amendment;
you're going to be crammed in a lifeless cubicle forced to crank
out last-minute memos about the tax implications for a non-profit
organization trying to lease office space to a for-profit organization
(if this gets your juices flowing, maybe the law is for you after
You won't even
be having fun discussions in law school. In law school, the people
who want to "argue" a lot are called "gunners" and are reviled by
everyone, even the professors. Make no mistake about it: Law school
is not a bastion of intellectual discourse. It is a fucking TRADE
SCHOOL. You are all there to be trained to think and act exactly
the same way as everyone else in the profession, so you can then
be a drone in the legal system. No one is interested in your opinion.
The only one of those that matters is the one expressed, with a
capital "O", by the judge(s) in whatever case you are currently
to be genuinely good at legal "arguing," you must be dispassionate,
reasonable and smart. I have never met a person who was any of those
things who also said they were going to law school because other
people told them they were good at arguing. It indicates only the
shallowest understanding of the law and pathetically sloppy critical-thinking
skills. If arguing is really why you want to go to law school, save
your money and start a blog about American politics where you can
shout into the echo chamber of imbeciles all you want without bothering
anyone smart who has things to do.
2. "I want
to be like Jack McCoy from Law & Order [or insert your favorite
legal TV show character]."
I have little
sympathy for this perspective. It is 2012, if you still allow yourself
to be misled by the bullshit on TV, it means you are either very
naive or an unrecoverable moron, and you should immediately drown
yourself in the nearest toilet to save the world the frustration
of having to deal with you and your stupidity. Let me be VERY clear
about this for you:
actual job of being a lawyer is NOTHING AT ALL like what you see
It is possibly
less like the real thing than any
other profession depicted on television. Every doctor I've ever
talked to scoffs at shows like ER and House, but
they all say that at least the diagnoses are connected to the physical
symptoms we see and are treated with the proper kinds of drugs.
In legal dramas, the exact opposite is the case. Don't think so?
The next time you get a DUI (if you're going to law school to be
like Jack McCoy this WILL happen), represent yourself and try to
give a speech while questioning the arresting officer. You won't
make it longer than 30 seconds before you're held in contempt and
locked up for wasting everyone's time. Is that a little harsh? Maybe.
Welcome to the grown-up world.
There is NO
lawyer/law procedural that even remotely shows what it's like to
be a lawyer. You know why? Because being a lawyer is not only soul-crushing,
it's REALLY BORING, and that doesn't make for good TV. If you want
to know what it's like to be a lawyer, go work in a law office for
a summer. Or shadow a lawyer for a day or two. There's nothing like
a day with a lawyer to disabuse you of the notion that anything
in the legal profession is like TV.
the only way I can use my humanities degree."
Having a soft
major is nowhere near the career death sentence that so
many make it out to be. The world is changing, and the U.S.
economy with it. Our economy is shifting to a service and information
based economy, and soft majors are already becoming more
and more valuable.
a services and information-based economy needs what the Humanities
creates: literate, intelligent, well-read people who can write and
communicate ideas effectively. The demand for these people is not
going to flutter out. In fact, it will only grow stronger as the
economy continues to shift and the supply of qualified candidates
remains insufficient. Do not make the mistake of thinking law school
is your only option. That is simply not true. In plain English:
humanities major now has many, many options they didn't have in
the pre-Internet era.
this reason belies an assumption: That you have to get a job. When
you finish school, everyone knows about the two most obvious options:
1. Get a job working for someone else or 2. Get more schooling.
But there is a third option: Carve your own path in the world. This
can take many different forms, like starting a company [for example
Graham's piece]. Or it could take the form of many other sorts
of lifehacking activities [for example, see Tim
Ferriss' muse concept, or Chris
Guilliebeau's $100 start-up concept].
If you limit
yourself to the choices presented to you by people who one did one
of those two things get a job or go back to school
then you obviously aren't going to understand that. There are other
ways to make a living, and lots of people following those paths,
you just have to go look for them.
4. "I want
to change the world/help homeless people/rescue stray kittens/do
help others is great, but if you are one of those rosy-eyed dipshits
who sign anti-sweatshop petitions while wearing Nikes (made in Vietnam
by children) and listening to your iPod (made in China by Foxconn
virtual slaves) you know what's going to happen when you finally
go out into the world trying to change it equipped with just a law
degree and a healthy dose of optimism? Life is going to kick you
in the teeth. Repeatedly.
If you go to
law school with just some vague notion of public service and no
sense of real, directed purpose, you WILL regret your decision.
My first day in law school, the entire class was gathered in a lecture
hall and they asked everyone who wanted to be in public service
to raise their hand. At least 100 people did. Do you know how many
ended up in a public service job three years later? Three of them.
The other 97+ didn't stop wanting to make the world a better place,
they just didn't know what it actually MEANS to help poor people
for $30,000 a year when they raised their hands three years earlier.
They hadn't tested their moral resolve in the crucible of suffocating
debt. A $140,000/year job at Skadden Arps is a hard thing to ignore
when you're staring down the barrel of a $150,000+ debt burden and
$1,700+ monthly loan payments that start real quick after graduation.
If you want
to cultivate a life full of bitterness and resentment a good way
to do it is go to law school thinking you're going to be a crusader
for change, then end up having to become the very opposite
a corporate lawyer drone to pay off your law school debt.
This happens to pretty much everyone in law school. If you want
to change the world, that's awesome go do it. Don't go to
law school, having a law degree doesn't help you.
5. "I don't
know what else to do."
If you are coming to the end of your schooling and don't know what
to do, or just otherwise feel lost in life, you shouldn't feel bad.
It's OK. You're not alone. At least you have an excuse: You're barely
old enough to drink, you don't need to know what you're going to
do with the rest of your life at this point.
If your parents
and guidance counselors say that you should have already "picked
a direction" or "figured out a plan for your future" by now, ignore
them. The pressure and admonitions they are foisting upon you aren't
about your happiness or your success; it's about theirs. It's about
validating themselves as good parents and qualified counselors.
If they see you go to law school, to them it means you a) got good
grades, b) went to college, c) didn't drop out, d) didn't commit
(m)any felonies, e) have ambition and f) will make six-figures.
By every traditional measure, they have succeeded in their prescribed
None of this,
of course, has anything to do with whether you are happy or fulfilled
or even like the law; which are the most important considerations
when making a decision like this. So relax. If you need more time
to find your calling, that's fine, take it. Try lots of things,
see what you like. Try working in a law firm, you'll see REAL fast
that you hate it (or you'll love it, and thus validate your law
6. "I want
to make a lot of money."
one thing you can't argue with, it's that lawyers make a lot of
money, right? I mean, a corporate lawyer starts at something like
$140k a year, that's huge, right?
$140k+ to start
sounds like a lot of money, until you break it down. Currently,
most large corporate firms where you will find these six-figure
starting salaries require
somewhere between 1,900-2,000 billable hours from their associates.
This is not the total number of hours you have to be in the office,
this is the total number of hours
of actual work you can bill directly to a client. For a smart
attorney with a solid work ethic, it typically takes about 10 hours
in the office to accrue 7 billable hours; tracked most often in
6 minute or 1/10th of an hour segments. If we take the lower end
of the billable requirement threshold (1,900 hours), that means
a typical attorney has to work about ~2,700 real hours in a year
to meet their minimum billables. To put that in perspective, 2,700
hours is equal to working 7.5 hours a day EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE
Using a $140,000
base salary, that's equivalent to making ~$50/hour [FYI here's
a short list of other careers that pay $50/hour or more and
do not require a) 3 years of post-graduate schooling and $150k in
debt or b) you to work 365 days a year to get it].
This is what
people mean when they talk about something that looks too good to
be true. There is a reason so many lawyers leave the legal field:
Being a lawyer especially a lawyer at the type of big corporate
firm that seemingly pays so well SUCKS.
Bar Association has published
several studies about the incredibly low job satisfaction of lawyers
and in every survey they publish, most
lawyers say they would NOT be a lawyer if they had it all to do
most important thing for you to understand, there are NOT an unlimited
number of jobs out there that start at $140,000/year. In fact, there
aren't many at all, and pretty much ALL of them go to kids who come
from the Top 15 law schools. Beyond that, the overall legal job
market has dried up, even
the low paying jobs. They aren't going to tell you any of this
at law school recruitment receptions; in fact schools continue to
tell prospective students the opposite, which
is why more and more of them are being sued for fraud.
I cannot be
any clearer about this: You are not guaranteed a job out of any
law school, much less a job that pays six figures.
Now, ask yourself
the question again:
"Why do I want
to go Law School?"
If ANY of the
6 above reasons describe why you want to go to law school, stop
now. Seriously. No qualifiers on this statement, just stop. DO NOT
GO. You will regret it.
If you think
you have one of the good reasons to go to law school you're still
not out of the woods:
There are many
perfectly valid reasons to go to law school. You may very well have
one of them. But even if your reason for going to law school is
rock solid, you still need to consider one major thing: Debt.
this multiple times above, because it is so crucially important
to making the right decision about law school. Debt is the elephant
in the room that law schools never tell you about, but ends up dominating
is three years long. If you go to an average law school and don't
get any tuition help or scholarships, you are going to spend ~$150,000
all-in, at least. That's three years of tuition, assorted fees,
books and living expenses. Unless you are one of the few whose parents
set up a tuition fund for BOTH your undergrad AND your grad school,
that means you are going to be taking loans. This means you are
going to start your law job already 150k in the hole and
that's not counting any undergrad debt you may be carrying. This
means you are going be making a $1,700/month payment for about a
decade. On just your grad school debt.
And make no
mistake about it: Once you are in debt, they own you. In a straight-forward
approximation, a starting salary of $140,000/year would put our
intrepid new lawyer in the 28 percent tax bracket. Loan payments
will take another 14.57 percent of his per-unit-time income. To
a first-degree approximation then, it is accurate to say 42.5 percent
of our INL's income dissipates before being touched by him/her.
It'd be funny if it wasn't so sad.
Even if you
started off law school with the best of non-profit save-the-world
intentions, when you are staring a $1,700 per MONTH payment in the
face, you WILL end up scurrying to work for a white collar sweatshop.
And you will hate it, like everyone does, and you WILL want to leave,
like everyone does, but you won't be able to like everyone
else can't because you will have too much debt to pay off.
So you're going
to spend a decade toiling 12 hours a day for what? To pay off the
debt you incurred to get that job!? HOW CRAZY IS THAT!?!
what THAT IS THE LAW SCHOOL RACKET.
Just Believe Me
I asked some
friends who are lawyers to read a preliminary version of this post
and give me their feedback. I'll leave you with their quotes:
would HIGHLY recommend that anyone who is thinking of law school
spend a year as a paralegal or as some sort of staff at a law firm
before going to law school. Enough so that you can see 1) what young
attorneys have to do 2) hear how much they bitch about hating it
and 3) dispel any notions about ANY law firm caring about their
associates or being "family friendly". Because that is a damn expensive
mistake to make if you find out you don't like the practice of law.
I went to a very good, very expensive law school and started out
at a big firm. I hated it. I have since moved on to a smaller firm,
which I do like more. But in all honesty, if I could do it all over,
I would not go at all. And if I wasn't staring 100k in student loans
in the face, I would probably quit firm practice altogether.
have worked as a paralegal in some form of legal (family, bond,
litigation) for 14 years now. I have yet to meet an attorney who
is satisfied with his lot in life. I am not saying everyone non-esquire
is thrilled with theirs, just that on a whole, these are some of
the saddest, most down-trodden people I have known in my life. Most
of my best friends are attorneys so I hear first hand about the
student loans they are STILL paying off at 38; the huge houses and
Mercedes' they purchased well beyond their means to "keep up with
the Joneses" (a.k.a. every other attorney in the firm); the misery
that is their ongoing marriages; the ridiculous hours; ice cold
dinners; the utter lack of originality in their conversations; etc.,
etc., etc. Listening to these woes sucks the energy out of me everytime
they come up. The most common nugget I hear: "Why, God WHY did I
choose this profession?"
ever told me that I would be keeping time sheets that require me
to divide my days into six-minute increments. Nobody told me I would
have to choose between doing it right and doing it on a budget.
The words "the client is cost-sensitive" burn my ears. But the marketing
shit is the worst. The push to bring in business and schmooze potential
clients and "cross-sell" within the firm. It's worse at some firms
than others, but it is absolute misery to me no matter how much
or how little marketing I may be doing. I've been practicing for
10 years, most of that time in big firms, and I have yet to get
used to the business side of things. So I suppose that would be
my take on things: even if you are going to law school for all of
the "right reasons," odds are you will spend a significant portion
of your day as the used-car salesman from Hell whose boss is nickle
and diming you to an early grave.
I write this, it is 85 degrees, sunny, with a slight, cooling breeze
coming from the West. The only reason I know this is that I took
twenty minutes to run to get a sandwich to eat at my desk. I am
sitting in a basement office which houses three of us, putting off
research on state law fair debt collection vs. the Federal Fair
Debt Collection Practices Act and the definition of a creditor to
write this post. If that paragraph alone doesn't deter someone from
law school, then I don't know what will.
And my personal
favorite, from a friend of mine who is a partner at a huge multi-national
am a partner in one of the largest law firms in the world (measured
by either revenue or # of lawyers). I had two associates pull all-nighters
last night. I doubt either of them has slept more than 3 or 4 hours
any night this week. I wonder if they are regretting their decision
to go to law school? I'd ask, but I don't really care. Tucker, I'd
really prefer if you did not do anything to cut off the supply of
drones. Fortunately, the ones who will actually be persuaded by
your speech are not the ones we want working here. I actually agree
with everything you said in your speech. However, whoever posted
the job satisfaction stat about 76 percent being unsatisfied, that
means 24 percent are satisfied. You may be in the 24 percent.
Here is the
funny thing about this piece: Every bit of knowledge in this piece
was conferred to me before I got to law school. Much of it was told
to me BY LAWYERS who repeatedly stressed how much they HATED their
this point, even the ABA is telling college kids not to go to law
You know what
I did? I ignored it. I mean, sure all of those other assholes may
be miserable and may hate the legal profession, but what do they
know, they're only lawyers? If you're laughing at my ignorance,
you're right to laugh. I was stupid.
Don't be me.
Don't go to law school. Go do something with your life that you'll
enjoy, is rewarding and productive and makes the world a better
from Huffington Post
with permission from the
Tucker Max's website.
Max is author of multiple #1 NY Times Best Sellers. His first book,
Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, was credited with inventing
the 'fratire' literary genre and spent six years on the NY Times
Best Seller list, with over 2 million copies in print. His second
Finish First, and his third book, Hilarity
Ensues, are also NY Times Best Sellers. He co-wrote and produced
the movie based on his life/book, also titled I
Hope They Serve Beer In Hell. He is only the third writer
(after Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis) to ever have three books
on the NY Times Nonfiction Best Seller List at one time, and was
nominated to the Time magazine 100 Most Influential List
in 2009. Tucker Max received his BA from the University of Chicago
in 1998, and his JD from Duke Law School in 2001. He currently lives
in Austin, Texas. Visit
© 2013 Tucker