Time flies. The crop of young 1Ls in the LARW (Legal Analysis, Research & Writing) class I used to teach during my 3L year at University of Baltimore are sitting for the Maryland bar exam as we speak. I have kept in touch with several of my former students, and I spoke with one of them on Monday as he was traveling through various stages of anxiety.
The sad thing was that he was not completely consumed by the understandable trepidation that comes from the bar exam. The main topic of the conversation was the fact that he was still trying to find a job.
After transferring from the University of Baltimore to a law school ranked in the top 25 — and after graduating from that law school in the top 25 percent of his class and applying to over 200 clerkships across the country — he found himself concerned about employment the day before the worst (but biggest) two days of his life. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not how he envisioned the culmination of his law school career when he started a few years ago.
Why are people still clamoring to go to law school? A couple major news outlets, the main one being the New York Times, are scratching their heads over the same question. Unfortunately, despite the huge toll the recession took on the legal industry in 2009, students are still sprinting toward law schools with the belief it will bring them career satisfaction through monetary bliss.
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog said it best: “Did you think gunning to get into the Yales and Harvards of law schools was the way to find happiness? Think again.” The National Jurist released a survey that analyzed the best standard of living among graduates (who enter private practice) of various law schools in the nation by reviewing median starting salaries, average debt payments, estimated federal and state taxes, and cost of living adjustments for the regions where graduates were employed.
The survey noted cost of living considerations exerted a major downward pull on rankings for schools in California and the northeast, particularly New York. While Baltimore and areas further out from Washington have more reasonable costs of living, I am pretty positive that D.C. itself and its closest neighborhoods do not enjoy that standard.
So for those sitting for bar exams across the nation — I send my best wishes your way. For those lawyers who have friends considering law school, be frank with your advice and push them to realistically review the articles above. Strongly encourage them to read the follow-up post at the National Law Journal and the New York Times’ own follow-up posted this week.
Finally, I ask lawyers in Big Law, Small Law, or No Law — how are you facing the struggle of student loans, cost of living, and adapting to the real world post-graduation? I would love your thoughts.