I Think the Market is Too Bad to Go to Law School, Right?

Ex-Bitter Columns, law school, Lawyer 19 Comments

QI am a senior in college about to enter the real world, and I am beginning to have serious doubts about attending law school. Given the massive amount of layoffs and decline in hiring at BigLaw firms recently, I am just not sure that going into six-figure debt will eventually pay off for me or many of my classmates who will be entering law school.

Thankfully, I studied accounting in college and have secured employment in that field for the time being; however, I had always intended on going to law school one day. But now, I doubt the legal field will get better any time soon. What are your thoughts on the availability of jobs (and even starting salaries) for future law students?

Given the economy, not to mention the bitter feelings expressed on this site, I have serious concern that a law degree is not a guaranteed ticket to a comfortable, happy lifestyle.

AGreat question. But unfortunately, you omitted the most important fact from your post. Do you want to be a lawyer? For real. Do you feel it in your bones? Does the possibility of practicing law excite you? If so, then GO TO LAW SCHOOL!

This site might be called Bitter Lawyer, but we don’t discourage people from following their dreams. In fact, we attempt to do the opposite. We’re just realists.

As for the legal job market. It’s not great at the moment, but several BigLaw partners told me last week that things are starting to pick up, albeit slowly. Litigation is as strong as ever, but corporate and real estate practices continue to struggle.

If I were you, I wouldn’t let the economy dictate my career path—that is, if you actually want to be a lawyer. Regardless of the current economic situation, the practice of law is still a solid profession. It’s not going to disappear due to technological advances, like the music business.

My advice is this: Work at the accounting firm and see if you like that. At the same time, pay attention to the lawyers you interact with.  See if you like what they do. If so, go to law school. (Granted, there are many types of law, but since you’re an accountant, I’m guessing corporate law is your thing.)

Good luck.

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  • Guano Dubango

    There will always be some need for lawyers, I hope.  That is what I thought when I came to USA for LLM degree.  Now, lawyers are not popular, but I think I have better chances as a lawyer to meet and marry a beautiful woman than as an accountant, who I believe is more dull for woman who wants excitement.  Be accountant for now, but do not give up hope as to become a lawyer.  If you want a beautiful wife, you must be a lawyer.

  • TaxxxGirl

    Great advice. Being in the “real world” helps tremendously in interviews. Firms will be more confident that you can deal with clients and you’ll have a boss to write you a rec letter rather than a professor. I went straight through to law school, which put me in my mid-20s before I ever had worked a day at a “real job” that I intended to stay at for longer than a summer. It was a disadvantage compared to classmates with a good track record at a solid company. You’re making the right choice!

  • Craig

    Bitter Lawyer gave some excellent advice here.

  • KateLaw

    An accountant walking into the room is like two interesting people walking out.  Ha, I’m kidding.  I know some pretty cool accts and I agree with the advice here.  If you Truly want to be a lawyer, go to law school -but not necessarily right away.  I worked for GE for 2 years after college and got that “real world experience” that set me (and will set you) apart from 95% of your fellow classmates.  AND… guess who got the better job & is still employed (even though I was so not at the top of my class)… Also, props for picking a worthwhile undergrad degree -not common in law school either.

  • Francis Barragan

    Actually, I think the advice is sound, you should go if it is field you think you will like. But I also think that you should be careful about your expectations, which you seem to be. A lot of people go into law thinking that they’ll be millionaires by 35… but it’s really not happening that way on a lot of cases….
    Good luck!

  • Anon

    Good advice here.  What’s the rush?  Take a year, see if you like accounting, if you still want to be a lawyer, etc… Truthis, I really wish I took time off between college and law school.  I would’ve focused on the LSATs more, given more thought to where to go to school, what kind of law I wanted to practice… Or, I would have realized being a lawyer is for tools and gone to business school instead.

  • Almost Dead Partner

    Go to law school now –if that’s what you want. If you detour to accounting, you’ll get used to an income and it’ll be hard to go back to school.  Don’t worry re the “market.” One, there’s always room at the top. Two, the market has been “soft” a lot over the years: 1981, 1990-92, 2000, and now. Things will come back (I hope), despite the ruinous taxes we all face. But forget any idea of coasting while you smoke cigars, wear silk smoking jackets and delegate to endless staff: its always been a fiction. To get ahead with so many smart people competing against you, its necessary that you work hard and take a lot of responsibility. We all did and it worked out. Come on in: we’re holding the door for you.

  • BL1Y

    I really can’t tell if Almost Dead Partner is serious.

  • Undergrad

    As a fellow undergrad myself, I’ve been hearing countless number of warnings of how the law market is becoming increasingly saturated. Most college students I know are entering law school just for the money which I seriously doubt is the wrong move about now. Thanks for the post.

  • Almost dead Partner

    What does not sound serious?  Don’t detour to a job? There’s always room at the top? Work hard?  Or that I’m almost dead?

  • Henry

    Go with the flow. Go where the babes will find you.  Get the women while you can.  If it means getting a law degree, go for it.

  • BL1Y

    Almost Dead: That there’s always room on top and the part about it being hard to give up earning a salary.  He can still take out loans to cover living expenses, so going back to school wouldn’t be a huge hit to his life style, especially if he’s set aside some money in the bank.  And, there’s not always room on the top.  The top is where there have been the most layoffs.  Given that not even all students from T5 schools can find AMLaw 100 jobs, there’s never been enough room at the top, and now there’s even less.

  • Almost dead partner

    BL1Y:  Nothing’s forever.  i think lots of laid off lawyers will give up or be too fixed on whatever jobs they get to get back in the market three years from now.  Kids in law school now may find a dry pipeline if the economy heats up again. Baby boomer lawyers that don’t retire or die may work longer but they need younger people to do things.  People to be diligent and not wanting to work in public interest law from 9-5.  I’ve seen it happen a few times since 1980.  There is a TIME article in 1991 in May I think that moans about the condition of law jobs in much the same way as today’s article does. And yes, there is room at the top. Its not a sinecure, its not a dukedom and you have to work to stay there. But there is room.

  • unemployed lawyer

    Choose the accounting job. Law school is a terrible investment. There are no guarantees of a legal career, let alone a lucrative one. My brother is a 30-yr old accountant with no debt and a good job. I am a 29-yr old lawyer who’s unemployed & suffocating in $153,000 in student loan debt. I wanted to work in bus/corp law. I got a bus degree and MBA as a safety net. Experience is key. When I search for jobs, they want 5-10 yrs exp. Your 1st semester of law school can determine the rest of your life. You need to get stellar grades to make law review & land a good internship. If not, the prospects are bleak (unless you have the right connections). The legal market is completely saturated and will only get worse. When I applied to law school in the 03/04 school year, there were a record # of applicants due to that recession. I had a top 12% LSAT score and had to settle for a safety school. I made the waiting list of better schools and probably would have been accepted in a non-recession yr. In this recession, there are even more people trying to ride it out in law school. Every year, 45,000 law students graduate in the U.S. This adds to the current 1 million licensed attorneys. BigLaw jobs are very hard to get. Many who do get in are miserable. Does 70-100 hours a week in a stressful job sound appealing to you? It’s not like the movies. I’ve met former BigLaw associates who got out to do low-stress, doc review. Regardless, the legal industry is changing, and it is harder to land a position in BigLaw. The current model—hiring 1st yr associates at 6 figure salaries and training them while billing to clients—is under serious threat. Many large corp clients are no longer willing to pay inexperienced associates to work on cases. Have you heard about all the deferred hires and rescinded offers to 09 law grads? Law schools don’t prepare graduates for the work-world, and the firms and clients know it. Legal ed will be forced to change its model towards something akin to the med prof (residency/apprenticeship). There’s no reason to enter law school before this transition takes place. Take the accounting job and compare your situation (3 yrs of income) to your friends in law school (3 yrs of exorbitant debt). See where they’re at in three or four years and then decide if you want to take the plunge. It might be worth it if you could land a job in tax law (but that might require an LLM). I’ve found out the hard way that most finance, corporate, and tax work can be done by nonlawyers. Companies don’t want to pay a lawyer’s salary, and a law degree just makes you over-qualified/priced. I disagree with the comment “Regardless of the current economic situation, the practice of law is still a solid profession.  It’s not going to disappear due to technological advances, like the music business.” First of all, have you heard of LegalZoom.com? Why hire an attorney when you can order a cheap will, contract, or other legal document online? Second, legal software is rapidly advancing. After finishing school, I’ve worked intermittently as a contract attorney doing document review. For those of you who don’t know what doc review is (I didn’t either until I started doing it and was quite shocked by the sight of a large room in a basement full of “attorneys” staring at computers), it is looking at countless emails, spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations, and other documents to determine if they are relevant to a lawsuit and if they are privileged. Doc review is the low-end legal work that is looked down upon by the profession. It is temp work through an employment agency and is often the only work available to a large percentage of law grads. Now, even this degrading work is hard to get. Much of this work disappeared due to tech advances in search software (which can weed-out most of the docs to be reviewed) and the use of lawyers in India. 80,000 Indians graduate each year with a law degree. They are trained in English/American law and are vying for work. The ABA allows them to perform legal work, i.e., doc review, research, due diligence, and intellectual property. I’ve also heard that accounting/bookkeeping work is now being outsourced, so watch out. The law schools, ABA, and big law firms have something to sell and always paint a rosy picture. The blogs are more reliable. E.g., “My goal is to inform potential law school students and applicants of the ugly realities of attending law school. DO NOT ATTEND UNLESS: (1) YOU GET INTO A TOP 8 LAW SCHOOL; (2) YOU GET A FULL-TUITION SCHOLARSHIP TO ATTEND; (3) YOU HAVE EMPLOYMENT AS AN ATTORNEY SECURED THROUGH A RELATIVE OR CLOSE FRIEND; OR (4) YOU ARE FULLY AWARE BEFOREHAND THAT YOUR HUGE INVESTMENT IN TIME, ENERGY, AND MONEY DOES NOT, IN ANY WAY, GUARANTEE A JOB AS AN ATTORNEY OR IN THE LEGAL INDUSTRY.” http://thirdtierreality.blogspot.com/

  • Steve

    You’re actually in a decent situation here. You have options.
    You have an accounting degree and you say that you’ve secured a job already, which is great. There’s no need to make a decision immediately… you can always spend a year or two doing accounting and figure out if you like it. If after taking some time, you still want to go to law school, then go.
    On the other hand, if practicing law is your dream, then I say 100% go to law school. Even if the economy isn’t great, its hard to get jobs in lots of areas – not just law. Either way, the economy will pick up again at some point, and if worst comes to worst and there are no legal jobs, you can stick with accounting until one becomes available.
    One way or another, I have no doubt that things will work out for you. Best of luck.

  • Almost dead lawyer

    If Bill Gates had listened to IBM (no future in the personal computer), and the moaners in the late 70’s (“stagflation,” the “economy is broken,”) or early 80’s (interest rates above 14%), he could be an accountant now.  When I was sworn in before 1980 there were 50,000 lawyers in either LA County or California, a number “everyone” said was too high. If I’d listened to them I could have been a bean counter too. Lots of older lawyers will die in their office, retire, and lots of laid off ones will become accountants. Lots of them won’t stand up to the rigors of the practice (they think its easy), and many women lawyers –50% of some classes (!)–will quit to have kids. If you don’t really want to be a lawyer, don’t.  But don’t blame “the market” (maybe law professors and out of touch deans peddling all those “diversity” classes, instead of some useful clinical classes), but not the market. Also, decades ago, new lawyers were not paid and were expected to support themselves while they learned.  You may have to deliver more than doc reviews and you need to anticipate that-how to deliver value to a client.  So do somehting different: skip the party and go watch a trial; intern at a firm for the experience; but act.  Becoming a lawyer today is like making a pass at a pretty girl you meet while grungily dressed and out of shape: if you wait till your perfectly fit and perfectly dressed, she’s gone.

  • CPA – 3L

    I agree. I would start at the accounting firm. I gained a lot of valuable work experience while at one of the Big Four, Five, etc., that actually helps me apply legal concepts to real life, which is something that doesn’t occur often in law school.
    Furthermore, I’m pretty sure my work experience helped me land a few gigs too. Lastly, I would try to obtain a CPA license. You can probably have the firm fund your Becker and exam costs, and as soon as you successfully pass, dip out. I did. I rarely use accounting now, but I’m active and it sounds good in an interview.

  • Anxiety Man

    CPA – 3L, what school are you currently attending? Are you pretty much the only law student you know of with a CPA license?

  • BitterBlonde

    Check out what you have to look forward to: indentured servitude

    Who can pay law school loans on $10/hr?????