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Newly Minted J.D.: Introduction

September 12, 2011
Guest blogger Kahlil Williams is a Philadelphia native and a recent graduate of Columbia Law School.
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Greetings, YLD! This is my first post in a series of posts on life as a newly minted J.D. In brief, I graduated from law school in May after a 3L year of doing . . . very little.  After graduation, I actively avoided studying for the bar, then frantically studied for the bar. After two days of guessing almost blindly on the bar exam, I took a short bar trip, then moved back to Philly with my family, and am sort of hanging out until work starts in November.

The transition has given me plenty of time to comment on topics relating to young lawyers, though, beginning this weekend, I’ll have to divide my time more evenly between that and being a successful fantasy football manager.  Anyway, this past week, I came across a couple of articles that echoed the near-deafening warning against attending law school. Specifically, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has concluded (surprise!) that law school is an increasingly risky investment, while the ABA Journal reported more sobering news about job placement in the legal profession. In general, I think articles questioning the wisdom of law school are really important, but as a recent graduate, I believe they miss a couple of key points.

First, because these articles tend to discuss law school’s value solely in the context of paying for it, the focus remains on the likelihood of securing gainful (or, better yet, lucrative) employment to pay off the staggering cost of law school. Unfortunately, past information about employment isn’t always a useful predictor of the future, even if we set aside the idealists who attend law school without doing their homework.  For instance, when I started law school in 2008, firm salaries and bonuses were through the roof and a JD was viewed by reasonable people as a safe way to make six-figure salary; the investment was only bad, for many of us, in hindsight. Using the Class of 2011 as a cautionary tale doesn’t help recent graduates (it actually just makes us mad), nor does it necessarily speak to the issues that will face graduates three years from now. Those of you who just made the decision to attend law school can probably relate–if things are picking up or will pick up, how much or how little should the past matter? [Ed. note: A huge recent bright spot for aspiring public interest attorneys concerned about the law school tuition debt is the powerful College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which reduces loan payments and allows for eventual loan forgiveness.]

Second, these pieces tend to concentrate on law students’ ability to gain employment at large law firms, but ignore the disappearance of other types of jobs that entice people to attend law school.  The victims of the legal economy’s collapse aren’t just the people who didn’t get firm jobs: they’re also the people who saw DA jobs get slashed because of government hiring freezes, or those who wanted to work for civil rights organizations, only to see funding for fellowships dry up. Students who end up doing document review in BigLaw rather than working for the government may find a JD to be every bit as bad of an investment as those who takes sales jobs instead of practicing law. And while the latter is clearly more sympathetic than the former, it is no less true that both students feel substantial buyer’s remorse.

Of course, it’s unclear how much these articles really matter, because law schools are still filling the seats. [Ed. note: True, although applications suddenly receded back to 2001 levels this year.] Speaking of which, congratulations to the Class of 2014 for getting through (for many of you) your first week of the Socratic method, dealing with gunners, and embarassing yourself at Bar Review. Seeing the 1Ls coming in as I moved out of my apartment reminded me of the end of the Wire, where (spoiler alert!) Michael becomes Omar, Dukie becomes Bubbles, and so on. Hopefully, none of you will become Maurice Levy… [Ed. note: If you needed a spoiler alert for the best show in television history, stop whatever you’re doing and watch all five seasons immediately.]
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While awaiting Kahlil’s next post, check out recent posts on similar topics:
Reflections on the Profession: Lawyers’ Job (Dis)Satisfaction
Reflections on the Profession: The (Nearly) Nationwide Lawyer Surplus
Reflections on the Profession: Reactions to the New-Lawyer Surplus by Prospective Law Students, Law Schools and the ABA 
Stagnation in Legal Job Market Sign of New World Order in Legal Services
SYTYWL: So You Think You Want to Lawyer, Part 1
SYTYWL: So You Think You Want to Lawyer, Part 2
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Russ Krause permalink
    September 12, 2011 1:44 pm

    “I graduated from law school in May after a 3L year of doing . . . very little. After graduation, I actively avoided studying for the bar, then frantically studied for the bar. After two days of guessing almost blindly on the bar exam, I [. . .] am sort of hanging out until work starts in November.”

    This doesn’t seem to be the greatest way to endear yourself to a group of young lawyers, many of whom are unemployed. Not to mention that most of them also took their entire law school career very seriously and actually prepared for the bar exam.

    Hopefully your words are mostly hyperbole, and I have no reason to doubt your worthiness as a job candidate. However, it seems to present a poor start to a relationship with the many young lawyers who will consider following your blog updates.

  2. LetsGoState permalink
    September 12, 2011 3:10 pm

    Thanks so much for writing, Russ. I’m very happy to see to a response to something other than getting over one’s ex!

    I hope that my intro didn’t come off as flippant–my description of my time of my 3rd year lies somewhere between absolute truth and hyperbole. But it wasn’t meant to be endearing, it was intended to give people some insight into my perspective on law school, and readers will have to decide for themselves whether that perspective is relevant to them, or whether it matters to the substance of the pieces I’ll contribute. And while I hope to present a viewpoint that many can relate to, I won’t pretend to have had the same experience as everyone else, though, perhaps, some sensitivity may be order.

    Thanks again!

  3. jlharrisesq permalink
    September 12, 2011 4:22 pm

    Russ–
    I have tried to recruit guest bloggers from all over the legal community, in order to get a broad picture of the state of the profession. Recent contributors to share their career-development experiences include: Elisa Kim, a Drexel 2L still trying to carve out a career path; Doug Greenberg, who has transitioned from government and law firm work to a solo practice; and now Kahlil Williams, who is about to start at a big law firm. If you would like to contribute a distinct perspective, I would welcome it. My email is on my blog profile: http://en.gravatar.com/jlharrisesq
    JLH

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