Thursday, June 3, 2010

Are Law Students Ignorant Cretins?

A retired Canadian law professor claims the current Canadian law school model has turned legal education into "kindergarten for cretins." Robert Martin claims deregulation of law school tuition resulted in schools developing the Wal-Mart Model (presumably meaning law schools are now offering cheap education at a high volume). The McLean's article, which does not link to Martin's original article that was published in the journal, Interchange, does not specify whether Martin believes the legal market is over-saturated as a result, but by stating that law degrees can now be bought by virtually any sucker who will pay the inflated tuition, he is certainly implying just that.

I am a bit offended that Martin calls law school graduates illiterate and ignorant. Most law school graduates, even those who did not attend first-tier institutions, are probably fairly intelligent and ambitious, although misguided in their attempt to secure middle-class lifestyles by paying six-figures for degrees of questionable value. I believe most of the blame falls on the institutions who charge exorbitant tuition rates while promising graduates starting salaries of $70K +. Maybe that story will be in next month's issue.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Another Grad Who Would Like a Refund

The New York Times reported today on a woman named Cortney Munna, who incurred over $100,000 in student loan debt for a 4-year degree from NYU. She is now attending night school in order to defer her loans, but the interest is still accruing. Once her loans come out of deferment, the payments should be about $700 per month. She currently earns $22 per hour working for a photographer.

The article does not specify what type of degree Munna earned, but I am going to take a wild guess that it was of the Liberal Arts variety. As I've said before, most liberal arts degrees are basically useless. The only use mine ever had was that I could put it at the top of my resume when applying for jobs after college. None of the positions for which I applied actually required knowledge of political science or philosophy, but the companies still required a B.A. or B.S.

This is the sad reality of higher education. Students spend thousands of dollars and go into debt in order to earn degrees that will help them achieve middle-class jobs, but the loan payments will end up putting these suckers back to the position they were in prior to taking out the loans. For example, Munna works for $22 per hour. Without her college degree, she might have been able to find office work for $10-$15 per hour. She takes home $2300 per month with her current position, but $700 of that will eventually go toward her loans. So, that leaves her with $1600 per month, which is about $12-$13 per hour prior to withholding, and $10 per hour after withholding. So what did she gain by attending NYU?

How much are your student loan payments and what percentage of your current income does that comprise? Was taking on student loans worth it in the end?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"You do realize we're all going to be dead soon, don't you?"

Once one realizes she no longer wants to be an attorney, being one becomes intolerable.

I remember being mired in despair during my search for a non-legal job, when I would routinely come home from work and log onto job search websites. Sometimes, if I was feeling particularly discouraged, I would skip the job search websites and go straight for a glass of wine. I remember crying to my husband about how I was "wasting my life" and that I was starting to hate living my life. At work, I was miserable, and when I wasn't at work, I was dreading having to go back.

I kept remembering what a friend of mine had once told me when I was complaining to him about some trivial problem I was having: "You know what - who cares? Do you realize we're all going to be dead soon?" At the time, I just laughed, agreed with him, and changed the subject. But when I thought of it in the context of my job situation, it began to have greater meaning. Hating my life was not a trivial problem, but the truth behind the sentiment remained: we are all going to die eventually (even soon if you consider how old the average human is when she dies compared to how old the universe is), so we best not waste precious days worrying about trivial concerns.

And, to be fair, some of my concerns were trivial. Sure, hating my life was a big deal, but worrying about quitting the law was trivial. I worried about how much less money my husband and I would have to live on. I worried about a loss of prestige that results when giving up the job title of "attorney." I worried about how my family and friends would react to the news. I worried about never finding a career that truly fulfills me. These concerns were all trivial when I considered the fact that, if I were to live to be 80 years old, I had already lived approximately 40% of my life. Why spend the remaining 60% worrying about what other people (people I mostly see only on national holidays or at weddings) would think about my decision to leave the law?

During my job search, when I reminded myself that I was going to be dead "soon," it made being an attorney (temporarily) a bit easier, and it made the job search easier, too. I still dreaded upcoming telephone conferences, motion hearings, and unfinished briefs that needed my attention, but I began to separate myself from them emotionally. They were just a part of my job, not a part of me. Motion hearings and briefs would go on if I were dead. My life, however, is temporary, so I began to focus on what I wanted and not what I hated.

With respect to my job search, I started to not care as much about where I ended up working. I had been so consumed with finding the perfect job for me that I didn't stop to think that maybe, at this point in my life, there is no perfect job. Right now, maybe all I need is to earn some income to help pay the bills, and think about what I really want out of life, not just what I want out of a job.

When I tell people that story about my friend dispensing such brash advice, most people think it was rather insensitive. But to this day, I am thankful to him for putting so succinctly what Richard Carlson, of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... fame, took 272 pages to articulate: "Who cares? Do you realize we're all going to be dead soon?"

The Votes Are In!

Last week, I posted two poll questions regarding readers' thoughts on higher education as well as the debt load carried with certain degrees. 43% of respondents stated that if they could do it all over again, they would go to tech school or learn a trade after graduating high school (myself included!). 20% would earn a bachelor's degree.

As I suspected, most of the J.D.'s (31 out of 41 J.D. respondents) admitted to having $50K - $100K+ in student loan. The other 10 J.D.'s had $50K or under in student loan debt.

I have mixed feelings about the results. On the one hand, it is nice to know I am not alone in regretting the astonishing amount of time and money spent on a (now useless) advanced degree. On the other hand, the fact that so many respondents would learn a trade or get a technical degree rather than earn any other advanced degree is a bit discouraging. It seems to me that some products of the higher education system are questioning the value of their advanced degrees. Are institutions of higher learning encouraging too many folks to earn these degrees? Any other theories?