Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Law School and the Profession: The Ugly Realities

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Law School and the Profession: The Ugly Realities

Article excerpt

For years I have been encouraging Hispa nies to consider law as a profession. There was much to recommend it as a career path for it offered the opportunity of service in an ancient and respected profession that provided prestige, an opportunity for leadership in one's community and an above average income.

I have cooled my ardor. I cannot ignore the new realities which belie the picture I just drew. The path to becoming a lawyer still begins with three strenuous years of law school after earning a baccalaureate. It is a competitive grind.

In addition, where you go to law school is very important. The truth of the matter is that if you attend one of the three to five top elite law schools, your chances of being employed by an exclusive law firm are enhanced exponentially. The right law school will help you secure that first good job and that reputation and panache will follow all the days of your life. If you attend an average law school it will be far more difficult to secure good appointments.

This is different from years past when one could secure a reasonable position after passing the Bar exam regardless of which law school you attended.

More recently, many who passed the Bar have not been able to secure employment in the legal field, not even as legal aides. Those lucky enough to be hired as lawyers face horrendously long work hours every week for years on end. Is that work rewarded by sizeable incomes? No. Severe income disparity exists between the compensation partners receive and the "associates" in law firms. A caste system is well-entrenched with money and benefits surging upward.

Finally, as is true of so many students, law school graduates are frequently heavily in debt. Some have staggering obligations of $150,000 or more. So between an oversupply of applicants and their dire financial circumstances, law firms are able to keep entry salaries low.

These factors have intensified in recent years and spawned disillusionment among most of the six young Hispanic lawyers I interviewed. Their disappointment is stark and palpable.

Now more than ever, I urge Hispanics considering law to research the realities of the profession very thoroughly before choosing that career.

Where to turn? Last year, I recommend they read Professor Steven Harper's The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crises. It is a well-written devastating analysis of the profession. Harper, a successful practicing lawyer for years, entered academia after he retired. He has spent those years teaching, researching and writing. And write he does. His lean, lucid, fact-filled prose identifies problems and suggests solutions.

A Fresh Look

For this year's column I interviewed six young Hispanic lawyers who had graduated within the past five years. Only one seems content. She was the most optimistic of the group. (Perhaps that's her natural disposition).

The others felt trapped by their heavy debt, overworked and harried week in, week out. Four shared deep regrets about their decision to attend law school. Some wished they had gone the master's and PhD route. To my way of thinking, they are naïve about academia and tend to over glorify that career path. Two told me they wished they had gone to a community college after their baccalaureate so they "could have learned something practical" and secured a marketable skill.

I also read a Business Digest interview of a 28-yearold lawyer. He stated his law school "tricked him" into thinking he'd find "a prestigious well-paying job after graduation." The following pungent quote says it all.

"I consider law school a waste of my life and an extraordinary waste of money. I feel like I was duped and tricked. At the end of the day, it's my own fault for being a sucker and I learned an extremely hard lesson. Because I went to law school, I don't see myself having a family, earning a comfortable wage, or having an enjoyable lifestyle. I wouldn't wish my law school experience on my enemy. …

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