Monday, November 25, 2013

Don't Go to Law School

 "The minute you read something you can't understand, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer."

    - Will Rogers

All the smartest students in my college class went to law school. They didn't do it because they had the concrete notion that they actually wanted to practice law. No, it was more that they didn't know what they wanted to do, and law school was perceived as a logical extension of a liberal arts education. It was an easy way to kick the can on making a hard decision, and it didn't seem as, well, self-interested as a business degree.

Fast forward to my 10th reunion. All the long faces, those that already looked beaten down by life at age thirty-two, were the lawyers. Much to their surprise, going to law school actually results in becoming a practicing lawyer. Somehow that wasn't the plan. Heck, the plan was to change the world, but no one came to interview for that, so the job at Cravath sounded really prestigious, and their moms were really proud, but how come no one told them that being a lawyer was so bone-crunchingly tedious, a world of endless minutia and reams of time sheets?

What they were told was you could "do anything" with a law degree. In theory, there's something to this. A knowledge of the law is useful, and some do escape the confines of law firms. But here's the thing: legal training is all about risk aversion, and that's where I take issue. As a lawyer, you're been hired by others - people actually taking risks - to cover their backsides. Usually, this involves endless amounts of time considering contingencies that have less than a 1% chance of actually occurring.

Is this a necessary process? Yes.

Does it sound like fun? It's not.

Should our country's brightest minds be doing it? Absolutely not, at least not in the numbers that they are.

Seriously, if you're young, go build skyscrapers, cure diseases, start the next Google - solve some interesting problems. Fail at some stuff. Be one of the risk takers that make our country great. If, for some reason, you're hell-bent on becoming a lawyer, for God's sake, I beg you to first go get a job as a paralegal. Get inside a law firm and see what it's like for yourself. Perhaps you're the type that likes to proof read endless documents that only a handful of people will ever read. Then by all means go for it. You've done your due diligence.

Most of you will seek a different path and will be happy that you did.


  1. When I graduated from college, many of my classmates entered the law with the vague notion that it may someday facilitate a move into politics. There was something to this. I recall that Bill Clinton remarked that he wanted his cabinet to "look like America". Tellingly, almost every one of his cabinet members was a lawyer.

  2. Spot-on thesis and explanation, Scott, especially from a guy who didn't do it himself. I did. I signed up for the reasons you and Anonymous described (minus the problem with self-interest). Very accurate all around. At least I realized my mistake during my Summer Associate jobs during law school, and went right to Salomon Brothers instead of Cravath after graduation. The most telling line in your piece was the one about how lawyers spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about contingencies that have less than a 1% chance of occurring. As much as I try to shed this learned habit--which only hinders me in the non-legal world--it is difficult to shake. I may not spend inordinate amounts of time on it, but those risk-averse thoughts always enter my mind and have to be batted away before I can proceed to solving problems and making money in the real world.

  3. You described 2/3rds of my fraternity brothers.