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Why you should not go to law school - Chris Blattman

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Why you should not go to law school

Amanda Taub has a brilliant article in Vox:

 over the years, I have realized that the people asking me that question aren’t really asking for my advice about their careers in the law. Rather, their real question is almost always something else: will law school be a solution to my fears about the future?

…You know the terror of the undefined future: the fear that comes of seeing so many possibilities and pitfalls open up to you that they swirl into one vast, terrifying abyss. And what’s that faint noise you hear from its shadowy depths? Could it be the plaintive cries of your mom’s friend’s son who had so much promise but never made anything of himself? Or the laments of your second cousin who’s stuck in a dead-end job?

These fears are understandable. The world is a scary place for people just starting out in their careers. It can feel especially scary for the kinds of people who find themselves pondering whether to go to law school.

They tend to have done reasonably well in school their whole lives, and then pursued liberal arts degrees in college. That means college graduation brings a double-whammy shock of chaos: not only are they losing the structure of the academic system in which they excelled, but they’re also setting out in that new, seemingly unstructured world without the kind of clear career path that comes from a more technical degree. Of course that can make the post-college world seem like a terrifying abyss.

You could say this about any graduate study. Too many students do it because the real world does not have a nicely laid out application path.

People go into consulting and banking and a few other private sector industries for the same reason: they come recruiting and make the path as easy as possible. Hence they hire an awful lot of people who will hate their job and be doing more or less meaningless things. That is how I first ended up in accounting. Leaving early was the best thing I ever did.

Most useful is Amanda’s point that there are other ways to get across the terrifying abyss. Generically, the advice is this: seek out the less obvious doors and knock on them. The obvious doors that everyone can see are mobbed.

Related, here are my past posts on getting a job in international development and should you do a PhD?

5 Responses

  1. I trained and qualified as a commercial lawyer at one of the big New York firms’ London office. I quit a few years ago – could not hack the hours, culture and personalities I came up against being a solicitor. What I found really difficult was this exact question – ‘Why Law’. It doesn’t even stop after you’ve trained, qualified and are working – your friends will still be perplexed by why you’ve chosen such a boring, soul destroying & hierarchical career path.

    I looked at the people that had been in practice for 10-20 years. Grey faced and miserable to a man/woman (mostly men). It’s very rare that you find a happy corporate lawyer. It pays well, but boy do they get their pound of flesh out of you. My advice would be that if there is ANY other option, something you have a genuine passion for, then pursue that. If you have to do law – then DO NOT go near a top 50 UK or US firm. It’ll kill you.

    I’m just glad to be OUT!

  2. You mentioned that the obvious doors are mobbed. So do you see any non obvious doors for greener pastures?

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