Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tucker Max: Why You Shouldn’t Go To Law School

Tucker Max, Hellauthor of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and a 2001 Duke Law School graduate who resigned from the summer associate program at Fenwick & West in Palo Alto after an infamous drunken escapade at a charity auction, has written Why You Shouldn’t Go To Law School on his blog (language warning):

At some point in their life, everyone thinks they should go to law school. You may in fact think you want to go to law school now. You’re wrong. I don’t know you, I have no idea what the facts of your life are, but that doesn’t matter, you aren’t the exception:

For the overwhelming majority of people  (>99.9%), law school is the wrong choice.

How can I know this? Because I’ve been you -- I went to law school for the same reasons you think you should go -- and I was wrong. I should never have gone to law school, and you shouldn’t either. ...

The 6 Wrong Reasons To Go To Law School

  1. “I like arguing and everyone says I’m good at it.”
  2. “I want to be like Jack McCoy from Law & Order [or insert your favorite legal TV show character].”
  3. “It’s the only way I can think of to use my humanities degree.”
  4. “I want to change the world/help homeless people/rescue stray kittens/do something noble.”
  5. “I don’t know what else to do.”
  6. “I want to make a lot of money.”

... Now, ask yourself the question again:  “Why do I want to go Law School?”

If ANY of the 6 above reasons describe why you want to go to law school, stop now. Seriously. No qualifiers on this statement, just stop. DO NOT GO. You will regret it.

If you think you have one of the good reasons to go to law school you’re still not out of the woods: ...

There are many perfectly valid reasons to go to law school. You may very well have one of them. But even if your reason for going to law school is rock solid, you still need to consider one major thing:  Debt.  I’ve mentioned this multiple times above, because it is so crucially important to making the right decision about law school. Debt is the elephant in the room that law schools never tell you about, but ends up dominating your life.


Here is the funny thing about this piece: Every bit of knowledge in this piece was conferred to me before I got to law school. Much of it was told to me BY LAWYERS who repeatedly stressed how much they HATED their jobs. At this point, even the ABA is telling college kids not to go to law school.

You know what I did? I f***ing ignored it. I mean, sure all of those other a**holes may be miserable and may hate the legal profession, but what do they know, they’re only lawyers? If you’re laughing at my ignorance, you’re right to laugh. I was stupid.

Don’t be me. Don’t go to law school. Go do something with your life that you’ll enjoy, is rewarding and productive and makes the world a better place. ...

Further reading:  This document echoes essentially everything said above on the topic. A good first person account. More first person accounts. A real lawyer breaks down the fallacies of other common pro-law school arguments.  And a great collection of real data about law schools and their placements rates.

Special Question:  But I’m already in law school. What do I do now?

Quit.  I’m totally serious.  Quit.  Today.  Walk away, while you still have time.  No qualifiers, no half-steps.  Walk out now, before the golden handcuffs are slapped on.

(Hat Tip: Legal Blog Watch.)

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I went to law school because I wanted to practice law. I've practiced ever since. Not particularly wealthy, but quite happy with the work. Of course that was in the halcyon days when you could leave law school with $5,000 in debt (about $15K in modern money), as I did.

He went with a major firm, and found the summer work was boring? What did he expect?

If anyone really wants to make money in the legal field... become a court reporter.

Posted by: Dave Hardy | May 10, 2012 3:49:36 PM

Reading Comprehension, Vinnie, reading comprehension. Mr. Max said in his first sentence "99.9%". So you're in the .01%. Say it out loud: "One tenth of one one hundredth." Big whoop.

Glad you're happy, but .01% is not a powerful selling point. Especilly if one graduates with a quarter million or more dollars of unpayable debt and little to no prospect of gainful employment except in "professions" requiring one to wear a paper hat and constantly repeat the query: "Ya wan' fries widdat?"

Posted by: Gerry N. | May 9, 2012 3:54:54 PM

I am not so sure. This country is rigged to enable lawyers to make money. No other profession is so advantaged.

When I see a lawyer complaining that they make only $90K/year, I see someone who would have made only $20K/year without law school.

When I see a successful attorney making $500K a year, I see someone who would have risen to make $200K a year as a mid-level corporate drone if they went on the corporate path

When I see a big name Law Partner making $5M a year, I see someone who would have risen to make $2M a year as an executive if they went on the corporate path.

So Law School enables people to make a lot more than they would make if the didn't have a JD. That so many lawyers are unemployed merely indicates that people who are not worthy of making more than $20K/year are merely seeing their true value restored.

Posted by: TTT | May 9, 2012 3:33:50 PM

Law school worked out for me because I'm a verbally agile middle class guy, curious about how the world works, and delighted to make a decent living doing pretty interesting stuff. I don't work too too hard, and I refuse to let people bully me into being miserable. I went to a state law school and didn't have too much debt. Your mileage may vary.

Posted by: vince52 | May 9, 2012 2:51:21 PM

I count myself as fortunate. My student loan repayments are $356 a month, which are nothing in comparison to others. Still, had I known then what I know now, I would have done something else. What I always say is I wish that I picked a career that did not come home with me at night, like MRI tech or something like that. If you are researching whether or not to go to law school and see this, choose something else. You aren't getting justice, and if you are lucky, once a decade you'll get involved in a really great trial like Jack McCoy does every show. And, forget about waiting in the hallway for the Supreme Court to issue its decision like he did. I have been waiting over a year for a written opinion in one of my appeals.

Posted by: Brian G. | May 9, 2012 2:08:58 PM

So, what are the good reasons for going to law school (other than not getting into med school?)

Posted by: Skip | May 9, 2012 1:55:59 PM

Chance, buddy. A little testy about your law degree and bills? Of course you want to portray this in the best light, considering you're stuck with it now.

It's true, Max is a douchebag. He admits it, and does not recommend it for the rest of us.

Does that have anything to do with the fact that you probably still shouldn't go to law school? No. Because the deck is stacked against you. Too many lawyers are out there now, and the only thing they seem to be good at is to try and prop up lawyering with some of that "making the world a better place". Ugh.

Besides, I'll bet the #1 lawyer in the world is a douchebag. Many of the top ones I've seen sure are.

Hmm. Maybe there's a correlation argument here. I'm not sure.

Posted by: Ferd | May 9, 2012 1:40:51 PM

I quit law school after one year. It was the best decision I ever made. That's because it corrected the worst decision I ever made--going to law school. I went to law school because of reason #4. I wanted to make the world a better place. After a year I realized that the only lawyers who actually make the world better possess huge amounts of ambition, intelligence, and social status. Being smarter than average is not enough. Being brilliant is not enough. Being a hard worker is not enough. If you want to be an awesome lawyer, you will need to exceed even exceptional people. I saw a lifetime of trusts and estates ahead of me and blanched.

Out of a couple score lawyers who I've met since quitting law school, how many do you think told me it was the wrong decision? None. Not one. Instead, many have told me it was the smartest thing I could have done.

Avoid law school if you can, abandon it if you must.

Posted by: Corinna | May 9, 2012 1:26:56 PM

I agree with Mr. Max. If you are a professional douchebag, you shouldn't go to law school. He is quite literally a professional douchebag. He wrote "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell." It is entertaining, but he portrays himself unapologetically as a douchebag. He started by posting an application for females to fill out to qualify for dating him. I particularly like this quote: "Don’t be me. Don’t go to law school. Go do something with your life that you’ll enjoy, is rewarding and productive and makes the world a better place." I enjoy being a lawyer, I find it rewarding and productive, and I think lawyers make the world a better place. Do professional douchebags make the world a better place? Perhaps there is some entertainment value to what Mr. Max does. But he is probably the #1 douchebag in the world. Compared to the #1 attorney in the world, however, there is no comparison. Don't be Mr. Max. Don't drop out of law school (or in his case the legal field) to become a professional douchebag.

Posted by: Chance | May 8, 2012 4:47:14 PM

Honestly, its not exactly that far off. I see students in my LLM class each semester that fit into one or more of #1-6...just are just getting the LLM to (1) cure a bad law degree, and/or (2) to defer the inevitable debt repayment schedule.

Posted by: Tax Professional Extraordinaire | May 8, 2012 3:50:38 PM