Wednesday, December 17, 2008

To Aspiring Lawyers

Many lawyers who cannot find permanent work do temp work. Most of these temporary jobs are projects involving document review. It's not exciting work, but some projects pay well, and the work is a necessary part of litigation. There are so many temp attorneys, there is even a website dedicated to them at

With the number of lawyers increasing with every annual law school graduation and more work being outsourced to capable Indian attorneys, law is no longer a stable profession where most entrants earn a steady paycheck:

The Temp Attorney post links to a WSJ article that shows that a degree isn't what it used to be. On the bright side, the chart above shows that at some point--many years later--a college degree finally pays off. Still, I can't help but think that the American education system is broken.

First, the paper-pushing jobs--bankers, lawyers, etc.--make more than engineers and doctors, people who provide vital services or who spearhead innovation. As a result, many intelligent young people go into law--which produces no innovation--rather than nursing, engineering, or science. On some level, that's a wise decision--it's easy for companies to hire engineers in other countries for much less. At the same time, it seems strange that America's job market incentivizes students to go into non-innovative professions rather than innovative ones.

Second, many high schools do not teach their students useful subjects, or they encourage too many students to go to college. Not all students need to go to college, and some students are better off spending four years in an internship program or an apprenticeship program. Also, many subjects taught in high schools will have no future application for students. For example, I still know how to take the derivative of x-squared (it's 2x), but I have no idea what that signifies, and I've never used it in my law practice. Yet, I was able to sit through calculus because I knew it made me a more competitive college applicant. Despite calculus's uselessness to me, I had an incentive linked to a long term goal--a college and graduate degree--which made the class and high school tolerable.

I empathize with students who have no interest in math, second languages, science, or any other required core classes. These students have good cause to be disenchanted with school--they know they will most likely never use physics or even algebra. Their disenchantment or disinterest in their classes may actually be a sign of high intelligence. After all, which is a smarter choice: refusing to spend time on a subject that has no utility, or dedicating hours to it?

In addition, if the under-performing students' family lacks the money to send them to college, the students intuitively realize the system isn't designed with them in mind. Common sense tells them--and should tell us--that their first order of business should be getting useful skills that will lead to a non-minimum wage job. To accomplish that end, high schools ought to join forces with local businesses to teach students the skills they need to get a job immediately upon graduation. When a law degree--which takes four years of high school, four years of college, and three years of law school, plus an exam--doesn't lead to stable employment or useful skills, families should realize their property taxes and other taxes are being spent unwisely. There must be a better way to educate students than a system that encourages eight to eleven years of school and the prospect of paying off student loans by the age of 40.

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