In Her Shell
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
  Paths To Take And Sticks To Carry
Last year, hyped up on righteous anger and intellectual stimulation, I decided I was going to go to law school. The school administration wouldn't let us do the play we wanted to do and the Gay-Straight Alliance was running up against opposition at every turn, and all this was only serving to highlight the larger hypocrisies in public education. I registered for the LSAT, borrowed my friend Lynn's old test prep books, and hunkered down at Starbucks a few nights a week to prepare.

Then I got scared.

Scared and skeptical, I guess. Knowing that I wanted to focus on educational policy, why sit through Torts? Couldn't I focus on some kickass program like this one? That way, I could spend my time and energy just studying what I want to study. With a PhD, I could happily ensconse myself in academia, work with future teachers, and write righteous books.

I threw all of my eggs into this alternative basket and abandoned the law school idea. Recently, however, a colleague whose opinion I respect described being a lawyer as "a bigger stick to carry."

I imagine all the possibilities that intrigue me outside of academia (which Brenda on Six Feet Under once astutely described as "one big circle jerk"): lobbying, nonprofit orgs, advocacy, public policy.... and I think in those arenas a big stick would be a good thing to have.

But I'm scared.
I still think you need to go into Ed Policy at Madison......but that might be a little self-serving of me.
I'm all for law school, but only if you can get someone else to pay for most of it. Otherwise, the debt is crushing, which means that about 95% of law students graduate not being able to do what they thought they wanted to do with their degree. I'd say probably about 80% of law students graduate regretting that they went.
Lu: And I'm still not against it. I'm just trying to figure out what will be the most beneficial down the line...

CP: Really?? 80%?? Damn. I do hear that a lot: that people regret going or went for the wrong reasons. So how do I find out if I have the right reasons?
i'd say go for the have the passion (which is what it takes to survive the torture) and if you know what you want to do, why incur the massive debt? and i'm not just saying that because i'm dr. jerseyaikidogirl :)
Hmm, I can't decide whether I'd take advice from Brenda or not. I had a love/hate going with her. Tough decision! And I'm no help.
JAG: I guess maybe I don't trust myself, and am afraid that the PhD will narrow my focus TOO much--that if I want to change course or alter the course, I'll be confined.

Dale: Didn't we all have that relationship with Brenda. She's so wrong, and yet so right.
Having the stick is one thing. Directing it to the right asses is another. Which would you prefer?
Of course, I make up these statistics on the fly, which is really the best way to approach life.

If you talk to law students, well over half of them say they want to practice some kind of public interest law or non-profit - you know, something to help people and the world.

Problem is, depending on where you go or how much financial aid you can get, it is likely that you would graduate owing well over $100k. That means you'll need to come up with close to $1,000 a month for student loan payments, or possibly more depending on how favorable the interest rates are and opportunities to consolidate.

Most public interest jobs - which incidentally aren't always that easy to get - pay starting in the $40k range. Government is a little better but not much.

So, depending how how much you make now as a teacher, to do the kind of work you want to do it is not unthinkable that you'd be making the same $$ you are now, but being saddled with another $1k a month. Can your finances handle that?

Sadly, what happens to most of these people is that they get into school, get all excited about their public interest careers, then do the math and figure out that they will need to get a soul-crushing job in a law firm just to make enough to make ends meet, let alone get ahead. Sure, people tell themselves "I'll just do it for a few years until I get some debt paid off" - but let me tell you, those years are hell on earth. And often, those "few years" turn out not to be enough.

So what this all boils down to is finances. Your reasons for wanting to go are the right reasons, because the reasons aren't the problem. Having enough money is.

If you can get into Rutgers, the in-state tuition is probably much more favorable and would not be as burdensome as a private school. But either way, I would get very serious about doing the math so that you can calcuate exactly how much you'll owe when you're done.

Of course, I know nothing about your life or finances. For all I know you may have well-off parents who are willing to foot the entire bill, in which case I say "sure! Sign up today!"

If you want to talke more about this offline, feel free to email me at

AS: Both.

CP: I think I will... thanks!
Yoo-hoo! Wonderturtle! I, too, thought I could do more if I went to law school. As a nurse I saw all of the things that could & did go wrong in hospitals. I took the LSAT & did well enough to be accepted into the middle third of the waiting list at Rutgers Law School. Besides not being willing to drive into Newark at night, I learned that the middle third meant that there were about 150 others ahead of me. Besides, wading through torts & all of that before getting to the good stuff - medical malpractice - totally turned me off. Some part of me still wishes I had been able to do it. Aunt Lee
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