Friday, December 10, 2010

So, why would a non-traditional student want to go to law school, anyway?

I can only speak for myself, of course, but in retrospect I see my decision as a reaction to the combination of (1) the pressures of the educational arms race coupled with (2) lack of career mobility and (3) the general devaluation and outsourcing of American labor. I started my original career in the mid-90s with hard science degrees, working in government contracting. While my work was not in direct danger of being shipped overseas due to the nature of my “customer”, I saw over the course of several years that the education that allowed me to get into the company in the first place was less and less valued. Wages, overall, were stagnating in the broader economy. Housing prices, along with many other large-purchase goods, were skyrocketing as the bubble was nowhere near popping at the time.

In order to stay competitive, both inside the organization and out, it was becoming apparent that “MOAR EDJUCAYSHUN!” was key. However, the Catch-22 was that PhDs were already suffering in the academic world due to overpopulation, and they are typically the first on the corporate chopping block as well when RIFs come down. My pursuit of other valuable, career-specific professional designations and credentials were met with a collective yawn by upper management - so that didn’t appear to be the answer, either. Yet the people who “got ahead” had diverse academic credentials for the most part. They demonstrated technical smarts and business smarts, or so that was the allegation. Take a look at the C.V.s of big name attorneys, CEOs, consultants, and the like – they are replete with all kinds of degrees, credentials, publications, etc. etc. etc.

My experience in the corporate world was also that most conflicts were ultimately legal conflicts. Sure, there were technical issues that needed to be solved with the production of a widget or gizmo, but those paled in comparison to contract negotiations, labor issues, FAR regulations and, ultimately, who’s-fault-was-what when a contract went bad. I saw that upper management contained a lot of MBAs, but that seemed saturated, also – why would there be support for yet another MBA? What was needed, or so I thought, was someone with an understanding of “the law” who could keep things out of hot water before they became a problem, rather than after. All too often, conflicts turn into protracted legal battles because people intentionally breached a contract, failed to mitigate damages, and the like, because they feel that they were justified in doing so. Sometimes, it can be justified. However, more often than not ignorance of the law is no excuse, as they say.

However, that idea was not supported, either. Why would an understanding of the law help you manufacture a widget at lower cost? One could easily say the same thing about someone with an MBA, of course, but my concerns were “bigger picture” than that (as would be an MBA’s concerns). And, as time went on, I decided I was not a good fit for the culture of my work place – but that is a separate issue, I suppose.

At that point, I had a decision to make – stay the course, or pull out some of that die-hard, rugged American entrepreneurial spirit and try to move in a new direction. I had been where I was long enough to stay, but not too long to not try something new. I understood that “a law degree opens doors” and that “you can do anything with a law degree.” So, after doing my due diligence, I took a leap of faith and the law-school-industrial-complex met me with open arms.

Hindsight is a cruel mistress, especially when you become an indentured servant in the process.


  1. Hi Duped,

    If your background is in the hard sciences, why not give patent prosecution a try? It's generally a lot easier to break into, and boutique firm employers value technical experience above all else. If you've got mobility problems (i.e. the spousal unit or kids can't be packed up and moved where the work is) that's a different story I guess.

  2. Looking back, EvrenSeven, I should have pushed hard on this from day one. Believe it or not, my primary interests were in labor/employement law issues and environmental law given my past experiences, with patent as something to look at further. Once no one believed me essentially (SCIENCE PEOPLE DO PATENT LAW!!!11!), so I belatededly got some interviews in patent but nothing ever materialized.

    I hear that patent law is getting more and more competitive. With a Master's I could have broken in, theoretically, but now everybody has to have a PhD too or so I'm told. Back in 2004 I had a patent professor tell me that he had several friends who "couldn't buy an interview". Add in that I've been doing JD-preferred work for a few years now, and it doesn't seem too promising.

    Granted, these are things that could be pushed against with a lot of effort, and I could look into this again. However, my lesson learned is that I should have hit patent law hard, day one, at a non-TTT, no questions asked. My "duping" involved thinking that I had choices at the time.