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Don't be a Fool--Stay Out of School;
29 Reasons Not to Go to Law School

by Ralph Warner, Toni Ihara & Barbara Kate Repa
Copyright © 1994 Nolo Press

The message you will read here is subversive of a cherished American folk fantasy--the one in which the sons and daughters of Pullman porters, shoe store clerks and cowboys go to the University, get awarded a Juris Doctor degree and live happily ever after in the suburbs.

The thesis is simple. Lawyering in the U.S., which has traditionally been one of the major crossroads where power and status merge to produce six-figure incomes, simply isn't what it used to be. These days, so many power-hungry young barristers are competing to pay the rent on their Porsches that getting a law license almost guarantees gridlock in a traffic jam of stalled careers.

And if one trouble with being a lawyer is that it just isn't the field it used to be, the main difficulty with law school is that it's exactly the institution it always was--still featuring the teaching methods of the Spanish Inquisition combined with a curriculum so enamored with the nineteenth century that it barely notices the twentieth and absolutely won't concede that a new one is fast approaching.

Nolo long ago concluded that there are only four things wrong with jumping on the lawyer track: The Law Students, Law School, Becoming a Lawyer and Practicing Law. Here are a few of the reasons that explain why.

The Law Students--Reason 4. The Eager Beaver

Eager Beavers fixate on the lichens on the bark of each tree and miss the grander view of the forest. They approach each new law school lecture as a recording challenge--arriving equipped with tape recorder, video recorder, as well as the standard yellow pads, notebooks, pens, back-up pens and a passel of color-coded highlghting pens.

When the day's classes are done, Eager Beavers quickly dart back to their lairs, which are invariably strewn with fast food wrappers and half-forgotten, half-eaten tacos and chicken wings. Once inside, they set to the task of transcribing and retranscribing the day's notes, tapes and films--all the while checking them against old class outlines purchased for $100 each from some upperclassmen, all of whom claim to be editor of the law review. Done in by the details, Eager Beavers have no time to study or to prepare for the next day's classes. Almost sadly, not one Eager Beaver makes it through first semester finals. The more severe cases are usually discovered months later by irate landlords, buried beneath mountains of obsolete study aids.

Less severe cases quit and become successful accountants.

Law School--Reason 13. Bad Eyes, Bad Backs, General Sickliness

During your three years of pre-Esquire servitude, you are almost guaranteed to develop one or all of the following physical deformities: bad eyes, a bad back and general sickliness.

Bad Eyes: The cause of this condition is pretty CLEAR--unless you're a law student who has not yet seen an optometrist, in which case you will be squinting. Each year, law students read the equivalent, both in volume and interest, of six Manhattan phone books, three Sears Roebuck catalogues and the collected works of Danielle Steele. This incipient blindness, accompanied by chronic confusion, most often produces a fairly noticeable wrinkling of the brow. This can be turned into a considerable asset later on, as clients often mistake it for a look of intense professional concern.

Bad Back: Not as severe as Quasimodo's condition, but a definite curvature of the spine occurs after three years of relentless toting around and hunching over Prosser on Torts, Williston on Contracts and Louisell on Pleading. Some students try to avoid this condition by studying while seated in backless, ostensibly Ergonomically Correct chairs. This group can be easily identified by their bowed-backward knees.

General Sickliness: Nowhere breathes a weaker-constitutioned, more out of shape, more pallid group than in a law school classroom. Most within their walls suffer from nonspecific symptoms of exhaustion, mild nausea and poor circulation. When consulted, doctors normally shrug and smile maliciously--having felt even worse throughout med school. Sufferers--and that includes almost all law students, with the possible exceptions of The Drudge, The Compulsive Talker and The Ass Kisser--want to go to bed and pull the covers over their heads for three years. Of those who do, 100% have reportedly been cured. The great suffering majority, however, swig from bottles of Maalox and plug along, saving their bile for that savorous day when they file their first medical malpractice action.

Becoming a Lawyer-- Reason 21. Looking Lawyeresque


Suppose you wanted 300 ordinary men and women--some vegetarian, some black, some brown, some tall, some in wheelchairs, some wearing T-shirts and sneakers, some riding motorcycles, some who secretly aspire to be rock stars, artists or poets--to dress in nondescript blazers, starched button down shirts and sensible black shoes, to wear thick glasses, to speak authoritatively in a strangeand multi-syllabic language, to strut about determinedly with one shoulder hunched far lower than the other pulled by the weight of an ever-present hand-tooled Italian briefcase, to constantly check the watch on the other arm, grind their teeth, to interrupt whenever anyone begins to speak and to carry business cards in little gold engraved cases to the ski slopes?


Let them into law school.
Keep them there three years.
Let them out.

Practicing Law--Reason 31. Choosing a Specialty

No one believes in generalists anymore. In medicine, internists have been replaced by a host of Allergists and Immunologists, Endocrinologists, Neurologists, Gastroenterologists and various other extremely specialized ologists.If you want to be a successful lawyer--that is, one who inspires confusion and awe in all around you--you will almost surely have to specialize in some area of law.

The P.I. Law Firm Ordinaire: Imagine yourself hanging around the watercooler with people who are actively rooting for someone who has suffered a serious misfortune to walk, or better yet, wheel himself through your firm's door. You know you are about to make partner when you find yourself rubbing your hands at the thought of a new quadriplegic client.

The P.I. Law Firm Extraordinaire--Airline crashes, chemical spills, nuclear disasters and other big-time catastrophes: As a new lawyer, your main job will be to fly to obscure disaster locations, open a temporary office and attend numerous funerals. Here you will find yourself lined three deep with other disaster lawyers tossing your card at the victim's family. (To develop the necessary wrist motions, law firm associates spend hours scaling baseball cards into the umbrella stand). With the internationalization of tort law, if you can say: "I can get you big bucks" in 40 or more languages, you are almost sure to be a success.

The Criminal Law Firm: Imagine joining forces with that cadre of armed and mostly inebriated lawyers who regularly defend the nation's criminals.

  • All of your clients will be guilty and many will secretly scare you silly.
  • As a result, you will lose most trials. This is depressing in and of itself.
  • As a result, you will find yourself on the shit lists of a large number of hostile, revenge-consumed, homicidal types who will eventually be walking the same streets you are. This is even more depressing.
  • As a result, you will buy one or more guns which you will stash here and there around your living and working quarters. This will be scary to your spouse and kids and will likely result in them regarding you in the same light as they do your clients. Most depressing.

Sports Law: This one sounds glamorous. The goal is to find a few athletes with $2 million salaries and take 10% for negotiating a new contract now and then. The reality is that you have to sign up a small herd of junior high school athletes and more or less support the ungrateful, sex-crazed, substance abusers for the next decade. And even if you manage to do this without going nuts, the very few really good ones are likely to:

  • injure some part of themselves you've never heard of
  • get bought off by another lawyer
  • drive their first Porsche into a goalpost after snorting something commonly used to tranquilize turkeys, or
  • all of the above.

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The selected articles originally appeared in the Nolo News and are Copyright © Nolo Press 1996 and reproduced here with permission. If you find them of value, we encourage you to visit Nolo Press at their web site If you wish to post them on-line or otherwise distribute them, first read Nolo's copyright policy.

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