Back in the late summer of last year, I decided that I would go to law school rather than graduate school, as Andrew mentioned in his blog on August 9.
For the last six months, I have been planning to write about my decision, and I have decided to do so now.
When I was an undergrad, I always planned to be a lawyer. Until I met Andrew, I planned to enroll in law school immediately after receiving my Baccalaureate. In January 2006, I was admitted to three law schools and I expected to begin my law studies in September 2006—in fact, the law school I most wanted to attend had accepted me not long before I met Andrew—but things changed once I met Andrew.
Both Andrew and I were completely betwixt and between for three months, trying to figure out what to do.
One choice was for Andrew and me to part before we even started a serious friendship. Both of us rejected that choice.
A second choice was for me to proceed to law school in Boston, as planned, and for Andrew to return to Minneapolis, where he had already accepted an excellent job offer. That choice would have involved Andrew and me trying to maintain a long-distance friendship. I was unwilling to go that route.
A third choice was for Andrew to forego his job in Minneapolis and to join me in Boston. That choice would have involved Andrew trying to find a first-year associate job in Boston long after the spots had already been filled, or accepting a job with a much lower salary at a small firm or with the federal government or in private industry. This choice was under serious consideration by both of us for a very long time.
The final choice was for me to forego law school, at least for a year or two, and to join Andrew in Minneapolis. We chose this last option—or, more specifically, I chose this last option.
My decision was based upon many considerations.
First, neither of us had any kind of a family or social network in Boston, and the city of Boston itself had no allure whatsoever for either of us. I had only spent a weekend in Boston, and I liked it not at all. Andrew’s older brother went to college in Boston to get his undergrad degree, so Andrew had been to Boston a few times back in the 1990’s, while he was in high school, for brief visits to see his brother. Andrew never cared for Boston, either (nor does his brother, for that matter).
Second, if we had proceeded immediately to Boston, our first year together would have been a very rough one, I feared. It would have involved me going through my first year of law school, the toughest one of all, while Andrew tried to find a job he really didn’t want in order to mark time for three years while I slogged my way through law school. I genuinely feared that this might be a prescription for disaster in terms of forging a lasting friendship between us.
Third, I did not want to have to concentrate on anything but building a lasting friendship, and I did not think that this would be possible if I were immersed in law school our very first year together. Although I was only 22 years old at the time, I was mature enough to know that I was not mature enough to handle both the first year of law school AND the first year of a friendship at the same time.
Fourth, I had spent my entire life planning to be a lawyer, in large part because my father is a lawyer. I had never given any serious thought to pursuing any other career. However, in my last two years as an undergrad, I had given more and more thought to entering the field of history, my greatest interest, and I was uncertain whether I was making the right decision in continuing to pursue a career in the legal profession.
Fifth, I believed—I was not absolutely certain, but I was pretty sure, and thus willing to bet the farm on it—that Minneapolis would be the most hospitable environment for Andrew and me to develop an unbreakable bond. My instinct in this regard has proven to be correct.
Consequently, after both of us completed our final terms of school, I returned with Andrew to Minneapolis, and I decided that I would take a year or two to decide what I ultimately wanted to do: law school or graduate school.
My decision was the right one, as things turned out, but I was not 100% certain of this at the time I made my decision. My father was certainly not happy, to say the least. I’m not sure Andrew’s parents thought I was making a wise decision, either.
However, Andrew believed in me, and he was not worried. He kept telling me that we were both very young, and that we had all the time in the world ahead of us, and that I could enter law school or grad school or any school, and that I could do so in 2007 or 2008 or 2009 or whenever, and that it made no difference to him what I decided to do, or when, as long as I was happy.
And after a year of absolutely no pressure, from any quarter, I made my decision: to go to law school.
I based my decision on several factors.
One factor was money. Good lawyers make a lot of money, and there is no getting around this fact. Money is important, but only for one reason: if a person has money, that person has freedom. Freedom is what money is all about, or so I have always believed, and so does Andrew. In this respect I will quote him: “If you don’t have to worry about money, you can tell anyone, at any time, to go to hell.”
A career in academia does not offer the financial rewards that a legal career offers. As far back as 2000, starting salaries at large law firms in the Twin Cities went over the $100,000 mark, and today starting salaries at large Twin Cities firms are substantially higher than $100,000. In comparison, university professors, if they are lucky, have to teach for thirty years or more before they even equal the salaries offered today by top law firms to 25-year-olds fresh out of law school.
Another factor was job satisfaction. Successful lawyers are very satisfied in their work. University personnel, by and large, are not. Academic infighting has become legion (and tenacious) in the world of American academia, and this is “because the stakes are so low”, as the old joke goes—and there is a lot of truth in that cliché.
Further, the world of American academia, like the world of American publishing and journalism, is still fighting the wars of 1968. The rest of the world has moved on over the last forty years, but these two pursuits, stuck in a time warp, have not. Unrepentant old-line Leftists find their only sanctuaries today in academia and publishing, and in the United States they have virtually destroyed both fields. This situation will not improve in the short term.
Another factor is talent flow. Since the early 1970’s, the overwhelming talent flow in the U.S. has been toward professional schools, not toward graduate schools, and this talent flow began snowballing by the late 1970’s into an avalanche, an avalanche that has shown no signs of abatement. There is an enormous gulf today between the talent level of students proceeding to professional schools and those moving on to graduate schools. For the most part, students who go to graduate schools today do so because they simply cannot qualify for our highly-competitive professional schools.
I talked to a lot of persons, and sought advice from many quarters, before I made my decision. Instrumental in my decision was advice from my father and advice from Andrew’s father, as well as advice from several professors in the Twin Cities who have worked in academia for decades and who have witnessed, first hand, the deteriorating talent pool entering our nation’s graduate schools.
I observed and experienced this myself as an undergrad. University professors quickly identified the cream of the crop among the students, and guided the brightest students on to law school or business school or medical school, fields in which advanced education is the most demanding and rigorous. The rest of the students were left to fend for themselves, finding spots in graduate schools wherever and whenever and however they could.
I see the effects of this talent flow every day where I work. The attorneys at my firm are, without exception, extremely well-rounded individuals. They are highly intelligent, and highly learned in a multitude of subjects. They have many outside interests and activities. They are thoughtful, generous, civilized and humane, and in possession of all the necessary social graces. They are good citizens, committed to their communities, their churches and their schools.
I like the working environment at my law firm very much, and I like the people very much, too.
I like working in a large law firm, and I have decided that this is the work for me.
In addition, a law degree is invaluable even if a law graduate decides not to pursue a legal career after graduation. Lawyers are taught to write. Lawyers are taught to think. Lawyers are taught to analyze. Lawyers are taught to be objective. Lawyers are taught to be precise. Lawyers are taught to observe. Lawyers are taught to listen.
All of those skills will prove to be very useful, even if I ultimately decide not to practice law but to write history books instead.