Stand for Something

JANUARY 13: 2011 –

Recently a friend of mine passed this article onto me, and it struck very close to home.

“Is Law School a Losing Game?”

by David Segal

“In reality, and based on every other source of information, … a generation of J.D.’s face the grimmest job market in decades. Since 2008, some 15,000 attorney and legal-staff jobs at large firms have vanished… Associates have been laid off, partners nudged out the door and recruitment programs have been scaled back or eliminated.  …

But improbably enough, law schools have concluded that life for newly minted grads is getting sweeter, at least by one crucial measure. In 1997, when U.S. News first published a statistic called “graduates known to be employed nine months after graduation,” law schools reported an average employment rate of 84 percent. In the most recent U.S. News rankings, 93 percent of grads were working — nearly a 10-point jump. …

[But] … a law grad, for instance, counts as “employed after nine months” even if he or she has a job that doesn’t require a law degree. Waiting tables at Applebee’s? You’re employed. Stocking aisles at Home Depot? You’re working, too.” “

The article goes on, in great length, the way law schools have been manipulating the numbers because numbers effect rankings, and ranking effect enrollment, and enrollment effects the entire university. Twenty five new law students are worth $1,000,000 in tuition. But if each law student in turn ends up with $250,000 in debt, it’s no wonder the law professors in this article reporting feeling dirty and unethical.

For me, though, the article was important because it finally put a believable face on the fact that I am not the lone 2009 grad still looking for work and struggling to make ends meet, even if it feels that way. I am also not alone in the $175,000 of loans I took out, or the now $250,000 I owe because of a year and a half of deferment, sans work.

It does seem that I am, however, alone in believing that there is value in a legal education beyond the lure of $160,000 a year job. (Because, let’s be realistic, that kind of salary is rare.) So in case the Times doesn’t decide to publish my letter – here’s what I had to say:

Misplaced Value

I wanted to shine another light on the article “Is Law School a Loosing game?” by David Segal. While the quoted grads are upset with false promises and “lost wages”, they are ignoring the true value of their J.D. To be a lawyer is to be a civil servant, helping those that cannot help themselves for lack of an education. Some make millions, while others make a real impact in peoples’ lives. I truly feel that I am a better person, and a better citizen, for investing $250k of my future in order to advocate for my friends, my family, and a budding group of clients. I thank my lenders for giving me the chance to do what I could not do on my own as I turn around and help so many others. The cost may have been high, but the value of my education is priceless.

Nicole L. M. Jurkowski, Esq.

2009 Grad, Solo Practitioner, and Waitress

[Edit to add: I was indeed published on 1/15/11, as follows:]

To the Editor:

To be a lawyer is to be a civil servant, helping those who cannot help themselves for lack of an education. Some make millions, while others make a real impact in peoples’ lives.

I truly feel that I am a better person, and a better citizen, for having invested so much in my education. (I received my law degree in 2009 and have now started my own practice.) I thank my lenders for giving me the chance to do what I could not do on my own as I turn around and help so many others. The cost may have been high, but the value of my education is priceless.

Nicole L. M. Jurkowski, Esq.

Southampton, Mass., Jan. 13

FOLLOWING ALL OF THIS…

I had a lengthy conversation with another attorney on the ABA: New Lawyer’s division discussion boards on LinkedIn, discussing the value and merit of a legal education. We  came to am amicable impass between choosing/desiring to use a legal education as a way to impact the world and making a financial/educational choice based on fiscal realities. (Her side: Making an impact does not require the law, and given the facts in the article, is the wiser route in this economy.)

After this, I did end up getting a few private props from people following the conversation on LinkedIn.com, but the best kudos came today in the mail.

I guess this is what happens when you open your mouth about something you believe in. I’m certainly proud to know that I’m not the only one who feels the way I do.

The following letter is from the President of the American Bar Association. I am completely honored that he would think to write to me. It both reaffirms my dedication to this seemingly un-wise idealism, and helps me know that I am not alone in feeling this way.

Modestly yours,

Nicole L. M. Jurkowski, Esq.

(c) Nicole L. M. Jurkowski 2011

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