Law schools will use your own ego against you when selling you a ridiculously overpriced piece of paper. Trust me: I’ve got an ego bigger than anybody’s, and it’s the main reason why I paid $150,000 unnecessarily for my own worthless J.D. Here, I’ll embarrass myself by sharing my own ego-driven blunder.
I had a day job that I hated, and was teaching LSAT at night as I weighed my various offers of law school admission. I was a mediocre applicant: an ultra-extreme splitter with a 179 LSAT and an abysmal 2.5 undergraduate GPA. (I know, I know. Long story.)
Ten years after graduating from UC Davis I’m teaching LSAT in San Francisco and trying to sort out my law school options. Foolishly, I had applied late in the cycle instead of early. Foolishly, I had only applied to three schools, all in San Francisco: UC Hastings, University of San Francisco, and Golden Gate. Still, I had gotten a full-ride offer from Golden Gate, something like 50 percent from USF, and very little, maybe a few grand if anything, from Hastings. I had done a half-assed negotiation with Hastings; I asked them for more money and they said they didn’t have it. I’m pretty sure that was a lie, but I foolishly took their word for it. I then had two foolish conversations that are burned into my memory. I recall these conversations frequently, and they pain me every single time.
I was standing in the admissions office at UC Hastings, talking to a very nice man who I will call Winston. I was asking Winston about scholarships. Golden Gate had offered me a full ride, I explained, and USF had offered some cash as well. Hastings had offered me next to nothing. It was a tough decision, I said. Fool that I was, I actually asked Winston for his thoughts on the matter. (This is like a sheep asking a wolf for directions.) As I picture it now, Winston starts salivating as he replies:
“Oh dear… well, you see… law school is a transformative experience. The opportunities you will be afforded here at UC Hastings are quite significant; for example, there are many law firms that interview on campus here at Hastings that simply don’t visit those other schools. This is the beginning of your legal career. Surely you’re not going to let money considerations affect your judgment on this matter?”
Can you see the blood dripping from his teeth?
Ugh, it hurts so badly to think about it. Because I fucking bought it. Can you believe it? I’m probably the most skeptical person in the world, and I bought that bullshit. Yes, of fucking course I am going to let money considerations affect my judgment on this matter!
I’m standing in front of my Powerscore class in the Omni Hotel on Montgomery Street, in downtown San Francisco. Class hasn’t quite started yet, so I’m just shooting the shit with my students. I’m talking about my choice between GGU on scholarship and Hastings at full price, and a woman in the front row of my class says:
“I don’t know. When I think about you, I really just see you as more of a Hastings sort of person.”
Keep in mind: This is not a partner in a law firm who might hire me someday. This isn’t a well-respected judge, in whose court I might someday argue. This isn’t a lawyer whose career I might try to replicate. This person isn’t a member of the bar. This person isn’t even a law student. She hasn’t even taken the damn LSAT yet! And still, I actually listen to this ridiculous “advice.” Yes, I start to think. Yes you’re right, I say, stroking my chin in my most sophisticated manner. Yes indeed. I am a “Hastings sort of person.”
What the fuck does this even mean?! Is this the type of hierarchical, ego-driven nonsense that you want to participate in? Because if you go down this road, misery is sure to follow. Oh, you’re going to go to Hastings, so that you can look down at Golden Gate and USF? Well guess what: Right across the Bay there’s a much, much better law school in Berkeley, and if you’re going to look down on USF or Golden Gate. then the Berkeley kids are more than justified to look down on you. And guess what? Just down the peninsula there’s an even better school, and surely the Stanford kids are justified at looking down on Berkeley. (They wouldn’t, though; Stanford kids are by and large very, very sweet.) And of course, across the country, there’s Yale Law School, looking down on the entire planet.
Is this the type of person you want to be?
Ultimately, I made a horrifyingly bad decision to pay for law school when I didn’t have to. I told myself, at the time, that I was making a wise investment that would pay off in increased opportunities down the road. I had absolutely no basis in fact for making this assessment. I didn’t even know any lawyers! I had zero experience working in a law firm or any field that was even tangentially related to the law. If you would have asked me what type of lawyer I wanted to become, I would have mumbled something vague about working in intellectual property, since that sounds like something smart. In truth, I had no idea what an intellectual property lawyer might look like, or what the work would entail, or what kind of law school might get me that job. (It’s laughable to think that the Googles and Amazons and Facebooks of the world prefer “Hastings sort of people” to “Golden Gate sort of people”—when you’re doing global patent litigation for billions of dollars, you’d be an idiot not to hire from Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.)
Law schools, like car dealers, will attempt to prey on your ego. You’re a Mercedes sort of person, aren’t you? Surely you’d rather pay $100 K for this S-Class instead of driving that perfectly useful Toyota Corolla that costs you nothing. You’re our sort of people.
And your friends and family will buy into the whole thing as well. They’ll be so proud! They’d much rather tell their friends that you went to Hastings, because everyone knows that’s a great law school, right? (It’s not. It’s good, but it’s far from great.) And everyone knows that Golden Gate is disreputable? (It’s not. It’s accredited by the American Bar Association, just like Hastings is, and just like Hastings, it churns out real practicing lawyers every single year.)
Your fellow LSAT students think they know things about law schools. They don’t. They’re buying into the same ego-driven nonsense that everyone else is. They’re chugging the Kool-Aid more than anyone else! They are, after all, about to make the same stupid decision I did. They’re more than willing to see you pay $150,000 for your J.D., because it helps justify their own huge mistake.
Check your ego. Once you find your first job, the quality of your legal work is what matters and it will be your sweat, brains, and heart that make your reputation. Your name will be your brand for your 40-year legal career; the name of your alma mater will cease to matter. If you’re a badass attorney, you’ll be a badass no matter where you to go school. And it’ll be a hell of a lot easier to buy that $5,000 suit and $100,000 Mercedes if you don’t already owe the quarter of a million dollars that you wasted on an ego-driven law school purchase.