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The speech they’ll never hear



To the class of 2015, welcome.

At this point in the proceedings, tradition dictates that I spend some time elaborating just how amazing and talented each and every one of you truly is.

But I’m not going to that this year. And let me tell you why: If so many people hadn’t spent that last 20-odd years telling you just how talented and amazing you truly are, you might not be sitting here today. And just where are you today?

You’re sitting in the faux courtroom of the Titanic School of Law, preparing to spend the next three years sailing straight into the iceberg known as the American legal profession. OK, everyone in an odd-numbered seat, raise your hand. Thank you. None of you are going to get jobs as lawyers. Do you know why? Because you’re not going to hustle and network enough.

J/K LOL! That’s not why. The real reason is because there are only enough legal jobs (sort of) for half of you. So half of you aren’t getting a job as a lawyer. Hey I know people go to law school because they’re bad at math but that equation’s not too tough to figure out, am I right?

And you people in the even-numbered seats, don’t start fist-bumping each other just yet. You know what the jobs you’re going to get are going to pay? $40,000! Sounds impossible doesn’t it? You’re going to be real lawyers after all. But check it out: last year the median reported salary for people graduating outside the top dozen or so law schools was $55,000. And that’s a big exaggeration, because only 35% of the graduates of non-elite law schools had their salaries recorded. Guess which graduates were more likely to have their salaries recorded? You in the middle of the front row in the Princeton sweatshirt. That’s right – the ones with higher salaries. Well reasoned my fine young man: I do believe you’re already thinking like a lawyer!

So half of you aren’t going to be lawyers, and as an added extra bonus you’ll pick up a degree which makes it a lot harder to get non-legal jobs. Oh wait, what’s that you say? A law degree is “versatile?” You’re killing me Smalls. Let me clue you in on a little secret: non-lawyers hate hiring people with law degrees. It’s true! They think you’re going to run off to a high-paying legal job as soon as one opens up, or they think they’ve got something wrong with you because you’re not practicing law, or they think you’ll sue them, or they just generally hate lawyers.

Plus most of you – future lawyers and non-lawyers with law degrees alike, are going to have unbelievably massive debt when you graduate. I mean have you seen what we’re charging now to go here? Every year we jack up tuition far faster than inflation yet again and I tell myself, that’s it, we’ve gone too far this time, they’re going to stop coming – and every year here you are again!

Maybe you haven’t done the numbers. Allow me: You got a $30,000 “scholarship,” right? Oh man I love that one: Target should call their discount rack “the scholarship section.” So you’re going to pay $33,000 this year in tuition. Hold on tight to that scholarship, because we’re going to raise tuition on you $2000 each of the next two years. So that’s $105,000 right there. It’s nice that your parents are paying your rent and otherwise helping out with living expenses, but you’re still going to borrow another $500 a month or so over the next three years or so for books, car payments, cell phone bills, and so on. And don’t forget the bar review course (That’s where you learn all the stuff we didn’t really teach you).

So you’ll be lucky if you only take out $125,000 in loans. But wait, there’s more: You know what the balance on those loans will be when the first payment comes due? $147,000! Amazing isn’t it. The mean old federal government just got rid of the subsidized loans that pay your interest while you’re in school, so interest will be accruing the whole time you’re here. It’s like an astonishingly huge credit card bill on which you never make a payment. Plus this doesn’t include your other educational debt, which we don’t know and don’t want to know anything about.

So a very few years from now, with the exception of a handful of you who will be lucky enough to sign up to be helots for a giant law firm, plus a few others who come from rich and well connected families (actually there’s a lot of overlap in those two groups for deeply mysterious reasons we’ve never been able to understand), all of you will be either practicing law for peanuts, or not practicing law at all and trying to figure out how to remove the stigma of your law degree from what you will be thinking of as your permanent record, while struggling with veritable and growing mountain of high interest debt that you can’t get rid of – lawyers say “discharge” – in bankruptcy.

All of which raises an obvious question: Why would anybody sign up to do what you’re doing to yourselves? I don’t know and I don’t want to know — I’m actually being paid $300,000 per year to never ask that question to myself or anybody else. So forget everything I just said. You can be sure it’s something you’ll never hear a law school dean say again.

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