Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Frum Guys And Law School

When you look at the career choices of most frum guys (I'm talking about the working guys) in their low-mid 20's, law school is probably the most popular choice. Why law school? What's so appealing about three years of law school, usually followed by a high-stress job? I think there are four reasons, with some overlap:

1) money/prestige
2) can't think of anything else to do
3) that guy in Lakewood
4) passion for the law

1) money/prestige - This is the first reason that comes to mind. The opportunity to get a six-figure job right out of school is very appealing to many people. And money equals prestige. The ability to get a nice car, brag, put the diploma on the wall, and talk about cases nobody else understands are all point-scorers.

This category depends, however, upon the school the guy's attending. Any school on the US News Top 10 (Columbia, NYU, Penn) is definitely prestigious, and often a ticket to the prestigious big-firm job. But the guys who go to Brooklyn Law or Hofstra, I don't see the prestige there (or the money, for that matter). Especially now, where every other frum guy is going to law school. Maybe they're trying to impress their grandparents, who think that ANY law school is impressive. Or perhaps they feel cool when their great-aunt goes over to them at a simcha and asks them how to fight a parking ticket.

On a practical level, the fact is the cost of living as a frum person is ridiculous these days. More than one person has told me they chose law school because it's the quickest way to make the kind of money to support a frum family. As long as the guy enjoys working at a firm, that's a fair argument. But otherwise, that's insane. Someone's gotta slodge through 12-hour-plus days just to pay tuitions, etc.? Ridiculous.

2) Nothing better to do - There are a lot of guys who can't think of anything in particular that they wanna do with their lives. They hated science in high school, so medicine, dentistry, and PT/OT are out. They couldn't stand math, so forget accounting or finance. So they go for law. And frum guys figure that because law is just like Gemara, it's the most natural fit. Plus, you can make a lot of money.

I also think the chareidi approach towards secular passions is a big factor here. In yeshiva, you get the impression that because work is evil, you shouldn't follow a particular passion or ability you have when it comes to choosing a career. Sometimes I got the feeling that they don't want you to enjoy work, because you're not really supposed to be working. In which case, choosing a career isn't based upon one's abilities and passions - rather, it's all about the money.

Of course, the Chovos HaLevavos (in Shaar HaBitachon) says that one should pursue a career in an area that he enjoys. But that gets quoted about as often as the Rambam's take on kollel.

3) That guy in Lakewood - This category applies to the BTL/Touro crowd. Many yeshiva guys totally forgo a college education, because some guy in Lakewood got a 175 on his LSAT, got into an Ivy League school, and got a cushy big-firm job. So why go to college if you can take an exam, ace it, and skip those four years? And still make more dough than those losers from Brooklyn College who majored in Accounting?

The problem here is, two things: First, how many guys can get a 170 on the LSAT? Not too many. I know, I know, the LSAT is just like gemara, but who said these guys are all good at gemara?

Plus, these guys are leaving themselves one career option: It's law school or bust. So if they bomb on the LSAT or go to law school and hate it, what else can they do? They're screwed. But again, if their other passions have been quashed, it's not a huge deal.

4) Passion for the law - these guys are probably going to law school for the right reasons, and are the vast minority on this list. These are the ones who can name you every Supreme Court justice since 1870, the ones who pore over Justice Scalia's opinions the way I pore over a boxscore. If they're going to law school, good for them. Many of them end up as clerks and law professors.

Then you have some people that have great skills for lawyering. They're great debaters, great negotiators, and excellent BSers. For them, practicing law is a good fit. If they're willing to go through the years of doc review until they finally can utilize their skills, that is.

Finally, many of the frum girls who go to law school probably fall into the latter category. After all, the ones looking for working guys won't have the burden of supporting a family, so money is less of a factor. And the girls who don't know what they wanna do with themselves usually pursue something else, such as PT/OT, speech therapy, or teaching. And of course, no girls fall into category #3 above.

-- And with Orthodox Judaism moving more to the right, fewer guys are going to college. And granted, many of that crowd will be learning. But I still think you'll see more of the BTL-LSAT crowd pursue a law degree. Hard to believe as it is, I think the number of frum law students will only keep increasing.

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