By Tina Turenne
We all have a hero. Someone we look up to.
For some, it might be their struggling single mother.
For others, it might be their loving father.
For me, it was my dying brother.
Before he passed away, we had our last brother-sister talk. It was as if he knew his time on earth was about to expire. I was only 9 years old, but I remember every single word.
“Sis” he said, “you know I have never loved anyone the way that I love you. After I graduate high school, I plan to go to medical school. But, between you and me, I might not make it. If I don’t, promise me that you’ll pick up where I left. Every time I look at you, I see a beautiful soul. Use that to make the world a better place. For me.”
Of course, as he tried to comfort me, I busted out in tears. Two weeks later, he passed away.
Like Martin Luther King, I have a dream. One that entails fighting for people like my brother whose life was cut short because of inadequate access to healthcare. As a health law attorney, I want to provide fairness and justice to everyone whose health has been taken for granted.
For 10 years, my brother had been struggling with sickle cell anemia. For those who do not know, it is a disease that basically blocks your blood vessels and can damage your organs…while causing excruciating pain. The night of his death, it took forever for a doctor to get to him because, well, there was a problem with his health insurance. If only they got to him sooner, maybe…just maybe he could have still been alive.
In order to make this dream happen, I worked my butt off to get accepted into one of the most prestigious schools in the state of Florida. Trust me, doing so was no easy task. I had to overcome so many obstacles to get here, from teachers saying that I wasn’t good enough to my own family doubting my abilities. Keeping my brother’s memory close to my heart has encouraged me to never give up.
I am currently majoring in English, which will help me gain the necessary writing skills that I will need for law school. With a career in law, I plan to have the best of both worlds. Not only will I get to follow my dream, but I can also make a good income out of it. My brother will be so proud of me.
If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.
Until the other day, I thought I was on the right track. However, as I was surfing the web looking for helpful tips on how to best prepare for law school, I stumbled upon a few articles that almost crushed my dream. Titles like “Just how bad off are law school graduates,” “Job market is terrible for law graduates” and “One in six law grads can’t find jobs” were everywhere. Such headings, I have come to find are supported by many statistics.
According to a source from National Association for Law Placement, “starting salaries and initial employment rates declined from 2009 to 2012.”
I thus couldn’t help but to ask myself: Is law school a viable career choice, especially in this economic climate? How will I get to fight for what’s right if there are no jobs? Should these statistics even matter?
According to Law school Transparency, the yearly tuition rates costs anywhere from $22,116 to $39,184.
On May 18, 2013, Michael Simkovic, a law professor at Seton Hall Law School, collaborated with Frank McIntyre, an assistant professor at Rutgers business school to prepare a scholarly presentation about The Economic Value of a Law Degree. Filled with statistical graphs, these professors argued that a law school degree is worth the investment after all.
When it came to starting salaries, the professors argued that they are “poor predictors” of lifetime earnings. In fact, the paper claims “law degree earnings and hourly wage premiums are high even at the low end of the distribution.” For those who are concerned about the decline in absolute earnings, the paper informs that it does not necessarily lead to “compression of law degree earnings premium” which they claim is “stable over the long term with short term cyclical fluctuations.” Thus far, it seems apparent that although a law school education is an expensive investment, it will be worth it in the long run.
Should I invest?
“I think [a law school investment] is worth it,” said George Florez, a current law student at Florida International University of Law. At the same time, he advises that the financial aspect should be taken into great consideration.
He continues: “People have this notion that you could just go into law school, pull out a monstrous loan and then be able to pay it back within a short amount of time. And that’s really not the case…you really have to take your finances into account. I know a lot of undergraduate students spend a lot of time on like toplawschools.com or whatever it is, looking for school rankings and they just disregard how much it is going to cost. It is totally worth it if you know exactly what you want to do, you know which city you want to be in and you have some sort of payment plan. You just really have to manage your finances before you kind of go into it. I don’t think it’s fair to go in blind and end up drowning in debt over the course of like 10 years. You just really have to think about the financial aspect.”
The professors from the scholarly paper “The Economic Value of a Law Degree” also introduced a startling statistic: “On average, a law degree increases lifetime earnings by an Economic Value of as [$990,040]”
This specific statistic seems to have sparked the interest of many reporters, but not necessarily in a positive way.
“A fascinating new paper argues that a J.D. is worth $1 million over the course of a career, and that the recession hasn’t dampened its value. But don’t go racing for your LSAT prep book just yet.” (Weissmann)
“The 2008 financial crisis has had crippling effects on the historically lucrative law profession…but a new report [The Economic Value of a Law Degree] tells a very different side of the story. It suggests that earning a law degree will, in fact, pay off.” (Ingeno)
According to Ingeno and Weissman, the report did not take into account the cost for tuition or taxes. These data are from students who graduated law school since 2008. Lastly, they acknowledge that the professors failed to address the effect of going to a top-tier or lower-tier law school.
To counteract the claims made in the scholarly paper, Weissman offers the following rebuttals:
§ The Legal Job Market Continued Deteriorating Past 2008
§ The Boom Times Might Be Over for Good
§ Students From Bottom of the Bottom schools Are Still Suffering.
To make matters worst, an article was currently released in the New York Times informing readers about graduates suing their law schools. It’s believed that “law schools across the country were intentionally manipulating postgraduate employment numbers in order to attract more applicants.”
Having so many statistics disproving the worth of a law degree and shocking current events about disappointed graduates, it seems like the easy answer would be that it is not worth the investment. It would make sense to throw in the towel and forget about any hopes of pursuing a career in law. Although all students that were interviewed think it is worth it and a few articles encourage making the investment, it would make sense for one to say “there is so much uncertainty…and just too many “‘buts.’” On the bright side, if it is your dream and you have a motivating driving factor, money shouldn’t stop you. You’re not in this alone. One of the interviewees states: “I just want to make a difference. I want to protect those who have little protection. And trust me, I am not doing it for the money. There is little money in animal law.”
I understand that money plays a big part in choosing one’s career. At the same time, it can’t be all about the money. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. There has to be a driving factor stronger than all the money in the world. That’s the only thing that differentiates the ones that were made for a certain career from the ones who are just in it for the money. So whether your driving factor is to fight for the ones who went through the same unfair situation as my brother, or to fight for defenseless and innocent creatures with no voice of their own, the statistics should not avert you from following your dream.
She always knew I was going to end up being a lawyer. She says it’s because I am “noble” and have an “unusually strong sense of morality” and who better than lawyers can portray this image of “the noble knight who fight for justice and morality.” (Yarelis)
It seems as if too much attention is being directed towards “the worth of a law degree” while forgetting how important and useful the law is. One of the interviewees said it best: “Law is something that is continuous. Like, law doesn’t stop. It is so engrained in politics and culture that, although going to law school is expensive, it’s still important. You need lawyers in the economy. You need people to say what’s right and what’s wrong.”
According to Pearson, law has four functions:
- Defending us from evil
- Promoting the common good
- Resolving disputes over limited resources
- Encouraging people to do the right thing
So, in a way, being a lawyer is like being a Good Samaritan to the ones in need and when they need it the most. Can you even imagine what the world would be like without notable individuals willing to sacrifice everything just to fight for equality in the law? According to Howard from his book, “life without lawyers,” it would probably be something like this: “a Florida teacher wary of restraining a hysterical child gets the cops to slap handcuffs on the kid instead; a New York City high school prohibits nurses from calling ambulances without the principal’s permission; a town slide in Oklahoma is dismantled for liability concerns.” “To restore our freedom, we have to purge law from most daily activities,” writes Howard. In other words, law is most definitely crucial, even in our simple activities of daily living.
Law School: To Go Or Not To Go
A dean of admissions at New York Law School had this to say when it came to going to law school. “We teach critical thinking, and writing, and so forth,” Buckler said. “And that’s always been the case, and those skills have always been useful. I guess I would say that it’s never been a good reason to go to law school or any grad school, because you think there’s a guarantee at the end. Whether that was twenty years ago or ten years ago or this year.”
Although none of us wants to admit it, she is right. Nothing in life is ever really guaranteed, just like there is no guarantee that we will wake up the next day when we go to sleep. We have been so blinded by statistics and predictions, that we forget that they are just numbers. Nothing but guesses based on historical facts. Unless a time machine has been invented without my knowledge that allows us to look into the future, I don’t think anyone should be relying on statistics to determine their future, their fate, especially those of us who want to go to law school.
The fact is that the world that we live in is full of surprises. Life itself is a complicated phenomenon. I believe that somehow, the creator of the universe finds a way to establish balance because where there are unfortunate and impossible circumstances, there is always hope and determination to help us overcome and surrender. How many people whose life was set up to be on the unfortunate end of the statistics have still found a way to accomplish their dreams against all odds?
Let’s take Oprah Winfrey for example. She was raised in a very poor and dangerous neighborhood and is now ranked the richest African American woman in the world according to Forbes list of billionaires. Let’s also not forget Franklin D. Roosevelt who was seriously sick and almost paralyzed, but still went on to become the president of the United States.
I am not by any means bashing statistics. It is a very important tool. Except, we should remember that it is just that…a tool. In the case where we find this tool disagreeing with our innermost passions and dreams, we should never be afraid to go against the statistics.
This attitude is not just mine alone. When asked whether or not they thought that law school was worth it, pre-law and law students had this to say:
“I think Law school is worth it. All of the lawyers I have talked to, they told me that even though the loans can be very expensive, it’s worth it… Also, if it is your passion, you should always go for it regardless of what the economy is like. When you do something that you love, money usually follows.” (Michou Phenelus, Stetson University College of Law)
I think law school is worth it. There will always be a need for a lawyer. (Tiara Calloway, 3rd Year student at the University of Florida)
“I think that law school is worth it if you go to the proper law school. I do think that it is difficult if you go to a lower-tier school. But, if you go to a reputable law school, you should get a very good job as a lawyer.” (David Costello, a 4th year student at the University of Florida.”
Also, according to Lexy Khella, who had a unique reason for wanting to go to law school, “with a JD, you always have the option to practice law; so even in poor economies, there is job security. My plan is to use my degree not necessarily to practice law, but to open more doors.”
While each of these students make a sound point, it is also important to note that law makes the world a better place. We cannot stop dreaming of a world where there is justice for every wrong. As in the case of my brother, after fighting his disease for so long, they gave up on him. They took his health and his efforts for granted. And what did that cost him? His life. While the ones who refused to take care of him continued to live their lives and forget about the poor teenage boy who had his whole life ahead of him. The irony is, he wanted to become a doctor. He wanted to be one of them. He wanted to be his killer.
A community that is made up of people that are only concerned about their own self-interest needs law. They need that voice of reason that will prevent them from acting out of their natural desires. For that to happen, there has to be law and order. And there has to be lawyers like us who are willing to become servants of the law and fight for justice and equality.
Word of Advice
My grandma once told me “Only you know what is right for you.” So no matter what I say and no matter what the statistics predict, in the end, only you know the right decision for you. As for me, I have made it my life’s purpose to keep my brother’s vision for me alive…because he saw way before anyone else, what I couldn’t even see in myself. Dare to go against all odds. Dare to be that one special little snowflake.