This week, I got to enjoy a snow day with my son, and he wanted to play the board game “Life.” I never played this growing up, but I wish I had– the very first thing you have to decide is whether you are going to college or go straight to pursuing a career. I got to explain to him the consequences involved with those 2 choices, mainly that if you go to college you will probably earn 50% more than your peers that don’t get a Bachelors degree, but you also will walk out with $100,000 of debt (that is the prescribed amount in the board game). He asked me whether that included law school, and I had to laugh before explaining that this would be an additional $100,000 investment, and for doctors it is more like $200,000. His eyes grew wide as he took in those numbers, and I can’t even imagine what the price tag will be when he’s actually ready to make some of these choices.
Lately, whenever I lecture at the law schools, or on panels, or students contact me through various connections, I feel like the bearer of bad news, and I hate being in that position. The reality is that government jobs are incredibly difficult to obtain now, non-profits are having a hard time getting funding, and firms in the private sector have slashed their workforce numbers and salaries. There really isn’t a pretty picture to paint here, and this month’s DC Bar Magazine confirms that I am not alone in my perception of this harsh reality.
Rick Schmitt’s feature article for the DC Bar is entitled “Price and Perils of a JD: Is law school worth it?” I would encourage anyone contemplating a legal career to read this first before making any decisions. For those who have already taken the plunge, my message has been focused more on keeping an open mind and thinking outside the box when it comes to potential jobs. But I think the focus really needs to be on getting to young adults in college, or sooner before they take on the hefty debt that may last them a lifetime. High school counselors and college advisors all screen for your strengths– but do they talk to you about the perils of a profession? The stress, the prevalence of depression and anxiety among your peers? I think I would have remembered if someone had once warned me that less than 15% of all women will ever make equity partner at a firm, and I know I would have gulped if someone had told me that over 40% of female lawyers will at some point face a bout of depression.
I happen to love what I do, and I do not regret the choice of becoming a lawyer, but I realize I am in the minority. If someone were to ask whether I want my son to follow in my foot steps, I have to be honest in saying no. The shark tank is full of brilliant people, and I love that, but competition is steep and the games never end. Who would really wish that for any child, unless you know you have a gamer with nerves of steel? So, if we continue to rely on schools focused on prestige to help our kids formulate their career choices, I don’t see this situation getting any better. Instead, I think it is up to parents to talk to their kids about various life choices and help them develop a game-plan that will work for your own family.
Life- it is a game. So, pick your alliances wisely; take a realistic look at the resources you have available; maximize the use of your strengths and don’t ignore your weak spots. Planning ahead and strategizing is the key to success– and if you can do so as a team and not as an individual, you have a far better chance of achieving a favorable outcome. Since you never know how far you get, make sure to have fun along the way, but be smart. That is the message I hope we can all convey to the next generation.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.