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New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law

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Think Thrice About Going to Law School

I generally write on topics involving special education law, First Amendment issues, disability discrimination, bullying, and service animals. Occasionally, I’ll write about something slightly off the grid, and I’m going to do that today.

I’ve received a few emails from college students who asked me for advice about law school and becoming a lawyer. Some of these people are genuinely interested in special education and disability rights issues. Some have confided in me that they have a disability. Hence, their interest in civil rights matters and desire to become a lawyer.

My advice: pursue another career.

Career help book section at a bookstoreI know it’s painful to hear it. The reality is that there are too many lawyers, too much competition, and not enough jobs for law school graduates.

Both the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have published numerous articles over the last several years about law school graduates who can’t find jobs and the cost-benefit analysis of a law school education. If you’re thinking about law school, and you’re not keeping up with the news in the paper, you’re doing yourself and your family a disservice.

At the very least, you should read The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. My personal recommendations include: “Is Law School A Losing Game?” and “Lawyers Settle… for Temp Jobs” and “First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Law Schools” and “At Well-Paying Law Firms, a Low-Paid Corner.”

Contrary to public perception, most lawyers do not make $100,000. In fact, many make less than $50,000–and quite a few lawyers live on the poverty level. If you don’t believe me, do the research yourself.

You should read about Mike Kremen, a law school graduate, who carries $200,000 in debt and works at Radio Shack for $7.65 per hour. You should read about Alice Lingo, an attorney who was laid off from a big law firm and now works as a maid. Have a look at blogs like AboveTheLaw and Subprime JD and But I Did Everything Right! for other personal stories about law graduates who can’t find jobs.

Not surprisingly, these sad state of affairs have given some law school graduates the impetus to sue their law schools for deception.

Even some law school professors are casting law schools as a scam, questioning the value of a law school education. Among them, professor Paul Campos is one of the most vocal critics.

Now, if you have a disability, you may want to think thrice about going to law school. I’m not saying that you won’t graduate because of your disability. Not at all. I’m talking about your job prospects after graduating from law school. Sadly, the vast majority of private law firms are not terribly interested in hiring lawyers with disabilities. That is the harsh reality. As a lawyer with a disability, that’s been my experience.

I’m fairly certain you will hear (as I did) about how law firms embrace “workplace diversity.” From my experience, however, workplace diversity is limited to women and people of color. Even the federal courts appear to limit the concept of “workplace diversity” to women and people of color–the federal courts do not even track the number of law clerks with disabilities.

A law firm newsletter published back in 2007 laid it out point blank:

Of the approximately 132,000 lawyers collectively reported in the 2006-2007 National Association of Law Professionals Directory of Legal Employers, just 200, or 0.17%, were identified as disabled. Overall, about 10% of offices/firms reported at least one disabled lawyer, but less than 1% reported at least one disabled summer associate.

In “Forgotten Colleagues,” Michael S. Greco wrote that lawyers with disabilities are “overlooked as a minority group” and

their struggle has nothing to do with qualifications. . . . Instead, it stems from the reality that legal employers are not doing enough to recruit and retain lawyers with disabilities. This situation is depriving opportunity not only to the lawyers themselves, but also to law offices and clients that could be benefiting from their skills, the legal profession and society. The American Bar Association is taking steps to address the situation.

I have no idea what the American Bar Association has been doing in the last five years to improve the situation, but I can tell you that nothing has changed.

In 2009, a NALP survey found that of the 110,000 lawyers surveyed, only 255 were identified as having a disability.

In a 2011 report that involved a survey of 391 law firms and 10% of Fortune 500 corporations, results revealed that only one lawyer identified as having a disability (see pages 34-35).

Now, if you just skipped over the last two paragraphs, go back and read it. If you’ve already read it, I’m going to ask you to re-read it.

In this day and age, these numbers are nothing short of shocking.

Maybe someday the legal community will embrace lawyers with disabilities. But as of now, that time has not come. In the meantime, if you have a disability and you hear about “workplace diversity” in a private law firm, don’t get your hopes too high. Believe me, I speak from personal experience.

Still thinking about law school? Read Tucker Max and Nils Parker’s Why You Shouldn’t Go to Law School.

Still not convinced? Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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