There is a really interesting post over at Crooked Timber, What you Can't Expect when you're Expecting about the difficulty in treating a decision about whether to have a child as a purely rational (let alone economically rational) decision; you cannot really know what it is like until you do it, at which point (at least for most responsible people) it is too late to change your mind. Certainly once you've done it, if it doesn't turn out to match all of your dreams, it can be fairly devasting for all concerned, parents and children both. Happily, (or so it seems) a goodly number of people either find that being a parent does meet their dreams or they adjust their dreams accordingly.
In reading this piece I was struck by the parallels between the phenomonological problem described - i.e., that the experience of being a parent is something virtually impossible to "know" or convey before you experience it and thus makes rational choice difficult - and the decision to go to law school. And now that decision is more fraught than ever.When I graduated from law school in 1991 we were in the midst of something of a recession and jobs were harder to get than they had been for some of our predecessors. It was perhaps worse in Miami because so many people came from out of state and wanted to stay in Florida. I don't know how many of my peers ended up working as lawyers, but I suspect most of them did, even though it was such a tough market that even classmates on law review had trouble getting jobs. I do know though that some of my classmates found they hated practicing law, or at least they hated the big law firm form of practicing. And while the debt to earning potential was not as dire then as it is now, it was pretty significant and potentially life-altering, even then. (Twenty some odd years later I am still paying on my students loans although I have a lot of complicating factors, not the least of which was an additional year at Harvard Law School getting an LL.M.)
So what do we do with that particular insight? Should we tell potential students: "You know a lot of people find they don't like practicing law, especially in the sector in which the compensation makes it most likely for you to be able to comfortably handle your student loan debt."?
There is no doubt that many people decide to go to law school as a purely economic investment in what they image to be a lucrative career. And it is still is for some. But there is also no question that the debt/earning power problem has intensified the risk of the decision on whether to go to law school. And indeed some have suggested that these two questions - whether to go to law school and whether to have children have converged such that choosing one may rule out the other.
But are these simply market driven decisions, or are there emotional and deeply personal value issues at play as well, ones that cannot be reduced to weighing the financial costs? And how do these two interact? Unclear. I think when you factor in these personal issues the decision is not so clear cut as many make it out. The bottom line seems to be that the only reason to go to law school is that you really want to either be a lawyer or have that credential for some reason related to your personal circumstances. And if you want to be a lawyer it does not seem that evaluating this decision solely in market terms captures all that that means.
NOTE: A word about comments. I am going to delete what I deem to be abusive comments. In particular, commentors whose anonymity does not seem to be predicated on a fear of professional repurcussions but merely a desire to throw brickbats without any accountability are going to be deleted. This is not TFL, this is me. Civil commentary made anonymously will be accepted.