Should I drop out of law school or finish my last year, or get a MBA? I need help fixing my life.
January 27, 2011 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I am 24 years old and am just having a tough time with life in general. One of my most specific problems is that I am currently in my second year of law school (the school is ranked right around 100) and I hate it. I don't know whether it would be best to finish my law degree, apply to a MBA program, or just drop out completely and get whatever job I can find and start working my way up.

I do have a partial diversity scholarship for my law school (I am part Native American), but it isn’t a lot of money. I am in the bottom half of the class (2.9GPA). This is due to a variety of other things I am dealing with, but that still doesn’t change the facts. While I liked school and learning the law, I realized more and more that this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I thought I had done plenty of research about law school before I agreed to go, but it really just isn’t what I thought. I know this is just an excuse for why I entered law school, but I was getting married and my major depression was making me feel trapped. I really thought law school was my only option for a happy life. I have found out since then, that law school (and a legal career) will not make me happy. I told myself I would make it through my first year of school and my summer internship to see if I really hated it. This fall I intended on dropping out, but my depression got out of control and it took all I had physically and emotionally to make it the last few months alive. I felt I couldn’t drop out, because I had nothing else I could do and I needed the financial aid to pay my bills. Additionally, having to go to class made me get out of my apartment for a few hours each day.

I went home for winter break and tried to recharge myself and get things under control. I have finally gotten on some strong medication to help with my depression and I have weekly therapy appointments so that I can get help with my depression. Things have been improving, but I know it will be a long battle. I am enrolled in the current semester of law school and have been going to my classes, but I am still unhappy. I think the reason I haven’t left yet is that I don’t have anything else. I know I could try to get a retail job and try to make my bills with that. I don’t have much work experience. I did 5 years at Best Buy while I was in undergrad and that is it. My undergrad degree is in Communication Studies, which I chose for no particular reason. The classes I have done well in, in undergrad and law school, have all been business classes. I just find the content more interesting and I feel the way my brain thinks is more relatable to business than law. So, I have been thinking about getting a MBA. I will be honest, I have just started researching what a MBA actually entails and whether it would be worth it, but I just wanted to know what some other people thought.

I know that I have gotten myself into quite a mess right now. I am trying to put my life back together and plan for the future. I also know that the reason I am where I am right now is my own making. I don’t blame anyone else and I understand that I have made some mistakes. I know I will probably make more mistakes along the way, but I really want to fix things as best I can and create a good opportunity for my future.

I guess I am just looking for some general advice, suggestions, or thoughts on what to do. I am talking with things to my counselor, but I wanted to get some advice from other people as well. I really appreciate any constructive help one might offer. Thank you.

Some additional facts:

After this semester I would only have 1 more year of law school. My fall semester would be doing an externship (my school requires at least 3 units are spent doing one, but I can do up to 15 and make my externship my whole semester, which is my plan). My spring semester would be spent at Temple University’s Tokyo campus, which I have been looking forward to since I entered law school.

I really thought that I wanted to become an attorney and do work specifically with Japan. I have always loved Japanese culture (I am not an Otaku(nerd)). I have been to Japan a few times and speak the language fairly well. Whether I do the MBA or not, I still want my ultimate goal to be to somehow work with Japan. I considered dropping out and teaching English in Japan for a little while, but I did not get my JET application done in time.
posted by mephesta to Education (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're out of the first tier, you're a two year without a job lined up and you don't want to be a lawyer or like law school? Quit before you take another semester's tuition hit.
posted by geoff. at 10:38 AM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, take a look at the Metafilter lawschool tag. It'll really depress you, but it is better than being another year in debt on something you don't like and don't want to do. There was probably a magical time when finishing out would have been the smart move. Now is not it.
posted by geoff. at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2011

I think if you leave law school, you should work. Just get a job you don't hate with a passion and spend a few years seeing where your interests and talents fall. An MBA, like a law degree, is really useful when you know what you want to do with it; it's not an instant ticket to a satisfying career. I considered starting an MBA about two years ago, but decided I needed more time, so now I'm working, volunteering and taking classes part-time. I'm already feeling more focused on what an MBA could do for me, and why I'd be an attractive candidate, than I was then.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:42 AM on January 27, 2011

Most MBA programs (especially those with good reputations) generally look for someone with more business experience than it sounds like you currently have.

I have several friends and family members who are lawyers, and I will echo what others have said, it is a very tough job market out there, especially for someone in your case who is: 1. not at a top-tier school; 2. is not near the top of the class; and 3. has no legal work experience.

It sounds like you are most passionate about working in Japan. If I were you I would look into opportunities for teaching or other work experience there. Although before committing to a program, be sure to do you homework and most importantly, talk to others who have done that same program. As an anecdote, an aquaintance of mine had a bad experience as a teacher in Japan. I was also a teach (in another country, not Japan) and had a positive experience because I talked to people in several programs and chose the one that sounded like it would suit me. Good luck.
posted by seesom at 10:43 AM on January 27, 2011

I have friends with law degrees who don't work as lawyers. You aren't wedded to being a practicing lawyer with this degree. Rather than ditching the whole thing and starting over in business school, maybe you could look at alternative ways to use a law degree.

As a general rule, I would not quit what you're doing right now unless you figure out what you want to be doing instead. It seems like you're dealing with a lot of uncertainty in your life, and you said that if nothing else law school does give structure to your days. If the best alternative you can come up with is working retail - well, would that make you happier than you are right now? If the answer to that question is yes, then by all means quit. but I suspect it would be better to not throw in the towel just yet, not until you've worked out a plan for moving forward.
posted by something something at 10:43 AM on January 27, 2011

It's hard for us as outsiders to determine whether your dislike of law school and negative feelings about the law are due to your depression or if that is how you would feel even if you were not suffering the effects of depression. You might consider sticking it out until the end of the school year to see if your perception changes as you begin feeling better.
posted by slmorri at 10:44 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just curious is it the type of law you specifically entered school for (malpractice, contract, trial) or all of law that you hate?

I went through a BA and a MA (including a 1/2 scholarship) hating my degree/major. However, I turned it around by using it as a base to get into healthcare industry. From there I spun it into various sectors of healthcare and now after 15 years I spun it into something I really do love (with additional side training in another field) and the beauty is that since I did spin it into healthcare, the overall pay is better than a general marketing/advertising degree.

Could you finish up and spin your degree into something useful that you do love? I'm sorry but eveyrone looks at the stupid piece of paper to determine who gets in where and for how much. Sometimes that esq. gives you an edge.

Something to think about.
posted by stormpooper at 10:49 AM on January 27, 2011

I'll go against my usual grain here and say that with one year left, one year with cool stuff you're looking forward to, I'd finish, unless the debt will be crippling. (You can work while you're in law school, you know, to help mitigate some of that debt -- I had friends who worked at Borders; I was a nanny because it gave me a lot of time to study. It also helps you to go see people who AREN'T IN LAW SCHOOL.)

If I were you, I'd start focusing my energies on looking at what ELSE you want to do with that law degree other than practicing law, and figuring out how to enter that. (Foreign service exam?) It's a less-pressurized decision than finding a law job, I think, and there are so many avenues open to you with a law degree.

I hated law school too. The whole process made me totally miserable. You're not unusual; rates of depression are sky-high among law students. You're slightly unusual in that you've sought help: Good for you. That's hard.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:58 AM on January 27, 2011

You have one year left. My advice is to stick it out. It sounds like law school was once a talisman to make your life better -- but that didn't work because your unhappiness was chemical, not situational. Now that you're on the right track to getting your depression under control (meds, therapy), my advice is to finish up while you're this close, rather than throwing in the towel and being right back where you started two years ago.

Some law schools offer split degree programs, so you could explore extra-legal career options. Have you considered transferring rather than dropping out altogether? Also bear in mind that you don't have to take the bar to get a job many fields where a JD would help you leg up on whatever professional ladder you decide to climb.

From my personal experience: 1. Switching "things" (people, degree programs, cars, houses) will not make you happy if what you are is depressed; 2. The second year of law school sucks worse than the first; 3. The third year of law school is a piece of cake and nothing lifts your spirits like a diploma!
posted by motsque at 11:03 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

IAL. I hated law school. I hated every F@#$ minute of it with the exception of 1 class and 1 research project.

I hear that you don't think you want to practice. That does not in any way mean you should drop out now. 2/3 of a law degree has the worth of a turd, coupled with 2/3 of the debt.

Having a law degree, even if you never seek admission to the Bar is a resume boost akin to an MBA or many doctorate programs.

Finishing law school allows you to sit for the Bar exam. I recommend you strongly consider it.

Even with no job out there.

Having a law degree and being an actual admitted-to-practice lawyer is a resume boost.

Finally, if you recall the analogy questions from the LSAT here's an analogy for you to ponder:
Law school is to practicing law as swimming is to repairing a car. THERE'S NO RELATIONSHIP AT ALL.

If you hate law school you just may find a job serving needs of our population as a lawyer which you find rewarding and very enjoyable.

Hang in there.
posted by BrooksCooper at 11:09 AM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

If I were you, I'd get a job, go part-time, and tough it out.

A completed advanced degree says good things about you. For the rest of your life, you'll always be able to say, "yeah, well, even though it was tough, I finished law school." And when you have your other career that you're in, you'll always be able to look at your JD and chortle. "I beat you, law school," you'll say, coolly sipping a snifter of brandy. "I beat you."

Also, if law school sends you to Tokyo, then that's cool. And if you tough out law school amongst your peers, then that's also good - you're networking amongst future attorneys, and you never know when that'll come in handy.

(Anecdote: a friend of mine recently graduated from a T4 with a great job. He decided halfway through that he didn't like law school and he didn't like being a lawyer, so he got a job halfway through his part-time program and he worked his way up. His employer likes having a spare esquire around, but his job is really in sales and management. Happy ending.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:24 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

While I would recommend someone considering or entering law school to think very hard about that decision, I really believe you should stick this one out until the end. Please don't take your experience in law school as an indication that you will love or hate practicing the law - many people who hate law school love working as a lawyer, and vice versa (I enjoyed both, but I think this is more rare than you realize.) Law school can be a crushing experience - I've witnessed public meltdowns. But you're in the home stretch. Seriously, 3L year will be your easiest.

Focus on two things: 1) your depression, which is the REAL issue here; and 2) the job search - really hit the ground running, and think optimistically if you're able to. Your GPA and law school ranking will preclude you from some jobs, but there are still many you are an excellent candidate for. And while the market is atrocious, there are still jobs being posted everyday, and there are still some newly-minted lawyers getting hired. And this may get easier as the economy slowly recovers (I can't speculate.) Once you start working this may all seem like a distant memory.

Working as a lawyer in Japan may be a great route. Someone who is fluent in both English and Japanese is a valuable asset. Be sure to network like crazy during that semester abroad.
posted by naju at 11:24 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you for all of the quick responses! I will try to comment and answer some of the questions.

I really am most passionate about working in/with Japan. I don't get excited about many things, but when I think about the possibility of this, I actually feel good.

If I do drop out, I think a retail job would make me more sad than I am now. I have been applying to non-retail jobs. I wouldn't mind (at least I don't think I would) working at a corporation and working my way up. I have started looking at the corporations that I like or work in fields that I like and seeing what positions they have available. Most positions I qualify for are in customer service, but I think that even that would be ok.

I will try to look into other things that I could do with my JD if I finish. I know you can do other things with it, but honestly I don't think I ever believed it was really possible. I think I have in my head that because I am not at a T-1 school whatever I do will be worthless in the real world.

I don't hate all of the law. I entered law school hoping to become an international intellectual property attorney. I enjoyed the IP class I have taken. I also have enjoyed, Agency & Corporations, Securities Regulation, and Civil Procedure. I know that it is tough to really know how much the depression is effecting my enjoyment of the law. I like learning about the law, but I also just like learning in general.

I will come back and update some more a little later today after I have had some time to digest some of your thoughts and ideas. This has been really helpful so far and I really appreciate it. Thank you very much.
posted by mephesta at 11:40 AM on January 27, 2011

The real issue is finding what you want to do. Whether the JD or MBA will help with that or not will depend totally on what you want to do with your life. It looks like you have to choose between the Scylla of dropping out of law school without a plan or the Charybdis of spending a lot of money finishing a degree of unknown value to you.

I don't know if there's any strapping yourself to the mast in this situation, but before you finish your year, you need to spend some time deciding what it is that you'll be happy to do. Once you have an answer to that, you'll know whether the MBA or JD or both are a good idea. If you haven't figured it out before then, you should talk to the administration of your school and find out if you can take time off without losing your 3L status, in case you want to leave the door open to finish your JD.
posted by Hylas at 11:41 AM on January 27, 2011

I have no law school or lawyering experience, just memories of rejection letters and an LSAT score that suggests that I am dumber than a bucket of hammers.

But, I have been depressed, anxious, and worried both while a student and not.

Congratulations and good on you for continuing to function and go to class!!!
Really!!! A lot of people couldn't do it!

It sounds like you do have some focus, and, my God, you have some funding! Only some, maybe, but some! I agree with Sticherbeast. Three more semesters, including one you sound excited about, and I hope we can get an update!
posted by jgirl at 11:57 AM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

"I will try to look into other things that I could do with my JD if I finish. I know you can do other things with it, but honestly I don't think I ever believed it was really possible. I think I have in my head that because I am not at a T-1 school whatever I do will be worthless in the real world."

If you want to go to a white shoe New York lawfirm, yes, a T-1 school would be helpful. For ALMOST ANYTHING ELSE, the degree itself will matter, not the school.

Useful things to do with a law degree that are not practicing law:
*Human resources. SOOOOO much legal compliance stuff, lots of understanding and implementing the law.
*Higher education administration. I guess also because there's a lot of legal compliance stuff? Or maybe just a lot of lawyers who like school? Anyway, tons of lawyers floating around Res Life-type posts.
*Hospital ethicist. Yeah, that's actually a job.
*Real estate brokers
*Bank trust officers (which may actually use the degree and prefer admission to the bar)
*Politics & Government: Running for office, serving on staff, campaigning, working for advocacy groups, writing legislation, working for administrative agencies
*State department/foreign service

That's just some people I personally know NOT practicing law with their law degrees, off the top of my head. I also know a law-degree-having meteorologist who's a TV weatherperson, but that doesn't have much to do with the law degree. :) I also know -- not making this up -- a bird-house artist who went to a Top 10 law school and now, um, paints birdhouses and sells them for a lot of money because they're art.

There are entire books devoted to "what ELSE can I do with my law degree?" If you can figure out what you like to do, ideally something that would take you to Japan, you can probably figure out how to leverage your law degree to get you there. And if you're in HR or whatever, NOBODY is going to care if you say "I got my law degree at Columbia" vs. "I got my law degree at Dayton." Unless they went to one of the schools and want to play "who'd'ya know?"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:03 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I haven't seen this laid out quite explicitly here, so:

I think it's important to keep clear that this is a matter of marginal costs. Right now you have 2/3 of a law degree, the value of which is at most approximately zero, possibly much less, if it's perceived as a drag on your resume. The question at this point in time is whether that complete law degree is worth the costs of the final year (let's say it's $40,000).

I put it like that because it's easy to get wrapped up in issues of sunk cost, "I'm already in so much debt", and so forth. The sunk costs are sunk regardless. The only question, from a microeconomic standpoint, is whether a complete JD is worth $40,000 more than 2/3 of a JD.

I'm *totally* ignoring the psychological issues, and I don't mean to imply that they're unimportant or irrelevant, but I think others are addressing those well.
posted by endless_forms at 12:49 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

The sunk costs are sunk regardless. The only question, from a microeconomic standpoint, is whether a complete JD is worth $40,000 more than 2/3 of a JD.

That is such a very good point. I am very familiar with sunk academic costs, and I am so glad endless_forms brought it up.
posted by jgirl at 3:44 PM on January 27, 2011

An anecdote... My sister is currently a lawyer. She does not love it. She still tells herself that she "doesn't see herself doing it forever." She does not make a lot of money and in no way have the ends made her happy she stuck with it all. Despite this, she is not depressed, and she has a husband she loves and house she enjoys. She seems to be more or less alright with her life.

While she was in law school, however, she would literally call me up twice a week, crying, telling me she wanted to drop out. Telling me not to tell mom/dad but that she was gonna do it, gonna drop out. She hated law school. Hated it with the burning passion of 1,000 suns. A Promethean rage. She was depressed during law school. Unsure. Confused. That being said...she did press on...and like I said above, she made it, she's a lawyer, and she doesn't totally hate it.

What I gathered from this was: A) If you can avoid being a lawyer. Do so. B) If you are on your way to becoming a lawyer...stick with it to the degree that you can. Even if it is hard. As some other posters noted...whether or not you actually pursue a career in law, its an incredible asset to have and will give you a competitive edge in whatever you ultimately do.

I say this as someone who is a strong advocate of quitting things rather than sticking with them when you really feel its time to quit. I didn't get the "quitting is shame" programming that a lot of other people have. If you think law school is really threatening your well-being emotionally and mentally...then perhaps you should back out. But it seems par for the course to absolutely hate law school. Things will get better.

Finally, you sound like you are handling you stress in a really healthy way and you seem to have a good outlook based on your phrasing and assessment of your situation. Keep it up.
posted by jnnla at 4:31 PM on January 27, 2011

One thing that might make the present more bearable and interesting is networking now about your upcoming time in Japan. Find folks who have professional or social ties there so you can get in touch with people before you arrive or have a list of people, businesses, law firms, etc. to look up once you get there.
posted by paindemie at 12:14 AM on January 28, 2011

"or just drop out completely and get whatever job I can find"

Not in that order. Find job, THEN drop out. In this economy it could take a long time for you to find a job so you should hedge your bets by staying in school until you do (and it will also give you something to do which will help with the depression).

Some things to consider:

Do you really hate law school, or are you just depressed? Give the antidepressants at least 3 months to kick in. And if the first antidepressant doesn't work, give at least one more (of a different type) a shot too. Don't make any drastic life decisions while you're still depressed.

Do you hate law school, but perhaps would actually enjoy being a lawyer? Don't throw away what could potentially be a happy 40+ year career just because you didn't want to slog through one more year of crap, especially when you have Tokyo to look forward to once you get through the crap year.

Unless you're really sure you don't want to be a lawyer (and I wouldn't be sure that you're sure until you're certain it's not just the depression talking) I would stick it out. If you find out later that no, you were right about not wanting to be a lawyer, you can always go back to school for a MBA then. Or plan to get an MBA right after law school -- MBA/JDs are pretty formidable.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:36 AM on January 28, 2011

If you can stick out law school, going to Japan will probably be a good experience, even if you decide not to pursue a legal career after graduation. For Japanese folks, Temple is a good school, and it's name alone may open doors for you later in Japan.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:49 PM on January 29, 2011

I read your post and it reminded me of what I went through. Send me mefi mail and we can talk about it in more detail.

First off, this:

Congratulations and good on you for continuing to function and go to class!!! Really!!! A lot of people couldn't do it!

It sounds like your 3rd year won't be so bad. You don't seem to go to a school that believes the 3rd year should be boot camp hell.

The hardest part may be the upcoming summer where you learn you don't have immediate job prospects after graduation. The issue of debt is also something to be concerned about.

Have you read this NY Times article?

The question is whether you are interested in any form of the practice of law. Law school and law practice are two very different things. The practice of law is less intense and more rewarding than many law schools make it out to be.

I think you can make it. You're seeing a therapist for the depression. The debt? Defer it. The job? There are places that will hire you without regard to your class standing - especially if you're not taking a job that requires the active practice of law - or if you're willing to work in a rural community - be it in the US or Japan.

How do you get a job without regards to your class rank? I'll talk about that in a mefi mail because its kind of off topic for this discussion.

The bar exam? You can pass it because - surprise - most people do, even those at the bottom of their classes.

Not enough lawyers admit their depression because it still carries a stigma, but I would venture to guess that at least 60% of your peers are going through some version of what you're dealing with.
posted by abdulf at 9:26 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

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