Two weeks into studying for the California bar exam, Allison Mick decided she wasn’t going to become a lawyer after all. It was 2012, and at that point, the 27-year-old had failed more than a couple of classes at Northeastern University School of Law but still managed to graduate. “I guess I’ll do this and be a bad lawyer—I don’t care,” she remembers thinking.
But the mere act of studying for the bar was so thoroughly depressing that she decided to just stop and walk away from it all. Did she really want to work on this stuff for 12 hours a day, just to make money to pay back her loans? Mick didn’t think so. In fact, she wished she’d just dropped out as soon as she figured out that for her, studying law was the equivalent of watching paint dry.
In America, the general consensus is that no one likes a quitter. Mick says that feeling was largely responsible for keeping her in law school. But while the advice to keep pushing through is rational in the context of, say, a long hike, it rarely makes sense when applied to a degree that costs three years and tens of thousands of dollars.
So, before investing in a JD, it makes sense to think deeply about whether you’re built for the legal world. Nevertheless, many people still go to law school without any intention of becoming lawyers. In a Kaplan Test Prep survey of pre-law students conducted last year, 43% of respondents said they planned on pursuing jobs in the business world. Many people still see the JD as a flexible option for liberal arts majors.
The problem is, a JD isn’t something you can just casually try out. It’s hard to get yourself to quit once you’ve already started. Dash Kwiatkowski, a UC-Berkeley Law graduate, would know. “Having extra degrees never stopped anyone from anything, but it was a pretty awful experience,” the 24-year-old says. Though he forced himself to push through and finished in 2012, he concluded early on that there’s a certain kind of person who enjoys legal work, and if you aren’t cut from that cloth, there’s really nothing worse than actually pursuing a career in the field.
A lot of non-lawyers with JDs are understandably bitter about their law school experiences. Mick calls it the most expensive mistake of her life. Fortunately, both she and Kwiatkowski have channeled their experiences into something positive. They’re both working standup comedians, and if nothing else, law school is full of solid comedic material.
Here’s why they wound up in law school—and why they hated it so, so much.
“WHY NOT—MAYBE IT’LL GROW ON ME”
Mick started considering law school as a high school student. “Watching a lot of ‘West Wing,’ I thought it would be cool to like, go to law school and get into politics,” she deadpans.
At Williams College, she completed the equivalent of a minor in legal studies, and she enjoyed the liberal arts approach to law. Unfortunately, as soon as she got into Northeastern and began preparing to attend, the whole idea of law school started looking pretty bleak.
The thing is, her parents were excited for her. They were counting on her to become a lawyer and pay off her student loans. “I had nothing else going on at that point, so I figured, ‘Why not?Maybe it’ll grow on me,’” she says. (Spoiler alert: It never did.)
Kwiatkowski had also considered law school for some time. “I had grown up basically thinking that I was going to do this,” he says. After majoring in English at the University of California, Berkeley, he stayed to get his JD. It seemed to make sense: He enjoyed writing, critical reasoning, and oral argument; he had an interest in the entertainment industry and figured he’d use his legal skills there.
But there was a problem with his plan. Once he started school, Kwiatkowski found that “the work is truly mind-numbing,” he says.
“THE FACT THAT YOU HAVE TO TEACH THAT IS RIDICULOUS”
So, what sucked so much about the material? Kwiatkowski gives one example. “The funniest thing about law school to me was taking a class called Ethics for Attorneys or something like that. I was expecting cool, morally ambiguous issues and discussions of guilt and innocence,” he says. “But the teacher was basically like, ‘Oh, well, uh, if you don’t do a certain number of hours of work, ethically, you can’t charge for those hours of work that you didn’t do.’ The fact that you have to teach that to these people is ridiculous to me.”
Mick found law school similarly uninspiring. “There was mostly just a lot of A to B answers,” she says. “There wasn’t a lot of room for interpretation.” After four years in a liberal arts college, she couldn’t get past the fact that people were getting participation points for just pointing out the obvious.
She wound up finding solace in the people who hated the material as much as she did. “I made friends with the other people that didn’t want to be there and we all sort of helped each other tread water until we graduated,” she says. “In theory, we were a study group.”