Ryan, Thank you for your post and perspectives. I appreciate your insight as someone who is on the other side of the decision I'm trying to make. On the other hand, I think you are reading some of my comments both too broadly and too personally. I obviously don't think all lawyers are hucksters and snake oil salesmen. In fact, I have great respect for most of them that I know, and if not I would never have considered pursing this. My view of the situation is, as you point out, not black and white.
For example, my observation on trademark enforcement shouldn't be equated with "all trademark enforcement is wrong or wasteful." I should hope that you aren't going to tell me all trademark enforcement is reasonable. I'm sure you're aware of a wide array of contrary examples. It is certainly in the economic self interest of firms that represent trademark interests that the scope of enforcement required be as broad as possible. One is naturally led to wonder whether that fact has had an effect on the breadth that is required. This is not the the same thing as saying that most trademark enforcement is bad or unnessecary or even that trademark lawyers are evil. The question is far more subtle. Systemic results are not always (or even usually) caused by individual malice.
If you go to law school, like any other professional school, you have to pay for it. Thus, you have to actually take a job that pays money in order to pay it back. And when it comes down to it, law school, per year, is no more expensive than any other degree (that you actually have to pay for).
Frankly, given what I do, I am comparing this to advanced degrees in basic science and engineering, which you don't have to pay for, or management and economics, which are expensive, but don't have the same sort of lifestyle associated with them upon graduation with the exception of the crazy world of business consulting firms. I do think being a doctor is just as hard as being lawyer.
Thus, you have to take a job to pay your bills. Sound familiar? The easy route to get out from your crushing debt, as it turns out, is to take a higher paying job. And, if you can believe it, employers who pay a higher amount, don't do it out of the graciousness of their heart! They make you work (read: bill) more hours.
I think there is a substantial difference between the number of billable hours required at most law firms and business as usual in the majority of other professions. People in any industry can end up working huge numbers of hours, but ultimately, they're in control. If you want to go balls to the wall in a start up, and I have, typically you're doing this because the problems you are working on are exciting and the rewards are huge, not because this is how everyone does it and you have no choice because you are saddled with debt. The point I'm making is that I don't understand why some law firms can't pay less and expect less (in terms of hours, not quality) and hire more people. The economics are similar, and my understanding of the sort of work typical junior associates perform is not really difficult enough to require a degree from harvard. Why do they do things the way that they do them, if not for some of the reasons that I and the poster I linked articulate? The problem is not that people do this. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be an alternative.
Is there truly no difference in the quality of education between a top-ranked school and a third tier school?
Of course there is! The question I'm trying to answer for myself is whether those differences are worth the money... Whether I really want to participate as a seller in a buyers market for labor with a huge amount of debt on my sholders. Really its about time and the value of time. People in the 80's used to say that "time is money." I perfer to say it backwards. Money is Time. Money is just a number in a computer. Time is the measure of life. You can either use it to do what you want or you can sell it to someone else and do what they want. If you need a lot of money, you have to sell a lot of life. That life may be worth more than the money you're getting paid for it. If it is, then you've cut a bad deal. This question is personal and the answers are not transferable.
(Indeed, rarely does anyone win in court because they are "persuasive for bad reasons." Either you are indicting the jury system because you feel your fellow citizens are too dumb to come to a rational decision, or you are blaming the winning party for winning because they had a better reasoned argument. It rarely comes down, in court, to pedigree. Many of the best and most famous litigators went to lower-tier schools.)
Perhaps that observation was too reaching. I was more stating a fear than providing an opinion that I think is certain. At the same time I am not particularly enamored with the jury system. I certainly think it is less corruptable than a situation where judges are making the calls, and I don't have any substantive recommendations as to how to address it. But we've seen many a jury trial in the high tech world that reached an incorrect result based on an incorrect explanation of technology given to people who are selected because they don't understand how technology works, and are thus susceptible to being manipulated, and do not know how to separate the correct expert witness from the incorrect expert witness. The fact that I don't have a satisfactory answer doesn't compell me to pretend there isn't a problem, but this question is way outside the scope of this discussion.
RE: The Problem with the Legal Profession