Category Archives: Life

Don’t go to law school just to “save the world”

Law school has had a lot of bad press lately. The Wall Street Journal reported that only 55% of 2011 law grads had a full-time, long term job that required a law degree nine months after graduation. Forbes said going to law school is the worst career decision one could make. The New York Times has run a series of scathing articles over the last year; discussing schools’ failure to teach students how to be lawyers,  criticizing law schools’ lack of transparency about employment prospects, and suggesting that law schools are facing an existential crisis.

Now that my three years in the fifth level of hell law school are over, I can speak very confidently as to my agreement with much of what those articles have to say.* Law school is not a good idea for many of the people who choose to enroll. It is usually  too expensive.** Far too many people enroll in law school because they have a liberal arts degree and can’t get a job anywhere else. You know who law school is a great idea for? Those people who have a precise idea of what they want to do with their law degree; those people who spent enough time in legal internships or shadowing attorneys to know that they will actually love legal work. And those people who spend enough time researching the legal industry to know the inherent risk in applying, enrolling and getting wrapped up in six figure debt. (So yes, that excludes the folks who took the LSAT on a whim, got a 178 and stumbled into a top tier law school because they had nothing better to do after college graduation).

Despite the negative sentiments above, I’m actually happy that I went to law school. And I’m looking forward to practicing law.  Whenever I speak at pre-law panels or with the undergrad students that I’ve helped with the application process, I try to present both sides of the coin. Yes, there are many of us who enjoyed the process and/or the rewards of the law degree. But there are MANY who regret the day they enrolled. People considering law school need to do extensive research to ensure that it’s the right decision for them. If the only reason you’re going to law school is to avoid the terrible job market, here’s a newsflash: the job market is terrible for  almost everyone, lawyers included. You’d be better off settling for another job than taking on enormous debt which may leave you in the same sad state of utter joblessness.

I think the “stay away from law school” advice is really pertinent for people whose sole goal is to “save the world”. These are people who have a desire to do good and have somehow decided that getting a J.D. is the best way to achieve said goal. They are often unable to articulate exactly how they plan to use their degree; or if they can articulate it, it’s usually in a way that could be easily achieved by getting a cheaper, shorter degree or by simply working in the field of interest with just their bachelor’s degree.  They have bought into the idea that a law degree is some sort of  potion that enables one to cure society’s ills without knowing how that potion actually works.

 

For example, Jill may say she wants to help solve the healthcare crisis. Jill decides she should get a law degree to do this. After all, lawyers make the laws right? Jill doesn’t consider alternatives which may be more suitable, like an advanced nursing degree, or a Masters in Public Health, or being a health justice activist, or mobilizing her community to demand elected officials focus on health-related issues, or being a lobbyist. Or Jack wants to work in international humanitarian law. But Jack hasn’t done enough research to discover how scarce those jobs are and how they never go to fresh graduates. Or how most other countries don’t follow the US legal system and so his legal degree will not translate directly to their needs.

I’m not knocking the save the world types at all. In many ways, I was one of them. (Okay, maybe in every way). And law school worked out for me. So I’m sure it can work out for others too. However, I often find that much of the discontent with law school stems from the fact that many of us had no business being there in the first place.

And here’s a sobering fact: though there’s a glut of lawyers nationwide, there are not enough lawyers serving needy communities.  There are several reasons for that. Many law grads who want to serve needy communities cannot afford to do so because their salaries wouldn’t be enough to cover their immense debt. Many of the places that offer legal services to needy communities cannot afford to hire lawyers because their budgets are so constrained. And some of those who enter law school with the intent of doing good get lured away by enticing six figure jobs, neglecting a life of public service. The sad paradox is that the tens of thousands of unemployed lawyers cannot afford to provide legal services to the people who need them the most.

So if your plan is to go to law school so you can “save the world”, think long and hard about what your impact will be. Are there any lawyers working in the area you’re interested in? If not, investigate why.  See if you can do some work in that area before enrolling in law school so you can be sure it’s what you want to do. Will you be able to pursue that job with the debt load you’ll have? And is it something that you need a law degree to do? If not, save yourself – and your wallet- the trouble.

 

*Okay, okay. Law school wasn’t THAT bad. But I only realized that in the latter part of my program. That first year was pretty hellish.

**This would require a separate post to explain, but I am a HUGE proponent of debt free education and I generally don’t think anyone should be going into six figure debt for a degree in any field, except medicine.

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When is a dream too costly to pursue?

Since Ryan Lochte and Gabby Douglas won their gold medals at the Olympics their personal lives have been under intense scrutiny. Commentary on his grill, and her hair aside, I found the conversation surrounding their finances quite interesting. Or rather, the conversation surrounding their parents’ finances. Both of their families have incurred severe debt and faced foreclosure, allegedly due in large part to the costs of supporting their Olympic endeavors.

As a swimmer and a gymnast, Lochte and Douglas are elite athletes in sports that are prohibitively expensive to the average person. While swimming pools and gyms abound, the cost of training, equipment, coaching, supplements and lost income for traveling parents are significant. The parents of an aspiring Olympic athlete may have to spend tens of thousands of dollars annually before having any guarantee their child will make the team in their chosen sport. Four time Olympic speed skater Eric Flaim estimated he spent over $100, 000 a year. One article suggests a parent would have to spend at least $400, 000 to raise an Olympic table tennis competitor.

Which brings me to the question in this post’s title: When is a dream too costly to pursue? I can’t imagine being in Natalie Hawkins’ (Gabby’s mother) shoes and choosing to pay for leotards, and the costs of training with the nation’s finest coaches, over paying my bills. To be clear, I think she made the right decision. Perhaps she was truly convinced her daughter was going to be the star she is today. Or maybe she was willing to make whatever sacrifice was necessary to give her daughter a fighting chance at her dream. It certainly seems so, since she has noted how hard it was for her to send her daughter to live with a host family so she could train with her current coach.

I also can’t imagine making the decision that Gabby did to request that sacrifice from her mother. Even as a young child, knowing the financial difficulties that my mother faced, there were some dreams I wouldn’t even mention because I wouldn’t want her to contemplate any more sacrifices for me. I never wanted her to have to choose between paying a bill, and supporting me in some new endeavor. To be clear, I love Gabby and everything she accomplished, I just wonder how they got through those days when they knew pursuing her dream could be leading them to financial ruin. What if she never made it to the Kellog’s box and they were sitting at home, watching the Olympics on the tv like the rest of us, with a stack of unpaid bills in the corner?

For every Gabby and Ryan, there are hundreds, or even thousands more who dared to dream, and failed. Sure, there are philosophical arguments about how “the only failure would be to never try”. But to be realistic, the same people cheering Gabby and her mom on now, would be scoffing at them if they had lost all that money and had no glory to show for it. How many times has a friend shared a dream with you and though you verbally encouraged them, you thought This person is never gonna make it and they’re about to waste their money pursuing foolishness.  I know I’m not the only one. I try not to be a dreamkiller. In fact, I’m usually the one telling people to conquer their fears and dare to do the impossible. Just this week I tried to convince a friend to drop out of law school and pursue her acting ambitions. When it comes to me however, I am logical and practical to a fault, and can find a way to talk myself out of any risky pursuit.

But playing it safe never got anyone very far. Everyone we consider legends now all had notable ‘failures’ before they garnered success. So it seems you have to make risky, seemingly irrational decisions if you want to win big. But how much of a risk is too much? The cost of Gabby and Ryan’s dreams would’ve been way too much for me. I’m way too concerned about having a roof over my head and dollars in my bank account. Perhaps for them the cost of not pursuing their dreams was greater than the cost of persisting against all odds. I’m happy that for them, the risks paid off.

Image is Everything

Yes, I jacked the title from the old Sprite commercials. I don’t quite agree with that characterization of life. I’m much more concerned with my perception of myself than yours. But, the older I get, the more I realize that your level of success strongly correlates to how much people like/love/believe in/accept/understand you. This is even more important when you’re in the entertainment industry. Musicians and actors collectively spend millions of dollars on image consultants, PR associates and stylists to craft the perfect image to enhance their appeal to us, the masses. And for the most part, if I’m gonna buy what you’re selling, I need to understand what you’re saying!

Which leads me into a discussion about last week’s Soul Train Awards. (Yes I’m a week late with this but it’s finals time. Sue me.) I didn’t watch the show because I was studying. (Well, I was trying…) But I did log on to twitter during the telecast. My most recent tweet was from an American friend basically saying I needed to assist Mr. Vegas because he was inarticulate during his red carpet interview *hangs head in shame*

I laughed it off and didn’t take it very seriously because I’ve watched enough interviews with Jamaican deejays in my lifetime not to expect better. I have vague memories of watching Anthony Miller’s Entertainment Report and counting how many times the interviewee would say ‘u nah mean’ or use some other space filler in their sentences. I definitely didn’t have high expectations. But, then I saw this tweet from @Bevysmith

If you can’t see the text it’s :

When I was interviewing the Jamaican gentlemen (sic) I could barely understand him & I simply cut the interview short

She was referring to Gyptian who she interviewed on the red carpet. Later in the night, she mentioned that she was pretty sure Gyptian was under the influence. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case, but no judgements here lol

Watch his acceptance speech:

Bevy Smith shouldn’t be passed off as just a random commentator. She hosted the BET red carpet for the Soul Train Awards and has an enviable resume filled with decades of experience that include being a fashion editor at Vibe to hosting the ultra exclusive Dinner With Bevy series. Her comment made me wonder how many opportunities have been missed simply because we were unable to communicate clearly.

After I saw and retweeted her comment, I got involved in conversations with Jamaicans at home and abroad regarding our artists’ presentation of themselves on the world stage. Some expressed dismay that reggae is our most famous export and our musicians do not always represent us well. I love my reggae as much as the next person, but I too cringe at some of the interviews I’ve seen our entertainers give. As much as I want them to spend time in the studio crafting hits for my listening pleasure, I would really love if they would spend some more time doing some media training. Have some soundbites prepared for international audiences. Get familiar with how to use twitter and facebook effectively. Develop a strategy for their brand and stick to it.

Given that every Jamaican artist seems to be clamoring for ‘crossover’ hits and Billboard recognition, one would think they would start focusing more on presentation.This is not to say that I expect them to twang and put on an accent for the foreigners. But as many have noted, music is now a business as much as it is an art. Artists have a product to sell. If they can’t communicate it effectively, who is gonna buy? I definitely understand that depending on their backgrounds they may not have had access to media training and similar tools that their international counterparts do. But that’s where their management should step in and provide the necessary guidance.

I don’t know any Jamaicans who still buy music legally. I don’t even know any who used to buy Jamaican music back when we still paid for cds. So a Jamaican artist’s dollars are coming first from limited local endorsements and stageshows. The big bucks are to be made by touring and selling overseas. (Though CD sales are down everywhere but it’s still better than what they’d get at home). If they’re gonna make money selling reggae music, they’d better figure out a way to ensure that people understand what they’re saying, not just in their lyrics but also in promotional appearances.

I’m sure many of our artistes would love to get international endorsement deals. Well in that case, many of them are gonna need their image revamped and most companies will not want to align their dollars with someone who they doubt can effectively communicate about their product. When we talk about image, we normally think about wardrobe and lifestyle choices. Let’s not forget to consider whether people can understand us and realize that we are in fact capable of stringing sentences together.

p.s. I don’t want to knock Gyptian. I *still* listen to ‘These are some serious times’ after all these years. Seeing him on stage at the Awards with the Jamaican flags all over the stage and the crowd on its feet made me all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

****UPDATED**** I found out Gyptian was hospitalized for dehydration shortly after posting this. Wishing him a speedy recovery!

Rising Above Mediocrity

We’re finally getting to do something, we’ve been denied the right to DO SOMETHING, to have anything for so long that we’re all so happy that somebody’s finally doing something. There was a time to celebrate that but now is the time to step up and say, okay you’re doing something, now do it BETTER – Mychal Smith on HBO’s ‘The Black List’ 2009

Belle over at A Belle in Brooklyn tweeted about HBO’s ‘The Black List’ a couple times and it got me interested in the series. So I went to Youtube (where else?) to find out what exactly this show is about. After combing through several posts including Chris Rock’s insightful take on the black experience and the video that made me realize Slash was black!!!, I came to the one that includes the quote above.

I don’t know who Mychal Smith is, but he hit the nail on the head with how I feel about many of the people I encounter on a daily basis, even about the attitude of entitlement that I see slowly trying to leech itself onto my soul sometimes. I read Belle’s post asking who we’re inspired by and it’s sad that in 2010, most black kids still have to say Marcus, Martin, Malcolm or Mandela…throw in Oprah and the Obamas and your momma and that’s pretty much it. We have such a ‘crab in a barrel’ mentality as people that we fight to keep each other down rather than build each other up. And the FEW of us that reach out and try to do something great are often lauded for mediocrity rather than pushed towards perfection.

For example, I read an article the other day where a popular entertainer was being praised for taking care of his daughter. Come again? We are now at the stage where we have to be grateful when a black man takes care of his child? Well give me an award for breathing! Or my Jamaicans can relate to the mothers in the ghetto who spend thousands they don’t have to get dressed for graduations in May then can’t buy books for the child to start a new school in September. Why are we paying for excessive graduation gifts like these kids have any other job but to do well in school? I’m not saying people should not be applauded for good work but we need to get our priorities in order.

We could blame any number of sources for our inability to DO BETTER…media, slavery, post-colonialism, the dangerous facade of a post-racial culture …bleh. The problems were always there. The problems will always be there. Why does it feel like my generation has failed to meet them the way our forefathers did? Maybe I’m just having a bad night but I look around and I don’t feel inspired by anyone alive really. There are some wonderful people around; people who are doing great things but I cannot tell the last time I’ve been truly inspired by someone. When’s the last time you looked at someone that made you think ‘I wanna be like him/her some day’? No, your mom/dad/family member doesn’t count. It hasn’t been that recent for me. (Can’t lie, I wanted to be Oprah when I was little though).

So why aren’t there more positive examples in our community? Because somewhere along the line we failed as a people. I didn’t mentor enough kids from my neighborhood, our parents didn’t stress the importance of community because they were so busy just trying to make it, you didn’t counsel the young’ns you left behind in undergrad how to deal with being an even smaller minority in grad school :-/ It’s time for us to stop looking to be inspired and start inspiring our own selves. I’m tired of hearing about the same people every Black History Month. We keep reviving ghosts of Black culture past, trying to make the struggle of the 60’s relevant to a present generation, but they see none of this fight in us…we don’t see it in ourselves. And so they say, “n*gga isn’t a bad word to use in 2010”, and “we’re living in post-racial America” and the lives we lead validate these untruths.

When I look around, I see my generation doing a whole lot of nothing…settling for less than what’s best and that unsettles me. We forget that every time we win or lose, it’s not just for us. We’ve got a whole legacy to keep building on and toddlers coming behind us who need us to be our best so their paths can be easier. So who’s my inspiration? Today, I am inspired by those who have none. Those who look around their communities and see no black doctors, lawyers, engineers or professors; those who believe that because they were born poor they have to die poor; those who can’t see past their block to the wider world that’s there’s for the taking. Those are the people that need us to succeed. ‘Us’ being the fortunate ones who are rising above our circumstances. We’re getting our degrees and our 6 figure jobs and making mom and pops proud but if we don’t help others to come up then what are we really doing? That’s why mentorship is so important to me. It’s important for us to tell these inner city kids that they CAN DO BETTER, even when their relatives, teachers, friends and even parents tell them otherwise.

Instead of re-hashing the same stories this BHM, maybe we can go out and MAKE history.

– Trying to stay inspired,
D

Living life on the hamster wheel

In a recent fit of over-analysis, I realized that most of us live a scripted life. From our childhood we are forced to go to school. We spend 2-3 decades of our life in school so we can prepare to get a respectable job. At no point did anyone ask me if I ever actually wanted to be educated or have a job for that matter. Honestly, how many of us would be pursuing degrees and careers if we felt that we didn’t have to? How many of us would have picked a more ‘fun’ discipline that medicine or law if we hadn’t been programmed all our lives that this is what we should do?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed many aspects of my education schooling.  Most of the highlights of my life are linked to extracurricular activities, community service or leadership positions all connected to school. I LOVED my elementary and high school days. But as I find myself surrounded by law students who generally hate law school and converse with my friends in other grad programs who generally dislike those programs as well, I wonder how many of us made the decision to pursue graduate school or even undergraduate studies because of freewill as opposed to societal programming.

I love the feeling of being educated. I love spending hours on end talking about politics, society, sports, history…  and the list goes on. I’m a sucker for intellectual discourse (natural result of having a mom who’s a teacher). And while I look forward to a fulfilling career in the law, I  prefer reading Zadie Smith and Jamaica Kincaid to any Scalia opinion. For those of us who’ve spent our whole lives in school, it seems that we have been on society’s hamster wheel for an eternity. In retrospect, it can seem like my entire life has been a means to an end: Go to kindergarten, so I can go to elementary/primary school, so I can go to high school, so I can go to college, so I can go to law school, so I can get a job, so I can finally start living at 25? Pretty bleak existence if you look at it that way.

The only way to dig oneself out of the drudgery is to make every day count. Our day to to day living has to be about more than just completing the to-do list and making steps towards “the goal”. Everyday we’ve got to do something that we want to do just for ourselves [which ideally aligns with the plan God has for us].  I know the conventional wisdom is that “you do what you have to do now so you can do what you want to do later” but the reality is that some us will NEVER get to where we want to be.

PAUSE. Take that in.

So if you never get to where you’ve always wanted to be, if it turns out that you’re not meant to be or do what you thought you were, would your entire life thus far have been wasted? If so, it’s time to make each day worth living. We all may be hamsters, but we can at least get off the wheel sometimes…