Cognitive Dissonance and Law School Applicants
Paul Campos (LawProf at Inside the Law School Scam) reprints the following letter from a law school applicant having second thoughts:
I think that the reason why 0Ls continue to perceive law school as an attractive option regardless of the costs or employment realities, is that by the time they get information regarding the employment picture, most have already invested a great deal of physical and emotional energy into law school. They’ve probably spent months studying for and then taken the LSAT, invested time in researching law schools and taken the employment materials they’ve provided at face value, found professors to write them letters of recommendation, drafted and revised their personal statements numerous times, and finally sent out their applications only to wait with great anxiety about whether or not they would be accepted. If they’re anything like me, during this whole process, they’ve also looked back at their college education and all the effort they put into performing well as meaningfully leading up to the moment where they could enter professional school and embark on a rewarding and lucrative career path. This, paired with the fact that they are constantly being encouraged by classmates, professors, pre-law advisers, and family members (and more or less all of society) to continue their education and pursue a professional degree, deters them from considering that a legal education might be the biggest mistake of their lives. It was only after I had finished sending out all of my applications in mid-December that I began to casually look more closely at the perils of pursuing a law degree (and by this time I had already been imagining the “perceived” rewards of pursuing a legal career for nearly 12 months).
Transparency with respect to law school costs and employment prospects will certainly help some students make informed choices, but it is not a panacea. Given the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance and the resulting tendency of individuals to refuse to admit to themselves when they’ve made a bad decision, it may be that criticisms of legal education are in fact undervoiced, rather than the reverse. It is perhaps surprising that more law students have not climbed aboard the “law school scam” bandwagon.