When your law degree just doesn’t fit

** Warning – contains the F-word numerous times**

My law degree is like a sweater that I bought at a store thinking it would make me look hot, feel great and win friends. I kind of knew when I was buying the sweater that it didn’t really suit me, but I thought, “fuck it, look at all those people in the same sweaters and how well they do. Hell, for that kind of return I’ll make myself fit.” And for a few years I tried really hard to fit into the sweater. But it just doesn’t fit. It’s really infuriating because I’m still paying for the damn thing and I’ve recently come to learn that I have to hide the fact that I own it in order to have a chance of shopping at other stores. Plus, I see people i know walking around wearing their sweaters with big grins on their faces and being very happy with their purchases and I can’t help but think “Why can’t I be like them?” But, really, the problem is the same as it was all those years ago when I walked into the store and bought the sweater – the problem is that the damn thing just doesn’t fucking fit. So now, instead of trying to bargain my way into fitting into this sweater that is too tight for me, that has increasingly made me feel like I can’t breath, and even, at times, like I don’t want to breath, I’ve started to think “fuck it, fuck this sweater.” And I’ve started to think about how great it would be to finally be rid of the sweater once and for all and forget that I ever owned it. If only I could forget, that damn debt won’t let me, it’ll stay with me long after the sweater will. And of course, the sweater has a strict non-transferrable policy so it’s not like I can do anything at all to address the bad debt that is the monkey on my back. Of course I find this to be terribly unfair and unethical, largely because I have a brain and am able to think critically instead of simply regurgitating the mantras that serve to rationalize this injustice. So, I have to admit that I’ve also wondered at times what would happen if I just didn’t pay my student loans. I mean we don’t have debtors prison, so what would happen – really? Is paying my debt really a moral imperative? The worst that would happen is that I’d get a bad credit rating and some pompous baby boomers would wave their bony fingers at me in disapproval. But who cares about them, right? Fuck them, fuck the sweater AND fuck the debt. Of course I can’t fuck the debt, even though I don’t know why, but I can fuck the sweater. And now, instead of envying those who have the sweater and who fit nicely into it I can just happily accept that the sweater isn’t for me and move on.

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12 Responses to When your law degree just doesn’t fit

  1. Hello there. Although I enjoyed reading this post, I must admit that it was really sad. I thought that most people that go into the legal field are pretty sure about their career choice; I really wish that there was a way that you go start over. What DO you currently do? (if you don’t mind me asking..) Also, have you worked as an attorney already? If so, what fields? — Additionally, I am currently a bankruptcy paralegal and the thought of you just sweeping your student debt under the mat makes me get goosebumps. Student loan companies tend to go after your money any way possible – wage garnishment, and tax refunds are just some that I always deal with.

    • Maybe that’s why some people choose to move to other countries where their wages can’t be garnished or simply stop working. Student loans are highly unethical, which begs the question as to whether repayment is morally required.

      • I do agree that student loans are ridiculous! Well, good luck with your future. You never know if your degree will be of some use to you.

      • David Rudd Morton (retired) says:

        This is an interesting solution, but not practical because a loan is legal agreement between two parties and no one is forcing the borrower; to the contrary, most borrowers are elated (if somewhat petrified) to have the opportunities the loan will provide. That being said, yes, it is “unethical” that students can borrow so much,so easily, (reminds me of sub-prime mortgages) for so little (in the current law graduate market) in return. The “pipeline” between law schools bursar’s offices and lending authorities continuously flows over-inflated tuition payments into school coffers to support “bloated lifestyles” and perpetuate a viscous cycle. In the end, the law graduates (at least 50+%) are the losers with chronic underemployment and scarce opportunities to service their lifetime debts.

  2. Thanks for the honest reflection. I haven’t decided if law is for me yet, but I think it’s important to realize that sometimes the sweater just doesn’t fit! And student debt is a terrible thing. Totally with you on that one.

  3. RF says:

    Not sure about the U.S. (assuming you’re in the States?), but in Canada you can’t declare bankruptcy on a gov’t student loan. Trouble is, the banks here have cleverly found a way to insinuate themselves into the statutory exemption and now provide big lines of credit to students. They then repackage them and sell them in tranches to investors, who LOVE them because unlike any other asset-backed security (like a house for example), there’s no way they can be defaulted on (see bankruptcy exemption). I hope you guys have a more reasonable regime, but I’m thinking probably not. These student loans are a bit of a curse.

    • In Canada, and yes, you’re right about the intricacies and behind the scenes interests, it’s very disturbing.

    • Sorry, i think i missed something. Are you saying that we can’t declare bankruptcy on private student lines of credit? I always just assumed we could. If we can’t, that’s seriously f*cked up.

      • RF says:

        Hi, sorry for the late reply. As of two years ago (when I last checked), it was very difficult to declare bankruptcy on student lines of credit (until the 7 year period from the end of your studies had elapsed). Banks don’t technically fall under the government student loan exemption, BUT the courts consider a professional education an asset that can’t be secured since it’s intangible, and so have effectively declared it unacceptable to let poor defenseless banks be victimized by students. The courts will consider forgiving some or all of a line of credit in exceptional circumstances, but it’s a stretch.

        These lines of credit are big business in the U.S.. I don’t know if people realize how much investors like them. I should clarify that while American banks are repackaging student loans as a sort of asset- backed securities (your law degree being the asset), i couldn’t find out if Canadian banks are doing it yet (I even asked some banker friends), but I would guess that they are.

        The morality argument that the bankruptcy cases have espoused flies in the face of the ‘honest debtor’ philosophy which underlies the bankruptcy concept, and also ignores the present day economic and labour market reality, which is kind of grim.

  4. What i’ve been wondering about is the dismantling of the public trust and whether knowledge can be thought of as part of the old public trust. Essentially the argument would be that the commodification of knowledge breaches the public trust doctrine and the corresponding social contract, and student loans should therefore be unforceable “obligations”. This is why this kind of debt is distinct from other kinds of ethical debt (cars, houses, phones, etc…), which involve goods that aren’t subject to public trust. It seems hypocritical to me that universities can enjoy all the rights of a natural person (including all the corporate benefits) without the responsibilities (tax or otherwise). There’s a very thorough examination of these issues from an American in the context of a university whose governing documents explicitly state that the university is to be held “in trust” for the public (below). The university acts that i’ve looked at here don’t have this kind of explicit acknowledgment but the language used is certainly suggestive of a trust type relationship. Not to inundate, but, i’m thinking that if there is some success with the atmospheric trust litigation in the US, maybe we could follow and try some form of knowledge trust litigation. Either way, the debt isn’t ethical, knowledge is not a commodity, it is, to my mind, a part of the public trust.

    Article on knowledge as part of public trust: http://zunguzungu.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/breaking-trust-the-past-and-future-of-the-university-of-california/

    Article on atmospheric trust litigation in US: http://www.westernlaw.org/our-work/climate-energy/clean-energy/giving-arizona-youth-voice-court-protect-her-climate-future

    Add: Some of first the universities in Canada were created by Royal Charter (McGill, U of T, i think) so it’s possible that the wording used might explicitly state that they are to be held in trust for the public in perpetuity in which case it might be possible to challenge tuition that is geared at raising revenue. Unfortunately i don’t have the time to read the Royal Charter stuff, i tried online but hte writing was too small and i didn’t have the time to look elsewhere.

  5. Adam says:

    What you’re suggesting is absurd. It’s like saying it is unfair to go to a restaurant, order a meal you thought you would like, eat all of it, pay for it (let’s say, with a credit card), then not be allowed to refuse payment on the debt owed on the credit because, on second thought, it wasn’t such a good meal after all. This is why your analogy doesn’t work – hard goods can be returned or re-sold, services can’t – education is a service. This is why children shouldn’t be admitted to law school.

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