A couple days ago, I stepped outside without needing my jacket. It made me smile. For the first time in recent memory, it was cloudless, bright, and warm all at once. A light wind rustled through the dogwood trees as I walked through the park behind my house. Then I saw five kids huddled together at a picnic table by the playground taking hits of pot, out in full view, the smell thick in the air. My smile died quickly. I put my head down and they ignored me as I passed.
This story parallels my final semester at GW Law. Overall, I've felt a mood of idyllic spring freshness, but periodically, something dark and ugly comes up from nowhere to spoil it. Change is in the air - some is good, some bad, and all comes without warning.
Everyone's situation is different. Those graduating are off to tend to other affairs. The 2Ls look forward to taking their places; maybe they'll enjoy a reduced course load or become an officer for some skills board or journal. The 1Ls are settling into their respective ranks and getting anxious to find out what may (or may not) come of fall recruitment.
My last change of this magnitude was three years ago, when I moved to DC to attend GW. In the end, it seems like law school was a decent investment. Generous scholarship money, frugal living, and some nice business opportunities have all worked to reduce costs that otherwise would have been unbearable.
The potential upside to a law school investment has also changed greatly since I enrolled. The market rate for first-year associates skyrocketed from $125,000 to $160,000 in just three years. And there are rumors (unfounded at this point) of an eventual move to $190,000.
However, tuition has risen considerably, and compensation rates outside of BIGLAW (if you have to ask what that is, don't bother) have mainly held steady or fallen. One of the recent issues of NALP's serial publication "Jobs and JDs" had a bimodal distribution chart that documented the feast-or-famine state of entry-level pay (the real "average" occurring between $40,000-$55,000 a year).
This means massive uncertainty for incoming law students at GW, certainly not all of whom will be competitive enough to hit the second hump in the bimodal graph. They don't yet grasp that their career prospects are based heavily on class ranking, which in turn is based on factors they can't possibly know yet. The amount of money they're sinking into their decision to attend law school makes it a big financial gamble. Many firms have cut back their summer associate programs in anticipation of a sluggish economy. Simultaneously, economic woes often lead more people to migrate to law school. A flood of enrollment, plus a tightening bottleneck of jobs raises the stakes and intensity of the competition.
But even after your foot is in the door, you're not safe. We've seen news stories of associate layoffs en masse as certain offices shrink or close entirely. Even partners have to worry about the growing trend of "de-equitization" if they're not pulling their weight in billables.
Of course, no one knows what's going to happen. Everyone, even in risk-averse Lawland, has that nagging sense of dread in the back of their minds that things might take a turn for the worse, without warning and without anything they can do about it.
Some people practice denial; I try to avoid it. I believe in confronting uncertainty head-on.
With that in mind, this is one last writing assignment for you rising 2Ls: write a letter to yourself. Write with conviction and coherence about what it is you want out of your GW experience from this moment on. Ask yourself where you want to go and how you plan to use your remaining time at GW and the opportunities that law school offers.
You now have two whole semesters as a frame of reference. You have an idea of what is within and what is beyond your grasp. Use that to your advantage. Your plans can be as ordinary or as offbeat as you like, so long as they are an honest statement to yourself about what you realistically think you want to do after graduation.
Seal your letter in an envelope. The night before commencement, open it. Read it. Did you overcome your own uncertainty, or did you succumb to it? Is this still something you want? What have you learned about your strengths and limitations? Does reading about your old dreams drive you to tears, laughter, or utter indifference? If you experienced some form of change, did you resist it, ignore it, or pursue it with enthusiasm?
The answers are in the individual details. I bet you'll surprise yourself, in a good way.