Running From The Law: Don’t Ask

If I had to make a Top Ten list of things that I find frustrating about my profession, this one would have to make the top three.

Everyone always wants to know where you went to school.

I’m not talking about being asked on a job application, in an interview, or even when meeting with a prospective client.  I mean in purely social contexts, as soon as someone knows I am a lawyer, the very next thing they ask is where I went to school.  Everyone does this; lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

This is one that I have found increasingly offensive over time.  I graduated from law school almost eight years ago.  So why now, especially now, should it even matter?

I wonder if T-14 grads even care.  Some may, but those who’ve risen to the top of the profession – with associate or partner positions at AmLaw 100’s, or coveted in-house spots with brand-name recognition, or those who have gone on to become judges or professors of law – probably don’t mind at all.  In fact, they may relish in the opportunity to express pride for their alma mater.

Those who graduated from a top local school are also probably happy to share.  Perhaps the person inquiring also attended that university and wants to share stories or make a connection.  That’s fine too.

I went to law school in Boston.  I went to a school that is highly regarded…in Boston.  In New York, few are familiar with the school or its alumni.

I am happy with the legal education that I have received, but completely dissatisfied with my alma mater’s institutional advancement efforts.

Where I went to school plays a huge role in how difficult it is for me to find new career opportunities in my current city.

Frankly, I don’t want to talk about where I went to school.  I don’t want to tell perfect strangers that I meet at friends’ barbecues, at my in-laws’ synagogue, at a shiva call, on a street corner.  Unless you’re offering me business or a job, it’s really none of your freaking business.

Why, why does everyone think it’s appropriate to ask?  If I told someone that I worked in insurance, or retail or pharmaceuticals, would it even occur to them to ask where I went to school?  Probably not.  And probably because they just wouldn’t care.  So what is it with the culture of the legal profession that makes everyone care so much where you went to school?

It is because law is a status profession.

People, in general, care less about how good of a lawyer you are or what the focus of your practice is, and more about where you went to school, how much you make, what kind of car you drive, what neighborhood you live in, if you made partner, and so on and so forth.  They hear lawyer, and they think success — the type of success defined by fancy titles and fancier things.

The media has glorified our profession in countless episodes of Ally McBeal, The Practice and LA Law.  And people actually think that is what law practice is all about…that we all wear designer suits, make six figures before we turn thirty, and make out with our coworkers in unisex employee restrooms.

I can’t help but consider the irony, now that the big secret is out.  This profession where everyone who got in from 1960 to 2005 made a killing, and everyone else is flailing, is no longer a status profession.

When the rest of the world catches on, will they still care?  Will they still ask?

I don’t know.  But the next time you run in to me at a bar or a beach or on line at Juice Generation, just don’t ask me.

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