What has made me hardened and cynical is the realization that as a result of this "Great Change," I'm worse off than when I started.
I'm not sure that everyone who does law school ends up worse off in the same way, since how you are "worse off" might greatly depend on what you started with. I started with a career that I completely chucked in order to do this. Sure, it was during the Dot-Com bust and actual pursuit of said career back then was a little bumpy. But I'd had seven years of a full-blown out-of-college professional career that I'd developed up to positions of responsibility and decent remuneration. That was a lot to walk away from, but I did because I felt there was something bigger and more important to do and that I was wasting my talents by not doing it. All my statements of interest for my law school applications included the only-slightly-facetious exclamation, "They're making all these bad laws without asking me!" Perturbed by the state of the world, I thought law school was a necessary step to take in order to get the education and credential so that the people in charge would start asking me for my opinion on how to make the world a better place.
Making the world a better place has always been the object to this exercise, but today I feel further away from it than I did when I began.
I do feel in some ways I was lucky, however. I liked law school. I liked it a lot. Many law students are not so lucky, going to schools of such dysfunction that their spirit gets crushed right away. I was fortunate that my spirit and idealism largely survived law school intact. No, my ruination came in the aftermath.
The aftermath is what happens to law students after graduation. It's not enough to earn your JD - the clouds don't suddenly part, birds don't start singing, flowers don't start blooming as the golden sun shines down to alight your future path. No, first you must be crushed by the medieval torture that is the bar exam and then the realization that no matter what you had ever accomplished before law school you are now starting completely over at. the. bottom.
Let's look at the bar exam first, if we dare. Let's count its flaws, if we can count that high... Well, among its larger defects, first there's the complete disconnect between what it measures and anything worth measuring, but I will leave that subject to other previous and surely subsequent diatribes. Secondly, and somewhat more overlooked, is the enormous impact its timing has. The bar exam is given but twice a year. It requires at least weeks, if not months, of study, and then it takes 3-4 months to find out the results. Every bar exam imposes an enormous disruption on its takers' lives, preventing them from effectively moving on with their careers, which are so dependent on its results. This disruption further exacerbates the enormous financial stresses posed by the exam, including the hefty application fees required to sit for it, the usurious costs of study courses, and the loss of income unearnable during the time one needs to study instead of work. Furthermore, until finally receiving a successful result one's income is necessarily limited. There are some lucky students who are able to start right away as associates and be subsidized by their firms, but these students are in the grade curve-enforced minority. Most law students are forced to subsidize all this themselves.
And they are forced to do this subsidization with nascent careers. Brand new, start-at-the-bottom careers. New careers which necessarily don't pay as well as more developed careers, but since pay rates for new lawyers can vary so widely we'll leave that aspect alone for now. The bigger trauma faced by all is the newness of it all.