Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The status game

This excerpt is from a long post on Top Law Schools, but it's such a good example of how the law school scam works that I'm quoting most of it.  The poster is asking for advice about going to the Phoenix School of Law (btw TLS is full of status-obsessed people who are on their way to wrecking their lives by going to UCLA, and who for that reason feel vastly superior to people who are considering wrecking their lives by going to PSoL):

I'm just trying to figure out if I fall into that small category of people that could wind up gainfully employed were I to attend PSoL, and hopefully someone here could help me out with that.

I'll give a bit of a background on myself. I am 29 years old, and just had my first child. I have always taken an interest in law, and since highschool it has been my goal to become an attorney. That being said, I admittedly am a bit of a slacker and my grades have never been anything spectacular since I tend to do alright while putting in no work to my schooling. Obviously not the best choice, but at the time I was in college I was happy to coast by without really trying.

Either way, I do not come from a wealthy family and I don't think I could have just gone to college and law school straight out of high school anyway, since I would have had no way to support myself. Instead I went into the Army, then used my GI Bill along with working 30+ hours a week to go to college (Michigan State). After graduation I became a police officer with the Phoenix Police Department.

Which brings me to today. I love my job and I get paid quite well for doing it. I am definitely not one that needs a lot of money to be happy, and I don't want to become an attorney just because I have some unrealistic delusions that I will become wealthy beyond belief just because I have a JD. I intend to put in my time and retire from the PD, at which point I would like to pursue a second career as an attorney. I have no interest in Biglaw, just a city prosecutor position. By the time I would do this we would already be receiving my pension from the PD along with my wife's (she's a teacher), so I would not need a great deal of money to make ends meet. I want this only for a second career, so that I can continue with a job that looks at the law from a different perspective.

While I would love to know that I accomplished the goals I set out to do in life, I am in no way willing to jeopardize my current career in some desperate hope to be an attorney that may never pan out anyway either. Therefore, I would not be willing to leave the Phoenix area, nor would I be willing to go to school full time because I would clearly need to take a hiatus from my job to do so. So my options for a part-time law school in the Phoenix area? PSoL. That's it, it's the only school with a part time program by me.

Now I would just forget about law school if that was my only option under normal circumstance, but with my situation I would like to believe my circumstance are far from normal. The Phoenix Police Department has a legal unit, which has several officers that are bar certified working for them, many acting in a dual capacity as police and attorneys. This of course should give anyone on that unit a good in for a career with the prosecutor's office later on. Admittedly, I don't know too much about the legal unit or what it takes to get on at this time, but to the best of my knowledge if you are an officer that is bar certified in AZ it should be fairly easy. I have the names of a few officers on the legal team already and I will be asking them some questions here in the coming days as well.

I am still in the start of my career. I currently have 3 years on, so I would like to continue with patrol for several more years before I would even consider transferring to legal anyway. This gives me ample time to get through law school in the mean time. I am just getting sick of going back and forth on my plans though, and wanted some type of guidance. Every time I think I would like to go through with it, I think of going to PSoL and I read these forums and I get scared off. I will say this though, one thing that does keep me wishing to proceed with these plans is at the end of the day, even if things don't work out at least I will have tried and can say I went to law school.

As I mentioned earlier, I just had my first child, a daughter. My parents barely graduated highschool, and my wife's parents were highschool dropouts. My wife has a masters, and I currently have my bachelor's. We both currently live better than either of our parents ever did as a result. I would like to set an example for my daughter and I would like her to do even better than us, and even the act of going to law school alone would make me feel I've given her a higher bar to meet. So there are factors that I have considered in this decision that have lead me to the school that aren't financial as well. Whether or not these factors are enough to make me blow a substantial amount of money on something that may never see a positive gain though is definitely debatable.
PSoL is a seven-year-old for-profit law school which was accredited by the ever-vigilant ABA two years ago.  Currently the part-time program charges almost $31,000 per year in tuition and fees, meaning that the minimum someone like the OP is going to spend in the course of getting a law degree from this institution is about $125,000, not counting another ten thousand or so for associated expenses, i..e, books, bar review course, etc. (based on eight semesters of part-time attendance). 

Now what I find particularly fascinating about the OP is that he is, given he and his wife's apparent family backgrounds, already a big winner in the American economic and cultural status game.  His family income appears to be well over $100,000 per year -- elsewhere in the post he reveals he's making $65,000, and since his wife is a teacher with a masters degree she could well be making a similar amount, and is almost certainly not making much less.  Note that if their family income is, to be conservative, $115,000 per year that puts them in around the 85th percentile of household income in the country (median household income in 2010 was $49K). In addition, he notes that he "loves his job." How many lawyers, or even DAs, would say the same?.

Furthermore I don't know what starting salaries for DAs in Phoenix are but I know what they are in Denver and if the numbers are at all similar he would be taking a pay cut by becoming a DA (measuring by hours worked it would be an even bigger reduction as DAs don't get overtime. It's a running joke in the Denver DA's office that the cops make more than the lawyers -- except it isn't a joke at all).

And all of this of course doesn't even take into account that his odds of actually getting the job he would go to law school to get are minuscule. 

What's most interesting to me about the OP's narrative is that, on one level, he doesn't seem particularly naive about any of this.  He realizes he's got, all things considered, an excellent job, and he certainly isn't considering going to law school in order to increase his income.  Indeed his perusal of TLS has left him with a strong sense that there's a very high risk going to PSoL would be the equivalent of lighting $125K on fire, at least in straightforward pecuniary terms.

But there's the catch.  The OP longs for the status and respect that he believes comes from being a district attorney, rather than a "mere" cop -- even a cop with a law degree (although it appears he may be willing to pay six figures just for the latter outcome).  He wants his daughter to look up to him, and to have dreams of "better things" than he and his wife's wholly respectable middle class identities, even when, as in their case, those identities have created a distinctly upper middle class household income -- an income which is certainly quite a bit higher than that of the median among American households in which at least one person has a law degree, especially if that law degree was acquired any time in the last decade or so.

And for that, he's willing to consider paying a staggering sum of money to a bottom feeding for-profit law school, owned by a $300 million private equity fund that specializes in this sort of thing.

Forget the fake placement stats and the unlimited government loans, and the various "cognitive errors" to which we are all so sadly prone.  Bizarre as it may seem to those inside the legal profession -- not law professors needless to say -- who see the sausage getting made every day, it's still the cultural status associated with being a member of a "learned profession" that keeps this thing of ours in the black (for the moment anyway). But, bit by bit, our recklessness and greed is wasting our cultural capital, like a trust fund baby who, in middle age, keeps invading the corpus which has supported him in such fine style over all these many years.


  1. Student debt: The next financial crisis?

    on February 9, 2012 4:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

    By: Halah Touryalai
    February 8, 2012

    Student debt: The next financial crisis?

    The mortgage debt crisis has barely been resolved but there's already talk of the next big financial crisis in the U.S.: student debt.

    Student borrowing topped the $100 billion threshold for the first time in 2010, and total outstanding loans exceeded $1 trillion for the first time in 2011. In fact, student loan debt exceeds credit card debt in the U.S. which stands at about $798 billion. It's a fascinating figure considering the unemployment rate is still flirting with 9% in the U.S. thus hurting the earning power for recent graduates.

    . . .

    "NACBA calls on Congress to act immediately to eliminate the nondischargeability of private student loans. There simply is no reason to allow private student loans to be treated differently from other types of unsecured credit. In fact, exempting these loans from discharge is likely to cause even more harm for borrowers since there are no interest rate limit or limits on fees charged for private student loans. Furthermore, there are limited repayment options for those borrowers facing financial hardship.

    There is currently legislation to address student debt issues including a House bill dubbed "Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act" and a Senate bill "Fairness for Struggling Students Act."

    Says William E. Brewer, Jr., president, National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, "Take it from those of us on the frontline of economic distress in America: This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy."
    in a long time, private lenders would have a little incentive to play nice with students.


  2. P.S., "Furthermore, there are limited repayment options for those borrowers facing financial hardship." shows that NACBA are total idiots who do not even know about IBR. But their point in general is valid.

  3. I was a policeman in a northeast metropolitan city and quite that job to go to law school.

    Every day I regret that decision.

    Not only would I be making much more money if I had stayed on the force, my benefits would be greatly superior (including a pension).

    But there are other reasons.

    First and foremost, every lawyer I know hates their job. There is no glory in being a lawyer and the job just plain sucks.

    Second, there's nothing special in being a lawyer. We are a dime a dozen. The profession is corrupt and I don't know any lawyers who are pound to be members of the profession.

    Gosh, I hope this guy comes to his senses.

  4. Sorry for the typos, typing on a new Droid phone.

  5. Paul, I think you're misaprehending what the TLS poster is planning. It sounds like he'd keep his job as a police officer, attend law school part time, and then use his law degree for a second career after he retires from the police department (with a sizeable pension). He's 3 years into his police career at 29 years old, so he'll be eligible to retire in his early 50's; he'll be relatively young and collecting a pension for many years. Between now and then, if he gets his JD and gets experience working in the police department's legal unit, it would seem like he'd be in a pretty good position to get a DA's position as his "retirement job." This would be a second salary on top of his police pension. With all that said, if I were in his position, I still wouldn't take out 125K in loans to attend PSL, but I don't think his plan is as crazy as you're making it out.

  6. you must be a lawyer... can't even afford to own a decent slave-shop made iphone... all americans should own iproducts.

  7. he won't get a job. buy the time he's 50s the whole legal apparatus within this country will be in crumbles. plus no one wants to hire someone who went to that school... additionally, I doubt he will be able to "walk" into a "retirement career" with NO EXPERIENCE.

  8. @6:44, You really don't think, hypothetically, that a Phoenix police officer who gets a JD and works for an additiontal 10-15 years as a police officer or police supervisor/manager, might not have a chance to make connections with the people doing the hiring for the local DA's office? This might be the one and only person who graduates from PSL who has a chance of getting a job. It's still a bad idea for him to finance this with nondischarable loans.

  9. I hate the magical "make connection", "networking" line. connections are capital and few want to share. plus I doubt he's the only officer trying to move up, especially in a metro area with lots of cops, and especially when its becoming the norm that cops have bachelors degrees.

    The main issue is that he want STATUS. No one want to just accpet their decent days pay (which most people don't even get anymore) and go home.

    I'd tell the guy, "go home, its not about you anymore. You brought a kid into this world. And unless you want your kid going into the millitary (who knows what conflicts we'll be invovled in) to pay for higher education, start saving now because at todays rates who know how much it will cost to get a BS or BA in the future or what wages will look like." His kid(s) may be living with him we'll into his twenties.

  10. into "their" twenties (sorry for the typo), I'm in the basement and my mom distrubed me when she was putting laundry into the dryer.

  11. I believe the officer applying to PSoL is a troll post.

    I have been practicing for nearly two decades and I have many friends and contacts with both the prosecutor's and public defender's office. Here is my opinion on this subject.

    A patrolman in my town makes over $100K with overtime. Most of the overtime is downtime (i.e., waiting for arraignments, sitting around in court, texting paramours, shaking down local eateries for free food, etc.). The local prosecutor makes about $50K. He is always shuffling papers, looks stressed out and is yelled at by the judge, private attorneys and other cops. So much for status.

    To make matters worse, the local prosecutor does not have any autonomy. His plea bargain deals have to be cleared by both the cops and the judge. Every private lawyer knows this and accordingly treats the prosecutor like a joke. In fact, many colleagues see the prosecutor as a glorified assistant cashier who is there helping the municipality generate revenue from traffic tickets, etc.

    It is true that after a few years of practice, where you attended law school matters less, however, there are certain schools you will never wash away the stigma of having attended (e.g., Cooley, PSoL, etc.). Most cops that have gone the law school route believe their connections as a cop will trump a horrid law school on their resume. This may be true in some cities but not in mine. In my town, the local cops detest private lawyers and for some reason hate lawyers that were former cops even more. I think it has something to do with the latter believing they are better than the average cop.

    The TLS poster has to be a troll. Either that or he is a fucking idiot for even contemplating throwing away six figures to get a permanent shitstained law degree so that he can transition into a lower paying job with no prestige. Sure, his family may be impressed but the people he will deal with on a daily basis will not be.

  12. It's like watching someone climb on a ledge and threaten to jump while going on about how he knows how good he has it, he just wants it a little bit better.

  13. My own advice to this person would be simple. First, focus on additional education that: (a) enhances his professional ability as a police officer (which could be anything from psych to forensics, management, etc.) to do his job and gain seniority; (b) is likely to be paid for or subsidised by Pheonix PD; (c) enhances his law school application should he choose to attend, getting into a better law school; and (d) wait to attend law school if he still wants to until the coming Armageddon lowers tuition and makes evening programs more available at schools with better reputations; and (e) maybe in 17 years there will be less competition for every law jobs as members of the current glut give up on legal careers and law schools close.

    Jobs as prosecutors are highly competitive and a JD from Pheonix School of Law won't get him there.


  14. Blue collar kid does good by his family, goes to college, becomes a cop, goes to night school while still working as a cop and supporting a baby daughter, gets a JD is hired by the DA's office and is much respected by his former cop colleagues. Goes on to become District Attorney...
    Where have I seen this storyline before? Oh, yeah, every single episode of Law and Order.

  15. @6:49 AM

    In response to your question - could a Pheonix PD officer make the connections to get hired into the Pheonix DA's office even with a JD from Pheonix School of Law- it turns very hard on how formal the hiring process is. If the process is highly formal then a candidate from a better law school will tend to come out ahead every time.


  16. @6:38 and 6:49 here.

    I agree with everyone, and stated in both of my posts, that this guy should not, under any circumstances, take out loans to finance a PSL JD.

    However, Phoenix police officers (I just looked it up) can retire after 20 years of service. This guy will potentially be collecting a large, fixed-benefit pension at the age of 46. That's very young to stop working entirely, and a second career as an attorney might be more appealing to this guy than a second career as a security guard.

    The larger point about STATUS is very well taken. This guy is insane to do this if STATUS is all he's really after. But if he can manage to finance his JD without taking any loans, and he actually wants to be an attorney after he retires from the police force, going to PSL part-time might not be entirely insance.

    My advice to this guy would be to retake the LSAT until he gets a score that wins him a full scholarship from PSL. If he can't get that score, he shouldn't go.

  17. I knew a cop who blew his knee chasing a mugger while on the job. He was reassigned to a desk. He could have done his 20 years and retired with a full pension. But no. He went to law school (I think it was Touro) and got a JD. When he graduated, he was not hired by anyone, not even the local DA's office hired him despite his past connections. So this former cop now turned lawyer (he passed the bar after 3 tries) hangs a shingle. He cannot explain why criminal defendants aren't knocking down his door seeking his counsel. He cannot understand why a majority of his potential clients see him as "the man" who will probably snitch on the client and sell him down the river. This guy actually thought he would be the next Johnnie Cochran.

    Today, this cop works for a PI sweatshop making $60K a year and working close to 70 hours a week. He is out of shape, has hypertension and high cholesterol. At this pace, he won't be alive in 10 years. Had he stayed at his desk jockey job as a cop, he would be 4 years away from retirement with a full pension. He blew it all away to chase status.

  18. Status seeking has been a part of the attraction of the legal profession since ancient times. This is not some newfangled thing. We aren't going to rid of that anytime soon, if ever.

  19. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acLW1vFO-2Q

    "It's never going to be any better. Be happy with what you got."

  20. I think he wants to double dip once he "retires" from being a cop. Then he can be a DA and get the DA's salary plus all of the retirement from being a cop.

    It makes some sense. I guess I would rather see a DA who was a cop. And I like the idea of a cop who's actually studied the law.

    But your point about the costs are good ones. It's very, very expensive and he's already getting a better deal than most people.

  21. "It's a running joke in the Denver DA's office that the cops make more than the lawyers -- except it isn't a joke at all."

    LawProf, thank you for this post. I have seen people from similar circumstances seriously contemplate this ill-fated decision. I knew one woman who left her director position with a nonprofit, to join her husband in another state - while he earns a largely useless Master's degree.

    One legal aid lawyer told me about his educated daughter, who was making about $70K in a comfortable job. She is leaving for New York - with no job lined up - so she can be with her husband, while he attends medical school. He strongly suggested that she keep her job, and visit her husband often. "Hell, she won't see his ass anyway, since he'll be busy in med school and doing rotations. What can you do when your kid is determined to piss away her job for this?"

    Also, I have tried to educate workers making $60K-$70K about law school, when they mention that they want a better job. Many of them have small children. The point of being an adult or parent is to provide for yourself or your family. Walking away from a nice job in order to seek a dubious (and expensive) venture is idiotic - period.

    Prestige whores need to have enough self-confidence and assurance to know that it does not matter what someone in the church pew next to you thinks about you being a sanitation worker/garbage man. (Hell, the garbage man is probably making more than the typical DA, has better benefits and great work hours.) If you want some "prestige," then you can do so at a much cheaper price. Hell, buy some chess books, study them, purchase a set of chessmen with a board, re-play old games, go to local clubs, play online or versus a computer, and learn how to play strategically. You might not become a strong player - in relation to club players. But with effort and diligence, you should be able to crush most of your family and friends. Maybe that will impress them. If you have a logical mind, you can accomplish this for possibly under $100 - not $100K in non-dischargeable debt.

    In the final analysis, if a woman - or man - is shallow enough to shun you because you are an office manager, cop or work in the county assessor's office - and not a doctor, dentist, engineer or lawyer - then why would you want to impress such a buffoon?!?!

  22. It isn't just this TLS poster who is interested in prestige. There was a recent post by a guy who thinks that "city dwellers" are impressed by first year's salary in NYC. His (probably 0L) motivation for wanting biglaw was the status of the job. I'm not sure where he got this impression, but there are a lot of first year associates in Manhattan - most of them stressed out and debt ridden.

    The problem with chasing status and prestige is that it is never enough. There was a miserable Columbia 1L who posted about how, in his experience, everyone at Columbia is unhappy because they didn't get Harvard. There was a post by T14 guy who feels like a pariah because he doesn't have a 2L summer job.

    But this problem is more than just with the legal profession, it is a societal problem of using these tokens to identify status. The tokens are a shortcut to really determining an individual's worth. The same thing happens in every profession - the surgeon who thinks he is better than the ER doc; the particle physicist who thinks he is better than the astronomer. For some reason people live with these arbitrary social stratifications and accept them.

  23. From a follow-up by the OP on TLS:

    "My initial plan was to just go to law school later on when I was looking to retire anyway. I took the LSAT in June just to see how I'd do and ever since I have just been thinking more and more about it. Given the responses here I think I will just go ahead and leave it be for now and I will re-evaluate the idea again once I start nearing the end of my career (who knows, maybe ASU will have a part time program by then)."

    "I still plan to talk with some officers on our legal unit to see what they say, and there is a law fair in Tempe on the 16th that I may just go to since I have the day off anyway. Other than that though I think I'll just go back to focusing on my current career and I'll probably shoot for a detective position as opposed to legal for the near future. If the school is going to be nothing more than a waste of my time and money it's better I know that now than 3 years into a law degree. Thanks again for the advice!"

  24. Blah blah blah. Same story, different day. Naive dupe who doesn't bother to understand what is really going on (in a time where all the info is at your fingertips) wants to throw his financial life away while people in the know throw sh#t against the wall. Broken record. And nobody does a thing.

    So where is all this legislation that will regulate student loans? Require transparency? Nah, let's just rehash all this crap yet again and feel better about ourselves.

  25. Well, this guy is thinking this through. That is a good first step. Where I live the police department will help pay for law school for officers.


  26. LawProf:

    Some of us recent grads are doing relatively OK in spite of law school, not because of it. For instance, after 6 months of unemployment I landed a job, though not as a lawyer. Not being in the top 10-25% I was given only the most generic of assistance from career services, none of which contributed to getting my current position. Having a JD and applying to non-legal positions was, as reported repeatedly here and elsewhere, a burden rather than a boon.

    How can we respond to employment surveys in a way that captures the reality of our situation? I'm tempted to subtract my annual loan payments (adjusted for the fact that almost all of it is post-tax money) to come up with the salary I report. I'd be inclined to play it straight if I felt like my JD or law school helped me land my decent job. Given the actual circumstances, I don't want my "average" salary to be used in recruiting 0Ls. Part of me just wants to throw the survey away, but that's what law schools hope all their dissaffected grads do.

  27. @ 9:09 -

    I am in your same boat. I hustled like crazy to get a sales job and basically was hindered every step of the way with the JD around my neck.

    On my survey, I reported that I was unemployed and looking for a job. I'd rather they have to report bad news than get away with "not knowing."

  28. not knowing is the name of the game. congrats, you've graduated. no stop bothering with all of the law school mess and forget knowing its a joke.

    get a wife and family and forget about the rest of the world. that's how you know you've really grown up. :)

  29. get a wife and family and forget about the rest of the world.

    I'd love to, but I don't want to bring a child into a life of financial ruin.

  30. I was a RN for three years making 60k. Wanted to make more money and be of an "honored" profession. Graduated in 2010 upper third of my class and could not find a job. But, I am so glad I could not because now I am back in nursing but as an administrator making 90k a year. But, now I have 90K of student loans to go along with my wifes 200K of students loans from med school. Luckily our combined income is 300K. But, if I could do it all over again, I would have done an MBA and worked full-time.

  31. I think it's an interesting reflection of the level of denial out there that a couple of people actually believe the original post is a fake by somebody who is trolling for responses. It's 1000+ words and full of highly particular details.

  32. Please Congress take this request from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys seriously.


  33. I know a detective sergeant who drives a Lamborghini Gallardo. He has actually yelled at the prosecutor numerous times for parking his beat up Honda Accord too closely to his car. By the way, the Gallardo is truly a fabulous car. I wonder how a cop can afford such a vehicle while a prestigious attorney drives around in a clunker.

  34. The original post is written by a twit (common on TLS). If he wants more "status" he should instead focus on a graduate degree that will allow him to be considered for the top jobs in the police department.

  35. If I read this correctly, OP thinks he can get his law degree, go back to the police department, qualify for his pension (a long way off since he is only 29), and then get a job as a prosecutor.

    Can't happen. An unused law license grows stale real quick in the eyes of legal employers.

    Moreover, even though public sector law is not pedigree-mad, the particular school he contemplates attending belongs in the Cooley category of "never should have been accredited" --and everyone knows it.

    Even if this guy could attend law school for free, in a part-time night-school program, I would still say: don't. He will regret the opportunity costs, such as the extra hours he could have devoted to his job in order to, maybe, get a promotion. Oh, and the hours he could have devoted to his new daughter.

    He can revisit the notion of attenting law school after he has retired and the pension checks are flowing. Even then, it is probably a bad idea, albeit for different reasons.


  36. Saying he should not, even if it's free, does not apply if a person is in a job that pays for the school with the expectation that the person can get a promotion. I'm just saying, don't go even if it paid for, is not one size fits all advice.

  37. FWIW the OP gives no indication that his employer would be paying for any of this, which given the level of detail in the post would be a rather remarkable oversight.

    More generally, how often do employers pay for law school in the way that many employers will pick up the cost of an MBA? I've heard of the military doing this for active duty officers who want to go into the JAG but I don't know of any other examples (which isn't to say that they don't exist).

  38. LawProf, Just another anecdote, but I personally knew one police officer whose employer paid for his JD (at a TTT). He was later promoted to Deputy Chief of his department, retired as Deputy Chief, and then took a job as Chief at a smaller agency. He also shot himself in the head and is no longer with us.

  39. Some police departments do offer scholarships for eligible officers. A comment mentioned that above. It is not common. No, he did not say he would be getting help. My only point was that "don't go, even if it is paid for", does not apply to everyone in that admittedly rare situation.

  40. I know police officers who had their tuition paid for, who were promoted and did not kill themselves. I know people who did not go to college or law school who have killed themselves.

  41. Check out this obituary from a retired NYFD fire marshal and postal supervisor (he should have been raking in the dough with a City, State and Federal pensions):


    To make a long story short, this man decided to go to law school. He graduated from law school in 2008 and died in 2010 at the young age of 48. He died of a heart attack. I wonder if the stress of being a lawyer claimed him. The point is, this man didn't have to go to law school. He had several pensions and could have done something else. He retired at the age of 44? How many lawyers do you know that can retire at that age with a full pension?

  42. How many people in any profession can retire at 44 with a full pension?

  43. I wonder what the cost is when you add up not only student debt but money the parents draw from home equity loans and retirement savings in order to finance a college/law school education.

  44. There is a new blog called "Inside The Police Department Scam" about being able to retire at 44 with a full pension on the taxpayer's dime.

    Even law professors will try to get in on that gig.

  45. Am I the only one here being amazed by how much money police officers make? I had no idea their salaries were that high. And retiring in their 40s, wow.

  46. Another perk of being a cop or a firefighter is that you qualify for mortgages that are often a point or two below prevailing rates. Right now, a cop could get a 30 year mortgage at 1.75 to 2%. Go to a bank as a civilian with a perfect 850 FICO score and a $160K annual salary and the best they will do is give you a 4% loan. Who knew being a "public servant" paid off so well.

  47. That can be a rough and dangerous job. They deserve it.

  48. @12:24PM

    You have a better chance of dying from a stress induced heart attack produced from the rigors of practicing law than getting killed in the line of duty while serving the NYPD or NYFD.

  49. The salary distribution for police officers is actually pretty similar to the salary distribution for attorneys (the infamous bimodal distribution).

    A small percentage (overall) of officers work for large departments in major cities and make very good money. The vast majority work for smaller agencies in smaller cities and get crappy wages and benefits - sometimes no benefits at all.

    Of course, certain media organizations and politicians concentrate all of their attention on the tiny percentage of officers who retire in their 40's with 6-figure pensions, but these guys probably represent less than 1% of all officers.

  50. Unlike law firms, police departments don't have competition to worry. Government positions are monopolies, so they aren't subject to market conditions. No private company can offer those kinds of pension and remain solvent.

    However, if something can't last forever, it won't. With cities and municipalities facing budget problems (b/c politicians tend to overspend), police departments have cut back on overtime pay. As economic realities continue to set in, those guaranteed pensions are unlikely to be offered to newer officers.

  51. 12:27-- What is the proven rate of job induced stress-related death by heart attack for lawyers? We can, of course, get the rate of job related death for POs.

  52. There must be jobs experienced middle-age officers could do in the precinct. Police officer is 10th on the list of most dangerous jobs (and that is mainly because they spend so much time driving or standing on the street). Sanitation workers have a higher death rate.


    And police officers in tony suburban communities might see one murder every five years and still make six figures. Most of these guys are just the local ex-high school jocks with a badge and gun.

    The public sector pension system in this country is fucked up beyond belief. It especially screws over young people who are the first fired to protect Boomer pensions. I won't even begin to discuss reforms to our drug laws that are stymied by opposition from police and corrections unions.


  53. @12:38PM

    I can't answer that question. However, I live in a town with a general population of 700,000 people. In the time I have lived here (10+ years) zero cops have died in the line of duty and zero fire fighters have died in line of duty. Last year I attended 6 wake/funeral services for attorneys that practiced in my town. The oldest was 67. They youngest was 42. Five of them died of heart attacks. The other died of lung cancer. I know it's only one town but last year alone in my town, 5 lawyers died of heart failure whereas there have been no reported on the job fatalities in the last 10 years from the fire or police department. Draw your conclusions.

  54. Embrace this. This is the way of the future. I tell young people all the time: unless you can go to truly elite schools i) drop out of HS after you receive your SAT score, ii) work any job while getting a GED and going to community college and iii) get into any municipal union job you can. Education is not worth it anymore. Its about being born with money or receiving protection from the politicians. Be happy that option exists.

  55. I am a recently employed DA in Arizona. (We're actually called County Attorneys.) He would be taking a pay cut if he was able to get that job. That is a big if. The larger counties which most young people would actually want to live in are in hiring freezes. You could be president of the Harvard Law Review and you would not be able to get a job there. It took me about a year to secure one of these jobs in a small, rural area and I went to a top school, good grades, relevant experience before law school, and multiple internships at prosecutor's offices. I highly doubt hiring in this field will pick up, even if the economy improves.

  56. Not sure where you're getting that data on public school teachers...Fox News, maybe.

    My wife is a public school teacher with a masters degree and 13 years of experience, who taught for a few years in Phoenix. $65K? Ha ha ha ha ha. Lucky to be at $45K right now, and that's if you're in some sort of a senior or master position for your grade or division. If he's been out of the Army for 3 years, it's not a stretch to say she's been at whatever school she's at for 3 years or less, meaning she's probably down around the $30K level, even with a masters degree, given that no self respecting school hires those people for what they are worth, or keeps them long, to avoid getting dinged on union-negotiated salary increases. $115K? Yeah. Right.

    Not sure where you are living when you classify a teacher/cop household as "upper middle class." Good luck with that logic. Imagine the luxuries they must enjoy, such wonders the rest of us will never know! He's so stupid for wanting anything more. Work as a cop for the next thirty years and see if your wife can do the same. Maybe someday she'll break into the big bucks of school administration, and zoooooom up to that $65K you think 3-rd year teachers get paid.

    No reason to fault someone for wanting something interesting in their lives, or this particular fellow for hoping to try his hand at something besides policework on down the line.

    I don't think he sounds like someone sucked into false promises of prestige - he sounds like someone who's looking for a way to plan and execute an upward trajectory in his professional life.

    It's not all about money. Sometimes people have a calling, like teachers. (If it were just about money, most teachers would be better off getting 40-hour/week jobs at Starbucks.)

    I'd say, Lay off the individuals and get back to attacking the institutions. Attacking the folks who'd like to attend, the folks who'd like to serve, as this fellow would, is inappropriate, even by your logic. Law school isn't worth it, based on what people like this fellow will get paid? Figure out a way to drop the costs, then.

  57. I disagree with the tenor of this post. The fact law school is unjustifiably expensive doesn't mean that everyone who wants to be a lawyer is a fool. Non-economic motivations are legitimate. This officer wants to do something mentally challenging when he retires from the force rather than sitting around and collecting his pension. Good for him. He wants to continue to do in the court room what he started on the streets, put bad guys away. Since he's already in the criminal justice system he probably have a better idea what he's getting into then 99% of law school applicants and his law enforcement experience is going to be a huge plus in getting a prosecutorial job. Best case scenario he creates a second career for himself. Worst case, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest," by god at least he will have tried.

  58. 4:01 you don't know wtf you are talking about with respect to cops. These guy make serious bank in many, many US municipalities. If he wants more than a six figure salary with overtime plus a sick pension, then he should do something other than law. My cousin makes well over 150k as a cop, and he routinely cites that one and a million attorney making more. I know one cop who became a security contractor after he received his pension. He is now making 400k year. Is that probabl? No. Is taking this route infinitely better than law because at least you will make 6 figures, retire early, and have cray job security?Absolutely. Is it better than most higher education careers for the same reason? Absolutely.

  59. The only thng that matters is money.

  60. Median public school teacher salaries in Phoenix and Mesa are around $51,000. The wife's seniority level isn't stated in the OP but given that she has a Masters I thought it was safe to assume something around the median. Since the OP says his salary is $65,000 a total household income of $115,000 is hardly unrealistic. It surely isn't much lower than that and could well be higher.

  61. Read this 2010 article regarding cop salaries in NJ and weep:


    I don't want to litter this comment with quotes from the article but here is one so you get a sense of how much cops make:

    "In Bergen County, 59 of 68 towns have median police salaries above $100,000. The highest median pay in the state was $134,132 in Rochelle Park, where 19 cops patrol a one-square-mile borough near the intersection of the Garden State Parkway and Route 80."

    I guarantee you, a municipal prosecutor in any Bergen County town earns less than a cop. Moreover, in NJ, garbage men and toll collectors earn well in the low six figures yet a legal aid attorney starts out at $30K a year. Too bad you can't eat prestige or status.

  62. On the other hand, the ever-delusional cadre at Prawfs bemoans the closing of many part-time programs:


  63. I would still rather be a prosecutor.

  64. The nice thing is that the link provides a bell curve


    To understand where all of this fits, you would , of course, have to really examine people with comparable degrees and backgrounds. Here's a start:


    If I am reading it right, the national median for those who hold a masters degree of any kind is 78,541

    For high school teacher's, it is $54,203. A difference of over $24k per year.

    I am not certain the numbers are right, but I am certain they have more value than anecdote.

    The same would hold true for looking at other professions.

    Bruh Rabbit

    PS: Of course, none of this really addresses the assault on K-12 education, including teacher's tenure, teacher's pay, and unions occurring in bellwether states like NY, WI, CA and FL. Nor does it cover the assault on public jobs in general, including no pay raises even rate of inflation raises.

  65. A follow: Anecdotes are using one town to justify one's conclusions. Its anecdote because taking one town in a country of somewhere around 30,000 or more towns and cities is absurd

    Bruh Rabbit

  66. Excellent post. The real problem that leads to decisions like the one the OP is considering making is our society's consistent ranking of "intellectual" work (i.e. work you do behind a desk) over "vocational" or "technical" work (work you do anywhere else). We've all had it drummed into our heads--all through every level of school--that working with your hands is for the dumb kids. You take classes at the "Career/Technical" high school if you're "not college material," and so forth.

    This has created the irony of blue-collar workers who make more than most attorneys. One of the partners in my office was complaining the other day about the exorbitant amount she had to spend on a plumber. I didn't have the heart to mention that the hourly rate she quoted for the plumber was more than I make, and that this plumber was making that amount without having to take out large amounts of loans.

    The saddest thing about the OP is that he doesn't realize how valuable he is already as a police officer who's obviously bright and capable and hard-working. That's what we call false consciousness, folks.

  67. "Blah blah blah. Same story, different day. Naive dupe who doesn't bother to understand what is really going on (in a time where all the info is at your fingertips) wants to throw his financial life away while people in the know throw sh#t against the wall. Broken record. And nobody does a thing."

    Wrong. Prof X does and has been doing something. He's been talking about this issue for the last decade. (Citation missing).

    "So where is all this legislation that will regulate student loans? Require transparency? Nah, let's just rehash all this crap yet again and feel better about ourselves."

    If you think that relevant legislation appears the moment that a truth becomes more apparent to the general public, or even that legislation is required for a needed change, then you don't deserve your current position. Not that anyone outside of your bullshit, inflated, publicly-supported community of peers would disagree. (Not to mention that you have in fact directly suggested that Congress is gearing up for an investigation).

    Yet even if your fantasies are correct that legislation/a Congressional investigation won't happen, I'd still ask you, what exactly are you doing about this problem that you now, though inadvertently, concede exists? You've been quite silent on this matter, aside from repeatedly insisting that you have been and are doing something. Can you tell us what exactly that is? Also, what does it say about you that you that you will admit that this issue exists, and yet push it aside because you believe that nothing will actually be done about it? History is full of similar stories.

    You're still not a philosopher. And you're still ignored on this issue, much like your "philosophy blog" and your "scholarship" are ignored by anyone who doesn't rely on scamming the unsuspecting young or the general taxpayer in to supporting his "occupation."

  68. Amazing how simple it can be to communicate with people and have them understand a certain topic, you made my day.

  69. "The saddest thing about the OP is that he doesn't realize how valuable he is already as a police officer who's obviously bright and capable and hard-working. That's what we call false consciousness, folks."


  70. I do not see this as being so simple as that. I think he recognizes that he is in a valuable job, and he appears to like it. He is looking to do at least 2 things: 1. Have a second career after he retires, if it is economically feasible to do so and 2. Be an example to his daughter by entering a career that is if interest to him and that requires higher education. The second goal is apparently what has brought him to this blog to be fodder for discussion. 

    The message to him so far is that people of his class should remain in that class because of the risks that moving out of it entail. Money is the chief measure of success or, very importantly, money provides security. That second point is salient because of the tough economic times we face as the economy struggles to its feet. This is a broader issue than the specific fortunes of the legal profession. 

    I agree that it would be a risky for him to go the law route,but what struck me immediately is that nothing in his background suggests an aptitude for education. Perhaps his daughter will be different if he instills in her a love of learning and curiosity about and engagement with ideas. I would take the money and send her to the best K through 12 school he can get her into. Her teachers and classmates will help drive her to the places he wants her to go. In sum, I see nothing wrong with wanting one's children to do better, and "better" is not just about how much money an individual makes. But some ways of doing that are better than others.

  71. 6:41: I think the point is the OP doesn't understand "class." His definition of class, like so many law school hopefuls, is dependent on ancient distinctions between "guy who wears a suit," "guy who wears a white collared shirt," and "guy who wears a uniform." It's just not like that anymore. You're not middle-class just because you happen to be a lawyer. Some cops are upper-middle class despite not having a B.A. OP will have a better shot at being considered "upper-middle class" by other people if he continues with his current career in the PD.

    Maybe it is still the case that lawyers are considered middle or upper-middle class just by virtue of their degree. But when OP is done with his career, and law schools have continued to pump out 2x as many JDs for open positions, and everybody knows a bunch of average kids who went to law school and are unemployed or working for 12/hr and living at home, it probably won't be that way anymore.

  72. No, I think it is a mistake to think about "class" in terms if money. Class is about more than money. Or a powerful version of class is about more than money. Lots of Americans do not key into it, and do think of it in terms of just how much money a person makes.

  73. Law will continue to attract people so long as lawyers are visible members of the elite, rightly or wrongly. We have(maybe) two guys running for president who went to law school, from opposite backgrounds. That they are special cases does not matter.

  74. Yes, there are other things than money that determine class. But there has to be a certain uniformity among members of a profession or career to maintain that career as "high class." People have to believe that entry into the profession basically ensures an upper-middle or middle class lifestyle.

    There are some extraordinarily rich and successful real estate agents and salesmen. But there are also a lot of broke or mediocre ones. I don't think people consider real estate agents or salesmen to be upper-middle class generally even if a lot of salesmen are very rich. Doctors, however, are almost uniformly well-off, even if many of them are not super-rich.

    By the time this guy is done with his career in the PD and ready to go to law school, the economics of law might make it look more like the former two careers than the latter.

  75. I always get e-mails from Pheonix School of Law trying to entice me to go (even though I already am in the pit known as law school) and what makes me laugh is that they state that they are not affiliated with University of Phoenix. So what? They are still for profit and trying to steal my money! And, I know a couple high school friends who went to University of Phoenix who are making decent money (computer science). Can't say the same thing about Phoenix School of Law.

  76. Many years ago, I had a friend who worked for the Colorado State Patrol. He went to the University of Denver Law School because they have a night school program. He did quite well, graduating in the top 10% of his class.

    He was offered a number of big law jobs (this was over 20 years ago). They all paid less than the salary he was earning with the Colorado State Patrol. Needless to say, he kept his job with the CSP. Law school was nothing but a three year boondoggle. The only good news was that it was not frightfully expensive at that time.

    Most assistant DA's in the metro Denver area spend their days dealing traffic tickets. The only skill you really need is the ability to divide by two. "You have a four point ticket; I will let you plead to two points."

    Some DA's offices require that someone spend two years in traffic court, no matter what their prior experience. I know one DA who had been a Chief Deputy DA in rural Colorado. When he went to Jefferson County, he was dealing traffic tickets.

  77. I just decided to check on my post on TLS forums today, and I saw people mentioning this blog on there. So I of course had to check this out and I decided to read several of the comments. I made the initial post on TLS, and I would like to clear up a few misconceptions:

    1. My post was not a "troll post." I don't know what would even suggest it was, I don't feel I posted anything particularly unusual in it.

    2. I did not then, and have not at any point suggested I would be throwing away my career with Phoenix PD for a chance at law school. I don't know where everyone is getting that, maybe it's because some of my post was removed on this blog, but I made it very clear the reason I was considering PSoL was because it is the only school in the area that has a part time program and I refuse to even take time off from my job to go to law school. I planned to go to school while working my current position. I am just trying to set myself up for a second career. Anyone that thinks I'm an "idiot," (I'd like to thank one of the obvious genius' you have posting on here for that wonderfully insightful comment) for planning for my future now might want to rethink their own outlook on life in my opinion. I like to plan ahead and doing so has worked out for me just fine up to this point in my life.

    3. This is to the OP of this blog, and this is the biggest issue I had to address. You'd think my wife, who has a masters degree from one of the highest ranked schools for education in the country, would be making similar pay to me, wouldn't you? She makes $35,000 a year. And that is not just her school, that's every school in the valley. If it weren't she'd be looking elsewhere for work, but teaching jobs in this area are all relatively similar in pay (at least for elementary ed which is what she teaches). Teachers are paid VERY poorly, especially in Arizona. People don't seem to realize this, as this post shows, but honestly teaching is probably a bigger waste of a college education than law school. She regrets her decision every day, but at least her job will be nice when any kids we have get old enough to start going to school.

    I guess at least I should be flattered you chose my post as a discussion piece for your blog?

  78. The castigation of teachers and public servants in this country (propagated by corporate media) is just nauseating. The average cop or teacher makes just middle class wages. Yes, there are some exceptions with close to 6 figure salaries but these are not common at all. In fact, they rarely exist! Same with plumbers and auto mechanics. Most are just struggling to get by. The whole myth around blue-collar workers and public servants as millionaires is just ridiculous. If it were true, won't we all be quitting our jobs to become plumbers?
    Pls I know the economy is tough on you attorneys but find your scapegoats elsewhere.

    Things are faring much much worse in this economy for the blue collar workers and public servants.

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