This post may seem off-topic at first, but if you bear with me, I think it’s relevance will become clear. A recent front page article in the Wall Street Journal discussing one of the dirty little secrets of the American legal profession made me start thinking long and hard about the tremendous shifts which our society is undergoing, and the affect those shifts will inevitably have on personal relationships.
Entitled Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers: Growth of Legal Sector Lags Broader Economy; Law Schools Proliferate, the front page article published in Monday’s Journal set-off something like shockwaves in the legal blogosphere because it formally unmasked one of it’s bitterest, most high-profile “celebrities”: Scott Bullock, who is better know at sites like JDJive and JDUnderground as “Law is for Losers” or “L4L.” Mr. Bullock is a 2005 graduate of Newark’s Seton Hall University School of Law, a school ranked in the “second tier” of all accredited American law schools by the all-knowing U.S. News and World Report. In the article, Mr. Bullock candidly acknowledges having accrued more than $118,000 in law school debt which he is forced to support on an income of $50,000 a year as a personal injury attorney in Manhattan, despite having graduated in the top 1/3 of his law school class. Mr. Bullock, who asserts that high school friends employed as electricians and plumbers earn considerably more than he does, deems his law degree a “waste.”
The article includes a number of other similar tales of six-figure debt, unemployment, temporary work for $20-$30 an hour, and entry-level positions offering $33,000 per year with no benefits. Though few people outside the profession seem to recognize this fact, most lawyers know that while the number of positions available for attorneys and the average salaries achieved by most attorneys has stagnated or shrunk, the number of law schools and law school graduates, and the cost of paying for a legal education, have all exploded.
This state of affairs has produced incredible bitterness among many law students and lawyers, who are typically people who have spent their entire pre-law lives succeeding and being rewarded for their success. They have always gotten the best grades, and the highest scores on standardized tests, and thus they have usually grown to believe quite fervently in the legitimacy of these measures of quality and merit—after all, it is easy to believe that a system that says you are the best is judging properly. They have always done the “right thing” as the system has defined it, and now the system has made it clear that they are failures. They are sure that the problem is the law schools have misled them by encouraging them with false reports about the rates of employment and earnings of their graduates to overinvest in a worthless degree.
What most of those people complaining can’t (or won’t) recognize is that what we're undergoing here is a shift in the structure of our economy, not simply in the structure of the legal profession. As the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman loves to point out, globalization has created an economic system where there is a tiny elite of “winners” and their elite class of servitors (doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc.) and a huge population of “losers.”
Of course, Friedman likes to pretend that the sorting process is controlled by “merit”--but the reality is that this is the way the world has worked through most of human history--small elites control most of the power and resources, while the masses who actually do the producing own nothing. The reality is that now, middle and upper middle class white Americans, who at least on a global scale thought that they were part of the elite, are realizing (or should be) that they are actually part of the mass--and they don’t like it.
They want to pretend the problem is that they were sold a bill of goods by dishonest law schools, without acknowledging that they really had no meaningful alternative to going to law school to achieve what the ultimately were after--an elite lifestyle. The problem isn’t that the schools lied to them (though they did)--the problem is the schools couldn’t deliver what they promised, whether they admitted it or not, because the system can no longer deliver--the sham of “upward mobility” is itself being exposed as a fraud. And while more people are recognizing the fraud, most can't face it's true nature--that it’s not about choosing the “right” educational program or buying a house in the “right” market with the “right” kind of loan, any more than it was about choosing the “right” internet stock in 1999. It’s about a system that's breaking down, irretrievably, a way of life that's over: a world in which white middle-class American children who can always expect to do better than their parents.
What does all this have to do with personal relationships? As Evia often points out, the choice of a partner is crucial, and I think it is more so now than ever before. I’ve always been loathe here to give advice about what to look for in a man, since I think who a woman is attracted to and why she is attracted to him is so individual, and rightly so; nor do I consider myself an “expert” on picking a man for anyone other than myself. But I have been reading some handwriting on the wall that I think some other people may be missing, and it is relevant to the issue of choosing a partner.
There are some qualities that I think are consistently important across time: WHAT WAS HIS RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH HIS MOTHER? Loving, respectful, affectionate—but not tethered? WHAT WAS/IS HIS FATHER'S RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH HIS MOTHER? I remember my husband telling me not long after we met that his father truly adored his mother. When a man grows up in a home where he sees his mother being adored, he learns how to adore. DOES HE LIKE WOMEN? No, not is he heterosexual (though this will come in handy too). Does he genuinely like women as people, not just as potential sexual targets? Many people, men and women, don’t really like women, and such people will usually end up treating you as a woman quite shabbily. DOES HE THINK YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL? Do you want anything less?
HOW DOES HE DESCRIBE HIS DISPUTES WITH OTHERS? Is anything ever his fault? Does he ever play a role in the problems he experiences in life? Or is he a perpetual victim, constantly being abused and taken advantage of by the maliciousness of others? Please believe—one day YOU will be one of the malicious “others” who is out to get him if you get involved with a man like this.
In terms of a partner who will help you thrive as our society undergoes tremendous change, WHAT IS HIS WORK ETHIC? IS HE PERSISTENT? IS HE FLEXIBLE? Is he easily defeated in the face of adversity? Does he expect everything to go his way, and fall apart when it doesn’t? The New York Times recently did a story on the number of American men who have simply dropped out of the job market, and usually the marriage market as well, who have essentially given up on doing anything more than subsisting in the face of struggle. A man’s work ethic and persistence are not just about the income he earns—they’re about his unwillingness to give up when the going gets tough. The going is getting tougher—are you prepared? Is he?
HOW DOES HE HANDLE HIS RESOURCES? Is he thrifty? Efficient? Does he understand the value of investing for the future? Is he overly concerned with impressing other people or enjoying transitory material pleasures? IS HE GOAL ORIENTED? Is there some significant achievement in his life that he can point to that he undertook to accomplish and then went on to actually attain—a degree, a job, a triathlon, anything?
These are some the values that I have found key in making a man a potentially attractive long-term mate. We all have our own individual list of qualities that we find appealing, but as our world changes, we have to be aware of how those changes can affect our lives, and how we can prepare to meet the challenges they present. One of the most important ways to prepare is to make sure that the man by your side has as complete an understanding as you do of what you’re up against.