A call girl’s dilemma

BY RAFFI MELKONIAN

A few weeks ago, a recent graduate of Stanford Law School was targeted by federal authorities for running a high-priced call girl service in California. Her Stanford classmates mostly professed indifference – more power to her, they said. And, frankly, I’m not that bothered either. If she wants to run a call girl service, let her run a call girl service – at least she’ll have the only clients who might learn something about civil procedure while taking their dubious pleasure. But as the story drifted into the twilight, a different group of critics inevitably chortled into view. The real tragedy, said these ever-repetitive chicken-littles, was that law school costs so much that people are compelled to take enormous loans to pay for it. Students were being forced into unfulfilling but lucrative jobs by the dark hand of financial exigency, and Stanford’s classy call girl was just the worst example of that road’s inevitable destination.

I’ve had enough of this ceaseless whining. First of all, even if the critics are right about tuition, having sex for money is neither the best nor only solution to indebtedness. Like everyone else at Stanford, the putative call girl could have taken a job with a large law firm, lived in relative frugality, paid off her loans, and then made for the hills. But even if that wasn’t an option, Stanford has a really generous low income protection program – any number of public interest jobs awaited her in easy grasp. Or, if the usual kinds of legal practice held no luster, she could have written books, salacious as she liked, formed a company, even struck out on her own as a lawyer in some kind of imaginative way. For example, in the wake of Chile’s recent law legalizing divorce, a 24-year-old lawyer set up a small firm practicing family law – as the article I read noted, even if she didn’t know anything about divorce, neither did anyone else. The truth is that the SLS call girl wasn’t forced into her ancient profession, but went willingly in the face of myriad difficult but plausible options. And to the extent our law allows it, that’s fine. It doesn’t mean everyone else should feel constrained to follow.

But even the tuition point isn’t right. Sure, law school tuition at Harvard and Stanford is extremely high. The ever-increasing number of zeroes at the end of my loan balance are proof enough of that. Nor has anyone explained satisfactorily why it should be this way. I understand that paying our professors is expensive, and the buildings need upkeep, and the morning coffee needs to be paid for, but Harvard is so wealthy that one imagines money to reduce costs could be found somewhere in the university’s voluminous coffers. I’m not blind to the faults of the law school system, and I don’t think it above reproach.

Even so, we’re all adults here. Harvard didn’t hide what it cost when they sent us our admissions packets – the tuition and fees were easy to find, and to weigh. Furthermore, almost every single one of us had perfectly adequate and cheaper alternatives. Those from states like California, Virginia, Michigan, and Texas, for example, had access to nationally-prestigious state-run law schools at reasonable prices. Everyone else who elbowed his or her way into this place could have won hefty scholarships at any number of excellent universities, or could have gone to their own perfectly respectable state institutions. In the end, they’d all have been lawyers, and with less debt and more freedom.

Instead, we all chose to come here, for one reason or another. Some of us wanted to wear a “Harvard Law School” sweatshirt to impress the local worthies back at home. Others wanted the near-guarantee of a high-paying New York job. Still others thought coming to HLS would help land them a spot clerking for the Supreme Court, or some other prestigious bench of federal authority. Whatever it was, we all knew the cost, we all knew what benefit we thought would result from coming here, and we made a conscious decision that the price was worth paying. It’s no good arguing that you now don’t want to practice law at a big law firm, or that your neighbors think lawyers are bad, and HLS ones the worst, or that Supreme Court clerks are smarter than you are. Just like any other large transaction, money in return for an HLS education and imprimatur was the bargain we made. I’m glad I made that choice, and I hope others agree. So let’s stop the whining and live our lives, and let our adventurous Stanford colleague do the same.

Raffi Melkonian is a 3L whose ever-increasing number of zeroes at the end of his loan balance are proof enough of that.

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