How to Quit Law School: Interview-- Danie

I've known for a while now that I've wanted to get more voices involved with this blog.  I recently got in touch with a fellow law school dropout, and she made the very wise suggestion that I utilize an interview-style post to involve her experiences and opinions.  In reading through her responses to my questions, I think this has proven a great success as it allowed her to be very candid, where a guest post might be a bit more limited in its voice.  I'm very happy that Danie agreed to help me out with this, and I hope that some of you that might not relate as well to me can connect with her experiences.  Without further ado, Danie: 

What compelled you to go to law school in the first place?

When I was in college, I loved reading and writing. I was actually an English major.  One of my professors, upon hearing I wasn’t sure what would come for me after graduation, said I should look into law. I went to my university’s law school and met with the faculty, toured the classrooms, and talked to students. I fell in love with the idea of being a lawyer. I even shadowed a local attorney to see what it would be like. I thought, “Wow, these are hardworking, ambitious people like me… maybe this is where I belong.”

How far along were you when you quit?

I formally withdrew after completing my second semester, but I gave up before that, about March in my second semester as a 1L. I didn’t go to class or do anything, really. I remember finally catching up on Mad Men.

What did you like about law school?

I liked a lot of things. I liked the classes – everything was treated with such gravitas. I also liked the people I met. It was like hanging out with the smartest people I knew every day, and on an intellectual level it was intoxicating.

What did you not like about law school?

I didn’t like the competitiveness of it all. I didn’t like being pitted against people who I cared about and wanted to do well in law school. I also didn’t like the style of writing. This seems like such a small thing to complain about, but as someone who loves to be creative and values freedom of expression, it was stifling. I also just felt very lost, and I didn’t like that law school was giving me that feeling. I wanted to be a lawyer, but what did that mean?

What made you feel like quitting? 

I love it when people ask me this question, or some variant of it. The reason I enjoy it so much is that “quitting” or “dropping out” or my personal favorite, “giving up” used to bother me so much, and now I can smile when people say it. The thing is, those words carry such a negative connotation in the world around us. Quitting anything was almost unthinkable for me two years ago. My whole life, any time I felt like throwing in the towel or giving in to anger, my dad would say, “Have you ever quit anything in your life? Don’t start now.” But the reason why they carry that negativity is because it’s not the accepted path. It makes you unpredictable. People don’t like change, and thus, they make it unnecessarily spooky and dangerous-sounding. I embrace this interpretation in some ways – I like the idea of being different and finding my own way. In other ways, I wish it was more acceptable so there were better support systems in place for people.

I wanted to quit because I felt so suffocated. I was isolated from people I used to talk to regularly because of the pressure to study and dedicate myself fully to law school. I only interacted with a few people I had managed to befriend, because I didn’t know a soul when I arrived, and most of the students were from that area or state. That and the competition. The gunners were so ruthless, and people gossiped about each other like it was a high school. For someone who loathed high school, this was not enjoyable, to say the least.

I feel I should point out here that I am not some pure-as-the-driven-snow person. I’ve done a lot of terrible things in my life. I’ve lied, I’ve gossiped, I’ve hurt others. But here it was the intensity and unrelenting quality of the situation that made me draw away from all of it and look at myself in a clearer light. Am I a lawyer? Am I something else? Who am I? And the answer to that first question was a no. I knew then that I had to quit before I got a degree – and the debt – that I didn’t want.

What (if anything) have you replaced law school with in your life?  Have you found new work?  And if so, did you find that having quit law school made it difficult to find work in any way?  

I’ve found new work – my job in marketing. And [having quit law school] didn’t make anything difficult. I just left it off my resume.

What can you take from law school to your new career direction?

So I’m in my mid-twenties and I’ve heard it is among the most tumultuous times in a person’s life. I’ve also heard people change careers – not jobs, careers – several times in their lifetime. So my new career may not be my last. I just want to put it out there that it’s kind of crazy to ask students aged about 21 or 22 to borrow upwards of 200k for a career they may not even want in the next 10 years, but will likely be stuck with due to the debt they are saddled with upon graduation.

But to really answer the question, right now I’m in marketing. It’s intense, exciting, challenging, and fun. I feel great when I can put together a great business campaign and use my creativity. The law school experience just makes doing something I really enjoy sweeter. You might have to move and get out of your comfort zone to get a job, but if I found something, so can you. I had no marketing experience and months later, I just got a stellar performance review and I’m trusted by my clients. No one, not even an interviewer, has ever asked about or mentioned my time in law school.

Do you worry about people thinking you failed?

Oh man, at first this was a huge concern for me. I laugh about this now, but I actually changed my Facebook privacy settings so that I could change my Education in the About Me section. I was totally freaked out about the possibility that people who didn’t know about my decision to leave would talk about me.

No one actually cares. I mean, people will talk about it, especially at your law school. But that doesn’t last long, because people get bored with that news if it isn’t followed up by something even juicier. Your name might pop up in a conversation now and then, but it will be forgotten almost as quickly as it was revealed. If that’s what’s holding you back, don’t think twice about it.

After I told my law friends I was leaving, of course it got around. I was waiting with another 1L in my section outside a restaurant one night after the news had spread. She looked at me and said very quickly, “I wish I was you.” When I asked her why, she told me how her parents expected the world of her, and her siblings were very successful. It was a lot of pressure, and she hated law school. I told her that she could leave, too, if she wanted. But what I said felt empty. Because I knew even before the words left my mouth that she wouldn’t, at least not then. She wasn’t ready to face “failure.”

Do you ever feel regret about quitting law school?

No. I thought I would, too. But I don’t regret it. I don’t regret going for a year, either. I’m not sure if that’s dangerous for me to say, because I don’t want to encourage anyone who is on the fence to go to law school, I really don’t. But if I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t know myself as well as I do today, and I don’t think I’d be as happy. It took failure, intense sadness and shame to make me realize all the things that I do have going for me, and all the things that I know I want to do and be.

What advice do you have about dealing with student loans after quitting?  Is there anything you wish you had done differently?  Are there any resources that have helped you out?

I was eligible for [Income Based Repayment], and I was lucky in that I only went for one year and I didn’t have a lot of loans. I recommend talking to a financial consultant who specializes in student loans if you have questions. I don’t really feel qualified to give any kind of advice on that.

 I wish I’d had more scholarships, but I had a lot and I am very fortunate. I wouldn’t go to law school at full price – and some law schools I wouldn’t go to even if they were free.

Who (if anyone) did you talk about quitting law school with before you made your decision?  Did you find them helpful?  Were they supportive?  Did anyone tell you not to quit?  Why?

I talked with my fiancé, my parents, and eventually even my law school friends. I also talked to a therapist. If your school offers wellness services, like mine did, I highly recommend taking advantage of them.

Everyone was supportive. Even my parents, who I expected to be very disappointed, were helpful and kind. I think they could tell how unhappy I was, and ultimately they wanted me to make a choice that would bring me happiness.

The only person who told me not to quit was a dean. I went to withdraw and she asked me lots of questions about my experience and why I was quitting. She said the way I was feeling was temporary. I contended that she just wanted my tuition. After that comment, she passed me to someone in the office who helped me fill out the paperwork, and that woman was very kind. I actually loved the majority of the staff at my school – but some of the deans seemed very aware that they were there to get and keep as many students (and their tuition dollars) as possible.

Who have you talked to (if anyone) that has given you good advice since quitting?  What has helped you move on?

As far as giving good advice, my fiancé has been very helpful. He’s actually a 2L in law school, and loves it. Watching him succeed in law school and seeing how passionate he is about it lets me know I made the right decision. And he always encourages me – now we’re both confident that I will find lots of things I enjoy doing.

As for moving on, just having a new job and having left the city my law school was in has helped tremendously. And this opportunity to share my experience has been very cathartic as well.

Do you think there is a point at which people should just finish law school (save extreme circumstances)?

I don’t think I could make that judgment call for anyone. Everyone is different and what seems like a minor bother to you could be an unbearable burden for someone else.

What do you feel you gained from your time in law school?

For one, I gained some true friends. Even a year later, I still keep in touch with them. I also gained a lot of perspective about life. I saw that law school had been this escape for me from the problems I thought I would be facing if I moved home or got another crappy retail job or (insert terrifying scenario here). It allowed me to continue on perpetuating this collegiate lifestyle that was the only thing I knew since leaving my small town at 18. But as it turns out, once I got there, the veil of the “escape” was lifted – law school was real work, and it had real consequences if I didn’t do well. There were no do-overs and no safety nets. So what I really gained was this huge awakening about who I was and who I wanted to be. And it wasn’t a lawyer.

What other advice, reflections, or thoughts do you have to share with people who will read this post?

I want to share with them that everything is scary before the jump. And after… you’ll have to see for yourself.

 (The questions were initially asked in a different order, and I've made minor edits to some responses.)

I am very grateful that Danie offered her experiences.  I can definitely relate to much of what she explained (including how sharing the experience with others in this way is cathartic).  I also fully endorse her opinion that we need to consider that quitting isn't always such a horrible thing.  If any of you would like to share your experiences, let me know!

Next time on How to Quit Law School: TBD.


  1. Hi,

    I've been reading your blog for the last 45 minutes and it has already been so helpful. Having just finished the last exam of my 1L year barely 3 hours ago, I find myself here. I feel like I know what you would say. Actually, said it in your first post. "If I feel like I'm in prison..." haha. Anyways, I just wanted to let you know that you've helped someone today.

    Thank you!

    1. I appreciate your comment, Emily. I wish you all the best in the tough choice you're likely facing.

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