There are a few important questions you should ask yourself in deciding if law school is the choice for you. Some of them are philosophical, and some are practical. All of them are important, but this fir st one is essential…
Do I want to be a lawyer?
Before you decide to attend law school, ask yourself: do I actually want to practice law? That is the core of the profession – representing clients. If the idea of working with clients doesn’t excite you, then this might not be the right career for you.
Why do I want to go to law school?
Be honest. There are many reasons people attend law school. Some have always known this was their path. Some have friends and family telling them they will be a great lawyer. Maybe someone, somewhere, told them, if all else fails, you can always try law school. Whatever your motivation, you should be able to identify it. That’s the only way to decide if law is the right choice for you. Before applying to law school, seriously consider your interest in becoming a practicing attorney and how that balances with the cost, the employment prospects, and the minimum three-year intensive academic commitment required to graduate.
REASONS to attend law school include knowing what lawyers do (and wanting to do it) and having a sense of how prepared you are for law school and the practice of law.
REASONS to keep considering your options include not knowing what else to do after graduation, making your parents happy, thinking it sounds like fun, or planning to figure it out later (when you get to law school, or after graduation).
Am I in it for the paycheck?
If you answered the first or second questions with Maybe, I’m not sure, or No, but the salary…, keep reading. Even if you score the job that brings that check you dreamed of, if you don’t love (or even like) the work, you may find you aren’t long for the field, but you might still be paying the loans from that JD.
Many students are drawn to the legal profession by the promise of future income. But like any career path, your decision needs to include more than the salary prospects. A law degree doesn’t guarantee of a high salary. According to a Washington Post article from April 2015, “nine months after graduation, a little more than half of the class of 2013 had found full-time jobs as lawyers, down from 77% of 2007, according to the most recent data from the American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement. Those who did find jobs had starting salaries that were 8% below the 2009 peak, averaging $78,205 in 2013.” In recent years, bar passage rates have also declined creating a challenge for new graduates hoping to begin their legal practice.
Doing your research will go a long way in helping you manage your salary expectations. Look at the employment statistics and average salary for students from schools you are likely to attend (based on your GPA and LSAT – if you have taken it). Factor the specialty you wish to practice, and the region.
What do I know about the practice of law (In other words, have I talked to any lawyers)?
Answering this question requires you to research and talk to actual lawyers.
Current law students and pre-law advising can help with your law school application, but lawyers – those practicing law every day – are the ones who can help you decide if this is the path for you. They can tell you how much their legal education cost, what they actually do on a daily basis, how many hours a week they work, how much they make, and what they like (or don’t) about their careers. You should ask about personal attributes needed to be successful in a legal career and the impact of a legal career on personal lives. If law school still sounds like the right plan for you, you can ask for advice about where to go from here.
Learning about the practice of law from lawyers (as many as you can, from different practice areas) will spotlight the different career paths in the legal profession, and which might be right for you. You may notice that lawyers with very similar experiences may have very different thoughts on their careers. Ask them why. This is your chance to get a feel for what type of people like what types of legal jobs (e.g. litigation or public interest law), and what that might mean for you. Thinking proactively about your potential place in the legal profession will help you in choosing a law school, finding funding for school, and planning your job search.
You may not know any lawyers firsthand, or they may all be relatives or family friends. Talk to them, and lots of other lawyers, also. If you don’t know how to begin, making an appointment to see the pre-law advisor in the Career Center is a great start.
Now that we’ve talked about the philosophical questions, if law school still sounds like the thing for you, consider meeting with your Career Advisor to discuss the practical considerations of applying for and funding law school.