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Is Law School Right For You?

Students who are thinking about law school understandably have many questions about how to get into law school. Before focusing all your attention on questions about how, though, it is crucial to think about whether going to law school makes sense for you, and, if so, why.

The main purpose of this section is to encourage you to think carefully about your reasons for applying to law school. The discussion below highlights costs of attending law school and notes common reasons for attending law school that in many cases are not good ones. The point certainly is not to try to talk anyone out of law school. Thinking through your reasons for applying, however, is crucial; your application will be stronger if you can articulate your motivations with conviction and clarity.

Law School is a High-Stakes Venture

Attending law school is a major investment of time and funds. A legal education often costs $150,000 or more, and the average amount of law school debt upon graduation is over $100,000. Law School Student Debt Exceeds $100,000 Amid Jobs Shortage.

Yet earning a law degree is no guarantee of a job, let alone a high-paying legal position. The employment rate for 2011 law school graduates was 85.6%, with less than two-thirds in positions requiring passage of the bar exam, and just under one half in private practice. Law School Grads Face Worst Job Market Yet.

Some law school graduates find themselves in a difficult bind. They may discover that they really are not that interested in law after all, or that they are unable to find a position that pays well or that involves interesting work that calls on their legal education. The incurrence of substantial debt can complicate plans to pursue an alternative career.

What Are Your Reasons For Choosing Law School?

There are many good reasons for attending law school. Perhaps the most general is that you enjoy the kinds of challenges that arise in legal careers and that a law degree is instrumental to pursuing your professional goals.

There also are less sound reasons for attending law school. If your own thoughts about law school resemble any of the following, then consider carefully whether there really are strong reasons behind your interest in law school:

  • “I would like to have an advanced degree but don’t see myself as a scientist or academic.”
  • “I don’t really know what I want to do, and this will buy me some time.”
  • “I would enjoy doing the kinds of things that lawyers in movies and TV shows get to do.”
  • “I know a lot of lawyers and always just assumed that I would be one, too.”
  • “Everyone is going to be asking me what I want to do after college. If I’m candid and say that I don’t know yet, then people will respond with disapproving looks and follow-up questions that I can’t answer. If I tell people that I’m going to such-and-such law school, then people will respond with pats on the back and approving shouts of ‘Congratulations!’”

If you have little idea what you want to do professionally, then it is advisable to get some work experience after college that can help you get a better idea before incurring the costs that a legal education entails.

Learn More About Law School and a Legal Career

Keep in mind that law school and legal careers are two different things. You want to learn as much as you can about both in the course of making your decision about whether to attend. In addition to researching print and online sources, you can learn more about what law school and legal careers are like through many other avenues, including:

  • talking to current law students;
  • sitting in on law school classes;
  • visiting law schools and attending open houses;
  • attending courtroom proceedings;
  • obtaining law-related internships or summer jobs; and
  • talking to people with legal jobs.

With more careful investigation, some find that law school is not an essential part of their plans. An example would be a student who had a passion for immigration and helping people who recently had arrived in the country. The student might not actually be interested in the law, but being an “immigration lawyer” was the only specific job she knew of relating to immigration. Learning more about her field of interest could open the doors to a wealth of opportunities that would better match her true passions.        

Even if you feel certain about applying to law school, exploring your career interests more fully will benefit you. Having a clearer understanding of your interest in law will come through positively in your essays and give you direction in law school for making decisions  about summer jobs, law journals, and extracurricular activities.

Resources

Many sources are available that shed light on law school and legal careers, including the following: 

  • Inside Law School 
  • Law School Confidential: A Complete Guide to the Law School Experience—by Students, for Students, Robert H. Miller
  • How to Think About Law School: A Handbook for Undergraduates and Their Parents, Michael R. Dillon.
  • National Association for Legal Career Professionals
  • The Legal Career Guide: From Student to Lawyer, Gary A. Munneke and Ellen Wayne. 
  • The Right Moves: Job Search and Career Development Strategies for Lawyers, Valerie A. Fontaine.
  • Fifty Unique Legal Paths: How to Find the Right Job, Ursula Furi-Perry.