Law School Survival Series: Should You Go to Law School?

Thursday, February 7, 2019


So you think you want to go to law school, eh? Now that the recession feels like a somewhat distant memory and we have an orange turd wreaking havoc and promoting human rights abuses from the White House, law school enrollment is up for the first time in a decade. That means more and more of you are deciding it's worth taking three years off from work and upwards of $200k in debt to get that fresh shiny JD and a chance to save the world. In the first installment of Pro Se's Law School Survival Series, let me give you a few tools to help you decide whether or not you should take the plunge.


BASIC CONSIDERATIONS

Time

First, let's talk about the law school timeline. It's important to understand the amount of time you'll be putting into this law school thing in order to make an informed decision about whether it's the right choice for you. Your first step would be to study for and take the LSAT. Some people take this step very seriously while others are a bit more nonchalant about it. I would err on the side of taking it pretty seriously considering it's rather outcome determinative for your law school admissions. That being said, don't make it into a life or death thing. It's one test on one day and does not reflect your worth as a human being or even your intelligence generally. It's a very specific test asking very specific questions to test you on very specific skills and you shouldn't psych yourself out about it.

It's generally recommended to study for 3-6 months before taking the LSAT. It then takes a month to get your scores back. Then you have to actually send in applications. This whole process--studying, test taking, applying, and accepting an offer--will likely take well over a year to accomplish. Then law school itself takes three years. Then after you graduate, usually in May, you study for and take the Bar Exam in July. And then it takes a few months to get your scores back. So your first full-time, post-law school job often won't start until around October after you graduate. From start to finish we're looking at upwards of a five year commitment. I started studying for the LSAT in June of 2016 and hope to have my first big girl lawyer job in September 2020.

I don't break this all down to scare you. I'm a realist, a Capricorn, and an ISTJ, so in my world you need to be aware of the facts before you can make any decision rationally.



Money

Let's talk money. The average cost for private law school tuition was $47k per year in 2017. That doesn't include books (another $500 per semester), LSAT prep (can cost hundreds), cost of applying to law school (can also cost hundreds), bar prep (commercial bar prep classes cost $2-3,000), and the cost of taking the bar (a few hundred). Oh and also food and shelter for three years. All that being said, schools do offer financial aid. The amount offered varies and depends greatly on how well you rank in comparison to other applicants. However, financial aid is never a guarantee and the more prestigious the school, the less financial aid you'll likely get. So I found it best to go into the whole law school process with the understanding that I'd be taking on a lot of debt. I had to decide that it would be worth it in the long run, despite all the debt. Because of all this work, time, and expense, I'd highly recommend you decide to go to law school for a reason beyond wanting to make money or simply not knowing what else to do with your life. So how do you decide??


THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS

Alright so now that we've got some cold hard facts laid out on the table, you gotta decide if it's worth it to take the plunge into the wonderful world of The Law. Never fear, for I have a highly scientific method for determining whether law school is right for you: think about it really hard for a while. While you're thinking, sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and write out your answers to the following questions:

1. What are my wildest career dreams?

Don't think about the type of profession (like being a lawyer or a doctor or a thrower of pots), instead think about generally what you want to achieve. When I did this I said I wanted to be influential, knowledgeable, I wanted to help people and write and grow a solid, stable career. The sky is the limit with this exercise so just jot down all the things that come to mind.

2. What are my skills?

What are you bringing to the table already? I wrote that I'm smart and learn easily, I can write, I'm logical and compassionate. This might be harder for some people who maybe aren't used to talking about how great they are. Give it a try it's pretty fun.

3. What possible career paths could I have with a JD?

This one will take a little research. To get started I highly recommend the Harvard Career Guides. It'll make you feel a little inferior, because that's what Harvard does best, but they truly provide a wealth of information about different career paths, especially under their "Practice Setting Guides" tab. This is important to look into because there is such a wide array of things you can do with a JD that you might find something you didn't realize was an option.

Do all of these line up?

Take your answers to the above questions and see if the possible JD career paths line up with your big dreams and your skillset. After doing this exercise I realized that law school made perfect sense. Most if not all legal career paths require an interest in writing, a logical mind, involve helping people in some capacity, and can lead to positions of influence. Once I realized the life of The Law would provide me ample opportunity to grow and fulfill my dreams, the final step was to close my eyes and jump, and I haven't looked back since (except during the darkest hours of 1L year). It's an imperfect science, but give this exercise a try and it may make your choice much clearer.


ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Here are a few more things you might want to think about before deciding to go to law school:

1. Do I like to read and write?

One time a lawyer who was a few decades into his career told me that if he had known that practicing law was so writing-intensive he probably wouldn't have decided to do it. Which made me sad. Don't be that guy. Writing is a huge component of practicing law and so is reading. One time an eye doctor told me I have the type of eye that will never get worse. And then I went to law school and my prescription got worse. Because in The Law you spend a hell of a lot of time looking at (and writing) the fine print. You gotta be up for that.

2. Do I want a desk job?

I get very itchy whenever I hear law students say they don't want a desk job. The law is a desk job. Sure, maybe you're up and down going to court and meetings and being Very Important. But when you're not doing that you're spending hours at your desk. Or maybe you're on the ground doing humanitarian work in a foreign country for a big fancy international organization. But if you're there in a legal capacity it's probably because they want you to read and write and analyze and advise and that requires, you guessed it, A DESK. Which leads me to my final question...

3. Should I take time off?

Some people go straight to law school after graduating from undergrad (also known as a K through JD) and some people take time off. I took three years off. I spent the better part of those three years at a desk job. I love a desk job. You can keep snacks and a heated blanket at your desk and no one can touch your stuff. I'm very happy that I knew that about myself going into law school because what a bummer it would be to go straight through all of that schooling only to have your first big kid job be at a desk and realizing six months in how much you hate it. I have heard from a number of people who went straight through who said they regretted not taking time off. I have not met anyone who took time off and said they regretted it. You'll be fine either way, but I've found that knowing who I am and what I'm about before starting law school was a huge asset for me, especially when deciding which path within the legal field I'd like to take.

So, what's the verdict? You in or out?

5 comments :

  1. That timeline graphic is lovely--did you make it?

    I appreciate the Harvard Career Guide recommendation! I worked in a law office all the way through college and didn't feel like the environment was for me. Now that I'm out in the adult working world I see a lot of people doing things that I want to do, and they all have law degrees--it's really making a girl think, ya know?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES WOW YES. I did not make the timeline. I should probably do a post on copyright infringement eh? But yeah there's a wild amount of stuff you can do with a law degree!

      Delete
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