So You Want To Go To Law School

I’ve mentioned here before that there are a lot of law students that don’t want to be lawyers. The fact is that a lot of people go to law school for reasons that aren’t necessarily bad, but often turn out to be not really worth the time and expense. (Although this may start to change, what with all the bad press law school has been getting lately.)

Here is a list of reasons why people go to law school that I don’t think are great:

  • Lawyers get paid a lot of money. No they really don’t. Lawyers at big firms get paid a lot of money. Most lawyers do not work at big firms. And a lot of those that do wish they didn’t, because that big money comes with big sacrifices (another post for another time).
  • I want to be a public interest lawyer and public interest lawyers save the world. No they really can’t. Individual public interest lawyers make life marginally better for a marginal portion of the population. If that’s what you want to do, by all means, go be a public interest lawyer, but don’t expect you’re going to change the world. And if you go that route, by the way, you need to decide what specifically you want to do, because public interest lawyers perform concrete tasks (helping people get unemployment benefits, fair housing, criminal records expunged, etc.); you will not get a job based on some vague notion that you want to help people and you will not enjoy your job if you don’t like doing the actual lawyerly tasks that helping people consists of.
  • I like to argue. Great. Me too. But did you know that a lawyer’s job is mostly to play nice? You think I can argue with the partners that supervise me? Or the associates I work with? Hell no. Even when I did criminal defense work and spent my time railing against prosecutors in private, I still had to suck up to them to get good deals for my clients and then suck up to the judge so that he wanted to rule in our favor. You also get to craft legal arguments. The word “craft” should indicate how very different this process is from debating or verbally sparring or getting really angry and yelling or whatever kind of arguing it is that you enjoy.
  • Law school is shorter than pursuing a doctorate and you still get a fancy degree at the end. That it is and that you do. But it’s also more expensive, especially when you consider that grad students get funding and it’s expected that they’ll work. Even if you get help with tuition, you’ll still rack up the loans paying for your living expenses for three years. Also, the short time requirement becomes a problem when you graduate still unsure about what you want to do. Which brings me to the final reason, and the one that I heard the most.
  • I don’t know what else to do. If you’re going to law school because you want to delay making a decision later, realize that you are making a stupid decision now. Law school is challenging and expensive and will hurt you more than it will help you if you don’t come out wanting to be a lawyer. If you’re going to law school because you can’t think of a better career and you’ve settled on lawyer even though you don’t really want to be one, you need think again. There are so many other jobs out there, that are more fulfilling, less demanding, more interesting, less soul-sucking, more challenging, less challenging, and I could go on and on with the adjectives. You don’t have to be a lawyer because your daddy did it or because you majored in poli sci or because it seems like the thing to do. Unless you’re certain you want it, go back to the drawing board or to your high school guidance counselor, otherwise you will find yourself very unhappy, if not in law school then after, and if not then, then later when you realize you’re stuck in a career you hate and, in fact, never wanted in the first place.
Do you think I am wrong? Did you go to law school unsure about your decision and come out loving it? Are you a lawyer that doesn’t give a damn for the law, but found one of those great jobs that doesn’t stress you out too much and you’re happy just to be taking home  a paycheck? Are you (or your parents) wealthy enough that you can afford to spend the time on money getting a degree that you will never use? Then let me know and I will go on to tell our readers that if they want to go to law school on the gamble that they’ll end up like you. 
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2 Responses to So You Want To Go To Law School

  1. Akhila says:

    Thanks for writing this article, once again to bring me down to earth.. for better or for worse. I want to work on access to justice projects in the developing world, and I do enjoy the idea of practicing law in areas such as domestic violence, refugee rights/asylum and criminal law – or ideally a combination (representing women refugees for example) within the US. But in the long run my goal is to promote access to justice and holistic services in the developing world, particularly South and Central Asia. I feel like a law degree will be invaluable in this area in terms of legitimacy and better understanding of rule of law and access to justice initiatives. I’m thinking of combining a law degree with an MSW or human rights degree to gain a better understanding of the complex forces in development, human rights, and access to justice. Or even anthropology, public policy… I mean, the possibilities are endless. Knowing though that I do not want to practice as a lawyer forever, I wonder if I’m wasting my time. Still I do not see any better way if I want to contribute to theory and practice on access to justice.

  2. Pingback: Everything You Wanted To Know But Were Afraid To Ask | Bending the Rules

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