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Should I Go to Law School?

Updated on February 6, 2011

Is law school right for you?

Is law school right for you? You need to consider finances, goals, and where you get in.
Is law school right for you? You need to consider finances, goals, and where you get in. | Source

Harsh but Honest Advice to Help You Decide Whether Law School is Right for You

If you decide to go to law school, you'll be facing three of the most intellectually challening, rigorous years of your life. During the first year, you'll experience feelings of isolation (from studying) and disappointment (from your grades), as well as stress levels through the roof. And at the end of it all--you'll get three more months of hard-core studying in order to pass the bar and get licensed to practice.

That being said, is it right for you? In today's economy, the answer is probably no. But if it's still your dream, consider the following factors before you make your choice to go to law school.

You should not go to law school if...your sole source of support will be student loans.

Law school is expensive. An average year at a private law school will cost you between $37,000 and $50,000, while a public law school may cost as much as $20,000 a year (more, for out-of-state tuition). You'll be paying $50,000 a year in tuition, and if you take out living expenses that number can jump to $70,000. That's $210,000, plus interest--and you'll still have to pay around $3,000 after graduation for the Barbri or Kaplan bar study course.

And of course you're probably thinking, "Lawyers make lots of money--I'll pay it off in a few years." There are several problems with this logic. First, only the top 10 or 15 percent of each graduating class has a good shot at landing a "bigfirm" job, and those are the only places where you'll find six-figure salaries. If you end up working for the government or a nonprofit, you may start as low as $34,000. If you're a single-income household, chances are that won't pay your rent, insurance, car note, electricity, and student loans, plus all the other monthly miscellaneous bills you'll accrue.

"Well," you say, "I'm smart--of course I'll be in the top 10 percent." And you might be! If so, congratulations. However, if your class has 200 people in it, are you really going to be able to beat out 180 other people who are equally as smart and had the same qualifications as you to get in?

If you don't have help from your parents, family, or spouse to ensure that you don't have to take out the full amount of loans (or if you don't get a scholarship), don't go to law school. According to the New York Times, 43,000 J.D.s were awarded in 2009, and the number of law schools keeps growing. That means the market is glutted, and your chances of finding a high-paying job are less than stellar. You can start a career now, debt-free, or delay a career for three years and spend the next ten years of your life struggling under crushing amounts of debt.

You should not go to law school're not sure what to do with your life but want to buy some more time.

Law school is not like undergrad. You can't study the night before and still make an A--you'll be studying all semester, and you still might not make the A. Law school is also intensely competitive--there are only so many slots on law review, on moot court, and at the top of the class, and everyone wants them. Grades are curved, and someone will inevitably be at the bottom--which is a crushing blow to your self-esteem and your goals.

Furthermore, if you don't like research, writing, or tedious drudge work, don't go to law school. Only a very small percentage of lawyers go to court--regardless of what you see on television, every day is not spent arguing passionately in front of a jury. Most days are full of paperwork, document review, and hounding your clients to pay you. To serve those clients who don't want to pay you on time, you'll be researching cases--hours of sitting in front of a computer trying to support your argument. Does that sound like fun? If so, more power to you--go to law school. If not, find another profession.

If you're not sure what to do with your life, enter a graduate program that doesn't require three years of your life and $200,000.

You should not go to law school have to go to a third-tier school

According to the New York Times, the American Bar Association has approved nine new law schools in the past ten years. That means that almost anyone can get into law school--and if your LSAT is below a 160, you probably won't hack it in law school. That doesn't mean you won't be an amazing lawyer, because law school and the practice of law are astoundingly different--but do you want to chance it with all the debt you'll have accrued? The legal market is tough, and almost 15,000 lawyers were laid off in 2010. With no experience and a degree from a school that is not respected in the community, your chances of getting a good job are slim.

Still want to go? Keep reading.

If you've been fantasizing about law school since you were old enough to pound a pretend gavel, live your dream. But I still have a few words of advice for you. If you get into your "reach" school but they don't offer you financial aid, and a lesser-ranked school offers you a full ride, take the full ride. You might not make as much money right out of the gate, but you'll have just as much--because you won't be paying hundreds of dollars a month in student loans. Getting out of school with no debt and having no job is infinitely superior to getting out with lots of debt and having no job. Additionally, if you go to school where your undergraduate GPA and LSAT score are higher than average, you have a much better chance of being in the top of your class, landing a spot on law review, and getting internships and eventual employment.

Whatever you decide, best of luck to you! Whether your law school experience is rewarding or frustrating (and most likely it will be a mixture of both), you'll reach the other side with a J.D., which is something others respect and admire.


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