Monday, March 28, 2011

Should I Go to Law School?

I am often asked questions simply because I am a lawyer. The most common question is: "My daughter or son, my neighbor's nephew, my boss's girlfriend's daughter is applying to law school. What advice should I give them?"  Of course, this question can be started even more ways than I provided. I've even had a check out lady at the grocery store ask me what I did for a living and immediately upon finding out, ask me for her daughter, a sophomore in college, but who is destined to be a lawyer.  Occasionally, I will even have a real person who is thinking of law school talk to me.

My answer is the same for whomever asks:  Think really, really hard about your decision. There is no going back. Student loans are non-dischargeable. If they don't want to be a lawyer, they shouldn't go to law school. Law school itself is hard work, long hours of preparation, and grueling classes if it is done correctly. You can skate by, but you won't be prepared and you'll be wasting money and annoying classmates who take it all seriously. But, long hours in law school are quickly passed up by even longer hours working as a lawyer. Even if you've worked 36 hours straight, you will still be expected to shower, slap on a smile and go mingle with hundreds of other attorneys to properly network.  You will owe the equivalent of a mortgage in student loans and most attorneys don't make enough to cover two mortgages. That means you will have your education, but where will you sleep? Perhaps in your office because you'll feel like you live there anyway with the hours you will put in.

Okay, this is my sarcastic version of the advice I provide, but it is all true. I make sure people know most lawyers don't make tons of money. That student loans are equivalent of a mortgage for a house that you will never ever be able to sell, burn down, or lose to a hurricane. There is no insurance plan if you suddenly can't use your law degree.  The hours suck. I emphasize thinking about it really hard, following around a real lawyer doing real work, working in a law office as a messenger or copy person to see what the culture is like. I always make sure people know that I love being a lawyer. If I had to do it all again, I probably would. But, I didn't have a clue what I was getting myself into. I am lucky that I love what I do (even if I don't like the hours).

One of the biggest myths propagated by law schools is that a JD opens up lots of career opportunities and you don't have to be a lawyer. Of course, many people who went to law school do not work as lawyers. And yes, you can take a myraid of career paths with a JD.  BUT, why would you? If you are not going to be a lawyer, don't go to law school. Go to school for what you want to do. Don't know what you want to do, get a real job for a while and figure it out.

Of course many people will tell you that their JD made it so the could start in another field. But think about it. Those people are not going to tell you they wasted $120K on a career they didn't want or couldn't do.  The fact is many law school graduates don't like being a lawyer. They don't like the hours. They don't like research. They're no good at it, so it is not fun. They don't like negotiating with jerks on the other aside. They never found their niche in the law that fits their style. Or that niche area was so concentrated, they couldn't get a foothold in. There are many niches in the law that any competent attorney should find a love, but sadly, some people don't find their niche and go elsewhere. If people thought more about what they want out of life before going to law school and thought about what their strengths are, then they would know if it is the correct decision.

One last thing needs to be said here. I've broached it twice earlier, but did you see it?  There are two types of people who most definitely should not go to law school: those who plan to only skate by and those who are not capable of being a lawyer. Unfortunately, those people still go to law school and the schools do nothing to weed them out.  There are people who are extremely smart and talented who just don't do well in law school. They can't get it.  Those are people I felt should have flunked out after the first semester so they could find their true calling. And those people stuck out like a sore thumb! Instead, they didn't flunk, but were at the bottom of the class.  Despite working really hard and trying, they never did any better and they were kept in school. As the years went by, the confidence they once had because they were smart and talented was lost due to being the bottom of the class. They did graduate from law school, but could never pass the bar. While I don't pretend to think the bar exam is a good measure of your worth as a lawyer, I do know people who I thought should have failed first year who could never pass the bar exam. I blame the law schools. They had to know these people couldn't cut it. Instead of forcing them out early before they were loaded with debt, before they had this degree people expected them to use, the schools made them wait to face this music at a much different phase of their lives.  It's not right and it is a serious consideration for anyone who thinks that law school is the place to be.  What if you can't cut it? How will you know? And are you prepared to cut loose without anyone telling you to do so? I only know one person who did that. He was smart. Dropped out in the middle of the first semester and went to med school instead. I hope it worked out for him.

Finally, the last type of person who should never go to law school:  the skaters. Since people can make it through law school trying real hard and failing, the people who don't try, can still skate on by. While they may be able to be lawyers, they turn into skaters in real practice, which makes more work for the rest of us. Always trying to take the easy way out seems like the fast track to ethical problems if you ask me. As lawyers, we are bound by an ethical code. The quickest way to an unintentional violation is not knowing what you are doing and taking the easy way out instead of doing the work.  Not doing the work, trying to skate by, getting ethical violations, those are the things that give lawyers a bad name. I'd rather those people put their laziness elsewhere.


  1. Great post!! I have often thought of going to law school later in life, but I am quickly reminded by several family members who are attorneys, of the same points you bring up. If I had ever wanted to be a lawyer (which I did not when I was younger), I would have had to have done it a long time ago. I simply do not have the time or energy for it now.

    By the way, thanks for adding me to your Blogs You Should Check Out list. I am flattered!! Plus I read most of those blogs too, so it helps me find them easily. One of these days, when I get around to actually making my blog look the way I want it to, I will have to put a similar list!! Hmm, maybe I should consider Web Design school, ha!, because otherwise I have no idea how to even do that.


    I thought "I'm going to a name brand law school in the first tier and I'm gonna come out and make boat loads! Law school is an investment."

    Oh how wrong I was. Maybe. Maybe that could have been true. IF I'd done well enough to go big firm. IF I wanted to work at a big firm (I don't, luckily).

    That debt follows you. I love working for the state but the pay is not great. And it's a lot to think about and makes you wonder why you bothered taking the 3 years and the small mortgage. It sucks. Bad.

    It's a huge commitment and I think you need to think about WHY you want to go to law school before the money. If it's money? Shoot, go to med school.

  3. No interest in law school, etc. But wanted to tell you this was a really good post!

  4. This is an excellent post. Law school is not for the lazy, the timid, the debt-averse, or the shortcut takers among us. As one attorney I used to work for would say: "There are a lot of easier ways to make a lot more money."


Having a child with a CHD is like being given an extra sense---the true ability to appreciate life. Each breath, each hug, each meal is a blessing when you've watched your child live off a ventilator, trapped in an ICU bed, being fed through a tube. Each minute is a miracle when you've watched your child almost die and come back to you.
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