WHAT LAW SCHOOL AND THE LEGAL PROFESSION ARE AND ARE NOT
IS LAW SCHOOL FOR YOU?
ARE YOU REALLY SURE THAT YOU WANT TO BECOME A LAWYER?
MAKING THE CHOICE
ALTERNATIVES TO A CAREER AS A LAWYER
Earning a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree usually involves three academic years (six semesters) of unrelenting academic effort and intense dedication. This is not an endeavor to consider unless this endeavor holds promise for you. Think and investigate thoroughly before you decide to become a lawyer.
Prospective students considering law school today should be wary of taking on large debt and should think realistically (not optimistically) about the odds that they will do well.
Finally, prospective students should calculate their expected debt upon graduation. To comfortably manage debt in excess of $100,000, a graduate must obtain a corporate law job. Only students at top law schools have a solid chance of landing these jobs. At lower-ranked law schools, almost no one lands these jobs. Public interest jobs are an attractive escape from debt owing to a government sponsored program that forgives the remaining loan balance after 10 years, but these jobs are as tough to obtain as corporate law jobs. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/08/01/new-book-legal-education-and-its-discontents
LEGAL EDUCATION STATISTICS provides tables of data: Enrollment and Degrees Awarded, First Year and Total JD Enrollment by Gender, JD Enrollment by School, Minoritiy JD enrollmen.
The article DO NOT APPLY TO LAW SCHOOL UNTIL YOU KNOW ALL THE FACTS "exposes the elitist culture of the legal profession and it's effects on those who pass through its caste-like educational system." This article was written "to show how difficult it is to secure a desirable legal job after law school graduation." I first read this article several years ago and today (December 12. 2010). I liked it then and I liked it now. I strongly recommend reading this article.
LAWYERS AND THEIR SKILLS is from the Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. This webpage indicates certain basic legal skills that are required of all lawyers.
ARE YOU CERTAIN YOU WANT TO GO TO LAW SCHOOL? is a question considered by Santa Clara University. First they give the downside of going to law school (e.g. a minimum of three expensive years of unrelenting academic effort followed by the current extremely competitive job market). Also considered are alternatives to law school and the advice that you should be aware of the true nature of the legal profession (note that television does not give the true nature).
The Southern Methodist Pre-Law Services attempts to answer your question IS LAW FOR ME?
FAILING LAW SCHOOLS suggests that ,"prospective students should calculate their expected debt upon graduation. To comfortably manage debt in excess of $100,000, a graduate must obtain a corporate law job. Only students at top law schools have a solid chance of landing these jobs. At lower-ranked law schools, almost no one lands these jobs. Public interest jobs are an attractive escape from debt owing to a government sponsored program that forgives the remaining loan balance after 10 years, but these jobs are as tough to obtain as corporate law jobs."
The Lure of Law: Why People Become Lawyers and What the Profession Does to Them by Richard Moll
How to Get into the Right Law School by Paul Lermack
STEPS TO TAKE
Schedule time on your weekly calendar to research and reflect on being a lawyer.
Keep a special notebook for gathering information about law schools.
Learn as much as you can about law schools and the legal profession.
Talk to a prelaw advisor.
Read books relevant to law school and the practice of law.
Pehaps enroll in one or two undergraduate courses on legal topics.
With permission of the relevant professors, attend one or two mettings of some first-year law school classes. This should familiarize you with the teaching methods of law school and assess your intellectual interest in the law. You can arrange visits to law school classes by contacting the admissions office of the desired law schools.
Observe a Moot Court competition (not all schools have them).
Many law schools schedule open houses for prospective students. If convenient, attend an open house.
Use your networking abilities and hard work to obtain a position providing experience in the legal profession (e.g. summer work at a law firm or interning at a county government's public defender's office).
WHAT LAW SCHOOL AND THE LEGAL PROFESSION ARE AND ARE NOT
Going to law school should not be viewed as a way to delay entering the job market for three years.
Going to law school should not simply be a default path for a smart, liberal arts student who can't think of anything else to do. (Harvard University Careers in Law)
The true nature of the legal profession is unlike the image of attorneys depicted in movies and television. Unfortunately, law practice isn't always fascinating and intellectually stimulating. In fact, it can be boring, stressful and even unfulfilling at times. "The vast majority of American lawyers spend little time in courtrooms. Rather, most members of the bar devote the bulk of their effort to the humbler aspects of the law research, preparation of briefs, client relations, etc." The first quote is from Oberlin Pre-Law Guide while the second quote is from Arizona State University Pre-Law.
IS LAW SCHOOL FOR YOU?
The distinction between being a successful practicing attorney versus being a happy practicing attorney. Unfortunately, being happy and being successful do not always go together. "The practice of law can be deadening or exhilarating depending upon your personality. A distinction therefore must be made between whether you will be successful practicing law versus whether you will be happy practicing law. Successful attorneys generally have strong writing and communication skills, good memories, quick analytical and logical reasoning skills, and good organizational abilities. If you are weak in any of these areas you must focus your undergraduate energies on improving them. Attorneys who enjoy practicing law generally thrive on being busy, on debating, on being in control of situations, on working with people, and on being challenged by complicated problems. Does this describe you?" University of Georgia Pre-Law Guide
While an undergraduate familiarize yourself with law school and the legal profession. Keep in mind that law school and law practice are different; to be fully informed about a career in the law, your research should not stop with a law school visit. Visit a court and watch trials and other proceedings to see judges and litigators in action. In both state and federal courts, most civil and criminal proceedings are open to the public and, unless they involve celebrities, are usually quite accessible. So, if you are interested in being in the courtroom, go to one and observe. Getting accurate information about the legal profession will not only help you to make an informed decision about whether to apply to law school, but will also serve you well if you do attend law school. Because law is a diverse profession, it is important to recognize the many available career options and to take a proactive role in planning a career which suits your talents and interests.
Planning on law school but not intending to practice law. Many students believe that attending law school is a good choice whether or not they intend to practice law. It is worth noting that career and placement offices at law schools are geared primarily to placing students in legal jobs. If you want to use your law degree in a non-legal environment, you may have to do much work on your own to find employment. It is advisable to have a clear picture of how legal education fits in with a career path in the areas in which you are interested, and to be prepared to convince potential employers of the relevance of your law degree. Pre-Law Guide at Hunter College (CCNY) In LAW SCHOOL IS FOR FUTURE LAWYERS, it is pointed out in a humorous way that for 99% of the population, the only reason to consider attending law school is to become a lawyer.
Figuring out whether you want to become a lawyer. Rice University Prelaw Advising says that "Some people claim that they knew they wanted to be a lawyer since they were quite young, but most struggled with this decision up until the time they applied to law school. In fact, many law students and even recent graduates are still unsure of the answer to this question."
Is law school for you if you love debate but do not like to study that much? The University of Miami School of Law answers the question: I do not like studying that much, but I really love to debate issues. Should I go to law school? Their answer is, "Some applicants to law school have a background in debate, and those skills will most certainly be of use to them. However, it will be necessary for you to put in many hours of research and writing - not only in law school, but in your legal practice as well. Being a persuasive talker will not be enough."
Talk to lawyers (preferably with the meter not running) and observe lawyers in action. Talk and observe in action several practicing attorneys (since there are many types of law and legal practice). This will involve visiting them in their offices and seeing them in the courtroom. Use this time to get an understanding of what it means to practice law on a daily basis. Talk to the lawyers about job satisfaction, opportunities for advancement, lifestyle issues (such as flexibility of schedule and amount of spare time), and other matters of concern.
Having a clear idea of why you want to be a lawyer is best. Director of Career Services at University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law tells us that ''Those students who come to law school with a clear understanding about why they want to be a lawyer ... ultimately have a better chance of staying in the profession and being happy with the choice they made. Going to law school because you don't know what else to do when you graduate from college is never a good idea. Go out into the working world and find out what you might want to do, then decide whether law school is the right choice.'' Andrea Swanner Redding, J.D. Director, Career Services Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College indicates that in her experience as a law school career services director, the students who enter law school understanding the realities of law practice and then explore the career options available to them enjoy their legal career ... . The ones who go to law school with unrealistic expectations, the ones who want to save, run, or buy the world, or who believe that their decision to go to law school is the only career choice they need to make, are the ones most likely to be unhappy and dissatisfied. These are the ones who, after several years of practicing law, will return to my office and ask what else they can do with their law degree.
Law school regret. Arizona State University Pre-Law states that "After law school, many people find out that the actual practice of law does not meet their expectations." "A significant number of American law school graduates do not even practice law. Instead, they occupy positions in business or government, utilizing their legal education only indirectly.
Are you inefficient and conflict loving? If so, read below; a law degree may be the correct choice for you. The Prelaw Handbook from the University of Notre Dame, relying on ''burnout expert'' and author Deborah Arron, gives a list of twelve oft-cited but self-evidently problematic justifications for choosing law school; these self-evidently problematic justifications include "I didn't know what else to do with my life" and "I failed all my science classes." Also stated is a list of twelve traits shared by lawyers contented with the LEGAL PROFESSION; these traits vary from displaying a love of learning to being thick skinned. Also given is a ten question Personality Preference Quiz which may help you determine if you should consider using a law degree to practice law. Two of the ten questions are: Do you dislike or attempt to avoid conflict? Do you value efficiency? We are told that a "yes" answer to any of these [ten] questions ought to raise serious questions about the wisdom of using a law degree to practice law, and should push you toward a more thorough self-assessment and consideration of alternative career paths." Note that being efficient would cut the number of billable hours. The good news is that there may be hope for you if you are an inefficient conflict-seeking person who can correctly answer "No" to the other eight questions. Another question where a ''Yes'' answer can imply the necessity of a career not involving law school is 'In resolving conflict, do you prefer deciding what's fair based on the circumstances of each situation?' An alternative method of deciding what is fair is not given. Do we have a parody here? I sure hope so.
MAKING THE CHOICE
Examine your career goals.
For law school to be a good career decision, you should really think through why you want to be a lawyer or at least why getting a law degree will advance other career goals in some tangible way." (Harvard University Careers in Law)
When deciding whether to attend law school, listen to your interests and inclinations but, to make an informed decision, it will be necessary to make use of sufficient information about law school, law practice, and other career options.
Making the choice to attend law school should be based on more than your always wanting to be a lawyer.
If you want to be a lawyer, can you articulate your reasons?
Examine your motivation for wanting to go to law school.
The decision to attend law school should not be entered into lightly.
When choosing a career, get advice from others but decide for yourself.
You should not "be pressured to choose law school by well-meaning family members, friends or advisors." (Oberlin Pre-Law Guide)
Although you should not select attending law school merely to satisfy family or friends, you should listen to what your family and friends have to say and see if there is merit in what they say.
The decision to attend law school is a very individual and personal choice and since you are the person who, more than anyone else, has to live with this decision, you are the one to make the decision. (Oberlin Pre-Law Guide)
ALTERNATIVES TO A CAREER AS A LAWYER
Johns Hopkins The Law School Option correctly points out that "It is possible that you have only a vague desire to attend law school but have heard that it is a good preparation for almost any career. On the other hand, your personal ambitions may be more refined, yet you still may be incorrectly assuming that law school is a necessary stepping stone to your goals. There is a wide range of fields such as public policy, urban and regional planning, criminal justice, social work and others that are law-related, but for which a legal education may not be necessary or the most appropriate training."
New York University PreLaw Handbook correctly notes that "While it is true that a law degree can lead to a variety of occupations, most law students become lawyers in the private sector, and even those who pursue ''nontraditional careers'' usually begin their quest with several years of active practice. The mere fact that you have a law degree will not lead you to a top management position on Wall Street or in Hollywood, and given the expense of a legal education, you might be better served with an MBA degree or the experience of working at an entry level position in your non-legal field of interest."