The decision of whether to go to law school is probably the most significant one you’ll make in your adult life. How significant? Oh, about as significant as the decision to buy a house, or a Ferrari. All I ask is that you don’t take the decision lightly. If your basis for going is that you’ve “always wanted to go,” or that you want to make “a bunch of money,” then you may want to sit down and have a more realistic conversation with yourself and your family. I provide here some guidance in making an informed decision.
Forget about the expectations you “think” others have for you. So you’ve been talking about going to law school for quite some time now. You can recall at least a dozen conversations where you told friends and family your future legal endeavors. Then, it comes down to the decision of whether to go or not. You think to yourself, “I told all of these people I was going to go to law school, now if I don’t I’ll look like a fool.” Keep in mind this thought is based on the notion that those people actually remember your plans. They usually don’t. If they do, they’ll probably be impressed with your courage in making a thoughtful and educated decision.
Law school IS NOT a free-pass to riches. Too often do future law students think that becoming a lawyer is a guaranteed path to riches. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most of the people I know that graduated from law school started out making a very modest salary, if they made one at all. On top of that, the majority of their salary goes towards paying down their often times massive debt. The legal field is competitive to say the least. And like anything else in life, getting ahead in law is largely based on politics. Who you know, what you look like, and the relationships you developed with people. Remember, law is a business; and in business, you need a lot more than just a J.D. to make it to the top.
Time commitment. Becoming a lawyer requires a huge time commitment. Not only will law school suck the fun out of your early 20’s but it doesn’t get any easy once you become a lawyer. In fact, it becomes harder and more time consuming. As a lawyer, you live your life deadline-to-deadline. Whether it’s a memo or a pleading, everything must get done quickly and on-time. If you dream of big law, then expect 70-80 hours each week spent in the office. After it’s all said and done, $100,000.00 a year in exchange for 80 hours a week is pretty comparable to your friends’ salary who will be making $50,000.00 when you get out of school. The only difference is your friend gets to enjoy their weekends. Nights? Weekends? Forget about it. Every lawyer takes work home with them. That is, until they retire.
The job market. You’ve heard it before—but as the CEO of a law firm in one of the biggest legal markets in the country, I can attest—the job market is bad! In 2011, over one third of law graduates did not obtain jobs as lawyers. Thus, you have to be realistic with yourself. Are you an all-star that can walk into any interview and land any job? If you are, then the same will probably reign true in legal interviews. If you have a difficult time connecting with people, you may have a much harder time. Remember, law is as much about customer relations as customer service. So, if you’re not one of those all-stars that can land any job, then the road to a legal career might be a little more difficult—although it’s certainly possible.
Make sure the job you want requires a law degree. Often times prospective law students apply to law school simply because they’ve been sold on this idea of a “versatile degree.” Don’t get me wrong, it certainly is. But if you’re considering a job that doesn’t require a legal education, your time might be better served elsewhere—potentially working in a related field or building your resume with work experience. Even making a modest salary of $30,000.00 for those three years that you would have spent in law school, we’re talking a quarter-million dollar swing in opportunity costs.
Before you make one of the biggest purchases of your life, I urge you to consider your options. There are infinite ways to win, ways that don’t necessarily involve law school.