The cost of a legal education is now reaching stratospheric proportions. Anyone contemplating this enormous investment of time and money should think long and hard before applying.
Here are five common myths about what law school will do for you:
Myth 1: I’ll be able to use the law degree in whatever career I decide to choose.
Go to law school if you want to be a lawyer. But don’t go if you believe it will “open doors” for you. It won’t. By the end of law school you may still have no idea what you “want” from your career; only now you are likely to limited by huge law school debt.
Myth 2: I’ll get a job when I graduate law school.
If you graduate near the top of your class from a top school, then your job prospects are likely to be strong. But if you have an average performance from a second-tier school, finding your first job may be a big challenge.
Myth 3: I’ll get to be in court and try cases.
Most lawyers never see the inside of a courtroom. About 95% of all civil law suits that are filed are settled before trial. Much of the work of a “litigator” involves reviewing documents, preparing court filings and negotiating with the lawyer from the other side of the case.
Myth 4: I’ll be able to advocate for the little guy.
If you are independently wealthy, you can advocate for the poor, fight for environmental justice, defend civil rights, etc. But if you are like the typical law school graduate today, you will finish with substantial debt. Public interest jobs are too low paying to accommodate a heavy debt burden. Some law schools have a debt-forgiveness program for people going into public interest jobs, but the salaries are so low that they are often hard to manage even in light of debt forgiveness.
Myth 5: I’ll have intellectually challenging work.
Early in your career, you will probably spend a lot of time reviewing documents all day rather than tackling great intellectual issues. Even litigators – many of whom go into law to argue exciting, constitutional issues — will spend most of their time researching mundane procedural issues at the beginning of their career.
If you’re thinking of going to law school, make sure you have a clear plan for how you will make that degree useful (and essential) when you graduate. Find some practicing lawyers and spend time with them to find out what they really do for a living.
If you are already in law school and reading this, don’t panic. Rather, start doing some of the harder thinking that you put off and figure out how you want to make the best use of your degree when you do graduate. The work you do now will surely pay off in the long run.