5 Myths about going to law school
By Stephen Seckler, Managing Director, Boston Office, BCG Attorney Search and author of the blog Counsel to Counsel.
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.
You’re exactly right. I’m a New York legal recruiter and law school drop out. I didn’t realize these things until after 1L, but I decided not to throw good money after bad.
I work with young attorneys every day that are struggling with these truths. It’s really hard out there for a young lawyer without strong academic credentials or contacts in the industry. Many end up temping or working in crappy PI firms for 35K/year. When that Fannie Mae payment is $1200/months, it’s unsustainable.
Sorry, I just want to get this comment at the top to encourage anyone arriving here that it is worth it to read all the comments to the bottom. I don’t see this topic going away any time soon. It’s a lot of comments, but also a lot of perspective for those in this situation thinking of law school. AND, what I was thinking that I didn’t see much of was – looking at established babyboomer or even genX lawyers may not tell you much about the current state of affairs. The tuition hikes, the oversaturation, etc. – but more than that, that it probably isn’t wise to go off of their experience as a newb way back when, and their experience now as a tenured success. (or that you can necessarily emulate that today). Despite the crybaby comments, it is a good idea to get some idea of the odds and a feel from people currently negotiating the system. It’s hard to believe such consistency in remarks is simply a matter of a small minority of losers or crybabies that didn’t do well in school or just lazy, antisocial, etc. I don’t know why the most prevalent comments can’t reflect the most prevalent experience, why assume it is just a lot of commentary from a vocal minority? Even if your individual experience is positive, the facts don’t seem to be on your side. I wish more commentors would point out how they know the negativity is bogus, point out some numbers, articles, stats, referecnces, something, something to encourage us in face of the numbers pointed to by those being labeled as simply negative.
I think this is a great resource for anyone thinking about a legal career. Its long, but most definately worth the read.
This advice is absolutely correct. For me, law school was a valuable experience and an exciting part of my life that I would not go back and change, but then again, borrowing $100,000 and taking a vacation around the world for 3 years might have been of equal or greater value.
I do believe each of these myths can be overcome with determination, but make sure that’s what you want…if you truly want it, go for it and don’t look back.
Myth 1) do you want to try and figure out how your law degree helps you as you, in an alternative career, configure webservers?
M2) if you want a job, figure out how to be in the top 5-10% and just do it. Discard any entitlement baggage or ideas about what you think the higher purpose of the education might be. Then, be happy with whatever high pressure, long hours, job you get.
M3) if you want to try cases, get a job as a prosecuter or public defender. Marry well.
M4) if you want to help the little guy, before you spend all your money on law school, start a legal aid society and find some law graduates who will work for free for you. Or get good grades and compete for the hard to get public defender jobs…and marry well.
M5) if you want intellectually challenging work, you have to find it. That work is so great, who would give it away to you? Better plan…find a way to appreciate whatever you get as intellectually challenging in some way. You need that skill anyway.
The law degree–and bar admission for that matter–don’t give you anything but the opportunity to practice law. You still need to find clients or a job that provides you with clients. We all hope education will be this magic bullet that opens doors…but you still have to find those doors and be happy with what you find. Same deal for MBAs, I think. No magic punch card.
I am a first year attorney and I have to say that these myths are pretty much true. The advice given is decent for the average prospective law student. However, if you have a high undergraduate GPA just take the LSAT. It’s not a big investment (costs like 100 bucks and only have to study a couple weeks), but if you do well enough to get into a top 15 or 20 lawschool not going could be your biggest mistake. Having just graduated from a top school and going through the whole process, I have a slight problem with the statement in the article saying that if you go to a top school and finish at the top of your class your “job prospects are likely to be strong.” Biggest understatement ever. Not only will you have many offers, but they will be for jobs nearing 200k a year total comp. Not bad for a twenty something. enough to pay the loans and buy a new beamer. Now if you go to a top school and dont get near the top or go to a second tier and finish near the top (but not top 1% in which case you might join the overpaid paralegals in category 1) then the statement in the article is more accurate (strong but not fantastic prospects). If you don’t fall into one of these categories, you will almost surely have trouble finding a good job. Ok, so the work isnt the most intellectually challenging, nor is it fun. But who cares, when your taking home 5 times what you would have made before you went to lawschool. You get to where nice clothes to work, you have a secretary, people treat you with respect instead of a like the 25 year old they would otherwise think was a punk, you get business cards to hand out to women (or men i guess) you meet at bars, and you get 4 weeks paid vacation. Plus, if you save enough money you could jump out of the game in about 10 years to pursue whatever interests you want. Thats my other problem with the article. Myth 1, is also overly broad. A JD goes along way in the business world, and just like the legal world the better the school the further it will go. Corporations go after JDs all the time and not just for the legal department. They become managers, bankers, and financial advisors. Like any other degree it is a signal of your productivity, determiniation, intellegence, and experience. Anyway, dont let haters like the author of this article get you down. Especially if you were successful in undergrad. Sky is truly the limit.
Do you also get spellcheck on your computer? I think you get to “wear” nice clothes, not “where” nice clothes. Geez, making $200K a year, I’d think you could buy one of those new fangled laptops with spellcheck. Don’t underestimate the wisdom of the author. After all, you’re (not your) only a 20 something.
Great job taking down the soundness of his argument.
I know, quit shooting the messenger.
Meh. Don’t you know how to spell Jackie?
It’s not Jackie, It’s Jakie, if you want to get all technical and what not. You’re missing the point of their argument.
Hopefully, by now you have graduated from law school and have at least taken the bar exam. How close are you to the sky?
It was #5 that finally got to my wife. Right before she left the profession, she told me it was like writing a term paper every day in perpetuity only if you mess it up, you can cost your client millions of dollars instead of just getting a bad grade. The odd combination of mundane, high pressure work and the horribly long hours made being a 1st grade teacher much more appealing.
Jake, where the heck are you getting “4 weeks paid vacation” from? As a law firm partner, I can tell you that the vacation days are there only in theory. If you can bill 2200+ hours and still manage to take 4 weeks off, more power to you. But if you’re falling short, forget about taking any time off.
I’ve definitely got to through my two cents in here.
I think these “myths” are a little broad, but still good to consider when making decisions about law school. The legal market is highly competitive, and just having a JD won’t get you anywhere. But you can still do things to distinguish yourself, make connections, and get a good job. You can do this even without going to a top school.
As for public interest jobs, they are obtainable. Heck, I got one! It definitely doesn’t pay a lot, but UVa has a great loan forgiveness program. We’ll be able to make ends meet, and I’ll be doing great work.
I’m a firm believer that you can do anything, if you set your mind to it.
Best of luck,
Andrew, do you have spell check? I think you want to “throw” your 2 cents in not “through” them in. Geez, I just got on to the “20 something” for the same crap. Now you’ve made me look bad for defending you!!
Joleen, thanks for officially becoming the spelling Nazi. You remind me of that annoying kid that sits behind me in high school that constantly corrects people.. just consider what they’re saying, gosh! :P
Joleen, thanks for officially becoming the spelling Nazi. You remind me of that annoying kid that sat behind me in high school who constantly corrected people.. just consider what they’re saying, gosh! :P
What is your problem with spell check??? Seriously, have you not heard of a typo, an error in typing. People make them all the time! Get over your self, and if you are not going to say something constructive towards the subject at hand, then don’t say anything at all. The subject of concern here is not typing errors, but about myths concerning law school. So please do everyone a favor, and keep your comments to your self.
Being unable to distinguish the correct usage of “throw” and “through” is NOT a typo, but is demonstrative of a poor grasp of English grammar.
Can you spell “anal retentive?” One of the main reasons women, by and large don’t make very effective attorneys is that they are petty, persnickety, get caught up in the minutae and forget about the big pictue. In law you have a global mindset and be able to draw from a variety of sources to make a cogent argument. Women are very small minded and think the world revolves around them. They obsess over minor spelling errors rather than present an effective counterpoint. You will never make it in the legal profession. Stay home, make babies, that’s what you are built for; and when the babies are old enough you can correct their spelling till the cows come home.
Lawfable, the reason why you aren’t getting laid isn’t because women are persnickety. It’s because you are an ass (not all men, just you). And most likely an ugly one at that. Since you are going all Freudian with the anal-retentive remarks, I think you should maybe refer yourself to one. Your lack of respect for women exposes some serious mommy issues.
I agree this is pretty ignorant writing, but spell check will not catch usage errors that are spelled correctly.
Dito, um ditto.
I was very interested in seeing what comments my post would generate. Just to be clear, there was some element of hyperbole in what I wrote. There are some very legitimate reasons to go to law school and I do believe that law can be a very fulfilling way to earn a living for some.
There are many lawyers who start their careers in legal services (representing the poor), working for public interest groups (on compelling issues of the day)or working in public defenders or district attorneys offices (where you get a lot of court time right out of law school). I also speak to lawyers every day who are satisfied with the intellectual challenges they have at work.
The point I was trying to make is that simply going to any law school is no guarantee that you will be able to do any of these things.
Some of those who attend law school will be able to find fulfillment. But it is important to think critically before writing the first tuition check. In addition, make sure to do well (as was pointed out in one of the comments above.) That will give you a lot more options. It may even give you options outside of the traditional practice of law (management consulting firms and investment banks, for example, do compete for the best and the brightest graduates of law school.)
But don’t go to law school just because you think it is a ticket to success (i.e. without knowing how you want to use your degree.) That is the career mistake that I encounter the most when I meet unhappy lawyers.
As a law student in the top 10% of my class, albeit at a school that isn’t first teir, with good connections, and law review… and no job… I can’t agree more. Getting jobs straight out of law school is only easy if you come from a really great school and have top notch grades. But assuming you do get a job, a lot of the other people leaving comments are right – the work can be terrible, boring, high pressure, and consume the majority of your life. Yes, Jakie, there are jobs out there that pay major bucks, but those jobs also require major time and energy commitments – commitments that aren’t for everybody, and commitments that many new entrants to law school may not anticipate – not until after they’ve sunk $50,000 into the education. My best advice (because I don’t want to be a lawyer and am looking for other options now that I’ve seen the reality) is to listen to the author of the blog and many of the commenters above – be SURE you want to be a lawyer and that you know what that means, because there’s nothing worse than owing over $100,000 for a career you end up not pursuing.
Be an engineer! Good paying engineering jobs are readily available with only a bachelor’s degree and great paying jobs are easy to come by with a doctorate. Not only that, essentially all engineering doctoral programs will pay you to be a candidate. (Although forget about getting funding for a Master’s unless it’s from your employer.)
Anybody smart enough to get into a second-tier law school should be smart enough to get into engineering. And the current climate is such that even a B/C bachelor should be able to find a decent entry level position right after graduation. Couple that with the fact that most engineers wind up working in the positions desired by people subscribing to Myth #1… Spending 4 years and 30k on a engineering bachelor’s degree at a state university sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
So, in summary (or more accurately, “my point is”) being an engineer can readily satisfy 4 of your 5 myths.
Myth #1: Most engineers quickly switch over to managment careers.
Myth #2: Even mediocre engineers can get jobs, albeit not the best jobs. (Frightening prospect isn’t it?)
Myth #3: Many engineers get certified as “Professional Engineers” which qualifies them to serve as Expert Witnesses in court cases. And based on what I’ve heard, being an Expert Witness is closer to being a TV lawyer than being an actual lawyer.
Myth #4: There really are no professions where you can help the helpless without taking a pay cut. If they could afford you, then they wouldn’t need you.
Myth #5: Look around your room. I bet that everything you see was either made by craftsmen or by engineers. My university has a Textiles Engineering department that mostly specializes in composites and body armor. Why did they choose that field? They got sick of researching socks. Even the most mundane of products is made through the help of engineering teams. I’m sure you could find something of interest.
i’m an engineer and it makes me want to stab myself.
i’ve thought about becoming a lawyer, but reading this thread and researching it a bit more makes me think that i’ll want to shoot myself if i were one.
so what other options are there?
how about goat herding? it’s in my blood. my grandfather was an illiterate subsistence farmer in a third world country. i envy his life, it was the life of his ancestors now i’m on this treadmill to nowhere.
i don’t think humanity has progressed, we just have more “things”. i crave the simple life, free of modern distractions and the hustle and bustle of city life. it’s a complete waste of time and energy.
okay, i’m just rambling now…
Interesting post and comments.
I’m with you on Myth #1 — there is no good reason to get a law degree if you are not going to use it to practice law. Period. It’s not a broadening, humanities education. It is technical school for English majors.
Your comment following the post seems a little more on point — the other “myths” are not so much myths as misconceptions held by too many law students. As one of the other commenters suggested, though, all of these misconceptions can be conquered and gotten around. It just may not be as easy as law school brochures and US News and World Report make it seem…
I would also add a Myth #6: All Lawyers Get Rich. Fat salary structures at big corporate law firms skew the reporting that law schools do on their graduates’ salary information. Graduates not from top tier law schools or not at the top of their class are far more likely to begin their legal careers in insurance defense factory firms or as contract attorneys — making a lot less than $160k to start. Sure, some lawyers are getting paid well — but it’s far from guaranteed.
As I read it, a key point in Stephen’s post and Penelope’s yesterday on grad school is to make sure that you pursue higher education for the right reasons and go in with realistic expectations as to what you will gain and why you are going.
Most educational degrees are not automatic tickets to great jobs that will make you happy and pay you well — that’s the point.
If you really want to be a lawyer and understand what the career actually is (not what it looks like on TV), that is a good reason to go to law school.
Also, as Jakie said, if you go to Law School (or Grad School or business school), go to a good school and study hard. Get a 4.0 average. Make sure you gain every possible advantage from the experience and expense.
But getting an MBA, LLB, Ph.D., MA, MSC, etc. because you can’t figure out what to do with your life is usually a bad idea that will leave you in debt and greatly curtail your life and career options later on.
Want to get an eyeful of lawyers without becoming one?
Become a legal proofreader for a law firm. I worked in an NYC law firm for a year proofing document after document. It was a nice gig, and the firm did some pretty cool things (it was a white shoe firm, but they also did their fair share of pro bono stuff)…but most of the associates were miserable, exhausted, and bored. I knew one guy there who had been a cop busting drug dealers in the East Village. Literate, funny and very smart. He became a lawyer for the money and the security.
He lasted six months before he decided to take the sergeant’s exam.
As someone who was steps from law school and decided at the 11th hour to back out and continue my career in a creative field, I haven’t looked back and have had no regrets. These myths are hypothetical for me, but the financial risk just seemed to great for something I wasn’t sure I would love. Great post, as always! Thanks!
Both Jakie and the original post make some good points. Some additions (from my vantage point as a former law partner, now entrepreneur):
1) Law school is a winner take all game. If you are at the top, the world is yours for the taking. Coming off two prestigious clerkships, having had top grades at a top law school, I had law firms, investment banks and consulting firms all eager to talk to me, and all willing to pay top dollar. I’ve also known plenty of people from less well known law schools who never got a legal job (although their legal background sometimes helped them get hired into HR or other legally intensive departments). Given the winner take all nature of it, I advise kids who don’t get into a top ten law school (of which there are at least 20) to not go because it’s probably not worth the effort.
2) Happiness in law depends a lot on temperament. There are a lot of people with the intellectual chops who just don’t like lawyering. Don’t think that just because you ace the LSATs you will be a happy lawyer. Aside from being smart, you have to be comfortable dealing with openly conflictual situations, willing to pay attention to endless details, good at manipulating superiors, willing to devote your life to other people’s mistakes and willing to cheerfully work round the clock no matter what else you had scheduled when the trial or the corporate deal requires it. Some people thrive on it, and some people don’t. Know yourself.
3) Your practice specialty will have a huge impact on opportunities to move into the corporate world. Corporate counsel have many better options to become general counsels of small companies, or otherwise to move into jobs that lead to a corporate career track. Being an entertainment lawyer is a pretty good route to being a Hollywood producer or exec. Litigators have a hard time going corporate, except as managers of litigation within law departments. Don’t go with the litigation department unless you want to be a lawyer for life.
4) The key to intellectually interesting work is having clients who are willing to pay you to think through the issues in detail. Procedural motions can be very intellectually challenging. What is not interesting is filing the same 15 boilerplate motions in every case because the client cannot justify paying for original thought tailored to the facts of the case. Rich clients with big problems generate the most intellectually interesting work because the economics justify paying smart minds to find any solution possible.
5) Law school may be the last resort for a liberal arts major who does not want to be a barrista, but it is not part of a liberal education. While it can be enormously intellectually interesting, it’s still basically a trade school. If law is not a trade you want to join, don’t go to law school.
I especially agree with old guy’s “winner take all” comments, which makes it imposssible to generalize. If you can go to a top-ten law school, you have a ticket to the Culture of Yes. If you can even go to a top 40 law school and finish in the top ten percent of your class, you have a good shot at joining the the highest paid professionals in the country. If you graduated in the bottom half of your class at Capital University or some other fourth-tier school and you owe 120,000 in loans, you may have made the mistake of your life.
Forgive me if this runs long, but I wanted to post here (albeit very late) in the hopes of catching the eye of nervous prospective law students that might wander across this page.
As a law student and someone who comes from an entire family of lawyers, I can say from my limited experience that many of the sentiments on this page are largely untrue.
Only one of the lawyers I know went to a top 20 law school. Of course, he is extremely successful. But the other lawyers I know largely went to bottom-tier schools. Guess what? They all live very comfortable lives and almost all of them are very happy.
They didn’t all wind up in law (most did), but their law degrees opened up doors that would not have otherwise been available.
My father went to a T4 school and graduated with pretty good grades. He wasn’t doomed to a miserable existence. He worked extremely hard and now has a job at a top law firm in Los Angeles with many wealthy clients.
Reading many of the opinions expressed online about law school and the law profession almost scared me away from going in the first place. I’m glad I didn’t listen. For me, it makes sense to go. I would encourage everyone to evaluate their own situation independently of everyone else’s and make their own educated decision.
I think you can make many of these generalizations and apply them to almost any profession. No amount of education guarantees anyone a job in any field. The only thing that makes law school relatively scary is the debt. Luckily I’ve received a scholarship and don’t have to worry about that as much as many law students, so my opinions might be skewed, but to me the fear of debt is the only logical deal breaker.
If anyone needs further proof of this sort of exaggerated pessimism, I would encourage them to visit other blogs and forums that deal with ANY other profession.
All you will find are people complaining about how it’s a tough field, you will have trouble finding jobs, you will probably be underpaid, you will work long hours and you will be unhappy. That is, unless you’re the best. They will usually have someone that makes a comment about how profession X is much better, and that you should consider that instead. Start researching profession X and you will find the same sentiments expressed by people in that profession.
People only complain online as an outlet to vent their anger. I find that people who are happy with their chosen path don’t tend to spend a lot of time online posting about how wonderful their lives are.
Is the life of a lawyer easy? Hell no. Law school is incredibly challenging, as is the profession. That’s why lawyers and law graduates in general end up making good money. They don’t end up confined to a cubicle doing data entry and burdened with regret.
Just do the research and make the decision for yourself. Don’t let people scare you.
Phew. I’m done.
Fair enough. You’ve had a good experience, but that doesn’t mean everyone does. And let’s be honest, you said you #1 come from a long line of lawyers (which means you had contacts to lead to potential jobs before you even went to your first class and/or at the very least lots of advice about law school) and #2 had a scholarship. For me, my parents didn’t even go to college and are blue collar. They don’t know anyone who can help me get a legal job. The money wasn’t as big of a problem for me as I went to a relatively inexpensive school, but still T1. Yes, you know lots of lawyers who went to T2, T3, whatever. But have you really done the research to find out how many graduates are out there who want legal jobs? If you talk only to lawyers, well, obviously things worked out for them.
I am very intelligent, very educated, very motivated, and very capable. Still, I remain unemployed as a lawyer. I do have a few things unique to my situation which are a bit problemmatic, but I still recall going on about 30+ interviews over the course of 1.5 years just to get my first job as a state court law clerk. Still, I can say from experience that there are just too many law school grads out there, period! This is true despite the poor economy and is a simple matter of supply and demand. Now, if you add to that the economy you get a really bleak picture. I’m not lying, nor am I trying to tell someone who feels a burning urge to practice law to forego law school. What I am saying is to do the research and give it lots and lots of thought. Also, don’t be surprised if it fails to work out no matter how hard you try and how good you are. It isn’t just a matter of passing the bar anymore. That may have been the big fear in the past–you’d go through three years of school, pile on lots of debt, and couldn’t pass the bar. Now, you can pass the bar and your career can still fail.
On Monday, I will be starting my first job since April of 2008. That’s another 1.5 years out of work. (I graduated in 2003 so do the math. I’ve worked a total of 3 years and been unemployed for another 3). Yes, I was unfortunate enough to be looking for jobs after two major national events–the class of 2003 was hit hard by 9-11 then my clerkship ended just as the recession began. All of this led to a very heartbreaking situation. But the end result remains and my legal education has yet to pay off. What it has done, however, has made me overqualified for lots of other positions I might have liked. My job on Monday is a job I got because I was a lawyer, true, but it isn’t an attorney job per se. I will be working with the chapter 13 bankruptcy court and will be making less than I made clerking. Yes, that’s right. For 3 years I looked forward to being a real lawyer so I could leave my $40k per year job behind. Now, I’ll be making about $35k except the job is only temporary for 6 months so I have to find something else after that. My dream job, and what really drew me to law school, was to work for the EEOC. I’ve been chasing that dream for ages, with no luck. I have 4 good applications out now which I put my heart and soul into. But at some point, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll have to move on. I’m even considering going back to school for a masters just to give myself legitmacy as I try to transition into a new field. Sorry to babble, and I don’t mean to put the poster down, but please, consider all angles if you are lucky enough to read this before law school. I sure wish I’d known more things before going to law school and if I had, I probably wouldn’t have gone. I might have gotten an HR degree with some legal training in employment law instead of a JD. But that’s just me. I’m not saying, as the poster suggested, ‘go into field a or b because it has more opportunities than the law.’ Everyone’s hurting in this economy, but I still think lawyers are going to hurt for ages to come due to the high number of graduates each year compared with the low number of job openings.
I agree with every point you made in your post and yes, I have done the research. Lots of research. I wasn’t trying to paint a rosy picture by any means, and I apologize if my post came across that way.
The essence of my post was this: Make the decision that makes sense for you, and don’t let other people’s personal anecdotes scare you.
Law school made sense for me personally (for the reasons you mentioned), and I know a lot of people who get scared because of all the pessimism on the internet, even if law school would otherwise make sense for them as well. I know I did when I was doing my research. And trust me, I’ve considered all the angles.
I have no doubt that you are very intelligent and qualified, and I have great respect for anyone who was able to achieve so much despite coming from what may have been a less fortunate environment than mine. It’s terrible that things haven’t yet worked out the way you wanted them to. This economic climate makes the job search even more daunting than it would normally be, but just because you’re in a bad way right now doesn’t mean you’re doomed for life. I’m certain you’ll achieve greater success in the future, even if you have to look outside the legal profession.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently? It seems to me that despite your misfortunes, you are much more fortunate than many. You mentioned that your parents were blue collar and never even went to college. Personally, I would MUCH rather be in your situation than never have had the opportunity to go to college and have to work a blue-collar job for my entire life.
My only real point, I guess, is that a lot of people find success even if they don’t go to a T1 school or graduate at the top of their class. But you won’t hear from them on the internet. You’ll only hear the negative side of things. And the same goes for every profession.
And yes, as you said, people should think long and hard about their decision to go to law school. It didn’t come easy for me, and that’s a huge understatement. It might not work out exactly like I hope it will, but that’s life. I’d rather take a risk and lose than never take any risks at all, lead a boring life and wonder what would have happened if I had done things differently.
Good luck to you. I hope everything works out in the end… for both of us!
Thank 1L, your post was very encouraging. There are goods and bads of everything.
I hear of happy programmers and miserable programmers.
Happy Engineers and miserable engineers.
Happy nurses and miserable nurses.
Happy waiters and miserable waiters.
Happy Doctors and miserable doctors.
Even if we find ourselves in the miserable categories, we decide either to see things as miserable as they are and know that there is no hope and we’re just helpless.
We can trust God with our circumstances that God puts us in the circumstances we are in knowing He loves us and has a plan for us.
One of them is believing a lie and the other is believing the truth.
It’s just that you’re 90% likely to find advices that are negative online.
Oldguy makes some great points (and he obviously speaks from experience.) While I agree with his basic premise–i.e. that law has become winner take all (and I would add that this is very similar to what is going on in our economy as a whole)–I don’t think you have to be at a top 10 law school to “win.” But if you enter a lower tier school, you better graduate near the top of your class if you want to be very marketable. –Stephen Seckler
Whether or not the Myths are completely true for everyone, even with out the hyperbole, they speak to an important topic. And that is student debt and the law career. I went to law school because I was a liberal arts major and didn’t know what else to do. This is a trap and a costly one. And its getting more expensive.
I agree that law school is something a recent college grad should think seriously about. I would even recommend working first and then going back to school- after better learning the value of a dollar. As for the top-tier schools and firms as the only way to make money who knows.
It takes awhile to make alot in law now, but is possible. Just check out the average salaries by state and see how much they jump at 2, 5, and 10 years. And IMO if money is your only reason for becoming a lawyer, then the law is going to dissapoint. It is just too stressful and demanding on time and lifestyle not to also have some other value.
Great article. Thanks.
I think some of the comments, make me think people have unfair expectation about what lawyers do, and didn’t have a strong reason for wanting to pursue law. I want to attend law school, because I want to be a criminal defense attorney. I want to start off as a Public Defender then move on to private practice. I want to this because A.) I was in trouble with the law at one time, and a lawyer help keep me from going to prison, and jail. B.) I want to be able to do the same for others, because I believe everyone has to right to council. I don’t expect to make a million dollars in law thats unfair. Also I’m smart enough not to buy into the hype of having to attend a T14 school. I say unless you want academia or corporate law T14 isn’t necessary. Going to the instate law school where you can pay nearly the same as college tutiton is wise.
the post proves that hard work and perceiving a single clear coal goal is the best rule for success in any tough environment.
no document or a good startup worth will guarantee you success unless you are not a confident and wise person knowing where and how to go for success!
I am currently studying for the LSAT and hope to enter law school fall 2008. Why am I on this track? I earned my BA in English from Kenyon College, a liberal arts school, got into PR following graduation and feel an internal push toward a higher education. This internal push is strong enough for me to dedicate every non-working waking hour to test preparation, rewriting my personal statement and strategizing the application process.
Why? Because the prospect of distributing a press release for a 10 dollar cell phone at the age of 30 makes me want to puke. In addition, I do not want to be on my way to my PR desk, standing in an elevator full of lawyers and feel emotions of lamentation or regret. I can always return to PR and no one ever said, “ahh I wish I hadn’t gone back to school,” even if they are not using their current degree. If you are unsure if law school is the track for you, score high on the LSAT, get scholarship money, and don't pay for your legal education. If you want to bail, you have the option. As mentioned before, make sure you are in the top 5% of your class.
Mike Sales I went to school with people that had your motivation for attending school. I don’t know if all of them found jobs. I think it’s a good reason for going to law school. It’s better than most. However, the hype of “T14” is real. It’s not as strong as some suggest but it’s still there.
There’s just too many law students. The “T14” is a valuable trump card. I was even disgusted to hear that it’s even been used to pass borderline bar exam takers. That’s just not fair. I don’t want to deter you from considering other schools but recognize the deck will be stacked against you if you choose lower ranked schools. It’s hard to appreciate this until you are actually in law school looking for clerkships/internships.
WOW! I am amaze at these comment in the back of my head I’m thinking people would be reall happy of going to law school, I guess not you guys have me taking a u-turn I think I should really think hard of going to law school.
Is this myth or true, Is it true that you don’t have to go to law school to take the bar.
Please tell me the person encouraging people to be engineers was being sarcastic. I finished my degree in engineering in 2003 and most of my classmates had only 1 job offer or no job offers. Most who took their 1 offer were miserable and hated the position. A friend of mine was unemployed for a year before excepting an internship that eventually turned into a full time position. Just because someone is smart enough to earn an A in English/History/PoliSci/Pre-law doesn’t mean they can handle an engineering degree. Engineering is one of the most rigorous programs in college and often leads to burnout.
I realize its a 2 year old comment, but I’m going to concur with Lola. I too have an engineering degree (top 1/4 of the class from a top ten engineering school), I graduated roughly the same time as her and I spent my first year unemployed. So, yeah, if the economy is on fire a student with a B/C (2.5gpa?) could still get a pretty good job, but when there’s a recession, that’s not going to happen. I would say that engineering is less a winner take all profession than law, but there’s still such a thing as an unemployable gpa and there’s no shortage of engineers.
The original post by Devils Advocate suggested people consider engineering as an alternative to law. Degreewise, obviously, the two aren’t alternatives as you can’t go straight from highschool to law school and you can do undergrad engineering and then go to law school. Careerwise the two are alternatives so I’ll focus on that. I would agree for the most part that somebody who gets into a second tier law school could graduate from an engineering program somewhere – there’s a lot of engineering schools. Recognize though that we’re talking about well rounded students here. Engineering school is very math and science intensive so people that aren’t good at those things wouldn’t last a week though maybe their writing is great and they’re very logical and studious so they’d do well in law school. I guess for someone who could do well in either (probably pretty few people), engineering is a reasonable alternative to law school. Engineering is easier to get into and doesn’t require a pre-engineering degree, but you’re spending your undergrad years writing code, studying, and spending all nighters in a lab, and as the majority of engineering students drop out, most people aren’t prepared for that lifestyle at that point in their lives. As I said earlier, engineering is less a winner take all profession, and what that really means is that even the absolute geniuses will never make all that much money unless they start their own company or somehow work their way up the management chain. So in that respect, law is a more rewarding profession. I mean there is no company paying the best engineers 160K right out of school like you have in law. As far as the average grad though, moneywise the lawyer probably still comes out ahead. And anyone smart enough to be able to do engineering and law (regardless of if they actually do both) is certainly an above average engineer or lawyer. Also, lawyers don’t have to deal with foreign competition as much as decent english is kind of a prereq to their work. That’s definitely not the case in engineering. I guess what I’d like to say is that in summary, engineering is an OK profession, but you could do a lot better and most people would be much better off in law.
I know its 2 years old
that unemployable GPA is below 3.0 look on the Texas instruments website they state they don’t hire below 3.0.
Any professional work is based on who you know after being in the field so many years the real question is what are you doing to prepare for work. My professors told me get internships if you want to find work because they want people with experience you can still find work.
With engineering become licensed that way if your ever at a point where you cant find work you can create your own work everything in the modern world was created based on physics and engineering principles.
If you are a engineer and not licensed then you are shackled in your future prospects.
This is very sad and dis-heartening. I though I always wanted to be a lawyer, but then again I type better on somedays than others. So since today seems to be a good day, I’ll explain. I want to be a lawyer, I will devote some of my off time as a new “just paying the bills” school teacher to the venture. Just the opposite, I will not jump into to it like other have so hastily done so. Your right, I have never heard anyone say.”Ah I’m so glad I didn’t go back to school”.. very good point and i’m sold. I even aced the Mcat..but then again…I understand that I have my days, plus I ain’t crazy.
Seriously, I think entertainment glamorizes LAW & Medicine, and lets be honest by the time you should consider those fields, most people have already been convinced their stupid. (and you know im not lying)
It’s interesting to read the many responses, especially from those who’ve had the experience of attending law school, as well of those who actually had the experience of working in the field of law. But I’m a little disappointed by the negativity displayed in these comments.
Most statements made involve selfish reasons for becoming a lawyer. From my understanding, making money is the bonus of pursuing a career in the field of law, but an important factor missing in many of these statements is passion. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do for a living, as long as the person finds that its work is sacred to him or her.
Why do doctors put themselves through a rigorous education process? Yes, they want to earn more money than the average Joe, but they need to develop a passion for trying to help others, and perhaps even save a few lives.
Furthermore, it is my understanding that becoming a lawyer is much more than a fast-track highway to make a lot of money, becoming a lawyer is wanting to become a civil servant. Whether it is achieved by putting criminals in jail, keeping the innocent out of jail, or simply helping others seek amicable resolutions to their problems, becoming a lawyer ultimately involves serving others.
I know this forum represents the view of a small percentage of those working in the legal field, but I would like to hear the comments of those lawyer’s who consider themselves civil servants, those who help uphold our democratic system, as well of those protecting our American way of life (our freedom). Afterall, if individuals are discouraged from attending law school, who will protect the rights of our children and grandchildren?
Just a thought,
* * *** * * * * *
Peter, I think a lot of people would agree with you about what, ideally, law school should be about. The problem is that law school loans, plus living expenses do not add up to the salary for the kind of lawyer you’re talking about. So to live the life you are suggesting you would either have to be
a. independently wealthy
b. have a high-income spouse
I have to concur that this a ridiculously romantic comment – apparently Peter knows even less about doctors, some enter med school with passion, but certainly many are there for the money, but they come out burnt up, burnt out, also with huge debt and little interest in the romantic notion described.
Forgive me but I’m still a little hazy by your alternative conclusion to becoming a lawyer. I know of plenty prosecutors, defense and corporate attorney’s who’ve managed to do fairly well. However, allow me to clearify my previous statement, your article is very clear about the repercussions of pursuing a JD degree and I agree with your assesment, my only concern pertains to the comments posted about your article. They appeared to come from individuals seeking either the recognition or the financial rewards brought by seeking a degree/career in the field of law. I sense that most of the negative comments lacked a solid foundation, that is the passion for the respective field.
Without passion you will constantly lose track as to why you are investing both large amounts of time and money into your studies…this passion will also help you seek the best grades possible. Definately, you should not go into this field if you neither have the desire to invest substantial amounts of both money and time.
Whether or not you become a big name attorney, you need to understand that you will be a civil servant…you will be operating in the best interest of your client, whether it be an institution or an individual.
As to the financial end of things, there are many other degrees which require a large amount of invested tuition. This article could have been written for many other careers, not just becoming an attorney, perhaps a MD or PhD.
This is my first reading your articles, and it will not be the last. Thanks for your work Penelope.
Peter, I would figure that the vast majority of people who flock to the net in the pursuit of a meta-perspective on a legal career do so because either (a) prospective law students, hence lacking any real knowledge of the field or (b) disgruntled legal professionals looking for support or validation of their unpleasant situations. This isn’t to say that everyone who posts a blog about law hates it, and possibly the pedagogically minded would be attracted to an entry such as this, but it seems reasonable that those who really loved the law would be doing it instead of writing about doing it.
For my part, I’m a recent college graduate considering law school, and at the internet world’s markedly negative portrayal of the legal profession, I’m concerned. It’s actually between grad school in mathematics or law school for me; but, I want human contact. Being a professor would certainly afford me such a possibility. But, I could also become a law professor later on down the line (though I do hear that only upper tier really make it). I feel to some degree that law would afford me the ability to really reach out and effect people, to get to know them and make things better. That does, though, sound a lot like a public interest lawyer, and not an hours-billing corporate type bound by chain to the call of his clients. Then again, being a professor would force me to speak and speak and speak and get to know my students.
I think the big change between 35 years ago and now is the inflation in tuition. I don’t blame you for sucking up all the education you could, but the merit of education is not what is being argued here, it is the benefit weighted against the expense.
Here’s an article from 1990 claiming that the rate of inflation for the last ten years ( http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ404087&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ404087 ) will outpace the rate of general inflation. That trend has not stopped in that period, meaning for almost 30 years tuition rates have inflated faster than overall inflation.
Given that pay for professionals has deflated over that same period of time and that more professionals are in the job pool than 30 years ago it shouldn’t be hard to understand the frustrating position that young professionals are in and that it is only compounded by this talk of ‘the good old days’.
I am a Mechanical Engineer with over 35 years in various occupations in many different places throughout the world. And most, if not all of these doors have been opened for me because of my education (ie: companies still want to see that “sheepskin”).
Maybe I am too much from the “old school” regarding formal education. But I really can’t buy all of the negativity I am reading here about pursuing all of the education that one can. Assuming all of what I have read is true, why doesn’t one just forego school at, say, 10th grade?
Reading the comments from people of experience and looking to get some direction in life with this struggle of higher education, like, passion, and realities of life i.e., debt and $$ to pay bills, my own experience is the following:
Higher education certainly helps in understanding any situation much better.
Higher education gives an approach to identify and define a situation with more clarity, less fog.
higher educaton certainly excell the individual and prepares for harnessing an opertunity. It does not guarentee each and every opertunity.
Passion is good, but it gives in when $$ do not walk your way.
Each person shold get the best possible formal education, but be ready to learn real education in life. It is the life education that drives success and formal education may help.
the Law of winner takes it all, is a natural law because who wants second best. But, then again every situation is unique except the mundane daily grind. Therefore, prepare yourself in any profession for daily grind for majority and the top of pyramid for some and the rest in between.
Regarding $$, and happiness in life and formal education, they all are mutually exclusive. One does not depend on other. It is your journey, you endure and enjoy as you go, no warenties.
Great article. I have 2 comments:
1) Lawyers are second only to Dentists in overall job dissatisfaction.
2) We only have to look at our Vice President (who I voted for) to see that you’ve been given sound advice. He got average grades in law school, but he’s doing fine as he married very very well.
Why do you think dentists have no.1 Dissatisfaction?
I agree with many if not most of the comments posted above (I’m a law student myself). However, one poster said that if you do not get into a top 10 school you may as well not go to law school at all. That is a bit ridiculous and I think it fits in with the exaggeration that many law students (and lawyers) make, such as “I work 17 hour days” (when in fact a couple of those hours are spend on facebook, chatting online, etc.). I do go to a good school, not top 10, but still a good and well respected school-We have 4% unemployment in this country? Does the poster mean to tell us that all those 4% are students who didn’t go to the top 14 schools in the country? There are millions of lawyers in this country–not all of them went to a top 10 school. Law school is tough and going is a tough decision and yes at some point I would say that if a school is so lowly ranked (or not ranked at all) it may just not be worth it, BUT for Christ’s sake, to tell someone not to go to law school if they don’t get into Harvard or Columbia is absolute bullshit.
I’m one of those people that got into law school because he didn’t know what else to do with his degree (communications). Law seemed a natural fit since I excel at writing and public speaking. However, as I sit here a 1L in his first semester, at a failry expensive private school, I don’t know if I’ve made the right decision. I have no passion for the law, and don’t really see myself as an attorney. I don’t like the lack of free time that attorneys apparently deal with, and I can’t think of an area of law that especially lights my fire. Right now, the classes are boring, stressful, and an overall grind. This is a Tier 3 school that is very well known in the state, and most graduates get jobs. But I’m concerend about what my grades will be like, and if I even wish to become a lawyer. All of this effort and money for something that doesn’t really seem to interest me makes no sense, but a lack of alternative options will keep me here at least until the semester.
If you do in fact hate law school, then sure, you should probably leave, but you also need some kind of plan. As for not being interested in the law, a lot of it is super boring, some of it is not (constitutional law for example- don’t you have opinions about politics, etc.?) or human rights, etc. Just b/c all your 1L classes are boring does not mean your 2L or 3L classes will be.
As for lack of free time that attorneys deal with-yup they are busy, and I don’t particularly like that myself, HOWEVER, government lawyers work normal hours and get fairly good benefits as do some other lawyers (small estate planning for example will probably not keep you up everyday till 11pm).
As for your grades- yes JT, worry about them, but don’t think that more studying always equals better studying. This is my suggestion, get a lot of study aids, practice for law school like you practiced for the LSAT- DO EXAMS and GET THEM REVIEWED BY YOUR PROFS! Forget about reading the entire casebook and briefing every case that comes your way. Get a good study aid that briefs the case, find the rule of law, go back to ur casebook and just read the legal principle, NOTHING ELSE, then go to a hornbook or to Examples and Explanations (published by Aspen and other legal pubs) and do some hypotheticals. You’ll end up studying less but actually learning more.
All that being said, try to follow this advice and talk to guidance counselors at your school (which is what I did, I felt much the same way you did), if by May you still feel this miserable, then go ahead and quit, there is no shame in it.
Hello. I am answering a question in an application that asks: “What is your biggest regret in your life”? So I did what any good procrastinator does… I started trolling the net to see if anyone else out there has said my words and my story better than I can. And, low and behold, here it is. So, following the footsteps of the aforementioned good procrastinators, I decided to sign up with digg so I could respond. Here goes… I am 40. I graduated from an accredited by mediocre law school (home to Judge Wapner, Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden) in 1993. I took the bar and passed it the first time because I was only going to take it once. I hated law school from the 1st day of orientation but I went because as a kid in my early 20s, I thought I would make my dad “proud”. It was a MISERABLE 3 1/2 years. Yes, time goes by so fast anyway and I have this education now and it was cheaper in the early 90s than what these poor kids are paying now. And I did have one very cool job… I worked in Entertainment Law in Los Angeles, but that wasn’t entirely due to my degree. It was because I had lot of contacts and interned at 4 major entertainment companies. But the industry changed and I got bored and circumstances changed. Since then, I went on inactive status and am really happy that I am not practicing law (but not happy paying my loans), however, dealing with incessant questions of “what’s wrong with you? If you were still a lawyer, you’d be making tons of money!” can get annoying. And my dad? Looking back at the end of his life now he says that his impetus for going to law school @ 40 was all about making money. To that end, he accomplished his goals, but he did many shaddy things that he now has to live with. My belabored point is: DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL IF YOUR GOAL IS TO MAKE SOMEBODY ELSE HAPPY!
Sorry I missed this post when it was first written. I’ve interviewed Stephen for a few articles and he’s great. And, of course, his advice is spot on — if only I would have known a few of these things back when I started law school!
About 90-95% of lawyers would agree with this article.
Every lawyer that I spoke with before I went to lawschool told me not to go. I, of course, dismissed their pessimissm and thought I was different.
Now, 3 years after law school I advise anyone considering law school not to do so.
Alas, most do not heed the warning and go anyway.
If one must go to law school, go to a top 14 school and graduate in at least the top 20% (10% is better) or you will be screwed (I didn’t and I am).
I found that letting people see the stack of BarBri review materials piled around me just before the bar … and hear my relief at having black letter law and simply facing the memorization of those books … and the realizing that I considered the foot-high stacks of study materials “light” reading after the law school textbooks and treatises … deterred several of my acquaintances from going to law school much more effectively than my “horror stories” could.
I took LSAT. I got accepted to a law school. My loan applications were approved. I worked and am still employed as a paralegal. I’ve been thinking of going to the school for many many weeks now. Looks like I’ll let it pass by me.
As one of my finance professors once said, “Buy at 3, sell at 4, and you’ll be rich.” I’ll try to find something like that. Law no more!
I would much prefer to work as a paralegal, if only to have some small buffer between myself and the psychotic supervising attorney I have been stuck under for the past year and a half. I advise everyone I meet who does not (a) have first-hand, in person, long term exposure to a lawyer and their career, and (b) passionately love/desire/need to be a lawyer, to RUN from law school. I will do so for the rest of my life. Even after the grueling 3 years and the bar, the career itself is dismal compared to the other options available. The ONLY thing that could make this job worthwhile is the six-figure starting salaries offered by BIGlaw – and no big law firms exist in my city. I feel trapped by my student loans, the fickle loyalties of my supervisors, and the constantly changing instructions and expectations of this firm. My old 12-hour days as a reporter were SO much better, even at minimum wage.
I agree with those who have said the assertion that “don’t go to law school if you don’t get in to a top 10 school” is ridiculous.
This is simple supply and demand. There are MANY legal markets in the country that simply do not have a T10/T14 school in the city or even in proximity to the area (i.e. Miami, San Diego, Indianapolis, Phoenix) so law firms in these areas will draw from local schools quite a bit. There simply aren’t enough lawyers graduating from the very top schools to fill all the openings in all the markets.
I think if you have a good idea of the location and area of law you would like to work in, you can do the appropriate research to determine how the job climate is for you, specifically. Certainly going blindly into law (or any grad program) is not a good idea at all. But there are MANY employment opportunities out there for those who know how to look.
The best advice I’ve seen on here has got to be “Marry well.”
As one of those who has gone to lawschool, I disagree that the advice ” "don't go to law school if you don't get in to a top 10 school" is ridiculous.” I wish I had listened to it, or even heard it when I graduated 10 years ago.
It’s very much a winner-take-all system. People who aren’t very smart rarely go to law school. In law school you aren’t graded on what you know, you are graded on a curve against everyone else. If you give a good answer to an exam, but another person gives an better answer, even though they are equally right, you will get the C, the other person will get the A. Get enough A’s and doors will open – get too many C’s and they will close.
Sure, there are plenty of opportunities for me to do work that I enjoy. I’d love to do pro bono work for the poor every day – but there are too many lawyers who can’t find jobs (any jobs, much less those that they actually LIKE). Pro bono is great, but if you have to pay Sallie Mae almost a grand every month for thirty years, how can people afford to work for peanuts?
Many people go to law school because they want to give something back. I tried that. And after having a law degree for 10 years now, and not finding a job with health benefits since law school, I’ve gotten fed up with “giving back.”
I, and hundreds of people I know, make a living as a lawyer by reading other people’s mail. There is no “intellectual stimulation.” Operating in “the best interests of my client” means that when we’re done reading the email – we get fired and have to wait (sometimes for months) for the next assignment. I find that I’m working 60-80 hours a week, or none at all.
Regarding those myths above:
> Myth 1: I'll be able to use the law degree in
> whatever career I decide to choose.
Wrong. You MAY, but you’ll find that people won’t interview you for other careers. Your law degree has made you overqualified.
> 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.
True, but if you you have an average performance from an average school, finding ANY job may be a challenge.
>Myth 3: I'll get to be in court and try cases.
> 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.
Very true. Also keep in mind that most law school do NOT have a foregiveness program.
> Myth 5: I'll have intellectually challenging work
Maybe. But not likely.
> Myth #6: All Lawyers Get Rich
HA! I wish. It took me 4 years AFTER law school to find enough work to match the mediocre salary I left to go to law school. I still haven’t had a year where I’ve made more in a year than what I borrowed.
Those who go to top schools, get top grades, and get top jobs can do VERY well. Those very smart people that don’t get top school/grades/jobs? Typically, they don’t.
Unless of course, they marry well.
Clarification on #3 above – it should read:
Probably. As in yes, this is probably a myth.
As a practicing (and professionally frustrated) lawyer for over fifteen years, Mr. Seckler’s advice is right on the money. If you actually want to be a lawyer, my advice is to excel in college, prep for the LSAT and try to get admitted to the best school you can.
If you want to go to law school because you are looking for an intellectual challenge, you’re looking in the wrong place. If you think practicing law will be meaningful and challenging, think again.
As several people have written, law school is nothing more than trade school. The trade you are preparing for is to be a lawyer. Law school is not a stepping stone to opportunity unless you are smart enough or fortunate enough (or probably both) to excel at a top school. For the less fortunate, your career path will be limited to practicing law.
In that event, you can look forward to trying to find a job, most likely working for an insurance defense firm or a personal injury firm in a buyer’s market, working long hours but making as much or possibly less than you would have had you chosen another vocation instead of devoting four years of your life to the rigors of law school and passing the bar exam. Years will go by but you will make very little professional progress.
As someone who graduated in the middle of my class from a top 15% law school I wish I would have had the benefit of Mr. Seckler’s sage advice before embarking upon what really has been an unfulfilling, unsatisfying professional existence.
Now I’m basically trapped with very little in the form of options earning a salary that’s embarassing given my experience. I wish I would have bailed when I had the opportunity.
The bottom line before embarking upon law school is to be honest with yourself. Take the time to learn about the realities of the profession. Dispel any illusions or fantasies you have about what “being a lawyer” is. Talk to lawyers from all facets of the profession. Understand what the job market will be depending on where you go to school, particularly if you don’t graduate near the top of your class. Then, make an educated honest decision.
I think this is one of the best responses I have read and as a 15 plus year practicing lawyer, I think I have a good idea as to what this profession is about.
I went to a 4th tier school and could not find a job for over a year post graduation and that was 20 years ago. I ended up working for a PI mill firm for less then I made bartending. Barely avoided killing myself. I couldnt pay my student loans.
As with most in my shoes who cannot spell BIG law, at some point you are going out on your own and after learning the trade while essentially working for free, I did and it has worked out but each year is a crapshoot.
Unless you go to a top school, you will likely end up on your own doing crap work for crap clients. IT can be a court appointed criminal case early on or a crappy chiro case later on. If that is your thing then go to any law school. If not, then you better get in to a good school.
Money is the great equalizer. If you are in this profession and not making good money, get out sooner rather then later. The work only destroys you more as you get older. Being young and enthusiastic only lasts so long while you live in your parents basement while all your other friends marry hot chicks because they have a job and no debt.
You can be a “winner” without going to a top school, but you better take some marketing classes. Getting cases and getting money is not the referral system the older lawyers lived under when this was a prestigious profession. The value of our services have gone down while the difficulty goes up. We are all in business searching for that big PI case that can pay off our loans and mortgage. They are out there, but a lot of luck is involved.
Law school will always fill up because you have a lot of smart people who dont want to be a manager at Staples when they are 40. Law may not have been the right move for them and they may end up destroying themselves financially, but when you hit 40, you really measure the success of yourself by comparing to others more so then you do at 22 or 25. We all know we want the hot car and hot wife at some point and if we dont get it by 40, you are not likely going to get it. Law is a way to get it but it also destroys you.
Law is like most other professions, they all suck. So few people do what they love and so few of those make any money doing it. You are going to be miserable so you need to be compensated for it. If you are not willing to make next to nothing for 5-10 years after school, then stay away. If you are willing to learn and wait and work hard, then you can get rich as a lawyer, but if you have not done so by age 45, accept defeat and move on.
I would make sure you knew all the risks, what you really wanted to do, and set a time frame for success before going to law school. If you are an emotionally weak person or your relationships are weak, go sell shoes for a living as you will feel worse before you ever feel better and it may be a downward spiral you do not recover from. Its a lot to think about while trying to get rich and the world is so crappy that the schools will never lack for applicants so the price goes up. I would not go to school today unless I went to a top school.
“As one of those who has gone to lawschool, I disagree that the advice " "don't go to law school if you don't get in to a top 10 school" is ridiculous." I wish I had listened to it, or even heard it when I graduated 10 years ago.”
Once again, that is a ridiculous assertion to make. It is unfortuneate that you hate your career as a lawyer, many lawyers feel just like you do, but some of the comments on the board seem more like personal venting than intelligent, thoughtful advice. The laws of supply and demand mean that if people followed the advice of “don’t go to law school unless its a top 10 school” entire cities and towns throughout our country would not have a single lawyer!
My understanding of the author’s point was that while small firm jobs exist and attorneys will always be able to find work if they look hard enough, the jobs that make the cost/benefit analysis of law school/post-graduate income/work satisfaction balance in your favor are the jobs you can (usually) only get with a degree from the top-10 schools. Just because a person can get a job at Burger King and find a way to support himself with it doesn’t necessarily make it a desirable objective. In the same way, many – although not all – of the small firm jobs will also have you doing unpleasant tasks for less money than you can live on comfortably (by which I mean, paying your bills, eating out once a week, saving a little, and taking a modest ski trip every other year). The author is simply suggesting that you take the steps necessary to get a better position than these “small town” jobs, where the cost of law school is not offset by post-graduate income at a rate that makes the career a better choice than your other options.
Of course, its an individual choice. A large number of people working in smaller firms are happy with their hours, coworkers, etc. Some people genuinely don’t mind paying off a second mortgage in student loans for their entire working life. Each firm is different and these are, of course, simply broad, broad generalizations.
I am thinking about going to law school as part of a joint degree program with healthcare administration. I work for a VA hospital now as a nurse and would like to stay with the VA working in healthcare law after getting the law degree. Does working for a federal agency like the VA as a lawyer negate any of the negative aspects of practicing law that are listed all over this site? Can a new law graduate get this kind of job?
My advice to you before embarking upon law school would be to research your job prospects. The last thing you want to do is to spend several years in school plus another going through the bar exam process only to find out that the degree did not enhance your position within the VA. Specifically, seek out lawyers who are practicing in this area of law and ask them about your marketability. Virtually all of the lawyers that I know, myself included, would be more than happy to talk with someone in your position.
On a positive note, based upon my law school experience the most successful people were the ones who approached law school maturely and with a plan. Knowing what you want can eliminate much of the pressure that goes hand-in-hand with the whole enterprise.
I’m finishing up my first year of law school in just a few months. Before coming to law school, I’d worked in a prosecutor’s office on nearly every undergrad break. Needless to say, I had an idea of what I was getting into. Or I thought I did. Please talk with current students before enrolling. Don’t think you’ll be an exception. A lot of my friends are unhappy but don’t know how to get out or feel like they’ll let other people down by leaving. There are so many paths to happiness — law doesn’t need to be every high-achieving student’s path. (of course, there are also some people in school who love it!) Also, law school is full of stress for everyone regardless of what they may tell you. It strains relationships, is a huge time-hog (if you do things correctly), and is not fulfilling if you aren’t absolutely certain you want to be there. It’s imperative to determine whether you ACTUALLY want to go before going.
I am planning to withdraw at the end of the summer (to defer my loans as long as possible) and pursue non-profit/govt. Fortunately, I barely have over $12k in debt at this point. I am looking forward to actually making friends in the great new city I live in, getting involved with my church, volunteering, not whining to my boyfriend/friends/family, hanging out with old friends, reading books for leisure, enjoying my future job, and being a human being again. What will it be like to discuss things other than the law with any consistency? I can hardly remember…but I can’t wait!!
great blog. looking forward to reading more
You people are pathetic, seriously. Life is not that bad, the reason you are all so unhappy is that you are a bunch of whiners. I wouldn’t hire you either. Suck it up start anywhere and then work your way to the top. As a graduate of a bottom of the ranks law school, I started my own firm, making only 24,000 a year and paying 15,000 of that back to loans the first year–yea can you say american express. I pressed onward and although I am by no means rich, I am debt free and doing just fine. Stop whining and go to work!! If you were too stupid to get in to a T14 then work hard and make up for it.
Going to and finishing law school was one of the best decisions I made in my life. Period.
Feel like working hard and make a lot of money, then work for a big firm.
Don't want to work hard and still make good money, then work for the government.
If you want something in between, there are small and mid-sized firms.
Feel like working 3-4 months out of the year and traveling the rest of the time, there's legal temp.
Want to open your own business, put an ad in the yellow pages, buy a computer and printer – you're in business. Compare the capital investment to do that with what it would cost to open a restaurant.
Bored of law? Then use your law degree and firm experience to apply for marketing or editing positions.
However, if you (like most lawyers who post on the internet) are an angry type A personality with no social skills, then law isn't for you. The firm you're working at just lost some major clients and you have to go. We really appreciated your work and we'll call you is the situation changes. Likewise, if you're so inept that you send out resumes with typos and screw up explicit instructions from partners, then law also isn't for you.
One other point to consider, the legal market mirrors the job market, except that the salaries are higher. So, don't major in Poli Sci., History, Philosophy, or whatever other garbage your career counselors tell you. Pick EE, CSCI (for patent), accounting, business (for tax, bankruptcy, M&A), or whatever else is in demand in the market.
“IT’S ALL ABOUT ATTITUDE”
I have a feeling that the woman who wrote this “5 Myths” article is a rather unpleasant being. While I understand why many young (and “old”) attorneys may agree with this article, I do not.
My legal career started six years ago, at the age of 21, when I took my seat in Property I to learn all about Ghen v. Rich. I will not give the name of the school I attended, but as far as I know it’s considered a Tier 3 law school. So let me first give you a minute to comprehendthat. Okay, have you collected yourself? Good. Moving right along.
At the end of my first year my grades were very average, so average in fact that my rank number WAS the median! So right now, based on this article and several of the following comments, it appears that at this point it would have been a better decision for me to walk away and open up a Quiznos. Well article writer woman–I chose to forge ahead.
I interviewed for about eight to nine jobs my first summer, none paid very well, but I didn’t mind because I just wanted some experience. Well, none picked me up. Yeah, that wasn’t awesome. So I decided to email all of those people that I had interviewed with to see if they had any spots I could fill. Luckily, the day after sending out that email, I got responses from two of the employers offering me a position for the summer. I took the one I thought would give me the best experience–it didn’t pay, so I applied for a grant and work study and low and behold, I survived my post 1L summer. Shocking, I know.
During my second and third years, my grades continually improved, I even managed to get the top grade in three of my classes. However, I never made law review, but guess what, I was still able to publish my law review article–and not in my school’s journal, but in a “Top 50” law review. All it took was four months of research, three months of writing, fifty or so revisions, the red ink of three professors, and $200 bucks in postage to do it! But it was worth it–I was published.
Additionally, I was able to snag a slightly better job b/t my 2nd and 3rd year because of the connections (or what I call friendships)that I made during my first summer. So I spent my second summer working at the central courthouse of the city in which my school is based. I decided to take full advantage of my access around the court by studying case files, attending hearings, and asking many, many, many questions. I got to know the court clerks as well as the staff attorneys. I also made it a point to smile, say thank you, and to ask a question only once.
One day, the clerks invited me out to lunch, so I went along, thinking that it would just be me and the ladies. Well, five minutes later I found out that other court personnel were coming too: the judges. Now, most law students would probably be thrilled about this…yeah, well I’m not “most law students.” I wanted to run in the other direction and cry.
Well for better or worse there I was. Little Tier 3 law student crawling in the back of the Honorable ________ ____________’s modest, yet impeccably clean Ford Explorer. I cannot remember exactly what happened in the car ride or what was said at lunch. All that is left in my memory of that afternoon is a Ruby Tuesday’s and a discussion about the movie “Dodgeball.”
I have to get going to work, so I’m going to cut to the chase: That email I sent getting me my first job led to my second job, which led to lunch, which led to my first job as a judicial clerk in state court, which led to my current position as an associate at a widely respected firm (not a brand name firm, but reputable firm nonetheless.)
So that’s my point. The odds were against me–I don’t deny that. However, I knew that ultimately, I had full control over my career. So I did what I needed to do: I worked 25 hour weeks during my final two semesters, I pocketed 600 pro bono hours while in law school, and I never once thought that I was entitled to anything.
So as you can see, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed and I’m not the most eloquent writer. I’m just an awkward dude that works hard, plays fair, says his Ps&Qs, and wears mismatched socks. So say what you want about Tier 1s, being in the top 10%, and law review. Some of it’s true, but most of it’s crap. My school didn’t determine my future, I did. It’s not just about brains, and drive, and work ethic–it’s also about attitude. So yes, I went to a Tier 3, and no, I was not in the top 10% of my class–yet I sit here today financially stable, happy in my professional and personal life, and looking forward to what’s ahead. Why? Because my momma didn’t raise no fool.
All my love,
A Loud and Proud Tier 3er
I agree with with you, Loud and Proud Tier 3er. I happened to graduate from a very respected law school, within the top 25 schools in the country (would that bbe Tier 1)? As you can tell, I never cared too much about that stuff. My husband, however, graduated from a Tier 3 or 4, whatever you want to call it.
After my 1L year, I was lingering below the 50% mark of our class. I was told by career services that a paid internship was unobtainable. But, I networked and I got one. I got pregnant my 3L year and yes, I faced massive, massive discrimination, but the law firm where I worked for 20 hours a week agreed to hire me. In addition, I “worked” at the law school’s civil clinic, doing mostly family law stuff.
My husband, who graduated from the “other” law school in the area, has also done quite well working for himself. We live in a rural area which is not glamorous, and I actually left the firm which offered to give me a job so that I could work at a more flexible public interest job. But, we’re doing okay, we like our jobs, we find them challenging, and we’re still able to be good parents. In addition, b/c I work at a public interest job, I’m participating in a loan repayment program.
The bottom line is have some courage, get out and networ, work your hardest at your internships, and don’t just sit on your ass and expect career services to feed you a 100k a year job. You might have to work for yourself for a while. You might have to take a “dirty” job as a prosecutor, a public defender, or a legal aid lawyer. Or, you might have to live in the middle of nowhere. And for those of you griping about law school debt, I wore ugly clothes and ate crappy food during law school, but I’m glad of it now. Also, just go to a public school. In most of the Southeast, at least, there are plenty of dirt cheap public schools. And yes, people from these schools do get jobs. Law school is what you make of it and so is the practice of law. If you want to succeed, you have to have a will to suceed.
That was a freakin’ hiarious response. I appreciate the wit and zeal of that post. I am a 2L at a tier 4 and I am proud too. Rock on.
I got a degree in IT., but I didn’t see myself programming so I didn’t work in the field, but currently recruit IT talent for major companies and make around $85-$100k. Thing is, this is not intellectually stimulating and I don’t see myself as a recruiter for the rest of my life. That’s why I was thinking of doing an MBA. At the same time I have schools near me that offer MBA/JD joint programs. What do you think about that? Will I be hedging my bets going through this route?
I agree with Steve about the author of this article (although it seems that SHE is actually a HE…). Just because a certain number of people may be able to identify with the situations above does NOT mean that everyone is going to have a bad experience. There ARE many people that have the ability AND the drive to do it – and do it well. Coming across something like this might be enough to discourage them from pursuing their dreams, and anyone who argues that that is acceptable is despicable. Personally, I have always been able to achieve the things that I have truly wanted – and it ISN’T because I’m privileged. In fact, I’m far from – I’m currently working full time and attending school full time (still an undergrad). It’s difficult, but it’s what I want to do. I’m only 20 years old, and I while I don’t claim to know much about law, I HAVE learned many things about life in the past few years. It isn’t just about money. It isn’t even about any one thing in particular; it’s about each person’s character, drive, and ability – COLLECTIVELY. We’ve all heard the saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I know that I can do something if I truly want to. I have my priorities in order. The people who DON’T are the ones who won’t cut it. End of story.
I am so confused! I was SET on going to law school for the past 3 years. I just started my Political Science classes and I have suddenly had a change of heart. I know I have always wanted to be a teacher but the salary is just a little too scary. I have heard so many horror stories about law school too though and in reality, I’m not SOOO excited about being a lawyer. I’m not so sure I would love it. I just really wanted to live comfortably. I know not ALL lawyers make a great salary, but the majority earn more than a middle or high school teacher. What to do..What to do… =(
Please consider the monthly student loan payment and find out the mid- and small-firm starting salaries for you area. Several of my classmates’ take-home amounts after student loan payments are equal or less than what they would make as a teacher in some states.