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So You Want To Become A Lawyer?

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Being the legal dynamo that I am [insert sarcastic laugh], I like to stay on top of the latest studies and trends in the legal world.  From changes in law school curriculum standards to new Supreme Court precedents and everything in between, in all honesty there’s a lot of interesting changes that occur in the legal industry.  And this recent report released by Kaplan detailing the reasons why students decide to go to law school seems to be particularly interesting.

Isn’t it funny?  Apparently only 8 percent of law students based their decision on which law school to attend on job prospects.  In other words, 92 percent of law students don’t care about getting a job after law school where they’ll actually be able to, you know, practice law despite the fact that they went to law school to become a lawyer.

Now of course that isn’t to say you have to be a lawyer in order to go to law school.  There are a lot of people who end up doing different professions with their legal degree, or in some cases despite it.  However, by and large the reason one goes to law school is to become a lawyer.  It may be hard to believe, but law school is essentially a trade school.  Students who attend one are trained to become lawyers by the instructors there.  Though this focus has arguable changed in recent years due the “academicizing” of legal education, transforming it from a profession into a type of study akin to the humanities, law students attend to learn a trade.

That said, as you all probably can already tell, I’ve decided to take a slight departure from my usual legal news related posts and instead get on my soapbox to throw in my two cents on what one should consider before attending law school.  And I think the best way to do this is by giving you a list of questions to consider.  Remember law school can be a both physically and mentally draining process.  It can also wreak havoc in your personal life, so before you take the plunge, take a moment to think about the following:

1)      Why do you want to go to law school?

I can’t tell you how many law students I know who go to law school simply because they didn’t know what else to do.  This is a horrible reason to go to law school.  Why?  Because law school is a lot of work.  You generally have to read hundreds of pages a week, research legal databases, and deal with other annoying law students.  Sure, the research and reading will get easier as you do it more, but if you’re really unsure of whether you even one to practice law, why would you want to submit yourself to it if you don’t have to?  And though sometimes people who go to law school because they don’t know what to do with their lives actually realize they like law or otherwise find themselves, all told it’s probably cheaper to figure all of this out before you decide to saddle yourself with six-figure debt.  Speaking of which…

2)      Can you afford law school?

Law school is expensive.  The tuition has only increased over the years and will continue to do so for the indefinite future.  At law schools around the country, annual tuition hikes are commonplace and expected.  And the student debt you’ll carry will be with you until you die or if you work in the government sector long enough to discharge it or finally pay it off.  Those are your options.  Furthermore, the time commitment is huge.  It takes three years of your life to finish law school.  And if you don’t like it, those three years will seem like an eternity.  A tiring, sleepless eternity.

3)      Do you really want to be a lawyer?

The best piece of advice I got growing up was that I should do what I enjoy when it comes to picking a career.  This is true for two reasons.  The first is that generally if you enjoy what you’re doing success will follow simply because when you do things that you enjoy you’ll naturally do a better job at it than someone who hates it.  The second reason is that even if you don’t make a lot of money, the personal pleasure you’ll get from doing the work will make you feel happier and more content then doing a job you hate.  Aside of the Tony Robbins-eque clichéd nature of these sentiments, they’re actually true.  Sure, there are always practical considerations, like money and supporting your loved ones, but there are better and more efficient ways to do this then sticking yourself in something you hate.  Going to law school usually leaves you only with the option to become a lawyer or something closely akin to it, such as a politician.  If you can’t picture yourself practicing law, than you probably shouldn’t go to law school.  A better route would be to get a job as a paralegal or intern at a law firm.  Since law school and the actual practice of law have very little to do with each other, seeing lawyers working firsthand will give you a better sense of what being an attorney is like.

There is one good thing revealed by that Kaplan study though.  In a sense, if only 8 percent of law students care about getting a job, then that means that coupled with the over abundance of attorneys, hiring legal counsel could start to get much cheaper very soon.  See?  All that needed to be done to make lawyers affordable was flood the market.  Simple economics saves the day once again, for everyone but the attorneys in this case that is.

Ken LaMance

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