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So, you think you want to be a lawyer?

The media has been chock full of articles lately on whether law school is a good investment. Above the Law reported that the number of people taking the LSAT jumped by over 10,000 from 2008 to 2009, to a total of 60,746 tests administered. As you can probably predict, Above the Law believes that this is a tidal wave and we should “[s]hut the damn door or we’re all gonna die.”  That’s a little paranoid–remember, many of our Founding Fathers were lawyers.  

The National Law Journal notes that applications to ABA-accredited law schools jumped by 5% this year, and that law schools should be more upfront to would-be students about the costs and likely outcomes of law schools (for example, most of us are not making $160,000 right out of law school).

Baltimore lawyer John Bratt offers constructive advice: “[o]nly go to law school if you have a passion for it and the skill set to match.” Truly, it is not for everyone.

I hope law schools are not telling prospective students that they are guaranteed a job upon graduation, much less a job making what no recent grad is probably worth (who among us can say we were actually worth $160,000 right out of law school, when we didn’t even know how to draft answers to interrogatories?).

But, the reality is, it is incumbent on the prospective students to do the research about the job market. Here is my quick test to determine whether you should go to law school:

  1. Do I want to be a lawyer?
  2. No, really—do I want to be a lawyer?
  3. Am I comfortable incurring the debt to pay for three years in law school?
  4. Am I flexible enough to be able to work in different types of the law, or will I only be happy as a lawyer for BigLaw?

No one knows what the legal market is going to be like in three years. Sure, there are a lot of students entering law schools, and a lot of lawyers will be coming out of law schools in upcoming years. But, not all of them have the drive, energy or desire to be lawyers.  If you do, you should go. It’s that simple.

3 comments

  1. By comparison, an Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies costs a whole lot less than law school and it only takes two years to complete. Plus you don’t have to sit for the LSAT’s to get into the program. After that, scoring a job as a paralegal or legal assistant can give the person experience doing some of the basic work in a law office (like drafting answers to interrogatories) which law school doesn’t necessarily teach fledgling lawyers. I agree with Mr. Cord that anyone entering the legal field, whether they are newly-graduated JD’s or paralegals/legal assistants, should be prepared to start out small and work your their way up to the bigger law firms with the bigger paychecks. Expecting to walk out of law school and right into a six-figure salary is more delusional than realistic thinking.

    Don Street
    Maryland Association of Paralegals
    Area Coordinator – Anne Arundel County
    http://www.mdparalegals.org

  2. The other piece of the puzzle that I wish more law school applicants would consider is that their choice of law school impacts the debt as well as the available career options. I had hoped to see more law school applicants in this competitive cycle adding schools to their list where they would be likely to be offered significant scholarships. I hope this year’s applicants will seriously consider schools that may be lesser ranked than others but would allow them to graduate from law school unsaddled by debt. It’s a nice position to be in to make the choice between ranking and scholarships.
    Also, I think some of the statistics about increased number of applicants and LSAT takers is because more people are taking the LSAT numerous times due to the ABA’s policy change about how multiple LSAT scores are reported (2006) and the recent policy change (2009) by LSAC that essentially forces LSAT takers to take the exam rather than change LSAT dates by fixing a very early date as the deadline for doing so. Of course, due to the marketplace paranoia, people are applying to more schools. Law schools are offering more fee waivers, too. All of this needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating the increase in applications and LSAT administrations.

  3. In speaking directly with many students who desire a career within the legal profession, they have come to realize and understand that graduation from any law school no longer guarentees the big dollar payout.

    But these Kids have a desire to become part of the profession regardless of the financial risks. What other real choices do they have ??