5 hard questions to ask yourself to see if law school is right for you
It’s a given: Anyone who speaks and writes well will be encouraged to go to law school. Throw in a political science major and interest in CSPAN or Fox News, and you might feel as though the legal field was made for you.
In reality, while those skills and interests certainly contribute to law school success, they aren’t the “be all, end all.” Before you whip out an LSAT study guide and start bartending in anticipation of those student loans, ask yourself these questions to see if you really are “lawyer material.”
1. Do I really know what a legal career is like?
Many law school candidates are second, third or fourth generation lawyers. Their parents are attorneys, and these candidates spent hours looking at law books and/or case files and hearing complaints about “discovery” and “jurisdiction.” As clichéd as these candidates are, they really are a step above the rest when it comes to potential lawyers.
Law can be dull, tedious and aggravating. Ask any lawyer. Better yet, intern for one. Shadowing attorneys and legal internships are the best gauge of whether law school is right for you.
After seeing what typical weeks in the office are like for an attorney, you’ll be able to gauge if law school is a good path for yourself.
2. What practice areas of law interest me?
Picking an area of law is a lot like picking a major. You’ll need to take the requisite courses and experience at a law firm is key. Even with the right background, however, having only one area of law that interests you could be a dilemma.
Job opportunities vary significantly by area of law. Family law and workers’ compensation are some of the more wide-open fields. Government jobs, such as public defenders and district attorneys, are limited by funding shortages and hiring freezes. Other areas of law are highly competitive, such as medical malpractice.
If you have a passion for a specific area of law, that’s great. But do you have a backup plan? With over 1.3 million active members of the American Bar Association (as reported in the 2018 survey), it’s clear that there’s no shortage of attorneys in this country. Your class rank DOES matter and you could lose out on a position to someone else with better networking skills.
If you limit yourself to absolutely only one area of law, you may have to move to a different state for a job or practice in another area. Dig deep and ask yourself if you’d be okay with either of those scenarios.
“You need to have a clear vision of where you want your career to take you, and make sure law school is a necessary step in that direction. A lot of people enter law school after their undergraduate studies because they don't know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Going to law school is stressful and extremely expensive, so it's important to have a plan in place for what you want your career to be like when you finally graduate.”
Criminal Defense Lawyer, Houston
3. Am I prepared for law school classes?
Being top of your class could become a thing of the past when it comes to law school. Most law schools grade on a curve. In other words, your grade will depend on everyone else’s grade. On top of the new grading system, class rank exists. Many law firms will ask what you ranked before hiring you, and being at the bottom of the class could negatively impact your job search.
Another caveat is that law school classes are very different than most other college courses. Many schools use a classroom approach called the Socratic Method. In law school, students are typically selected to be the speaker for a particular case. You’ll present the ins and outs of an assigned case while your professor, essentially, cross-examines you. Though you’ll have some idea when it will be your turn, you don’t typically get advanced notice. Thus, you’ll have to be diligent with your homework and be comfortable with public speaking. Even the best students find the process daunting, and it’s something to keep in the back of your mind.
We encourage you to visit a local law school and ask to sit in on at least one first-year (1L) law course. Though seminars will show you the most interesting classes, a 1L course will give you a better overview of the majority of the courses.
“Law school is a different world. You learn how to read differently, speak differently, and think differently. Law school may be unlike anything you have ever experienced, but you are not alone; you’re surrounded by hundreds of people who have stood exactly where you’re standing during your first year of law school.”
Peter Tragos, Tragos, Sartes & Tragos
4. Are you a good test taker?
Approximately 38% of college students suffer from moderate to high test anxiety. The legal field, however, is unyielding when it comes to accommodating this epidemic of sorts. The first exam hurdle for potential lawyers is the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT.) Your score on that 3.5-hour test is a key criteria for law school admission.
The next testing hurdle is that many law school classes have only one exam at the end of the semester. This test is your one and only source for a grade in the course. That test is intimidating to even confident test takers, and it’s unfortunate that some students’ anxiety will get the better of them.
Lastly, despite the fact that plenty of law courses base their grades on paper submissions, you can’t avoid THE law test: the bar exam. Depending on your state, the bar exam formats vary in length and duration. Regardless, there’s still at least a two-day exam with multiple choice questions and essays that determine if you will receive a license to practice law.
In addition, law students must also take the professional responsibility exam in order to receive a license to practice law.
These exams are costly to take—as are their study materials.
With that in mind, the final question is:
5. Are you financially prepared to go to law school?
Student debt is a huge problem for millennials, in general, but law students are among the most affected. Law school certainly isn’t cheap, unless you’re one of the lucky scholarship recipients. On average, public law schools cost approximately $25,000 per year to attend. Private schools cost an average of $45,000 per year. That cost doesn’t include books, housing, study materials, etc.
There are ways to keep your costs down. Rather than an ivy league law school, you may choose to attend whichever law school offers the most financial aid. Additionally, if you’re certain you want to work in the public sector, there are a few loan forgiveness options to keep in mind.
Overall, this article is meant to be a splash of cold water on anyone who hasn’t given the law school decision its “due diligence.” If your goal in life is to be the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Antonin Scalia, then by all means, go for it!