How to Decide Whether to Go to Law School

How to Decide Whether to Go to Law SchoolLadies, how did you decide whether to go to law school? How did you finance law school — and how old were you when you started law school? For those of you who decided NOT to go to law school, are you happy with your decision? Did anyone get to law school and drop out, or finish law school and decide not to practice law? For those of you who went to law school when you were older, was it a big decision to go back to school? Reader S, in her late 20s, is trying to decide whether to go to law school:

I’m in my late 20s and seriously considering law school. It’s something I’ve had on my radar since for about 10 years now, but finances always got in the way/thinking I was in some way not smart enough for law school because of a lower uni GPA. A master’s in hand and experience working as a paralegal/risk assessment for international programs in universities, and I finally feel ready. Any advice from Corporette readers who went to law school later in life, especially related to finances?

Wow, great question, Reader S — I can’t wait to hear what the readers say. I expect there will be a barrage of DON’T GO TO LAW SCHOOL responses, and might I add my own voice to those to say : Make sure you are going to law school because you like to argue, negotiate, and represent clients — NOT because you like to write or research. Note that a lot of legal work is drudgery, and that there are huge tranches of people with law degrees who a) cannot get work as lawyers and/or b) can barely make enough as a lawyer to pay their bills, including hefty student loans. (For those of you struggling with big debt from school loans, you may want to check out our post about how to pay off big student loans.) Be very sure you want to go to law school for the right reasons.

With that said, here’s my advice on how to decide whether to go to law school:

  • On going to law school as an older student: Good for you! While too many people go “straight through,” some of my best friends in law school were women in their (gasp!) early 30s who’d had significant careers before coming to law school. As you consider different schools, look for “older law student” associations — at Georgetown it was called Older Wiser Law Students (OWLS) — as they may have resources for you. (I was 24 when I went to law school, and I remember reading that it was the average age for students.)
  • Look into 529 plans for yourself, or your parents, or your grandparents. You can get state income tax deductions for what you donate to 529 plans (amounts vary by state; in NY you can deduct $10K per year if you’re filing jointly), and you can change the beneficiary — so you can use it yourself or switch it to your child.
  • Cut your living expenses by as much as possible so you can borrow as little as possible; this older guest post on how to financially prepare for grad school may be of help. Downsize your apartment, get a roommate(s), get acquainted with affordable foods, etc. Be ruthless.
  • One thing to consider, especially since you’ve been a paralegal, is whether your current employer’s benefits include tuition reimbursement. One of my good friends in law school worked as a patent clerk and used her firm’s tuition reimbursement program that, if memory served, paid 25% of her first year’s tuition, 50% of her second year, and 75% of her third year. She had to work a set number of hours at the firm during law school, which made for a difficult balancing act, and she may have had to stay at the firm for a few years after graduation — but if that kind of deal is available to you, strongly consider it.

Readers, how did you decide whether to go to law school? For those of you who decided NOT to go to law school, do you feel like you dodged a bullet? For those of you who decided to go to law school, did you finish? Do you practice now? What are your best tips for mitigating law school loans and cutting living expenses to get used to school again? 

Further Reading:

Image: Pixabay.How to decide whether to go to law school - professional women share tips and tricks (image of books and legal pads)

Trying to decide whether to go to law school? Corporette® readers share how they decided whether to go to law school (or not go), as well as how to swing law school financially.

Comments

  1. Litigator in TX :

    I’m in the don’t go to law school camp, there are a lot of better professions with less stress, and decent pay – become a pharmacist, a dental hygienist, etc. Bottom line, plenty of lawyers make $45K when they get out (if they are lucky enough to get a job!), but have over $200K in debt and are stuck in dead end jobs. Becoming a lawyer no longer guarantees you anything – except massive debt. I know plenty of law school graduates from my T15 law school who didn’t pass the bar, don’t practice, quit, and are now realtors, yoga instructors, public policy legislative aids, etc. Also read this..https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/15/business/lawyers-addiction-mental-health.html

    • Anonymous :

      I’m a litigator too – I’m not disagreeing with you overall, but don’t you think some people go to law school bc they want to do that kind of work? Work isn’t just about money. The kind of person who wants to be (or is considering being) a lawyer is probably not the kind of person who wants to be/can be a dental hygienist — not everyone can deal with people in such a close way, nor work with their hands in such a confined space inside another person; some people WANT jobs where they are at a computer all day.

      • Litigator in TX :

        Absolutely. And there are lots of options for those who want to work at computer all day – project manager, etc. and for those who want to work at a computer and interact with people – marketing, advertising, sales, etc

    • Anon for this :

      This is me. Graduated 2009 with $175k in loans. First job came 9 months after graduation and paid $45k. I’ve been steadily making loan payments every month, and my balance is now at $206k because of interest rates.

      Not a day goes by I don’t regret my choices, even though I couldn’t even have predicted the economy would collapse at the time I signed up for this.

      • Anon for this :

        AND…I’d love to pursue other interests, but I feel tied to the law because it’s the only thing that has a high enough salary for me to make loan payments. (I know, i’m on IBR… but i want this gone before 25 years).

        • Litigator in TX :

          I feel ya girl. I too graduated in 2009 – I honestly think we are the lost generation, most people I know who graduated during the recession have not recovered. The law is such a structured high pressured field, and you’re “supposed to” have certain amount of experience by 3-5 years out, and if you don’t you’re out of the making partner track, etc and basically ruled out from the firm model and un-hirable. God forbid you’re “too experienced” but don’t have a book of business, also…un-hirable because you should have made partner by now. Hate it.

  2. And to add… how old is “too old” to go to law school? If early-30s is old, what about early 40s? Is there an age at which one should give up the ghost?

    • There was a couple of real retired (60s) guys in my class, along with a couple of military retired guys (so they put in their 20 years and retired but they were only in their 40s).

    • I’d say that you should keep in mind that it may take a pretty long time to get to a solid spot in your career, so I would look at the long game. If you’re expecting to be getting ready to retire 10-15 years after you get out of school, it’s probably a bad idea to start a new career in law – you’ll probably never have a good chance at getting comfortable in it. But if you have something waiting for you, for example, you have an established connection to a firm which has basically promised you a job, then I would say you could go a little longer.

    • Gail the Goldfish :

      I’d say it depends. We had a partner at our firm who went to law school very late–I think 50s? But he had had a career in the publishing/entertainment world before law school, and when he became a lawyer, he was doing work related to that (and I think had an easy time with client development as a result of his prior connections). I don’t think I would want to start as a junior associate in a totally new area at a later age.

    • Nontraditional Law :

      I started law school at age 40. I was able to keep working in my profession part-time through law school and returned to it full-time when I finished. I am an attorney for the federal govt now. Being older, schools wanted me and I had scholarships for 50% of tuition. Between that, part-time work and a working spouse, I finished with no debt. Plus I was there because I wanted to be, not because my parents expected it or it was the only thing I could think of. Zero regrets.

    • I graduated when I was 28 and I feel like I’m behind. Now at age 30 most of my friends are hitting a solid point in their careers with about 8 years of experience, and I’m a newbie only 1.5 years in. I get zero credit for the 3 years I worked before law school. I would definitely not want to start over like this in my 40s, but that’s just my personal preference.

  3. 2nd question… so it seems like “going to law school” is all or nothing. In my career, it would be really helpful to have a handful of specific law courses under my belt. But not necessarily the whole degree. Is that a thing? Can folks who are not “in law school” meaningfully learn from and participate in law courses?

    • Anon for This :

      IANAL, but my university had a fairly prestigious law school and I was able to take some cross-registered courses there in grad school. That law school had a JM (Juris Master) program. It’s billed as “providing professionals with a better grounding in law and regulation to achieve professional goals.” The people I knew in that program seemed to find it helpful. They all had very specific goals as to what areas of the law they needed to learn about and were usually doing the degree part-time while continuing their jobs.

      • Just chiming in to say that you should definitely look into JM (Juris Master) programs. Emory has an online JM with concentrations in health law and business law: http://law.emory.edu/academics/jm-degree-program/.

    • Anonymous :

      The problem you’d run into is a lack of foundation. A law school class on health care regulations is taught assuming every student has already studied torts contracts property etc. You can’t just jump in easily. Many universities will let you cross register so an Ed grad student might take education law but you can’t just sign up for interesting things.

    • Anonymous :

      I had a class on patent law in my tech-related Master’s program.

    • Absolutely, yes! I’m in a dual degree program, so I’m enrolled in a law school and a policy school. Plenty of people in the policy school pick-and-choose upper-level classes, which are generally open to students from other schools. Some of them know a heck of a lot more about the subjects at hand than the law students (e.g., a former DOD employee policy student who took a national security law seminar).

      That said, some courses appear closed to students from other schools – e.g., any of the 1L coursework. I’m also not sure about some of the “core” law classes like Business Associations – whether you can take it cross-listed may depend on the school or professor.

  4. I say go for whatever reason you want to go, so long as you can do so without taking out a loan. Harvard offering you a full ride but you just want to be a public defender? Do it. State school offers a part time program so you can stay employed and pay tuition from your regular salary? Do it. Some people just have the itch to be a lawyer. If you’re one of those, and you’re never going to be happy until you have the JD, just do it so you don’t have any regrets.

    • Anonymous :

      This is what I tell people – if you can do it without going into debt (or very minimal debt <$5k), by all means, go for it.

      Otherwise, hard pass.

      • Litigator in TX :

        Agree. If you can get a full ride or close it, the downside is much much less, and you can always leave the law without being stuck with massive debt, and try something else.

  5. I never thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but ended up changing my tune after a few years working. It was the best decision I’ve ever made — I was unfulfilled and unhappy in my prior profession, and a couple years into lawyering I’m still excited to get out of bed every morning (even on the hard days).

    That said, two pieces of advice:

    1. Don’t go to law school unless you are 100% sure you want to be a lawyer and practice law. Talk to everyone you meet in the profession about their careers, what their every day looks like, how they got where they did. The people I know who stopped practicing generally didn’t take the time to make sure they were making the right decision before going to law school, got their law degree because they wanted to work in public policy, etc.

    2. Don’t go unless you get into (and hopefully get a decent scholarship from) a top-tier school. The job market isn’t easy for attorneys, and it is hard to find the kind of job opportunities that most people hope for out of law school if you don’t go to a top school. Getting a big scholarship will help alleviate things down the line debt-wise if you’re unable to get the type of job you want.

    Good luck!

    • Cosigning all of this. One addition/personal caveat. Figure out what “top law school” means in regard to your intended goals. If it means top law firm, big law, etc: yes, the objectively top law law schools T14 and Tier 1 will be the best for you. If it means smaller market, public service, etc., figure out what that means. Does it mean smaller, lower ranked school that has an excellent reputation in your intended market? Then consider that school, too. Often, smaller markets favor their local schools. Don’t let US News define top law school for you.

      • *clarification: public service doesn’t mean you can slide by with a meh degree or that they don’t care about T14–they certainly do!–but know the ROI before you jump in.

        Former public service atty with a full freight scholarship at a small, lower ranked regional school here.

      • Anon Atty :

        This. Regional schools really matter in some states, particularly those states where there is only one law school. If your intended school has in-state tuition, consider working there for a year or so to qualify. The difference between in state and out of state was almost $50,000 over 3 years so I was very grateful to live in that state already. For those that didn’t, you only had to live there a year to establish residency.

      • Definitely be aware of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the law schools you apply to. For example, where I live there is a T20 law school (my alma mater) and two lower tier schools (one in-state, one in a neighboring state) that produce the vast majority of our bar members. The T20 school is a good regional school, and if you want to work in a larger firm in this state or if you want a shot at jobs in larger cities nearby that’s the school to go to. On the other hand, if you want a more skills-based education, want to work in a smaller firm or smaller community, or want to do public interest (government or non-profit work) in the state, you will be just fine going to the in-state lower tier school because there are more opportunities for practical experience (clinics, internships, etc.) that will let you network locally.

        One of the benefits of being out of school and working for a few years before law school is the opportunity to really do good research on the schools you might apply to. You probably have connections to alumni of multiple schools (either because you worked directly with them as a paralegal or because someone you know has a friend/sibling/coworker/spouse/neighbor they can put you in touch with). Take advantage of that network! Talk to the people and find out as much as you can that will make you better informed about what you might want to practice and where you might want to go to school and the realities of those choices.

    • I also agree with this. If you are seriously interested in going, do it. The advice about planning and trying to get a scholarship is crucial, in my opinion. I started my first year of law school at 30 and just graduated. I attended a Tier 1 school on a scholarship that ended up covering about 85% of my tuition. I also had an abysmal undergrad GPA (like 2.4). However, I decided before even applying that I was going to study really hard for the LSAT, apply to lots of schools and see if I could get enough scholarship money to make it worth it for me. That worked out well for me. I also drew some other hard, but realistic lines for myself. For example, I decided if I did really poorly my first year and lost my scholarship that I would not finish and I would go back to my teaching job. That didn’t happen and now I am taking the bar in a few weeks and starting a job in a new career after Labor Day. If you create a clear plan and boundaries for yourself and are willing to stick to it, in many ways being older can actually be an advantage. If you have any questions or I can give any other advice, please let me know!

    • YES to this: “Don’t go to law school unless you are 100% sure you want to be a lawyer and practice law.”

      Don’t assume you’ll be one of the exceptions, one of the people who uses the JD for some other paying job. Most people who aren’t academics have to leave for another field or get another degree if they stop practicing. Outside of the profession people probably won’t be hiring you because of a JD.

    • Anonymous :

      +1

      I went because I wanted to become a judge. I still do. Still a pipedream. :D

      The job is stressful, but I found a practice I enjoy (most days). I took out loans but would still do it again (might RA though, to save money)

    • Anonymous BigLaw Associate :

      Agree with this as well. Could have written it myself!

      Responding to some of Kat’s questions above, I went to law school when I was older (early 30s). I got about a 50% scholarship to a T14 school. I had worked for a long time in a reasonably well paying profession and paid for most of the rest of law school myself. There were some unexpected tuition hikes, so I had to take out a few small loans. I didn’t qualify for federal student loans, so I had to take private loans which made me shudder. I paid them off as soon as possible.

      I am still practicing after 5 years and enjoy my job. I am a litigator at a biglaw firm, and I don’t see changing jobs any time soon. I like both the pay and the type of work I do.

      • Anonymous BigLaw Associate :

        I should add that I also worked 25-30 hours a week during my 2L and 3L years to pay for living expenses. I worked at a law firm…not sure what my title would have been really. I did source code/technical reviews and I also did some document translation for FCPA investigations.

  6. +1 to don’t go to law school because you like to research and write. Private practice, at least, is in no way like an academic career.

    Relatedly, in my experience, if you’re at all prone to self-doubt or impostor syndrome, the competitive atmosphere of law school (and then private practice, especially in a big firm) may only exacerbate it. There are people who thrive in this kind of environment, but try to take a look around and be honest with yourself about whether you’re likely to be one of them.

    • Maybe don’t go because you like to research and write and hate confrontation, but please don’t go because you “like to argue” — so many people go to law school for that reason and they often make really crappy lawyers. Arguing isn’t the problem, but it’s just as terrible a reason. There are jobs where you can do nothing but research and write as a lawyer and there are jobs where you can just argue for the sake of it, and in my opinion you’ll have more options if you’re in the first camp to be a happy and successful person than in the second.

    • Anonymous :

      Related–if you are prone to self-doubt and impostor syndrome, what jobs are a good fit?

    • Just to add a different perspective–I’m an appellate litigator, and my practice is almost exactly like law school. I research and write for a living. I adore it. Most lawyers don’t do what I do, but it is possible to have a lawyer job you love if you like reading and writing.

  7. LadyLitigator :

    If you are working as a paralegal you might as well be a lawyer – the stress is the same but the pay and room for growth are way better. I changed careers (from teaching) and went to law school in my 30s. I paid off my student loans in three years, and ten years later I am a shareholder in a busy law firm. However, I worked my tail off, and my first job was low paid ($48,000). I stuck it out, because I wanted to be a lawyer. It doesn’t work for everyone, however. Some of my classmates still haven’t found work in the legal profession. One of my cohort worked in a snooker club after law school and just passed the last year (nine years after graduating). I think the students that succeed in today’s tough job market are willing to make sacrifices, have good people skills and are more than just document reviewers – you really need to want to succeed.

  8. I think you need to consider the middle 50% of the class at each school and where they go. I mean, many schools point to the one kid who went to Skadden (and then lasted 2 years b/c it’s biglaw and awful). But at my T25 law school, plenty of people made ~50K. And half of the class is in the bottom of the class.

    If you are game for that and the location that entails, go for it.

    But don’t go into it thinking that you’ll be the person on law review who gets the one top job or that going to Harvard will get you 200K a year for life. I know people from Harvard working in Morristown along with Seton Hall grads. FWIW, the Seton Hall grads seem very happy with those jobs and a loud contingent of the Harvard people either are bitter about not being at Cravath or feel like they were supposed to be setting the world on fire and are just worker bees and it’s turned out all wrong. And every small town in the US needs prosecutors, public defenders, and traffic court judges and they all come from law schools that were likely elsewhere (even if they are in the same state — I know a lot of UVA prosecutors and judges in smaller counties in VA).

    If you can project out 20 years at the median of your class and are OK with the location, that sounds about right. Law schools loans last a long time, as does the misery if you’re not totally into it.

    Signed,
    21 years out and I’m still going :)

    • seton hall grad :

      just chiming in to say hi! wasn’t sure there were any others of us on this board :)

    • Definitely look at the middle students rather than the top ones. The very top and very bottom of the class are where the biggest differences are between schools on the rankings. But most students will be in the middle of the class somewhere, and that’s what you should be looking at. Do those students pass the bar? Do those students get good jobs? Do those students have opportunities for summer jobs and clinical experience and writing for journals and participating in extracurricular and cocurricular activities? Does the school look out for their middle-of-the-pack students or just the top ones?

  9. Be brutally realistic about where you can get in, how you’re likely to do there, and where you can get hired afterward.

    I went to law school for all the wrong reasons – namely, I graduated with a liberal arts degree and not much of an idea of what else to do with myself. I graduated almost ten years ago, and I’m still practicing in biglaw and have been extremely happy. But in general, I don’t advise people to do what I did – particularly if you’d not admitted to a top-tier school. In fact, I typically don’t advise people to go to law school at all unless they’re accepted to a top-tier school *or* a school that is well-known in the city/region where they want to practice. You don’t have to get into a T10 if you want to practice in a regional market and you get into the best or one of the best schools in that market. For example, if you want to practice in Atlanta and you get into UGA, or Dallas and you get into UT Austin *and* you perform very well at that school, you should be fine. But when I talk to people whose dream is the DOJ, or a US attorney job, or biglaw in NY or DC and the best school they’ve been admitted to is a regional school that isn’t highly ranked and doesn’t have a national reputation, then my advice is usually to find another dream. I know that’s harsh, but very hard for someone from a school like that to get into a highly selective job (not impossible, but hard).

    I took loans for my law school education and they were paid off within five years of graduation. I think a lot of people are led astray by scholarship offers from lower-tier schools, and it’s important to really dig into what you’re getting. For example, many of those offers require that you maintain a very high GPA, which can be tough with the 1L curve. And it’s also critical to look at where recent graduates have gotten jobs, because if your legal education is free but no one will hire you, then you’ve wasted three years.

    Typically, if you get into a top-tier school, you should take out loans and go there rather than a poorly ranked school that is offering you $$ (subject to my note about regional schools and markets) – particularly because many of the top-tier schools charge full freight but offer loan forgiveness and other support for public service graduates. My law school was a gut-wrenching $55K annually, but if you went into public service for 10 years, your loans were fully forgiven (and the program was much more straightforward than the government’s program), every student that was doing a public service internship during 1L or 2L summer received a stipend, and there was a dedicated career services office for public interest grads.

    The upshot is basically that you need to be very, very realistic about your odds in terms of post-graduation employment – not just whether you’ll get a job, but where, and how much it will pay. I know it can be hard to let go of the dream of law school, but if you can’t get into a school that can offer you a very good shot at a job that you will want to do and can afford to take, then you should dig into what’s driving that dream and find another way to satisfy it. Of course there are successful lawyers who didn’t get into a top law school, or even the best school in their area. I work with an amazing GC who went to night school at a school that was not at all well-ranked even in her own city, and she’s had a great career. But I think it’s unwise to make a $200,000 decision – not to mention the opportunity cost of 3 years in law school – on the assumption that you’ll be a unicorn. You probably won’t.

    • Diana Barry :

      +1. I got a liberal arts degree (I think about 50% of my law school class were history majors) and went to law school because I didn’t know what to do with myself. HOWEVER:

      1. My parents paid for law school; and
      2. I went to a T10; and
      3. I was employed in biglaw after graduation.

      Note that even with #3, when I got out of biglaw in my 6th year, I took a 60% pay cut. 9 years later I am still making the same amount as I was then. So in my case there was crazy salary growth, then a massive cut and no growth since.

      My school was similar to cbackson’s (maybe the same?) because of the public interest loan forgiveness program. Several of my classmates took advantage of that program and were very happy about it.

      • Was your graduation robe an unusual color and was your law school adjacent to a famous falafel restaurant?

        • Gail the Goldfish :

          This was my school. My understanding is they have tweaked the public interest program so it now more closely aligns with the government’s program. Had some friends that were not happy about that.

        • have you hadthe fries that just moved there? :

          hahahahahah I went to this school for undergrad but that is a great description

        • Anonymous :

          Man, I miss that falafel.

  10. New Tampanian :

    I cosign a lot of the comments regarding “don’t go unless you want to practice law.” My industry is one of those glitzy industries and people think they want to go to law school to get into it. I always tell people thinking of going as a route to get into the industry not to bank on breaking in and to make sure they actually want to be a lawyer generally before going. I took a very curvy path to where I am and if I hated being a lawyer generally, I would never have gotten here. Most people will not get a job in their dream field at first. So understanding that, you make a risk assessment.

    In addition, I tell people to find the school that works for them financially. Go to the “best” school you can afford. If that means going part time, do that. If you want to get into a specific field and there are law schools that have a program that focuses on that, go to the top one of those. For my industry, networking is the key to breaking in. If a law school is not in T-14 but has a very strong network of alum in the industry and offers networking opportunities, that may be the way to go especially if it is more affordable.

    • This makes me think of the large number of people I know who wanted to go to law school to be “entertainment lawyers” and had no idea of what that meant other than wearing nice suits and going to lunch with NFL players.

      • Former 22204 :

        I think I could be great at that, but I fear I’d just be Lloyd and not Ari, in the agent area. As it is, I am Lloyd and not Ari, just as a lawyer.

  11. Anonymous :

    I wanted to get a degree in clinical psychology but got a job at the local district attorney’s office with my BA in pysch, working with crime victims. During college in the 80s, I thought those people going to law school to get rich were ridiculous. Well, after a few years working for the prosecutor, I decided to go to law school and I have been in indigent defense for over 20 years. No regrets as I love it. But, TODAY, I think it is probably a mistake to take out loans for law school or even to EXPECT to make a living in law so I would advise young people to rethink it.

  12. I’m in the Don’t Go camp. I have a few “unlesses.”
    (1) You get a full ride or near-full ride,
    (2) You get into a top 10,
    (3) You come from a family of lawyers and have thus have someone to work for, even temporarily,
    (4) You have worked closely with lawyers, in a particular practice of law, and YOU ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT THEY DO EVERYDAY and you still want to do it.
    That’s it.
    There are very, very few people that fall outside of those “unlesses” and they’re very unique and know who they are.

    • Senior Attorney :

      I agree with all of this, especially number 4.

      • Senior Attorney :

        And I would add:

        (5) If you are going into private practice, you are aware of and willing to engage in all of the non-law businessy things that it entails.

    • If you’ve got No. 1, you can disregard No. 2. If you go for free, it opens tons of doors and you will be ok with a $50-$90K job and will probably be great at it with the extra lawyer training, and heck maybe it will be even better than that and you’ll love being a lawyer. If you have to pay for law school, make sure it’s to a top 1, 2 or 3 school (i.e., don’t pay for anything but Yale or Harvard). I think most people get in trouble by deciding to pay half going to a school ranked, like, top 25.

      If you go for free at a lower ranked school, try hard to make it in the geographic area you want to be in long term.

      • Anonymous :

        Disagree. My scholarship was nearly a full ride (all scholarships were for the same $ amount). While I was in school tuition nearly doubled but my scholarship did not, so I ended up taking out loans. The legal jobs in which I was interested all required a Harvard, Stanford, or Yale degree, so I ended up taking a job that I could also have gotten with a PhD, which would have been completely free and would have offered a wider range of career possibilities.

      • I think it really depends on what you want to do. Highly competitive jobs are going to value the top-tier degree that you paid for over the lower-tier degree you got for free.

        • This. The public interest law firm I worked for had people with degrees from Penn, Columbia, Stanford, Yale, Harvard (..including one person with degrees from Stanford, Yale, AND Harvard..) scrambling for positions that start at 65k/year.

          If your full ride was to UVA, you might have been ok choosing the lower ranked school.

    • This, and also: (5) You understand what the process is for getting a job after law school.

      I went into law school with no idea what a journal was, what OCI was, or that your summer jobs are the way you get hired after law school. Being on a journal sounded like an unpaid English editing job and I thought, ‘why on Earth would I do that?’ and didn’t even apply. I didn’t know what OCI was and missed the deadline to sign up and had to struggle to find a job 1L year. I didn’t even know the extent of my ignorance about the process of getting a job after law school or the fact that I had to start making an effort to do that basically immediately when I arrived instead of waiting 2 years. Don’t be me.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        I was the same but I was working at a law firm starting the summer before law school. You definitely need to know all the things Torin mentioned because no one teaches you that in law school. I skipped most of it to devote more hours to my paralegal job. I think it worked out for me because I got great experiences that local (not big law) employers cared about. Outside of having real legal experience though, those extracurricular’s matter. I did trial team and had no idea that wasn’t viewed as favorably by law firms as law review or moot court. No idea why, I got a ton of experience arguing in front of real judges.

      • Delta Dawn :

        +1 to this. Law school culture/requirements are an alternate universe, and one that I knew nothing about until it was too late. I didn’t even consider any journals (why would I do that? so much work and for what?), didn’t sign up for OCIs because I planned to help with my family’s (non-legal) business that summer, and didn’t find out until sometime mid-2L year that that’s how you GET A JOB for later. Shoutout to Career Services, by the way, for never ever explaining any of that. If you don’t come from a family of lawyers, or if you don’t have some way of knowing the secret language of law school, you really have to make sure to find these things out ahead of time. It turned out great for me solely because of personal connections and a fortunate foray into trial competitions– otherwise, my ignorance of how to play the game would have been disastrous.

        • Anonymous :

          Don’t get me started on how incredibly unhelpful “Career Services” was at my school.

        • anonforthis :

          I don’t get why career services has to be so terrible. I only knew to do OCI because I had friends that knew what it was and told me I should do it if I wanted a firm job. When I went to career services for “help” on my resume, the woman there told me not to bother applying because no firm would hire me. Regardless of that just being terrible advice period (and causing unnecessary terror and stress), I received 14 offers from big law firms.

        • Rainbow Hair :

          Career services told me “there are no jobs in California.” … I am just pretty sure that’s not true.

  13. Anonymous :

    I went straight through to law school at 22, mainly because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and my undergrad degree was from a very good school but not in a very practical field. Also I liked reading, writing and debating, and I thought it would be nice to make a lot of money as a lawyer. Those are all BAD reasons for going to law school.

    More dumb decisions – I turned down a full ride (including room and board) to a Top 25ish public school in my flyover country home state to go to a similarly ranked private school in my undergrad city at full price because I wanted to stay near my friends and then-BF (who I broke up with during my first year). Fortunately, after I’d put down my deposit at the full price school, I was offered an 80% tuition scholarship at a similarly ranked private school nearby and chose to go there instead. It still wasn’t as good as the deal I’d turned down, since I had to cover some tuition and my living expenses, but I graduated with about $25K of debt instead of over $100K. That was lucky break #1.

    The great recession occurred while I was in law school. I was still able to get a summer associate position, but I was no-offered along with approximately half my summer class and graduated without a job, despite being on law review and near the top of my class. I worked odd jobs to pay the bills for about a year and then somehow landed a position in Big Law about a year after graduation (by that point the economy had picked up considerably, but it was still rare to go from the unemployment line to Big Law firms). That was lucky break #2. I worked there for more than five years, and managed to pay off my loans as well as save about $400K since I pretty much continued living like a student.

    At that point my husband’s career brought us to a low cost of living area, where we were able to buy a ‘forever’ house in cash with my savings. Between our lack of debt and my husband’s stable job with a good salary, we were in the fortunate position of not really needing my salary at all and so I chose to leave the legal profession and pursue a very low-paying career in something I’ve always been passionate about. After the birth of our first child, I cut back even more and now only work part-time. My salary is what most people here would consider peanuts (I’m pretty sure there are posters who regularly spend more on a two week vacation than I earn in a year) but I love what I do and love that I have lots of time to devote to my family. And because I contributed so much to our family’s finances during my Big Law days and I still earn *something*, my husband and I don’t have the financial power imbalance I’ve heard lots of SAHMs complain about.

    Overall, even though I didn’t practice for very long, it worked out really well for me and I don’t regret my brief legal career. Big Law was stressful and I never could have done it with a kid, but as a childless person in my 20s I was able to enjoy the upsides of having an interesting, intellectually challenging and incredibly lucrative job. But I know I got tremendously lucky and if things hadn’t gone my way with the last minute scholarship or the Big Law firm taking a chance on me when I was unemployed, I could have easily ended up struggling financially for decades. I caution people not to go to law school unless you have a better reason for going than I did, and you are more aware of the risks of taking on so much debt than I was (or you have a scholarship).

  14. Anonymous :

    This always offends people but for those of you who have eyes on making money (160k-180k upon graduation etc.) — don’t do it unless you have an interest in business. There are WAY TOO MANY people in law who went bc their degree in English wasn’t going to get them (immediately) the 6 figures they wanted; and they were good students who get into a T14 so they went. And got a biglaw job. Except THEN they realize, that NYC (DC; Chicago; LA; Dallas etc.) biglaw services big time banking/finance/corporate clients – whether you are in litigation or corporate or real estate or whatever. If you don’t care (or can’t see yourself) caring about drafting disclosure statements or litigating when those disclosure statements fall apart and don’t disclose everything about a corporate restructuring and some interest rate that wasn’t clearly disclosed is material to some investment bank — and instead you went bc you like to write and had some vague notion of helping people — DO NOT GO. I was one of the ones who went with a finance undergrad (and thus was employable in finance) and am constantly stunned by how many people (even senior associates/partners) don’t care at all about the underlying issues. It’ll be a long 40 yrs of counting the money if you don’t care about what biglaw (and even boutique law/midlaw) does.

    • Senior Attorney :

      YES YES YES.

      Litigation is, at the end of the day, fighting about the money.

      • Anonymous :

        At the biglaw (midlaw/boutique law) levels at least. My post above is limited to those things bc that’s all I know. I’m not saying no one should go to law school ever – I’m just saying that if you’re going expecting a paycheck of 180k upon graduation, you had better be interested in the underlying business you’re representing — or else it’ll be a long 40 yrs or (like most of my peers) you’ll wash out in 4 yrs and find yourself in human resources for some company in 4 yrs (and I’m not criticizing that but you don’t need to go to 3 yrs of law school, 4 yrs of biglaw and potentially significant debt for most HR jobs).

    • Litigator in TX :

      Agreed.

  15. I suspect the letter writer isn’t American due to their use of “uni” rather than college (or maybe university). If so, how might this change the equation?

    • Anonymous :

      I would say there is an enormous difference if this is a Canadian.

      • Never too many shoes... :

        Canadians generally do not say “uni” – much more common in the UK or Australia.

      • Shopaholic :

        I think there’s a difference if you are going to law school somewhere else. Even though law school is pricy in Canada (esp compared to other programs), it’s not at all comparable to most law schools in the US.

    • Anonymous BigLaw Associate :

      She may or may not qualify for federal financial aid/loans. There are private loans available, but you have to choose wisely. I was in this situation, but I found that I got rates that weren’t that much higher than federal loans since I had a credit history. And after graduation, I was able to refinance very favorably. All things to consider.

      • Anonymous BigLaw Associate :

        *I made the assumption she was applying to schools int he US. On second thought, that could be wrong.

  16. Anonymous :

    I went to law school quite young and met my husband at law school and we are about five years out right now and enjoy a reasonably good standard of living. No debt.

    I grew up poor and was concerned that I could at any time be responsible for supporting a sibling with a significant disability as well as a younger sibling. For me law was easy and quick to get into and a short program. It allowed me to find a husband (go ahead and judge me but I was definately looking for a life partner).

    Currently my job allows me to support two households (mine and partially my parents, and I employ my younger sister as well as pay for some of her life expenses. I don’t hate what I do and I do a lot of free work in my spare time that legitimately helps people.

    I wish I had maybe spoken to a career counsellor and explored some other options but I was poor and young and law was something I had heard of.

    • I think it’s wonderful that it worked out for you. But I also know people who went for the same reasons in similar circumstances and now have relatively low paying jobs and massive debt. My law school – not the best ranked – had a sizeable portion of the student body who were the first in the family to go to college or grad school. Many thought they were going to graduate with a secure future; many didn’t realize how much where you go to law school matters, that you need to network your butt off your first year to secure your job for your second summer to have a job after graduation, that not all lawyers “make money,” etc. A good chunk never made it past first year or even first semester and are probably still paying their loan for that time learning experience. I always advise anyone thinking about law school to contact alums of the school and meet them for a cup of coffee. It can be an eye opening experience.

  17. I am from Brazil. I entered the law school when I was 16 years old – now I’m 17. Of course, the laws are different, but knowing how they are made, how the country and how the legislature, executive, and judiciary works is amazing. Here we study the political system in the world/country/state/city, economics (world/country), sociology and philosophy. At the first semester we study the law history, the law theory – wich is my favourite one, but is so difficult! -, juridical antropology and so on. But there is a problem, at least in my country: the indoctrination (made by the left, since they are in power now). Teachers who tell you who you should vote, how you should think and this is something to think about before you chosse your college.

    If serves as incentive, there is a old lady, in her late 60s, who is in the 7th-8th semestre.

    Good luck.

    • Anonymous :

      +1.

      Part of why I went to law school is because one of my dream jobs was to become a judge. The other part was because I wanted to know “the rules” and how the system “works”. Coming from an immigrant family, it was always frustrating to me that everything (citizenship, taxes, etc) seemed so complicated and foreign and figured that one person in the family should be able to understand it.

      As a corporate lawyer, it doesn’t mean I understand tax law, but law school and practicing at least gave me a foundation for knowing how to issue spot, know when to call a specialist (be able to pay a specialist), etc. If that’s important to you, can’t discount that.

      Also, I knew that whatever I did in life, I’d be working a lot, using my brain and putting in effort, so I figured I’d do it in a way that’s rewarded (vs. teaching, where it’s not).

  18. Anonymous :

    Huh. I would say the opposite of what Kat said about writing and research vs. arguing and negotiating. In my experience, far too many people go to law school because they love arguing and they want to be the kind of lawyer they see on TV, always in court passionately defending their clients. In reality, most lawyers – even litigators – spend the majority of their time doing legal research and writing. I think ideally you should probably like both, but if you like researching and writing but not arguing, there are plenty of areas of law that don’t involve trial work. If you don’t like researching and writing I don’t think you’re going to enjoy any kind of legal practice.

    • Anonattorney :

      Yep. Don’t go to law school if you like what lawyers do in TV shows. Go to law school if you like writing, being meticulous, scouring thousands of pages of documents and case law, and organizing thoughts/projects/arguments.

    • I thought the same thing. I am a litigator and I spend 80% of my time researching and writing, and 20% actually arguing. If you don’t like to research and write, I would think law would be a miserable career.

      • +1.

      • Upon further consideration, I think the point up above that a business/corporate law practice is going to be somewhat difficult for you if you don’t have an underlying interest in how businesses are run identifies the real issue. You can read or write a lot in some litigation practices, but it’s still going to be hard if you think the underlying subject matter is boring.

    • I’m a corporate lawyer and I spend nearly zero percent of my time doing legal research (I haven’t logged into Westlaw or Lexis in five years). And the writing I do is not what people mean when they say that they “like writing.” (Corporate drafting is its own thing.) The vast majority of my job is either counseling clients or negotiating.

      • +1. Plus all of the time on the phone! When I was starting out, I never realized how much time corporate lawyers spend on conference calls. It is 60%+ of my day.

      • +1 and I am not in an attorney position anymore, but instead contract administration/management.

        However, I knew that I didn’t have any interest in legal research and writing in the litigation world when I entered law school (despite going to law school for the dumb reason of not sure what I want to do next, but I want to make more money than the $28k I was making working in sports). When I summering with a firm (medium sized ? – ~ 500) and told them that I was interested in the corporate finance group and wouldn’t come on in the litigation group, I thought they were going to pass out. Luckily, they had a spot in that group and despite hating the lifestyle, I liked the work. I moved to an attorney position negotiating contracts in a state agency, took some time off law, and am now in a contract administrator role that I really like, but yea, my day is counseling internal stakeholders/customers and negotiating contracts. I am pretty involved on the business side and that is exactly how I wanted it to be.

      • Law is a great first career :

        When I was a patent attorney, I had to do research maybe twice in 11 years. Each time, my first call was to the firm librarian who basically did all my research for me. She had the skills, the relationship with the firm’s lexisnexis rep, and knew more about the esoteric topic than I did. Plus, her turnaround was ridiculously fast! I’d have all the relevant case law within 24 hours and, if I had follow-ups, she’d answer in 2-4 hours. She cost 25% of my billable rate. There was absolutely no reason for me to do legal research when I was a lawyer.

    • Fair enough. I feel like I excel at academic writing and breezier writing (such as blogging), but am mediocre at argumentative writing — so I was great at law school and early BigLaw practice (providing assistance to the top lawyers by writing academic memos and sourcing footnotes and the like) but never quite made the leap I needed to actually be a good lawyer on my own.

  19. I decided not to go to law school. In my early 30s, and there’s very little I can’t do in my policy job without a law degree.

    That said, I think law schools really hurt themselves by not being more flexible with part-time programs. I was able to attend graduate school at night, 2 classes a semester. When I looked into part-time law programs it was 4 nights, minimum (DC area). That’s just not feasible for students with work or family obligations. If I could take classes 2 nights a week, I probably would do it anyway, and just take classes for 6+ years.

    • Senior Attorney :

      Yes and employers hurt themselves by not looking at students who went to law school part time.

      My husband went to law school at night while working full time as an engineer. The only school that offered night classes was not a name-brand school, obviously. (This was back before the earth was cool but it’s still the case today.) Many, many years later he was one of the top couple of practitioners in his specialty in our town, and the biggest firm in town approached him about joining as a partner, only to drop him like a hot potato when they discovered where he’d gone to school. Crazy…

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        Law is so snobby. Drives me nuts.

        • This. This is why I am unhappy as a lawyer, in a nutshell.

          I loved being a prosecutor and a small town criminal defense lawyer. I wish I hadn’t paid as much to do it as I did, because I ended up leaving for a higher-paid government lawyer job in my region, where things are definitely snobbier, and I feel out of place because of it.

    • anon a mouse :

      It would be a way to pay as you go and not rack up a ton of loans, too.

  20. I work in law admissions. I have about a zillion thoughts on this question, but it all comes down to: no law school is the right answer for everyone. Only YOU can figure out what law school fit, and at what price, and what career outcomes make sense for your own career and life goals. Also: MAX OUT your LSAT takes. One or two points can often mean big scholarship money and admission to more selective schools. The LSAC just announced they are adding more LSAT administrations and have taken away the max three takes in two years rule, so if you can handle taking the test a few times, DO IT. Also: when you get into law school, still take the June LSAT. If your score goes up, negotiate for more scholarship money at your current school, and at any schools who suddenly have room off the wait list for your new and improved score. If you live in a city where the LSAC hosts a law school forum (fair), definitely go. They have a full day of programming and it’s the only law school fair that generally represents all ABA accredited law schools. The DC one is on Saturday!

  21. My general advice is that if you want to go, make sure it’s to a T14 school (and as other posters have mentioned, you think you can do well there (top half of the class)) and actually want to practice law, or make sure that you have at least a partial, if not a full ride, from a lower tier school. Law school debt is serious, and unless you’re top third from a T14 school, it’s going to be really hard to get a BigLaw job and the commensurate salary.

    For another data point, I thought I wanted to be an investment banker, interviewed in NYC, realized I hated NYC, hated excel, and generally didn’t like the people I was meeting. My last year of college someone pointed out that rather than consulting, which I was considering, I could still do M&A deals from the legal side and do meaningful, front-page of the paper work from a market outside of NYC (which I think is harder to do in banking vs. law). I went in knowing that was what I wanted to do. I went to a T14 school, top 10% of my class, my parents (thankfully) paid my tuition, and I got a BigLaw job doing corporate M&A for a top firm and I love my job (senior associate here) and my colleagues. So, if you have an actual plan other than “I like to read and write and argue and everyone tells me I would be a good lawyer” I say go for it. Just be smart about school choice and frankly, office/employer choice. If I didn’t love my co-workers, my job would be miserable.

  22. Anonymous :

    Don’t go unless you can get into a T14 (not Georgetown – so really only T10 school). Law school isn’t rocket science and if you can outwork the crowd, you can get into the top 10%, law review etc. With those things, there is no reason that you can’t get 2 summer associate gigs (after 1L and 2L) making $3400/wk. $3400/wk for 16 wks (~8 each summer since summer programs are short now) is $55k or ~40k after taxes. So if your parents aren’t paying anything and you have no grants/scholarships etc. — at 70k/yr for a top school, your debt would be 210k total – 40k from summer earnings = $170k. 170k in debt for a 30 yr loan at 6% comes out to $1000/month — totally manageable given that you’ll have a biglaw offer starting at 180k and bonuses on top. I think it’s all very doable IF you go to a T10 school and know you’re the type that’ll work 24-7. And as the poster above says, if you have an interest in finance.

    • Anonattorney :

      So, this comes across as extremely smug to me. Just sayin’.

      • Anonymous :

        Why is it smug? It’s math. As for the rest – yeah law school isn’t rocket science and if you can get yourself admitted to a Harvard or Columbia or Penn, there is NO reason why you can’t out work 90% of the class to get to the top 10% at which points the biglaw doors open more securely (typically you don’t need to be top 10% at those schools for biglaw but given what happened in 2008-09, it’s better to be safer and be as high up as possible even at those schools).

        • Anonattorney :

          I’m assuming you are writing from personal experience. I agree that it’s very important to be a hard worker, and that yes, you can get pretty far if you just show up and work hard.

          But you do realize, I hope, that the “math” you’re talking about is an extremely small percentage of people who apply to law school. Harvard law school’s acceptance rate is around 15%. And then you’re suggesting that you need to get yourself to the top 10%. It’s just your tone: “there’s no reason” . . . . obviously there are lots of reasons why not everyone ends up in the top 10% at Harvard law.

        • You don’t need to be anywhere near the top 10% to get a biglaw job if you go to HYCCSN. I went to one of those schools and now sit on an alumni board, and literally something like 65% of the class is at AmLaw 50 firms. If you drop to AmLaw 100, it’s almost 80%.

          • Anonymous :

            Yep. The getting into a top 10% at Harvard/Yale/Chicago etc. is just belt and suspenders – in case a 2008-09 crash happens again. If you’re ok chancing it – then go to one of the top 10 schools and cruise – you’ll end up in the top 25-50% with a biglaw job.

      • Anonymous :

        Also, very very very few firms offer 1L SA gigs that pay market. Even at Harvard, maybe a dozen people had one.

        • Anonymous :

          There are few but they are out there. I got one coming out of Penn 1L – but I had to go to a branch office of a firm in a not so desirable city. It was still worth it since that job paid a decent chunk of my 2L tuition and limited some of my loans for the following year – not to mention gave me something different on my resume so it was easier to interview for 2L SA in a major market.

          • Anonymous :

            They do exist, just not in the quantity necessary to make the above “there is no reason that you can’t get 2 summer associate gigs (after 1L and 2L)” statement true.

    • This post is unhinged.

      There’s a reason that not everyone can be above average.

    • Anonymous :

      or maybe you’ll spend thousands of dollars to get a good LSAT score and move across the country for a top school blowing all your savings. and then the economy will crash again and 1L summers will again cease to exist. in the meantime your loan interest rates will skyrocket to 8%+ and you have a 50/50 chance at a 2L summer job. if you do get a summer job you’ll have a 50/50 chance of being no offered. then you’ll take out more loans to support yourself while studying for the bar AND still be applying for jobs at the same time. best case scenario you have experience in finance or science and DO get a job. however, due to the increasing taxes, maybe even rolled back salaries (and it will be 5 years before you ever see a bonus) your entire salary goes to minimum loan payments, housing, and increasing medical care costs. Then you have a heart attack at 45 from the stress, right around the same time those loans are finally paid off.

      • Anonymous :

        And how many people did this happen to who were top 10% from Harvard or Columbia or the like? What I’m saying is – in this industry, going to a top 10 school AND being top 10% provides a lot of reassurance financially; more than just going to a top 10 school and graduating wherever you graduate.

        • Anonymous :

          For life-planning and major decision-making purposes like the OP’s, it is impossible to predict with certainty that you will end up in the top 10% of your law school class at any school, no matter how hard you work. This is especially true at the very top law schools.

          • Anonymous :

            Am I the only one who thought my “very top law school” just wasn’t that hard? Of course I was coming from an undergrad with a harsh curve – so I was used to competing since only 20% of the class was going to get A’s in undergrad. Law school was comparatively easier – moreso bc all the “I got a history degree and didn’t know what I wanted to do so I’m in law school” people weren’t particularly competitive.

          • Anonattorney :

            I’m not sure what you’re trying to say with your posts, though. What is the takeaway? It seems to me that it’s either:

            (1) that “very top law school” grads aren’t actually that impressive, i.e., that they are not really any better than your average law grad; which must mean that they only get into law school because of other skewed credentials and not merit; or

            (2) that you’re just an amazing student/lawyer/person; which could very well be true, but, if it is, recognize that not everyone has your same skills and talents, and that your post comes across as a bit tone deaf.

            Let me know what I should be taking away from these posts.

        • Sure, but that’s not how career planning works. It’s like me saying I want to be a singer and I’ll just win American Idol and get a record deal. After all, I’m quite talented and everyone talented who has won American Idol got a record deal.

          Can you see the problem with your advice yet?

          You’re assuming your own conclusion- that someone contemplating law school will be successful.

        • It is not at all intelligent to make law school decisions assuming you’ll be top 10% of your class at Yale. It’s just not.

          • I was top ten percent of my class (colloquially speaking – no actual class rankings at YLS) at Yale and am now an equity partner at a AmLaw 50 firm. I still don’t think you should go to law school.

        • Anonymous :

          i’m guessing none of those fancy schools explained statistics or probabilities all that well

    • Anon for this :

      This was my dumb 24 year old self’s rationale for taking out loans. It did not work as planned, since 2008 happened. In hindsight, this is a completely idealistic and impractical way of thinking.

    • YES to this. If you can get a job paying a solid 6 figures, then you can justify a private law school. That means you need to be either at a top 25 school, the top law school of your state, or top 10 percent of a top 50 law school. I went to law school, practiced in big law for 6 years and then changed careers to a very family friendly (yet totally entrepreneurial) profession. My husband is now a big law partner. We both went to state law schools, so our debt was really minimal (which made my decision to walk away very easy). His work/life balance is AWFUL but he makes good money so he stays with it. Everyday he says “I should have been a banker”. I thank god everyday that I don’t have to work in Big Law anymore, have a job that I like and I still make 6 figures.

      Just be really, really careful about choosing to go to law school and KNOW THYSELF. Are you typically at the top of whatever pool you’re swimming in (undergrad/work/etc.)? If so, you might be able to score a big firm job. If not, then just know you have a hard road ahead of you.

  23. So–I apologize if this is too much of a threadjack–why isn’t there this same cautionary tale about getting an MBA?

    Is it because typically an MBA is something you do after a few years in the working world, and when you generally know it’s a good next step? Does the working-first requirement weed out the people that do law school because they have a liberal arts degree and a high GPA?

    An MBA isn’t cheap and is very often unnecessary, but I don’t hear as much pushback against that degree.

    FWIW, I have an MBA as does my husband. I got mine while working part time, and he got a 75% scholarship to a top regional school– so I think we’d have approached law school similarly. Neither of us use our MBAs in any kind of practical way, but he got the stepping stone job to his current job because of it, and I got into the field I’m in because of my first post-MBA job.

    • Anonymous :

      I’ve definitely heard the same cautionary tales about the MBA – maybe not on this site – but generally. I hear people say the same things for the MBA as they do for the JD – if you’re doing it to make the big money (I-banking; MBB; hedge funds etc.) – top 10 and even within that HBS, Wharton moreso than the others. And with the MBA I always hear, if you really want it and aren’t going to get into an HBS/Wharton etc. (for which the opportunity cost of not working+ loans are worth it), get with an employer that will pay for you to go; but I think that’s bc part time MBAs are more common than part time law and you can work in a business job w/o an MBA whereas there is no attorney job that can be had without the JD so you really don’t want to drag it out for 6 yrs at some no name program.

    • Anonymous :

      It could be worse, you could have an MFA! (Ask me how I know).

    • Anonymous :

      I was actually wondering if we could have a post about the same thing, but for the MBA. In particular, I’m curious to hear what people’s experiences have been post-MBA, since I’m currently in a (part-time, paid for by my employer) program and am trying to decide what comes next for me.

      • I did my MBA part-time while working as an Engineer. Not because I was especially interested in business, but because it was paid by my employer and I was trying to demonstrate my commitment to my career (that is a long story…). About halfway through my 3-year program, I met someone who was working in equity capital markets. He encouraged me to apply for a research associate position at his bank which was related to the field I was working in.
        10 years later, the rest is history! I had to pay the last 1.5 years of MBA myself, but I transitioned from research associate to analyst on the sell-side, and I’m now on the buy-side working towards a portfolio manager (PM) position.

  24. Push yourself to network/write articles/schedule social time with classmates. Make a detailed plan this summer for your goals for each semester and then revisit them every month or so. Then make a weekly schedule to keep yourself on track. As an older student, you can miss the social connections and opportunities if you’re limiting your time spent with the “kids,” or to start believing that your academics alone will get you dream job.

    Be open to ‘alternatives’ for internships and post-graduation opportunities. A number of my peers had good experiences working for smaller firms or nonprofits, where the work was more varied than at a larger firm. Depending on your experience/expertise and loan forgiveness options, there may not be such a big difference in take-home pay, but big differences in job satisfaction in the 2 to 5 years after graduation.

  25. If you intend to go into private practice, don’t forget that business development and marketing will become a very big part of the job after very few years in. If you don’t have your own clients, you’ll at best become a service partner, always working for someone else and always paid less. That may be a legitimate career choice for some, but the rainmakers are the ones who make the most money in this profession. I recommend starting down the rainmaking path as early as you can. Opening your own law firm is another career option lawyers should not forget about. I opened my own firm in 2010, and while it was incredibly stressful for the first few years, I’ve now made more than I ever would have made in any of my past jobs. The good news about starting your own firm is that non-lawyer clients never ask what your GPA was and they rarely care about where you went to law school.

  26. If you decide whether to attend law school based on what other people who know nothing about you or your life say, then don’t go to law school.

  27. Law School Admissions Professional :

    I’m a law school admissions professional so I welcome anyone interested to reply with an email address where I can get in touch and I will happily provide any counsel I can. Obviously, I work for a school so I have some level of bias, but I try to be honest with everyone about what one can do with a law school degree and what’s sort of unrealistic. I’m not in the business of persuading anyone to go to law school – I want to persuade those who are going to law school to choose MY school. But I’m happy to talk with anyone who wants to know more about the landscape.

    Talk to schools about scholarships. Law school applications have dropped drastically over the past 7 years, and many schools are awarding big scholarships to students they want (those with LSAT and GPAs over their medians, typically). What kind of awards do they offer? What does it take to renew it? Will tuition increase? What is the total cost of attendance? What is the average school-funded aid? What other aid is available? Get into the details about the financials. You should not expect to go for free (although you might be able to), but you should be able to get enough information to do a cost/benefit analysis. What do you expect your loans will be? Could you pay them back on a salary of 60K or less? A good financial aid office can talk with you candidly about all this stuff.

    Do your homework about jobs in the areas that interest you. What are the requirements – do grades or other experience matter? What is the timing for hiring? What is the average salary? Is this a first job or a later-in-the-career job? Does the job you have in mind even exist? If so, who has it? How did they get there? Is it the kind of job you can get right out of law school, or is it a more senior role that you are going to have to map a path to?

    Agree with the advice above to go to an LSAC forum and attend the workshops, talk to schools, talk with other prospective applicants. LSAC also has a neat tool where you can plug in LSAT/GPA combinations and see where you might get in. You can also see every ABA accredited schools’ consumer data (admissions info, median LSAT/GPA, employment data- although you can get more detailed info on websites, bar passage rates, etc.) here: http://www.abarequireddisclosures.org/

    Happy to talk offline to anyone.

    • Nontraditional Law :

      When I started law school in 2003, about 75% of the class had scholarships that were contingent on staying in the top 25% of the class. Since these were all stellar students as undergrads, everyone assumed that they had this in the bag. Obviously, the math doesn’t work out for most. Is this still a thing? Or are law school admissions a little more honest in their aid offers?

      • Law School Admissions Professional :

        I think a lot of schools (mine included) have done away with that and simply require good standing for the renewal of scholarships. Additionally, the ABA’s Standard 509 consumer information requires that schools disclose the terms of their conditional scholarships so this conversation has become more a part of the lexicon for prospective students. So, hopefully, if situations like that still exist students can be informed about it and make other choices or negotiate different terms.

  28. I think people tend to be “doom and gloom” about law school for some very legitimate reasons (stagnate hiring, high cost etc.) But there are some less legitimate reasons for this pessimistic “don’t go to law school!” battle cry: 1) Many law students go straight through with no other experience, so they have an unrealistic idea of how easy it is to get any job. Going to law school doesn’t guarantee you a job, but neither does any other alternative path. In essentially any industry, you can succeed if you narrow your focus to something desirable and rare, endure and overcome failures, and are socially intelligent. 2) The type of people who go to law school tend to over think and focus on negative outcomes instead of positive. This is also part of our training. 3) Frankly, it makes the lawyers who do succeed seem more esteemed and exclusive if they make the industry seem impossible to enter. Plus it discourages competition. Win-win.

    Yes you have to consider the cost benefit of attending law school. Age, debt tolerance, job goals, etc. are all part of the equation. But, there are some decent programs to minimize student loan payments, and everyone has different levels of comfort with debt. If you’re just going to law school for pure monetary reasons, or because you will only be happy with one very specific job (e.g. biglaw), well, you probably shouldn’t pursue any career on that basis alone and then expect to be happy. If you want to be a lawyer enough, realistically understanding what that entails and the roadblocks to succeeding, then who is anyone else to tell you you’ll regret it? You have one life. I say be realistic, but do what you want. Debt sucks, but so does looking back on your life feeling like you played it too safe. If you’re the type that is easily scared off by the idea of obstacles then you probably wouldn’t be a very good attorney anyway.

  29. Acespade2 :

    I think people tend to be “doom and gloom” about law school for some very legitimate reasons (stagnate hiring, high cost etc.) But there are some less legitimate reasons for this pessimistic “don’t go to law school!” battle cry: 1) Many law students go straight through with no other experience, so they have an unrealistic idea of how easy it is to get any job. Going to law school doesn’t guarantee you a job, but neither does any other alternative path. In essentially any industry, you can succeed if you narrow your focus to something desirable and rare, endure and overcome failures, and are socially intelligent. 2) The type of people who go to law school tend to over think and focus on negative outcomes instead of positive. This is also part of our training. 3) Frankly, it makes the lawyers who do succeed seem more esteemed and exclusive if they make the industry seem impossible to enter. Plus it discourages competition. Win-win.

    Yes you have to consider the cost benefit of attending law school. Age, debt tolerance, job goals, etc. are all part of the equation. But, there are some decent programs to minimize student loan payments, and everyone has different levels of comfort with debt. If you’re just going to law school for pure monetary reasons, or because you will only be happy with one very specific job (e.g. biglaw), well, you probably shouldn’t pursue any career on that basis alone and then expect to be happy. If you want to be a lawyer enough, realistically understanding what that entails and the roadblocks to succeeding, then who is anyone else to tell you you’ll regret it? You have one life. I say be realistic, but do what you want. Debt sucks, but so does looking back on your life feeling like you played it too safe. If you’re the type that is easily scared off by the idea of obstacles then you probably wouldn’t be a very good attorney anyway.

  30. Gov Lawyer :

    I would NOT go to law school. I was an engineer and decided to go to law school after a couple interesting cases came up with my engineering employer. I was a complete cliche – and (stupidly) thought going to law school would allow me to make actual changes and influence policy. I gave up a decent career with a great work/life balance to move across the country and go to law school. All of those dreamy (to me) jobs I lusted after? Either paid (generously) $50K/year OR only wanted Harvard/Yale grads (or, in some occasions, BOTH). My school is very highly rated for environmental law – which has opened doors for me – but because it’s not a Tier 1 overall, I have spent a fair amount of time justifying my decision to attend. Most lawyers I meet are total a$$holes and almost all of them are crazy unhappy. Even though I “scored” a government job (pretty good pay, relatively, and incredible work/life balance), everyone I work with HATES being an attorney and most of us cite it as a giant mistake.

    To echo the comments above, I would only consider going to law school if:
    (1) You can get into a Tier 1 school (preferably T14)
    (2) You can get a really generous scholarship (and walk out owing less than $25K)
    (3) You don’t mind potentially having a salary drop if you decide to pursue a less traditional (aka: non big law) path

    If I could do it over, I’d go to medical school. I have LOTS of friends who went that direction – and, though residency was a total b****, they now all work pretty “normal” hours, clear $200K/year, and will have to work LESS as they get more experience, not more. Every lawyer I know who “gets” to be partner ends up working MORE. To me, that’s the opposite of life goals.

    I know you’ll read all this and think “man, everyone sounds so bitter.” I thought the same thing when SO MANY people tried to dissuade me from going. Please please please actually listen to them.

    • “I know you’ll read all this and think “man, everyone sounds so bitter.” I thought the same thing when SO MANY people tried to dissuade me from going. Please please please actually listen to them.”

      +1 to your whole post, but especially this.

      I’ve often thought that my law school should have preemptively rejected me because I wrote in my essays that I wanted to go to law school because it seemed like a great path to a career where I could effect change promote good environmental policy! They had to know better. They had to know I was in la la land. Alas.

      Side note: public interest enviro law has a tremendous amount of ego in it.

    • Anonymous :

      Yea, if I was doing my life over, I would have stuck with premed and become a dermatologist or some other specialty with a low amount of emergency/night work.

  31. YoloContendre :

    Taking a break from bar studying to add my $0.02. This person could’ve been me: I’m 33 and I love love LOVE the fact that I’m gonna be a lawyer (hoping, of course, that next week goes according to plan.) Put me down for “Go if you wanna” side.

    I was a CPA, so I had a pretty good career going before going back. Honestly? I would not have been happy being an accountant my whole life, and I would’ve forever been thinking “…what if?” (Know how much preparing your own taxes sucks? Try doing it for 65 hours/week for 3 months straight.) I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, but always found (admittedly pretty compelling) reasons not to. As a 2017 grad, I think it’s getting better. Or, at least for me and my peers, it was: the bulk of my peers have jobs, a clerkship, or at least a temporary gap-filler job. I can POSITIVELY say that it’s nothing like 2011, when my husband graduated from law school.

    I came out of 2L summer with a job offer in my city, not BigLaw but certainly enough to pay down my $140k loan balance. Be realistic about your outcomes, but it’s not all doom and gloom!

    /end Barbri procrastination.

  32. Law is a great first career :

    Law was my first career. I was a patent attorney in the Silicon Valley. Great clients. Incredible technology. I made a sh!t-ton of money (except I made just as much, if not more, in real estate by buying a crummy house my 5th year and selling it later). I gave it up after 11 years because…reasons. The mental health/addiction issues are very real. I know so many lawyers who got divorced. The emotional isolation of law is not to be understated.

    The profession is difficult and I’m still piecing together a theory about why that is. The analogy in the linked NY Times article is apt: it’s like a surgeon who has a second surgeon in the OR trying to undo everything the surgeon is doing. The communication patterns used in the legal profession are, frankly, toxic to building relationships. One anecdote I keep thinking about is that, in an interpersonal communication class, my prof was discussing how silence is used in communication. She introduced a video saying “this video shows numerous types of silence in a poorly handled meeting. I can only identify 3. It’s a Japanese video so there might be cultural factors at play that we might not pick up on.” I could identify all the silences (the video had labels). Honestly, it reminded me of my firm’s monthly all-attorney meeting.

    All that said, law was an incredible first career for me. I left to go back to school (it’s true, many lawyers have to go back to school when they transition out) for a medical profession. I realize that my next career is a much better fit for me. I was, however, too immature as a 23yr old to pursue this profession. I am glad I went to law school. It gave me time to mature, forced me to face incredible challenges and my own shortcomings, and allowed me to accumulate a nice nest egg.

    When I mentor young people and they tell me they want to pursue a high-stress career like law, i-banking, or med school, I do warn them about burn-out, toxic cultures, and mental illness that are endemic to these professions. I tell them that, while they may last until retirement at 65, it’s more likely that they’ll find themselves wanting to transition in 5-10 years. So treat it like you would a professional sports career and expect to retire young, have a plan, and expect that you will have a next career.

  33. law student anon :

    I am a summer associate at a large law firm, so not a lawyer yet. I worked for 5 years between undergrad and law school. I attend a T14.

    I am taking out about $140K in debt, all in (including interest up through graduation date). I am financing law school through loans. I kept my (very small) pre-law-school savings as an emergency fund because it didn’t seem worth it to take out a tiny bit less debt and then have no emergency money. With all that said, I got a little more than 2/3 tuition discount via scholarship money (a good LSAT score can save you a TON of money — consider retaking if you think you can do better). Most of my debt is cost of living loans. I am nervous about my debt load and plan to pay it down aggressively so that I have options if, after a few years at a law firm, I decide to transition.

    So far — as someone who is not actually a lawyer — I love it and think it seems to be the right career move. I absolutely LOVE law school and will look back on these three years fondly (I am already sentimental about only having a year left!). I decided to go to law school because I liked research/writing, advocacy, and detail-oriented work in my prior jobs. I also, frankly, was getting bored at my old job and wanted to be in a career where you can work on multiple projects for different clients at once (I think — even if some of the tasks are tedious — a variety of projects keeps things more interesting). Maybe consulting or other client services roles would have been a fit, too. However, I like writing and advocacy more than numbers, so law school won out.

    We will see if I still think it was the right career move in 10 years.

  34. From the finances perspective, you should absolutely positively consider attending a part time program if one is available in your city and is reasonably comparative in quality to the full time programs you can get into (I mean, don’t turn down Harvard for a T100 part time program, but you get the idea.). If you are making a reasonable salary, you should be able to defray much of the cost with pay-as-you-go and still actually live more comfortably than a student who does not work at all. Yes, it takes you an extra year to graduate, but 4 years of lost professional income adds a lot to the cost of attending law school. For those going the “big law” route, where getting out into the legal workforce sooner may make a real difference financially, you can do OCI, and then quit your job at the end of your 2nd year, transferring into to the full time program your third year. and graduate at the same time as your full time classmates with just a slightly higher 3L course load.

    You’ll also find in your part time program a lot more students of varying ages and experiences, you’ll have more of a community of people “like you.”

    (Went to school in my 30s, part time, worked full time during the day.)

  35. Anonymous :

    For some reason “Girl, you in danger” from Ghost is the 1st thing that came to mind. I know almost no one, myself included, who likes being a lawyer all that much. 10 years in and I am exahaaaausted. I wish I’d gone to business school instead x1000. Perhaps if you are wealthy & can practice in some non-billable format, or work part time? If you are going to be in the grind, I’d seriously explore other opportunities where your worth isn’t ultimately (really, when it comes down to it….) tied to your ability to churn out hours & bring clients year after year. The golden handcuffs + student loan handcuffs are real.
    Oh, the concept of “you can do anything with a law degree”. Just. No. I can’t think of anyone in my graduating class who isn’t practicing except for some moms who chose to stay at home.

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