Every day I feel blessed to have my legal education and to be able to practice law. I am blessed that I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer for a long time (and that I was actually right.) I learned a lot along the way – from great choices and horrible mistakes - and I’d like to share five quick pieces of advice I have for those who are considering going to law school.
MAKE SURE YOU WANT TO BE A LAWYER FIRST
Innumerable opportunities become available with a law degree and bar license. For this reason, law schools do not require specific degrees or specific courses unlike many other fields. Unfortunately, many people attend law school because they want to continue in school, do not want to go into “real life”, or want to put off loan repayment. I would highly caution against going to law school for these reasons. I would highly suggest you get some practical legal experience first. Even if you definitively know you want to go to law school, I would still recommend that you get a practical understanding of what it means to be a lawyer first. As a high school or college student, you may have to intern. Working in law offices or legal organizations as a legal assistant is a great way to learn about the work that lawyers do. It doesn’t have to be a practice area you’re interested in or even the practice area you’re eventually going to find yourself in – getting practical knowledge and understanding of the legal field and legal work is incredibly important to succeeding as a law student and lawyer. For this same reason, you could consider going to school to be a paralegal if you may want to pursue a career in law. Working as a paralegal can provide valuable insight into the legal profession and prepare you for a lot of the work that you will be doing as a lawyer. The legal profession is not going anywhere and any practical experience, especially in the legal field, may serve you better and help you advance faster as a lawyer than rushing straight through to start as a lawyer as young as possible. Your law school grades will surely be better with some knowledge and experience under your belt. If, while working in a law office or legal organization, you instead find out that you don’t actually want to be a lawyer, you’ve saved yourself a lot of hassle and money. Being a lawyer opens a lot of doors, but there’s a lot of doors available without a law school degree as well.
GO TO SCHOOL WHERE YOU WANT TO PRACTICE
If you decide you want to go to law school, I would recommend attending law school where you want to practice. Many people select the law school they attend based on where will accept them that has the highest ranking. It is true that some law school degrees will open up doors anywhere you want to go based on their prestigious name alone, but for most law students, first legal jobs are often based on connections. First legal jobs are often a result of a job they worked prior to being licensed, a recommendation from a favorite professor, or an alumnus looking to hire in someone from their alma mater. Connections matter. It is much easier to land a great first job where there are many connections locally rather than ending up where no one knows who you are or anyone who recommends you. Attending law school where you want to practice and socializing with classmates, alumni, and important people in the local legal field while in law school will help you become known in the legal field earlier and help you begin to develop a network of referrals or potential employers.
LAW SCHOOL IS HARD
This is an oversimplification, but law school is hard. Having the way that you’ve traditionally thought is overhauled and reworked is very challenging. The all-or-nothing approach of many courses and the hypercompetitive environment can also make law school hard academically and socially. Other dynamics may be present in law school that make the environment challenging - such as the prevalence of alcohol abuse or other unhealthy habits in the profession. The stress of the rigorous academics may not affect only you. This may affect your significant other, children, and other members of your family. It is important to not underestimate law school – it will be a harder experience in some ways than most of us have experienced before – and you should be prepared to hunker down and give it to the time and dedication it requires. You get one chance to do it right and doing it right often makes life easier down the road.
MAINTAIN GOOD HABITS
Encouraging you to give law school the dedication and time it requires to succeed means more than just focusing on academics – it also requires you to maintain good habits. Law school is a three-year (or more) marathon – it is not a sprint. You need to maintain your physical and mental health throughout law school if you want to succeed. It is important to continue to eat healthy when you can and continue any workout or exercise regiments you have. Stopping those habits for law school will lead to increased stress, decreased relaxation, worse time management, and possibly discontinuing these habits when you enter the profession. It is much harder to start these habits back up again while practicing as a new lawyer than it is to maintain them throughout law school. Multitasking may be required, but it is incredibly important to maintain your physical health as you continue throughout law school. Your mental health, however, is equally important. As indicated above, the rigors of law school may add additional stress or anxiety to your life and relationships. Having unaddressed mental health issues that are aggravated by the rigors of law school can make law school challenging if not impossible for you. It is important to go into law school successfully managing your mental health so that you are not adding unnecessary obstacles or risking your own health. Socializing regularly and responsibly can be an important part of maintaining a sound mind and body as well.
MAKE UP YOUR OWN MIND
Law school is not for everyone because the practice of law is not for everyone. I am of the belief that almost anyone can succeed in law school and as a lawyer, but why do so if it does not make you happy? Many people feel pressured to attend law school because they’re “good at arguing,” it runs in the family, they want to be rich, or because they’ve said for years they wanted to be an attorney. The only good reason to go to law school is because you want to be a lawyer or use a law degree for something you want to do. A law degree opens lots of doors, but it is no longer the golden ticket it once was. If you go to law school, but decide you do not want to use the degree, you often have found your golden ticket to a large amount of debt instead. Everyone will have an opinion on whether or not you should go to law school, but what matters is what you want. If you’re not sure yet, don’t go to law school yet. The legal profession is not going anywhere soon - and if it is, do you really want to jump in at the end? If you know how you feel and are sure about your decision, do it. Don’t let anyone change your mind - a friend, spouse, parent, or some attorney posting on a blog.
I hope this helps. Good luck with your decision!