Have you thought about becoming a lawyer? Here are 6 questions you should ask yourself before applying to law school. In my 5 years of practice I’ve mentored a lot of students and seen so many people struggling with whether to become a lawyer. These 6 questions are key in ensuring you make the right decision.
It sounds obvious, but when I’ve asked students who have come to me asking about being a lawyer, this is the question most can’t answer when I ask it. Get real with yourself about why you’re applying to law school. Is it for money? Is it because your parents or someone else in your life wants you to? Is it because you graduated (or are graduating) and don’t know what else to do? Is it because you want to go into a different field (ex. politics) that you think law school would be a good stepping stone for?
There are a ton of reasons why people go to law school, and whatever your reason, you need to get real about whether law school is actually a good idea. Example: if you’re going into it for money; in my personal opinion that’s not a great reason to do something, but people do and it is a valid reason. So, look into what the average lawyer salary in your city is. Look into what the cost of law school will be over the next three years (including living expenses) as you may need to consider how much debt you’ll be in before you get to a salary. Decide whether money is important enough to you to do a job you don’t like. You may end up loving being a lawyer, but if your motivation is financial, there obviously is the possibility of you not liking the job. Is a good salary worth it to you to do a job you dislike?
What are you basing your understanding of law on? If you want to be a lawyer after watching Suits, I hate to break it to you but there is far less drama, sexual tension, & Louboutin shoes in the real world of law.
I fully recognize my privilege in coming from a world where there were lots of lawyers for me to job shadow; and I know not everyone has that. Even without any contacts though you can reach out to a lawyer in your area explain who you are and that you’re considering law, and ask to job shadow for a day (or more). You’ll get invaluable insight into what the day to day is really like for a lawyer. I’ve had students shadow me; it’s definitely not uncommon so don’t be afraid to reach out. The worst someone can say is no, and you simply move on and ask someone else.
This isn’t a deal breaker by any means (I have friends who were horrible at taking tests who powered through and are excellent lawyers) but it’s worth thinking about. Law school is very test oriented and it’s usually bell curved. If you’re someone who does really well in school with papers and presentations but struggles with tests, it’s worth considering whether you will be okay / happy in the test-based, hyper-competitive law school environment.
Law school is actually predominantly female. Over the last few years there’s been an average of 60% women and 40% men being admitted to first year law. But; by year 5 of practice, women have left the field of law in droves and less than 20% of associates are women. There is also still a huge lack of ethnic and socio-economic diversity in the legal field.
Ask yourself if you are ready to be confronted with this environment and, more importantly, what tools you have to be happy in this environment. As a criminal defense lawyer, I am often surrounded by older caucasian male lawyers. There is a huge lack of diversity and being a woman in criminal defense is not without it’s challenges. If you’re considering entering this world think about whether you want to come up against these barriers and, if so, how you will deal with the inevitable challenges that come from them. If you’re a woman considering a career in law, check out my “Letter to Female Lawyers“. It gets to the heart of this issue.
Law school is not short; nor is it cheap. Before deciding to go to law school sit down and really think about whether you want to commit yourself to 3 more years of schooling, followed by a year of articling, before you’re able to enter the workforce and start making a living. This can be a deal breaker for some people.
Look at your finances and the grants, loans, & scholarships available to you and think about whether it’s worth it to you. I don’t think anyone should avoid law school because of the cost – we need everyone who genuinely wants to be a lawyer to become one – but you need to decide whether the reality of the finances is something you are willing to live with.
I have never seen this question on another ‘should I become a lawyer’ list; and I think it’s a huge one. Almost every single lawyer I know went to law school with a specific area of practice in mind. I would say less than 10% of them ended up in that practice area. If you are hell bent on only being a civil litigator or a human rights lawyer; law school and the legal profession may not be for you. Not only is the job market tough in many areas of law, but most people don’t really understand what it’s like to practice in the area they think they are interested in.
Going to law school with an open mind about what you may wish to do as a lawyer is the best way to set yourself up for success and happiness. Don’t try to fit yourself into a pre-decided mold that you may realize once in law school is not actually a good fit. I have seen too many people end up in corporate law because of this and too many of them are miserable.
If you think you like the idea of law, and you are open to whether you may like drafting patents, defending accused people in court, or even writing wills, I think you will be far happier and more successful in law school and in practice.
Deciding whether to go to law school can be a daunting decision; I hope these questions you should ask yourself before applying to law school gives you greater insight into whether it is for you. Good luck! If you have any questions feel free to comment below; I’m always happy to answer!
These are great questions to ask! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much for reading Jennifer!
Great relevant questions. I always encourage job shadowing to get a feel for what it is like and to bring some perspective.
Thank you so much for the kind words Michelle. I’m glad you liked the post.
This is great advice!!! I definitely agree with you on job shadowing (and talking) with multiple attorneys and in multiple areas of law- even comparing public sector vs. private law firms! The practice of law is so different than what most people think, and they are often let down. It is so important to do tons of research before making the time/financial commitment! Also, I changed my mind so many times in law school- which is totally normal! Funny thing- I ended up moving from private law practice into public sector/politics. Definitely keep an open mind because you can do so much with a law degree!
That’s such a good point – jab shadowing at different types of firms and areas. I love that Britt – I can’t imagine you in private law, you are so so well suited to the public sector and I’ve been so impressed watching your growth into the world of politics!