(This article is an adaptation of my guest post on StudentAdvisor.com, and is further elaborated upon in Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.)
Too often students apply to law school in hopes of a six-figure salary or to evade a sour job market without doing enough self-reflection and research. It is too costly of a mistake to make this decision lightly. Ask yourself the following questions and do the research – it’s worth it!
1. WHY do you want to be an attorney? False notions of what it means to be an attorney can lead to extreme job dissatisfaction. Prevent that from happening by doing a little bit of research. Perform basic research online. Speak to an attorney. Shadow an attorney, even if for a few hours. These low-cost (even free) steps will help you clarify your intentions.
2. Should YOU be an attorney? Not only do you have to consider your ability to undertake the tasks performed by an attorney, but you must also determine if you can handle law school. How you do in law school will determine what opportunities in law practice are available to you. You can find many affordable eBooks on what it’s like to attend law school as well as what it’s like to be an attorney (or check out free options at your library). If you live near a law school, sit in on a class and talk to students.
3. What TYPE of lawyer do you want to become? Litigator or transactional attorney? Big firm or small firm or solo? Private or public? Learning about each of these general categories is the key to whether you want to do that kind of work and live that lifestyle. This research can be used to plan the most effective (and cost effective) way to get to your end goal.
4. Is a law degree NECESSARY? Why take on an enormous amount of student debt if you don’t have to? For example, maybe after answering the first three questions you’ve learned you aren’t so keen on law school anymore, but you liked the real estate work you saw an attorney do when you shadowed. In real estate, there are some positions that allow you to do title searches and prepare transfer documents much like some attorneys would do. Acquiring a realtor’s license costs much less than law school, takes less time, and, if you have the right personality in the right market, can be quite lucrative.
5. Is NOW the right time? You should evaluate the current legal job market, your current employment, and where you are in your personal life. If you have an income, can you pay for law school so you can borrow fewer loans or not take on student debt at all? Will a law degree advance your career goals or hinder them? Again, self-reflection and a little bit of research can get you on the right track for your future, whether law school is in that picture or not.