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There was a time when law school was a good (great even) default option for very bright individuals who didn’t have any other ideas about what to do with their life. Rather then asking themselves “why do I want to be a lawyer?” they probably just thought, correctly, that they could do a whole lot worse, and off to school they went. While this probably made for a lot of unhappy lawyers, at least they had enough money for alcohol, so everything was okay.

Now, everything has changed. The legal economy is still very weak as the recession works itself out. Big media coverage of the profession’s woes has reached a frightening din. While some say the problems are temporary, others think the the legal industry has undergone permanent structural changes and will never return to its former strength.

That’s the big picture. The little picture is that wandering blindly into this profession can now land you in six-figure debt with lousy job prospects. That’s a bad scenario for anyone. Avoiding this is reason #1 why it’s more important than ever to answer the question “why do you want to be a lawyer?” Doing your research and answering the question diligently can help you avoid a serious crash landing. While we counsel you here to do some serious self-reflection, do not mistake us for being members of the very vocal anti-law school camp. Choosing the legal profession is still a great idea for many, many people. It can be one or all three: financially rewarding, interesting, and fulfilling to those who hold the public interest at heart.

A recent study suggests that law school tends to be a good value over the long term regardless of economic downturns. (This article has been the subject of intense debate. If you want me to highlight some of the better arguments on both sides, let me know if the comments and I’ll play referee.) While past performance is never a guarantee of future results (as any prospectus tells you), there are some things you can do to help increase your chances of being among the “winners” in the legal profession. This is a good starting point for discussing reason #1 most people have for being a lawyer:

I Want To Be A Lawyer For The $$$

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Lawyers in the popular imagination

This isn’t the first thing a lawyer tells you when you ask why they chose the law, but let’s be real, it’s a chief concern for most peopleIf you attend a highly ranked school there remains a reasonably good shot that you will end up making big money.

At lower T14 schools, somewhere around 40% of the class finds work at NLJ250 firms (that’s the largest 250 by number of lawyers employed by the firm). These jobs pay a lot of money: usually starting salary is well into the 6 figures. By the time you get into the T6 schools, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, UChicago, and NYU, the chances of getting into one of these jobs is usually better than 50%. That’s not the whole story either, because at these schools almost everyone who wants it finds work at a firm of some kind. Even if it’s not a huge NLJ250 firm, the pay is usually still good.

However, things get rapidly get less rosy when you drop below the T14. Look at the ABA employment summary for Washington and Lee University (currently ranked 26 by the USNWR) and you’ll see that 1/5th of the class was still seeking employment 9 months from graduation. Only about 60% of W & L students secured a job where a J.D. is required or preferred. This isn’t the brightest picture given that most law students attend law school hoping to secure legal employment right away.

By the time you get into the bottom end of the top 100 and below, the employment situation is downright bleak. Yes, people do still have great outcomes going to those schools. However, the vast majority of people (meaning this almost certainly includes you, the reader) are better off not going to these schools unless you are incurring very little debt. While you might have individual circumstances that make going a good idea, before considering any law school it’s essential to look at the ABA employment data and any other employment data you can find to assess whether you can handle the risks associated with going to that particular law school.

If you don’t make careful decisions you run a heavy risk that going to law school won’t be a financially sound decision. In the current market, the overwhelming majority of people should only attend law school in the following circumstances:

1. You get into a T6. T6 schools are still worth the price even at full tuition (though obviously you should usually go to the one that gives you the most money). Pretty much everyone at T6 schools are able to secure legal employment without overwhelming difficultly and they are doing well by most measures, except for the ones who are unhappy because of the long hours and not liking the work (see section on “I want to be a lawyer because it seems interesting” below).

2. You go to a lower T14 with some substantial scholarship money. I still think almost everyone is going to have good outcomes coming from these schools, but life will certainly be a lot easier if you don’t have over 160K in debt.

3. You go to a lower school in the T50 with very substantial money. My belief is that most of these schools are not going to be giving you enough value unless you are getting over half tuition to attend (or your parents are paying the remainder, see point below). Even half tuition leaves you with what looks like a lot to pay back given that you might struggle to obtain a high paying job. You also must be absolutely satisfied with the possibility of working in the region where the school is located.

4. You go to any decent law school with full tuition or close to it. In many cases this will be preferable to attending a higher ranked school at a higher price tag.

5. Your parents are paying for your degree. If you emerge with no debt, law school is still a pretty great idea from any school in the T100 (provided you want to be a lawyer).

Go only under these circumstances and law school is a lot likelier to have a positive payout. You can’t eliminate risk here or in any other profession, but you can do a lot to minimize it. There is a fifth subset of people who might go in a broader set of circumstances:

5. You can’t even fathom being anything other than a lawyer, and that is all you want to do in life. For a tiny subset of the population, this is how they are going to feel no matter what anyone says. This subset is still well-advised to make intelligent decisions about cost before attending.

However, I want to be clear that I think this is a very small group of people. Most people are going to have other options in life that are just as rewarding as law.

I Want To Be A Lawyer Because What Else Do I Do With This English Degree?

liberalartsmajorA lot of people are highly critical of those who attend law school partly for this reason. However, we don’t necessarily join in their opinion. In the recent recession, it really was very difficult for a lot of humanities major to do much else profitable with their time right after undergrad. You often hear the opportunity cost assessment that by going to law school you are missing out on 3 years of profitable pay elsewhere. This argument is going to ring hollow for a lot of people who were out in the job market in recent years.

Evan’s identical twin brother didn’t go to law school when Evan went in 2009. Instead of finding some profitable alternative immediately, he knocked around in various jobs barely scraping by before finally landing a decent writing job only recently. We don’t mean to criticize the bohemian lifestyle — Evan was a huge boho before law school. The point though is that often you aren’t missing a whole a lot money by being in law school.

Now the economy is picking up and this is changing, but for many a young 20-something debt, not opportunity cost, is the main factor in your cost calculus.

The more important thing, however, is to correctly assess whether you are going to enjoy the work of being a lawyer more or at least as much as you might enjoy some alternative path. While a JD may not hurt you in a whole host of occupations, most people are best off going only if they are fully comfortable with the idea of being a lawyer.

I Want To Be A Lawyer Because It Seems Interesting

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Not a real lawyer

Here we are going to yell at you a little bit to make sure you are thinking this through correctly. BEING A LAWYER IS NOT LIKE [INSERT TV LEGAL DRAMA OR LAWYER MOVIE HERE]. You don’t typically ride around in a Lincoln dispensing legal advice (If someone can confirm that anyone in history has actually done this, please let us know).

Here’s what lawyers, especially ones in the first five years of their career, do most of the time: They read. Then they write. Then they read some more. Then they write more. Follow this up with a bit of reading and writing.

Yes, there is some speaking in there. Yes, arguing a case in front of a judge or negotiating a deal might be exciting. Yes, talking with clients can be fun.  However, it might not be enough to get you through the meat of the work.

We personally know a bunch of new lawyers who have found that they simply can’t stand the work. They are just toughing it out to pay down their loans before they become football coaches or English professors in Japan or whatever else they might have better off doing in the first place. We are both trying to avoid practice as well, so if you want more on that story, ask in the comments.

A sizable percentage of people who go to law school find out it isn’t really for them only after going to law school. Really dig deep and think whether this game is for you. Here is the type that tends to flourish in law school: Someone who loves to read and loves to write. Someone who loves to be just perfect at everything that they do whether or not it kept them up all night to get it right. Someone who is very, very self-motivated. Someone who is a classic type A. Above all, you have to be competitive. It’s the competitive type that tends to do well in law school and the legal profession.

You also have to be passionate. Yes, it helps to be smart, both book-smart and people-smart. It may even be necessary- you are going to be competing against a lot of smart people when you get out in the legal world. However, being smart often isn’t enough. You’ll be competing against people who are smart and passionate about what they do. Go into law for the wrong reasons and you raise the likelihood that you’ll be out-competed by people who really belong there.

Obviously there are hundreds of personal reasons that might make the law an attractive path. Maybe someone you know is a partner at a firm and is going to give you a high-paying job if you get a law degree. Maybe your father is going to disown you if you don’t become a lawyer or a doctor and the sight of blood makes you faint. However, when answering the question “why do I want to be a lawyer”, these incidental reasons aren’t enough. The big thing you have to know is that you’ll likely be happy doing the work.

Take this from this article: You need to know two things before you even think about entering law school– first, that you’ll likely be able to find a job and pay off your law school debt, and second, that you will be happy doing the work.

If you are struggling with whether to attend law school please let us know your situation, and we might be able to help. Comments can be made anonymously if you so choose, so don’t be embarrassed to ask. We promise you our honest advice.

-Joshua Craven & Evan Jones

49 Comments

  1. I know I want to be a lawyer. No doubt in my mind. Yes, I know it’s “boring” to most, but, I find the field intellectually stimulating. I don’t watch those silly TV lawyer dramas. I know what I’m in for as far as debt, employment, and stress. None of that strays me away from pursuing my legal education. What bugs me and fuels me is the number of individuals who tell me why I should not go to law school(currently law students). I understand where they are coming from, but, there persistsant comments are frankly annoying. As a LAS major, I do have regrets of not pursuing a business major in undergrad only because I feel that major would aid me better in big law firm. I understand that the best way to “silence the doubters” is to go to a top law school, but, I can’t help but ask myself how useful will this humanities major be in the legal field and is there anything else other than my personality and aspirations that translate in to law school. Would you suggest working for a couple years to bolster that “weak” undergrad major ?

      • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

        IP often requires technical knowledge of a specialized field in order to understand the design of the products you are protecting. While it may not always be necessary, you’d be at a big disadvantage getting into the field without a science degree given that you’ll be competing with people who do have this background who will likely be the most attractive to potential IP employers.

      • What would you suggest as an undergrad major for somebody who is interested in going into intellectual property and entertainment law?

  2. First I’d like to say that I have found this site to be so helpful, so thank you so much for your insight. After following your articles and doing some supplemental research, I really agree with your suggestions of either going to a T14 school or getting a substantial scholarship, hopefully both. I am currently finishing a double major and am planning on waiting until next October to take the LSAT to see if I have a shot at a T14. Anyway, I would love to know why you are both trying to avoid practice? Also, I have found that there are other jobs in HR (and other departments/services) that don’t require a JD but are still viable and can pay well, I wonder how may of the students that have found work but aren’t necessarily practicing law are placed in positions like that? Or what kind of work they are doing, entry level work?

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Evan here. I won’t speak for Josh, but for me I find business so much more exciting. I had a legal job for nearly a year, and just did not dig it very much.

      Here’s a few of the things that bother me about it:

      1. Everything in law has to be just so. We would redraft these briefs over and over again when my sense was that we should just turn it in to court and get on to the next project. No one had any evidence that this extra work was worth it. They were just going on their gut.

      At the non-profit I was working for, we were working just one major case. If we had of been less exacting about every little thing, we could have easily been working two cases. A lot of this comes is the nature of targeted litigation. You only take cases where the precedent matters, so you want to avoid losing at all costs. Still doing all this little nitty gritty stuff when no one knows or even asks if it’s cost justified was a real pain to me.

      2. You are never in control of your life at all. This gets worse, not better as you move up in firms. The client service mentality has gotten so out of hand that clients own you and your timeline.

      3. Fierce competition. That doesn’t stop when you are out of law school. It’s the driving force behind the bad hours/lack of control. Not willing to meet client demands (or your bosses demands) each and every time? They’ll find someone who can.

      As to your other question, about a full half of people going to law school end up not practicing law. Presumably a huge portion of them wanted legal jobs but just can’t find them. Generally you want to avoid paying for a degree that you aren’t going to use. The possible exception is if you go to a top school. I think a JD from a t14 is pretty great whether you practice or not. It gives you a lot of credibility and great networking opportunities. Is it worth the money? That’s a harder question to answer. Most of the time it probably isn’t.

      • Hi, thank you so much for this site. As someone who has contemplated applying and attending law school for a while, it has been somewhat of a breath of fresh air for the skeptic in me. I, like your section in your “reasons people go to law school” section am one of those English majors who can’t seem to find meaningful or fair-paying work in the “real world”. I struggle with the idea of pursuing an MA (as the only option after that would be to keep studying for a PhD, or return to pretty much the same job market). So, yes, law is now looking like a more viable option. I noticed you worked at a nonprofit. Would you recommend law school knowing this is the avenue you will most likely end up working in?

      • Yes and no. Do not think you need a law degree to start working at a NP and helping people. That’s simply not the case. If anything, you have a wider range of work available in the NP sector if you avoid legal practice (and there are far more non-legal positions available). Nor is there a ceiling within these organizations if you don’t have a JD. More of the bosses at my workplace were non-lawyers.

        Also be aware that non-profit legal jobs are intensely competitive to obtain. Really, it’s a route that most people get into from prestigious schools (top 14s). I think if you are interested in helping people, just go straight in and forget the law degree. Only go to law school if the actual practice of law really, truly fascinates you. That’s a rare thing, so really do some soul searching to make sure you aren’t just talking yourself into it.

  3. I want to be a lawyer. Like in the post, I find the law interesting and I find nitpicking arguments to be very rewarding. I majored in economics in undergrad and I feel like I can apply that to the legal world. The only thing I’m really worried about is my grades. I had below a 3.0 in undergrad so I know it’s going to be an uphill battle (unless I get a masters fist, which I am considering). What are you thoughts on people getting a masters then going to law school and how does that look on a law school application? Also, I want to go to Law School part time since I’ll be paying for it myself and will have to take out loans. What are your thoughts on attending law school part-time?

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      @anon. Unfortunately, law schools don’t usually put a whole lot of stock in the grades you receive in a master’s program, partly because grade inflation is so rampant in these programs. It’s best to think of a master’s degree where you get good grades as a good soft factor in your application.

      A 3.0 can be overcome with a great LSAT score. You should definitely read my post on getting into law school with a low GPA http://lawschooli.com/getting-into-law-school-with-a-low-gpa/

      As far as part time attendance, anything that reduces the cost of law school is a good thing. However, many part-time programs are at low ranked schools that don’t have good job prospects. Like I said in my post, I don’t think it’s at all safe bet to attend a law school outside the top 50 unless you will be emerging with something close to zero debt. I know it’s a tough thing, but that’s just the economic reality of attending law school right now, especially if you are paying you’re own way. Don’t simply take my word for it- Paul Campos, a law professor, has written about 4 books worth of material on this subject over on his blog.

      My guess is that the cost of law school is going to start falling rapidly in the coming years as prospective student demand for legal education continues to drop. If you don’t get a good enough LSAT score to fit into one of the 4 categories outlined above, consider waiting a few years and see if costs start to come down considerably.

  4. thank you for this article! it’s a great one and I enjoy reading what you write.
    I will be attending suffolk law school in Boston as a 1L this fall. I’m originally from NYC. I wanted to stay in the NYC or surrounding areas due to some of the connections and relations I already have to the legal profession here.
    What information can you provide me for this school?? . I like the area and it’s a good school. however I didn’t get much scholarships.
    As of now, I definitely plan to practice and take the NY bar and practice there but boston is a possibility.
    Can you shed some light?
    Any advice is greatly appricated! Thank you

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Nicole,

      I want to give you straight information because I think you will thank me for it later. Suffolk is a very expensive law school. I don’t think it’s a good investment to attend if you did not get a lot of scholarship money.

      While Suffolk’s employment data isn’t the worst for similarly ranked schools outside the top 100 (about half the grads had jobs requiring a J.D. 9 months from graduation), I suspect much of that is because students do okay in the Boston area where there is an alumni network. Like all similarly ranked schools, a degree their won’t be very transportable, meaning you won’t have an easy time getting back into the NYC market. Obviously if you know you already have a job lined up in New York that’s different, but ‘connections’ often don’t translate in to jobs.

      It’s my firm opinion that you’d be better off at someplace like CUNY law, which will have something like a 8th the tuition cost of Suffolk given that you are an instate resident (http://www.law.cuny.edu/admissions/tuition.html)

      Like I said in the article, students attending schools outside the top 50 should always keep costs as close to zero as possible.

  5. Great article!
    I am currently pursuing my undergrad in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Wayne State University and I am planning on going to law school for IP. I have been hearing mixed things about IP’s job market. Do you guys think that IP is a sound decision? Thanks!

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Hi Adeeb. Evan here. I confess I’m not too up on the IP market’s ins and outs. I do know that IP people at UChicago had a really east job search and generally had several offers, even though it was one of the toughest years. That said, I don’t know what the picture is like at lower ranked schools.

      Hang on while I ask my IP friends what they think and research it a bit.

  6. I want a good education. I want to be well-versed in things that affect me and I love to read and write. That said, I absolutely do not want to practice law. My dream has always been to be a speech writer for an elected official. Is law school still my best bet? I’ve always been told I’d “be good at it” if I were to ever practice, but it doesn’t seem ideal.

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Sam, there is no question law school is a great education and really helps you see the world better. However, I would advise you to pursue it at as low a cost as possible if you aren’t intending to use the degree. That said, I’d imagine people in the political world care a lot about prestige, so if you got into a top school, that might be a good choice.

      Do people break into that field with other kinds of degrees? Just an undergrad degree? If so, you might be better off without the hefty law school price tag.

  7. Hello, Josh and Evan.

    Thank you for this valuable resource. It’s been a tremendous help to me on my path toward discovering whether or not to pursue a JD. While in undergrad the plan was to attend law school; however, after graduating I took quite the hiatus to find out if that path was really for me. I graduated undergrad in 2007 with a GPA lower than 3.0. I understand that my GPA puts me at a significant disadvantage and that to overcome it I will need to do extremely well on my LSAT but I wanted to get your opinion on how my long break after undergrad may play a factor in my prospects?

    Also, would you mind discussing your take on pursuing a LLM degree after a JD and how that changes or boasts one’s job prospects?

    Thank you.

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      A long break doesn’t hurt you as long as you have a story to tell and don’t have too many unexplained gaps in employment.

      Here’s my take on the LLM: I really don’t think it’s something you should count on. Law school for three years in expensive enough. I’ve heard very mixed reports on the success of people doing an LLM. It may be helpful if you want to do tax law, but employers looking for entry level lawyers are still going to prefer students who got their JD from good schools and did well.

      As far as I’ve seen, none of the schools offering LLM’s for American students provide any employment stats, and that’s usually a bad sign.

      LLM’s are usually expensive too, about the cost of another year of law school.

      Whether you take an LLM doesn’t to my mind modify the circumstances under which you should go to law school, so I still wouldn’t recommend going unless you fit into one of the categories above.

  8. Hello Joshua and Evan,

    I’ve found your site extremely helpful! I’m curious as to what you think of my story.

    I’m from rural California, and when I say rural, I mean no mall of any type for two hours. My local high school was of very poor quality, but I did attend a charter school that allowed me to take regular high school courses, study independently, and take community college courses before I graduated.

    I took the SAT cold (my entire county didn’t have a single prep course) and I applied to a variety of universities across the country. I was heartbroken when I didn’t get into Stanford. In retrospect, no one from my county got in and my score wasn’t nearly high enough. At that time, I was a pre-med who didn’t have a clue about university chemistry!

    On the bright side, I got a full tuition grant and scholarship combination to Syracuse, so I moved across the country. I immediately despised my Biology major, and I switched to my favorite, English, after my first semester. When I went home for winter break, a family friend who is a local attorney told me to consider the law since he thought I would really like it.

    I began to research law schools, and when I went home summer after freshman year, I shadowed him. We went to court, and I got to see the inner workings of his multi-faceted small-town practice. He told me I might like Political Science, and said that many of his courses in undergrad contained relevant information for law school.

    I went back to SU for my sophomore year and took some PoliSci courses. I loved them, and I decided on a Political Science major with an English minor.

    I finished up sophomore year, and made a great connection to a professor, the first chief ADA. I pestered him until I got a summer internship at the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office. I had a strong interest in prosecutorial work, but I wanted to see what the daily work was like. I loved it.

    I had a great time as an intern, and I was the only intern asked to return this fall. I will be coordinating the new interns, and I am very excited to continue my work with the office.

    Additionally, my community college credit allows me to graduate early from SU, this year.

    I was planning on getting a law-related job for a gap year, but I recently decided I don’t want to take any time off. No matter what, I ultimately want to go to law school. I will be taking the December LSAT, and I really appreciated the self-study information you two posted!

    I am an independent learner, who doesn’t pick up much from lecture and would prefer to read and study on my own. I’m glad you had such success.

    All that said, I am afraid for law school admissions. I have a 3.3 at SU (that first semester of biology killed me!) and a 3.76 from my community college, which averages into a flat 3.5 for a total GPA.

    Cornell will be the only T14 Hail Mary I have in mind. Syracuse Law, Fordham, Buff State, Northeastern, Villanova, American, Boston U, UNC Chapel Hill, Hastings and UOP McGeorge are the other schools of interest to me.

    I also don’t know which would be a better idea – moving to a new area and taking the bar there, staying in NY and taking the NY bar, or going back to CA (where I have a chance of working the family friend’s practice or immediately being employed as a ADA).

    Finally, I’m concerned because I’ve been told law schools don’t take 21-year-olds. What do you two think?

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Evan here. First off, that simply isn’t true that they don’t take 21-year-olds, so don’t worry. One girl at my law school didn’t turn 21 until 3L year! There were at least several students who were still under drinking age when school started. I think Yale Law had someone graduate at age 19.

      Do what you can to get that GPA up during the rest of your time in school (I think you have at least senior year left?). A 3.5 isn’t bad but straight A’s could get that up to 3.65 if you have a year to go. Not to sound harsh, but you should be able to pull straight A’s in Poli Sci classes if you put your mind to it and avoid any professors known as tough graders. Write an addendum to your applications to explain the low biology grades and state that you intend to ace this year.

      I think you shouldn’t sell yourself short just yet. Get that GPA up and hit a great LSAT score and plenty of possibilities open up. One of my good friends at UChicago came from ‘Cuse.

      You should be able to tell an impressive story about your experience with the law and you will be able to point to definite reasons why you want to be a lawyer. That will help your cause.

      My advice is the same as I give to everyone, don’t take on a lot of debt to go to a school outside the t14 (even taking on a lot of debt at a lower T14 is risky). Also, if you aren’t satisfied with the results from applying this cycle, consider reapplying the following with your full undergraduate record rather than going some place that isn’t your dream school.

      Best of luck on your LSATs. Study hard!

  9. I am so grateful for this site and this article in particular. I’ve been debating going to law school for years now. I have a Spanish, English and Teaching BA, and an MBA. Even so, I’ve never been able to let go of the idea of law school since I chickened out (due to ignorance more than anything) almost 14 years ago. I currently work in the legal department for a software firm writing and negotiating contracts and absolutely LOVE the work. I’ve been doing it for years now and I just can’t get enough of it. I just feel so limited at times due to my lack of knowledge, or even just by my title being anything other than Attorney. I know the work I do now is hardly a complete picture of the work I may do after law school or even what I will learn in school. That said, I get rather giddy when I talk to the interns about their current classes. My husband recently took at job at a state school and I have an opportunity to apply there (ASU) at an almost non-existent tuition. Still, given that I already make a fairly handsome wage and have an advanced degree, I am having the hardest time sorting out the practicality of the decision. I can’t say I know the answer for sure yet. I can say, however, that what you have conveyed here in your article has stirred my passion for legal studies and the field once again. Thanks so much for laying out such a insightful and practical way to evaluate this decision. Hearing it from someone who has been there and worked with many potential students is reassuring as well. This site is the best!!

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Thanks Alias I really appreciate that. For sure you have a tough decision. If you do apply and don’t get in at a t14 with money, that ASU option sounds like a great bet, esp. because you’ll likely be staying in the area.

      You aren’t taking the decision lightly, which is the proper way to do it. Good luck with whatever you choose!

      -Evan

  10. Hi Josh and Evan,

    I’m really on the fence about law school. I graduated from college two years ago and decided to work for a little while to–hopefully–make up my mind about what I wanted to do next. I’m currently a Legislative Aide in a state legislature, and I know I want to go back to school in the next two years, I just don’t know for what yet.

    My interest primarily in policy and politics and I keep going back and fourth between grad school or law school, but in all the research into schools and programs I’ve done, I only feel a compelling interest towards law school. I just can’t seem to get excited about actually practicing law.

    Given how expensive law school is, I don’t know if it’s worth it financially. At this point, I think I would only do it if I received a significant amount of financial aid to a T14 school. My GPA is on the low end (3.58)–I had a terrible semester of never ending tonsillitis which did some damage–for most of those schools I know I’d need a pretty rocking LSAT to make that happen. I’m taking the December LSAT, and so far I’ve been studying intensely (15ish hours a week) for about two weeks and have broken into the 170s on untimed tests.

    The two schools I’m seriously considering are Georgetown or George Washington, though I really like UChicago’s program. Do you think I have a shot at money from any of them?

    Thank you guys so so much for creating this site! It’s been extremely helpful!!

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Ali,

      A 3.58 is not going to keep you out of any of those schools (and you might get money) so long as you get a great LSAT score. It looks like you are on the right path there.

      However, ambivalence about being a lawyer tends to turn into hating the whole notion by the time you are done with law school. That’s been my observation anyways. Do some heavy research and talk with lawyers to find out if it’s something you can tolerate. Keep in mind that for the most part people are going to say good things about their chosen profession. You have to pay attention to what they actually do and see if you could do that. Read the first post of this thread on Quora: http://www.quora.com/Attorneys/Why-are-so-many-lawyers-unhappy-with-their-jobs That’s maybe kind of a worst case scenario, but it’s something every would be T14er should read. That might be your life for a few years at least.

      It’s so easy when you are young to choose law school at a T14, because it’s a path that is hammered out: you do everything right and you’ll get a high-paying, prestigious job (at least that’s how it was). In fact the track is so well worn that people feel kind of like they are a big time lawyer already when they get into a great school. Yeah, its a seductive idea to be a fledgling fancy lawyer, and so people often pick it over the other things they could try that might be more fun and have as much compensation down the road.

      Try to avoid going in with your head clouded up like I did. Lawyering is a hard job so make sure you are seeing it for what it is when you make your pick.

      -Evan

  11. Ahhh, to be young again! At the ripe old age of 27, I think back on my 20-year-old former self with a nod and a sigh. I simply ::knew:: that I wanted to work in corporate law. I breezed through my double majors in English Literature and Spanish language and was immediately hired into a the legal department of a major media marketing firm in Manhattan not two weeks after college graduation. But alas, I started to realize something: the money was not enough. The hours were not so much difficult as they were mind-numbing. And after nearly two years of doing the 9-to-5 corporate grind, I realized that I had a gut-wrenching desire to give back to the world in some meaningful way. I cancelled the LSAT which I had scheduled, walked into my boss’s office (after a few months of strategically planning my exit) and announced to my superiors that I would be leaving entertainment law to pursue a degree in nursing. “You’re crazy,” they said. “Why would you leave this world?” they asked.

    I smiled. I thanked them. I went with my gut.

    And so I went back to slinging beers and cheap bar food while putting myself through nursing school full-time. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Nursing (4.0 GPA, not too shabby) and immediately started to work in critical care at a major teaching hospital.

    So wouldn’t you know it…the law school itch is back. I’m not sure that it every truly left, really, but this time it’s very different. This time I see a law degree as a manner of combining the legal with the ethical; it’s a way to sort through the bureaucratic nightmare that is healthcare and hopefully bring patients exactly what they need: effective, quality, compassionate care.

    Alas, here I sit, between three 12-hour shifts, preparing myself for the biggest exam of my life, not because it’s lucrative or it’s interesting or because Elle Woods did it and so can I. I want nothing more than to show this planet that compassionate care and ethical practices should go hand in hand. Dreamers can dream, can’t they?

    (PS Josh & Evan, phenomenal website! Relevant, honest, and extremely insightful!)

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Sonja, thanks for the very thoughtful comment. I do think you are in a way better position than most to weigh the personal pros and cons of law school.

      Here’s my advice, which I’m sure you are already doing: make sure there are indeed people that are doing the kind of work you envision. Talk to them and see how they do what they do. I know things are changing rapidly right now in healthcare. They should be able to give you an idea where its going. Make sure there is economic demand for these services (people willing to pay who are capable of doing so). Hopefully you will get a mentor or two in the process.

      Before law school, always preserve your ability to walk away from it if you have look and the numbers just don’t work out.

      Other than that, best of luck pursuing it. Please keep us updated.

  12. Josh and Evan, just wanted to let you know that I’ve been following lawschooli.com for quite some time and appreciate your insights!
    I wanted to get your opinion on my law school choices. For some background: I’ve been working as a television producer for the last few years and want to work in IP/entertainment law (I’m hoping my TV background would be really attractive to firms and media corporations). I have narrowed my law school decision down to 2 choices…Wake Forest (it would cost me $10,000/yr in tuition) and FSU (it would cost me $6,000 in tuition). I’ve lived in FL my whole life and want to practice somewhere in the South Atlantic area (D.C. being an ideal place to end up). Do you have any advice to help me in my decision? I’ve visited both schools and like the culture of both of them.

  13. I honestly have wanted to be a lawyer for quite some time. Throughout my undergraduate career, I focused on getting good grades and accumulating experience. I have interned on election campaigns, county courts, interest groups, state government, a US senator and a few law firms. I have tried to get myself as competitive as possible for law school. I applied to 10 of the t14 schools and have been waitlisted/rejected. I still need to hear from nyu and cornell. Right now I’m leaning towards emory which will cost me about 11000 a year (tuition wise) and vanderbilt which would be about 20000 a year. I want to practice in nyc or atlanta and I know emory is growing. I am just so scared from all the economic risks. I just want to Know what you guys think.

    • Hi Kyle,

      Those schools are pretty closely matched in terms of hiring prospects (Emory has actually done ever so slightly better lately), so given that Emory is your cheaper option, I think 100% that that is the better deal for you. Emory will have a better alumni network in Georgia where you may want to work, which further seals the deal.

      If you have misgivings about going to law school in general, that’s definitely something to sort out. One suggestion I have is to try to talk to recent Emory grads in the areas you want to work and get a feel for what they have experienced. This will give you a better idea whether you want to follow their footsteps.

  14. Hello Joshua and Evan,
    I’d love to hear your feedback on my situation. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from years ago, worked in the old and gas industry after I graduated. I have young kids so haven’t worked for the past few years. I have always thought about law school but timing was just never right. I am a ‘researcher’ type of personality and I love it! My life is in a place where I can consider law school once again…

    Here’s the hiccup. My husband gets relocated every few years so the best thing for me is on-line which is not ABA accredited EXCEPT for a new hybrid program from William Mitchell which is ranked at the bottom of the barrel. Likely, we will be relocated for 3 years overseas where life will allow me time to concentrate on my studies.

    Since I am already a “mature” student I don’t want to wait another 4 years to start school plus life would not be as easy, financially and otherwise, for me once I’m back on US soil. We would likely relocate to Texas after the overseas posting.

    So I guess I am looking for your opinion of William Mitchell. I know the hybrid program is so new its hard to comment on but I am interested in your thoughts on job placement, salary and anything else you feel is important for me to consider.

    Thank-you in advance for any insight you can provide.

  15. Hi Josh and Evan,

    I’ve been following your website and posts a bit as I prepare for the June LSAT. I’m curious to know your insight into/opinion on my situation – one which I’m sure you’ve heard many times before.

    I graduated two years ago with a B.A. in English and French. My undergraduate studies solidified a few things for me as far as academic interests are concerned: I absolutely love French (language and culture), grammar (English and French), and literary discussion. That being said, I’m really not a fan of research, or the papers that go with it.

    The biggest problem with my undergraduate studies (and I would even lump high school experiences into this) is that I got basically no direction with regards to a career. What I do know is that I want to do something which allows me to consistently speak in French and do something which affects people positively. A career which allows travel between the U.S. and France would be even more ideal. (Additionally, you should know that I spent a large part of my academic career pursuing French, and it has paid off in the form of fluency. This skill is very important to me, and I want to blend it with whatever I end up doing. Above all, please do not recommend that I look into becoming a French teacher. If I knew for sure I wanted to be a French teacher, I’d already be enrolled in a teaching program. French teachers also don’t use French at the level I want to use it at.)

    My father strongly suggested I pursue a career in law. He specifically suggested International Law. He cited my language skills (writing and speaking abilities), intellect, and argumentative streak. After some research on my end, I am highly aware of the fact that something like “argumentative streak” is not a good reason to go to law school.

    So I’m not sure what to do. On the one hand, if I can get a good score on the LSAT and secure an awesome scholarship at a good school (read that as “the fuller the ride, the better), I feel as though I don’t have much to lose (besides three years of my life). Reading and writing is the name of the game for an English major, so that part of the degree isn’t too daunting. A family friend said that there are thousands of things you can do with a law degree, and cited the fact that many people who get J.D.s don’t even practice law. On the other hand, I’m terrified of “making a wrong decision,” being stuck in a career that I don’t like, and the possibility of spending big bucks to get there.

    Above all, I want to be happy with the career I choose. I want to be intellectually stimulated, creative, valued, I want to excel in my field, and I want to feel good about what I do. And of course, I’d like to be financially secure. Ultimately, I still don’t know how to determine if law school will be right for me. Sometimes I wonder if simply the uncertainty is a sign that this isn’t a good choice. Any thoughts?

    • My initial impression, for what it’s worth, is that you may not be ideal for the law. At the superficial level, I think you might be surprised how similar churning out work-product is to doing research papers. Probably just less fun. As to the J.D.s that do stuff besides the law, I would say 75% of them wanted legal jobs and just couldn’t get them. If you are gonna end up doing something else, it’s usually better to just start doing that. If you don’t have ideas about what that is, think how you’ll feel when/if you can’t get a legal job and are suddenly trying to figure it out, but this time with 150K in debt on your back. Not a pretty story. That’s why I don’t recommend anyone wander into the law without concrete reasons for being there, which it looks like you are at a risk for doing.

      As to international law, it’s not what people think it is. It’s basically just corporate law with the same pressures and long hours. If you travel to another country, you’ll be back on the plane headed home 12 hours later. If you want to work for a French law firm that might be possible, but I don’t know anything about that, so do thorough research. I will say that any international positions are generally intensely competitive and there are few such jobs, so you would have to attend a law school prestigious enough and do well enough to secure that kind of work.

      Basically, acquaint yourself with what actual practice of law looks like. Older relatives are a poor source because things were much different when they came down the pipeline.

      More than that, I get the feeling that you might not be the office jockey type. The kind of people that dream of foreign lands often aren’t. Lawyers tend to put in more hours than other professions. Often they are still drafting an agreement when the clients have gone home.

      If you are still interested after hearing this and other similar advice, it might be worth your effort to put in 4 months trying to do well on the LSAT. However, don’t start that process until you’ve taken a hard look at the career. Good luck!

  16. Hello Josh and Evan,

    I found your site while going on a “should I go to law school” morning internet search. Well, it actually began by reading Joyce Curll’s book on admissions…and when I read the part on the LSDAS calculating your GPA I freaked out. You see, I’m Brazilian…and I’ve graduated from a prestigious private university here, with a major in International Relations. But grade inflation isn’t a thing in my country….so I have a 3.38 GPA, according to a conversion tool I found online (8.9 on a 10 scale, didn’t shy from tough courses with strict professors).
    While it might seem weird for a Brazilian to want to pursue law studies in the US, I’ve had my mind set on International Law for some time now and the law programs here in my country aren’t prepping their students well on the topic. Also, I dream of working at international level – be it at a law firm that represents countries in WTO litigation processes (Brazil only hires American firms, btw), as a lawyer for defense/prosecution at the ICC, possibly as a judge for the ICJ. I know, I dream big. Since I’m interested in IL, my dream schools are top6, hence the GPA scare.
    I haven’t taken the LSAT yet, but I test pretty well. I also have a Masters in International Relations from my alma mater and interned with the ICC in 2012. I’ve tried to demonstrate an interest in law also by publishing papers in the area, taking summer courses and reading a lot. But I’m still worried – in your experiences, what does it take to get in as an international applicant? And as far as scholarships go, are they fair game for us at T14 schools? Does my GPA kill me as a non-traditional applicant?

    Thanks a bunch for your awesome tips! I’m officially hooked and will be adopting the three-month lsat study schedule whenever I decide to take the test!!

    • Ana

      You will have to check if policies have changed, but when I was applying LSAC did not actually compute foreign-earned GPAs. Thus law schools will not be required to report your GPA, which is good for you. Essentially you will be judged just on the strength of your LSAT and your other credentials (which appear to be really good) so you are in great shape. They won’t totally ignore your GPA, but I’m sure a ~3.38 is not bad for your school, which will count in your favor.

      Keep in touch throughout the process. We are here to help!

      Best,

      Evan

      • Thanks a bunch for your reply! I’ll check the policies and figure out where to go from there… it’s a tricky business trying to figure out which information found in these is-law-school-for-you books apply to international students, best to go to the source 🙂

  17. Chris Del Monte on

    Good afternoon Josh and Evan!

    I want to be an attorney simply because I have the interpersonal and writing skills. And I also have the desire to be an attorney. (I did show interest interest in immigration law in one of your other articles, but I am also looking into constitutional and civil rights law.)

    I did point out the good interpersonal skills on my behalf. In other words, I am very good with people and I do enjoy helping those in need. As an attorney, I see my own abilities coming out and bringing the best results for the people who do indeed need the assistance to resolve their issues. My question is this: since I do want to become an attorney for the reasons stated above, are those reasons enough for my wanting to become an attorney? Maybe this question has been answered in the article, but I may not have caught that.

  18. Firstly, I would like to thank you for providing such detailed information online. I am writing to you from Ireland, and as an international student this site is an extremely valuable source of insight into the law school process and experience.

    I have just completed my final year, studying a four year Bachelor of Commerce. I major in Economics, and minor in Commercial Law.

    As part of my BComm degree, I was fortunate enough to spend a year studying abroad at Boston College, where I took solely Business Law classes. Although I have always been interested in a legal career, this experience furthered my interest in the U.S. legal environment.

    My primary goal is to practice in the United States, and attend U.S. law school. The entire experience appeals to me, not just the end goal of passing the bar and securing a job. However, as I am sure you can imagine, it is a daunting prospect. I am primarily concerned about the LSAT, and at this point I am planning to self study. I am pretty disciplined and have always been self sufficient through university but I definitely don’t think it will be easy. I am also wondering about my chances of being accepted to a good school, having invested time in preparing for the LSAT. So, I want to make sure I am being realistic in my expectations!

    I am a reasonably good student, and have maintained a upper second class honor right the way through college. I expect to graduate with a 2:1 or possibly 1:1 degree (I think this translates as approx. GPA of 3.6 +). I am very aware of the level of competition for top law schools, but do not want to invest such a large amount of money to come out with a degree from a mediocre school. Are international students at a disadvantage when applying for the J.D program?

    I am working in the Tax department of a big four accountancy firm for the summer. I have been accepted on an International Business Law L.L.M program in Ireland, starting this September for one year. What are your views on how valuable this would be to my applications? Or to my future job prospects. I am yet to decide if this is how I will spend my year, while taking the October LSAT, and completing the application process.

    Any advice at all that you could give me on how to go about deciding where to apply would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks,
    Nicole

  19. I’m struggling with the question of Why do I want to become a lawyer? To be perfectly honest I thought I would want to be a lawyer because of the money. But after doing research and reading some of your articles, its opened my eyes that I might not make that much money. I really don’t know if I’m the type that could make it through law school, I don’t think I’m the “Type A” competitive person you described. I’m definitely not a softy but I’m unsure if I could handle the work load. Another reason why I wanted to be a lawyer was the interesting factor as well, clearly I watch too many movies!

  20. Hi, I loved this article, and the website in general. It sheds a lot of light on questions everyone has, but no other one website has answers to.

    My question is, if I went to law school it would have to be a newer school most likely. I use a wheelchair and old universities just aren’t accessible. So from what I can tell, that pretty much removes T14 or above schools. My undergrad degree is in agricultural economics, and I would maybe like to do ag law because it seems like a more niche market, and it would be more comfortable. However, are any of those schools good? The University of Florida is close to me (I don’t think they have ag law at all though), and I don’t know what else to look at. I looked at the ABA for UF but I couldn’t tell if the numbers were good or not. Any advice?

    Thanks for your time!

  21. Amani Richardson on

    Honestly not sure if Law School is for me, but I most certainly want to work with legislature and policy making. I enjoy advocating and protesting for various issues (mainly social justice) but i’m not sure which is the best route for me to take. I am a Public Health Major and I am not sure whether or not I want to minor in Political Science or English. I do believe that I am a great writer and I want to push myself to my limits. Maybe policy writing? But ESSENTIALLY, I want to be at the table with the big dogs discussing what lows/policies are going to be put in place. Definitely want to be on a state or national level creating change and implementing policies. But where in the world do I go? I am a rising junior in my undergraduate years. I am getting more nervous as I only have two more years to get this right before I walk across the stage and hit the real world. I definitely like hands on work and protesting.

  22. Hi,
    I’m an incoming undergraduate freshman. I am going to major in Public Policy with concentrations in Economics and international relations. I’ve wanted to become a lawyer for most of my life and am planning to go to Law School (hopefully Columbia Law). I know that I’m really young to be considering prepping for the LSAT and law school so soon, but I’m passionate about becoming an attorney. Do you have any advice for me regarding college or LSAT prep since I’m starting so early? Please don’t tell me to relax and take things easy though.
    Thank you.

    • Stephanie Baldwin on

      Your first priority needs to be a 4.0 GPA, or as high of a GPA as possible. The median GPA for Columbia is 3.7 Your LSAT score can be changed but your UPGA is locked in stone once you complete your first degree, so you must get good grades. Schools also seem to moving towards preferring professional work between undergraduate and law school. You can study for the LSAT as long as it does not take away from getting good grades.

  23. Love your website! I’m in my late 40’s with a BS in Electrical Engineering and a MBA. I started working as an engineer then moved up into Sr. Management of a mid-sized engineering firm. I’m thinking of making a career change into law. Based on my experience, I’m thinking about either becoming a Patent lawyer or Corporate Lawyer (preferably inside counsel). Since I have to work, I’m looking at either Temple or Widener’s part-time law school. Following your advice, I’m planning to kill the LSAT and get at least a partial scholarship from the school.

    Any thoughts about my plans, the schools, or any other advice? Please advise, thanks!

  24. Hi Josh & Evan,

    This website is great! I’ve already read numerous articles and I just discovered it yesterday.

    I would love your advice. I will be starting the beginning of my senior year of undergrad this coming fall. I am a Biology and Environmental Science double major. I currently have a 3.348 gpa, but I am hopeful I can increase it this coming year.

    I would love to be able to help shape environmental regulations and policy to create a more sustainable future. I know that this is what I want to do, but I am curious if law school would be the best avenue for me to do this. I didn’t really think of law school until now and had been planning to take a year off from school after I graduate. So far I have done research on this website and other ranking websites and have a few questions.

    The top environmental law program according to usnews is Vermont Law School, but it is ranked #134 on the usnews top law school list. I have found that the top 3 environmental law programs are 135, 100, and 120 on the law school list. What do you make of this? Would it be better to look into the top environmental programs or the top law schools?

    Also if you have any more advice about environmental law and what you think about the usefulness of a law degree for what I would love to do, I would love to hear it!

    Thank you!

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