Just as there are many good reasons to go to law school and become a lawyer, there are just as many bad reasons to do so. Below, I present to you my top ten bad reasons for going to law school. If you find yourself saying, “But–that’s my reason!” you may want to take some time and re-evaluate if law school is the best path for you.
Your parents want you to be a lawyer.
Although having the support of family is certainly important (particularly when dealing with something as life-determining, costly, and involved as attending law school), following a parental wish in this case is misguided. You must realize that it is not your parents that will have to shoulder the grueling academic or (in many cases) financial burden, nor will they be the ones to hit the pavement to find a job and pay back the loans that will put you through law school. When it comes to choosing to go to law school, it is a strictly personal decision, based on personality, career, and life goals, and not someone else’s desires.
You like to argue.
The desire to “argue” is a poor reason, at best, to go to law school. There are many more aspects to going to law school and being an attorney than arguing and, many times, arguing a case is one of the things lawyers do the least. Analyzing, reading, writing, and hours spent discovering minutia are much more what being an attorney is all about.
You’re not ready to enter the work force and want to postpone it for a few years, you’re not sure what you want to do as a career and figure having a law degree is a good backup, or you simply don’t know what else to do.
Unless you plan or want to enter the workforce as an attorney, going to law school simply as an attempt to delay the inevitable “job” can be a truly detrimental decision. Not only will you spend three years studying something that you may potentially never use, you will also emerge from it hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt (and will still have to find a job, if nothing else to pay the loans back). Law school is a path to a job, not a deviation from it. If you are unsure of what you want to do for a career, then your next stop after college is a career counselor, and not law school. Explore all other available options, and not simply default to law school because it seems like “a good idea.”
You want to help people.
Yes, lawyers often help people. Yes, helping people is a good thing. However, there are many ways of helping people, and public service law is only one of them. Have you looked at all options? There is a great deal of variety in the public service arena (i.e., Teach for America, AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, any number of non-profits), and they do not all require a law degree in order to help. Unless you have fully thought out the reasons and ramifications for specifically going into public service law (as well as the drawbacks of attending a law school and then attempting to pay back law school loans on a public servant’s salary), then perhaps a good, long talk with a career advisor is the best way to go before applying.
You want to increase your career options.
The sheer expense of obtaining a law degree is enough to severely limit the number and types of jobs you can have once you graduate. You need to make sure that law is even a career option you would consider, and not simply pursue it to “have the option” later. In short: Law school is meant to prepare you to practice law. It is not meant to prepare you for anything else. If you want to do something other than practice law, you may want to reconsider the law school option.
You want to have a glamorous, fast-paced job.
Hollywood has done much to distort the everyday lives of attorneys. The reality is that lawyers spend most of their time in libraries and in their office—doing research, reading and writing extensive briefs, and taking care of billable hours. The high drama of today’s reality TV and hour-long law sitcoms are rarely seen in the real world, and it is only very occasionally that a high-stakes case makes its way onto an attorney’s desk (despite what television would have us believe). It is important for you o draw a clear and distinct line between actual reality, television “reality,” and sitcom entertainment.
You don’t want to work for a business, or have a 9-5 job.
Although they don’t deal in a tangible product, the fact remains that law firms are very much a business—and so have many of the same characteristics a business would have. In addition, attorneys work much more than the 8-hour day a 9-5 job presents; many associates (and partners) will work 11-, 12-, or 13-hour days (if not more).
You want to make a lot of money.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a law school graduate nine months out of law school is $60,000.00. While that is a good sum of money, by the time all the different withholdings have been effectuated on that amount the salary will be closer to just over $40,000.00 — of which close to $15,000.00 could likely go towards paying off the loans taken out to finance law school. That leaves $25,000.00 a year to live on—which doesn’t go far even in the states with the lowest cost of living. Attorneys can certainly make a lot of money (and many of them do), but it can take a decade to get there (if not more), and many lean years in between.
You want to add another degree to their academic pedigree.
There are many other types of degree besides a J.D.—have you considered them all? Many times, the same beneficial effect can be achieved with an MBA, Masters, or even a Ph.D.
You want to go into business.
In that case, an MBA or a business-relater Masters degree—can serve just as well (sometimes better) than a J.D. Have you considered all your other options?
Going to law school isn’t a bad idea in and of itself–but it can be a bad idea for you if you haven’t thought it through or if your reasons aren’t sound. Take some time to figure out why you want to go to law school before spending all that time and money applying–you’ll be better off later for it!