Deciding to go to law school might seem like a terrific "default" solution for those who have trouble deciding what they want to be when they grow up, but it's actually a very specific solution that's appropriate for certain career goals--not a catch-all guaranteed to give you three years to decide on a career and unlimited options when you graduate.
Here are some tips on how to decide whether you're ready to go to law school:
- Do you have concrete career goals that involve the law? You don't necessarily have to practice law full-time, or at all, to justify the considerable expense of a law degree. What you do need is some idea of how you plan to use the degree. Don' t assume, without adequate research and independent verification, that you can transport your law degree to any profession or position. Some employers don't look at the law degree as the door-opener that others view it as and may in fact see it as a detriment, since your future boss may assume that you'll probably end up leaving him or her to practice law full-time.
- If you do want to practice law, have you given your Perry Mason dreams a road test? You'd be well-served to match up those idealistic visions of holding juries spell-bound or revealing the real killer on the stand against the reality. Practicing law can be thrilling, and not just for the criminal defense attorney, but it can also be full of drudge work and paper-pushing. It's intensely deadline-driven and detail-oriented. If this doesn't sound appealing to you, you may want to rethink your plans. Investigate whether any law firms in your area will allow you to shadow a lawyer for a day, or even engage in a short internship before law school, to see what being a lawyer is really like.
- Can you pay for it? Law school is expensive, no matter where you go. There's simply no way around it. Do you have adequate funds to support yourself, or are you willing to take on heavy debt? Be careful with respect to law school loans: You may find yourself borrowing so heavily that you have no choice but to take a high-paying (and high-stress) position with a law firm in order to carry that debt load. That might not sound so bad now, but when you graduate and find your heart really lies with public interest law, it could be a soul-killer. Think carefully and plan well. A one-year delay in your plans can give you more options down the road, if you use the time to save funds and search for scholarships.
- Will your life translate to law school? This might not be such a big issue for the recent college graduate, still single and childless, but if it's been awhile since you graduated, you now have a life with many interests and activities that might not adapt so well to the move to law school. You'll either have to adapt yourself or change your life. This is doubly true for those with families--are they willing to support you? Do they fully recognize what changes this decision will bring, not only for you, but also for them? You won't be available as much or as freely as you are now, and that's something to consider. Also worth considering is the drain on the family finances. If you attend full time, as most law schools (other than part-time programs) are structured, you will be strongly discouraged from working during that first year. That's good advice, as law school is a significant investment in time and effort, and you'll need all available resources to adapt to your new surroundings and challenges. That's one income less that will be available for family purchases and outings. Examine the family finances together and avoid unpleasant surprises.
- Is your heart in it? Finally, check in with your intuition. What is it telling you about this move? Law school might make all the sense in the world, but if it isn't right for you, no amount of effort will make it more right or less wrong. Take your time with this question. Envision yourself in the law school atmosphere and as an attorney (or whatever goals you have in mind after graduation). Can you see yourself happy and functioning at your peak in both scenarios? If so, then start collecting catalogs and sign up for the LSAT. But if not, then realize it's better to know now than three years (and many thousands of dollars in debt!) later, and move on to the next challenge.