This post is part of "What You Need to Know About Law School," a series of 5 posts. You can start at the beginning or see all posts in the series.

Lawyers are leaving the profession, and fast. Law-school enrollment is down because the best students aren’t applying. It’s starting to look like a brain drain, and that’s not good.

Despite that, it’s still hard to recommend law school. There is some reason for optimism, but most law students are in for disappointment when they graduate. So last week I asked our email subscribers what they are telling people who ask for their thoughts on going to law school.

Some Agree on the Brain Drain Thing

I agree that the profession is headed for a decline in quality with fewer and less qualified applicants going in to law school. It is all the more important that the young lawyers take it upon themselves to uphold the integrity of our profession and mentor the next generation of attorneys as they enter the ever changing legal landscape.

And That it’s Probably Not a Good Thing

Smart folks are going to run away but there will be plenty of competent but unhappy folks left.

But Most Say Only Go if You Want to Be a Lawyer

If the answer is—specifically—because they want to practice law, then I encourage it.

… and …

If they aren’t sold on the profession, even to the point that they’ll hang a Shingle if necessary, then they should consider another path. Law school is a professional trade school. If you won’t get the job you want at the end, don’t do it.

… and …

I would caution someone who was not in love with the legal profession from pursuing it right now. But, if someone is willing to do whatever hard work and sacrifice it takes to become a lawyer and has an internal burning flame to succeed then please do not discourage them because those are the people we need to become lawyers.

Also, Don’t Go if You Just Want to Get Rich

It depends on why they are planning to be lawyers. I try to discourage them if their idea is to go into law for the money, power or prestige.

Some Urge a Big-Picture View

Don’t pick a career for money–you will be disappointed. If you pick a career you think you all love and you do, the money will be enough.

Some Give Detailed Advice

I tell my younger friends, people I met while getting my bachelors degree, to not even consider law unless they can satisfy one or more of the following conditions:

1. Be able to do it debt free. The absurdly long wait between graduation, taking the bar, and waiting for bar results means that your loan deferment is gone before you are generally employable on your own.

2. Know lawyers already. Have friends or family who can use some good ol nepotism to get you a job because most of the jobs I see posted (especially from my university’s career development department) require a certain ranking in class. If you aren’t absolutely sure you will be in the top 10 or 15% of your class then you’ll be better off majoring in basket weaving because no one who doesn’t already know you will give a damn about hiring you.

3. Learn to kiss ass. Have no dignity and be willing to spend hundreds of hours listening to attorneys talk about their practices on the off chance that their firm is hiring AND that you make a good enough impression for them to mention it. By the way, supposedly you have to do this without seeming like you are only talking to them because you desperately need a job.

4. Don’t go to law school unless you already know the exact tiny niche of the law in which you want to work. There’s no time to figure that out after you graduate and if you can afford to live and work an unpaid internship to figure it out why are you working at all?

5. Especially if you don’t already know a ton of lawyers, do not live in a small town or a suburb. You better be living close enough to a courthouse or bar association where you can go to CLE’s or just hang out in court and get to know people. Of course this usually involves living in the downtown area of a fairly large city, and if you can already afford that why are you wasting time going to law school?

6. Law school class grading is stupid and horrible. Literally, going to Iraq and getting shot at and blown up is less stressful than taking a single test which decides your grade for a class. Know this ahead of time and be prepared. If you screw one up then take the extra time and money to retake the class because your GPA is often the sole factor in getting a job.

In summary, the job market has left me thinking that going to law school without a written post-graduation employment contract in hand is downright [stupid].

Some Aren’t So Encouraging

I strongly discourage young people from going to law school for three reasons: expense, lack of meaningful employment opportunities, and the absolutely horrible reputation that lawyers have (and, all too frequently, deserve). Looking back, I regret having gone to law school and choosing law as a career. On my tombstone they’ll probably write (if anything), “He pumped out a lot of paperwork.” Completely not worth it.

Finally, Some May Have the Best Advice of All

I tell them to open a hot dog stand.

(If you recognize your comment and want credit for it, just let me know. I’d be happy to add your name with a link to your website.)

Featured image: “Emergency button withe the text Advice Needed” from Shutterstock.

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