I was recently reminded of Aaron Street’s post Thinking of Going to Law School? Please Reconsider! Aaron did a good job of giving prospective law school applicants a moment of pause before they starting firing off applications to whatever school will take them. He does this by painting a fairly accurate and bleak picture of what the landscape looks like for new lawyers. It’s something very different from the Potemkin village that law school admissions departments like to portray to its eager applicants. But whenever I hear practicing attorneys say “don’t go to law school,” I’m reminded of how much I hated hearing that before I applied. I didn’t listen to those lawyers then, and I’m glad I didn’t.
When I was thinking of applying to law school in the mid-aughts, I heard from numerous attorneys that going to law school and becoming a lawyer was a bad idea. They would say that the market was too saturated, that law school sucks, etc. None of those points were altogether wrong, but I still couldn’t help but feel like poor little stupid Forrest Gump getting on the school bus for the first time and hearing “you can’t sit here” over and over. I remembered wondering: “if lawyers are telling me that being a lawyer sucks, then why are they still lawyers?” (note: my inner monologue uses horrible vocabulary and sentence structure) I would contend that ours is a profession that doesn’t invite new lawyers and graduates with much warmth. Aaron’s post takes a very “macro” view of what law students entering the legal field can look forward to, and his message that going to law school is riskier than it used to be is spot on. But I would like to offer a slightly more encouraging message; a little good cop/bad cop if you will. When I came away from reading his article, I wondered two things: first, is training to be a lawyer that much riskier than training to join any other career field; and second, should that matter?
Is going to law school riskier than anything else?
Breaking: It’s hard to get a job in any sector right now. I know, I know, my bowtie hasn’t stopped spinning ever since I read that news item in my local periodical, either. College graduates and graduate students in nearly every vocation are having a hard time finding work. The legal profession isn’t much different. The one significant difference is that law students usually start their careers with a much heavier debt load than most new professionals. But all that this does is sharpen one of the debating points down to a finer edge, and it asks: “does going to law school make sense financially?” That, to me however, is a worthwhile question but not the question of whether you should consider the legal profession.
Being a lawyer kicks ass for a lot of reasons. It can also be pretty lame for a lot of reasons. Other more experienced attorneys could riff on what those reasons are better than I, but to my mind the day-to-day benefits and drawbacks of being a practicing lawyer are far, far more important a set of considerations than what your student debt load and income level will be. Obviously, employment potential is an important factor to consider prior to starting law school since the pros and cons of being an attorney don’t matter much if you are taking a job as the PetCo distribution manager for western Pennsylvania after you take the bar. But this very blog and the Lawyerist LAB are testament to the fact that being a solo-practitioner is a possibility for a lot of new graduates or out of work attorneys. Lawyerist encourages attorneys to turn the godawful job market on its ear and strike out on their own. This isn’t easy, mind you, but the fact that you can start your own law firm for under $3,000 should help prospective law students feel a little more at ease about the doom and gloom job market waiting for them on the graduation stage.
It is certainly true that going to law school now is a less lucrative and more risky proposition than it used to be. But so what? All that that hopefully means is that the new batch of lawyers will be individuals that applied to law school because they actually want to be lawyers rather than just make BigLaw salaries. I used to tell people thinking of going to law school that if all they wanted was to get rich, they should go be investment bankers (now I don’t know what to tell them… be a hipster iPhone protective case maker?). Aaron’s post is dissuading folks who maybe shouldn’t be considering law school in the first place. If you are scared away from the legal field by the simple fact that the traditional and more lucrative attorney jobs aren’t there, then perhaps you shouldn’t be considering law school in the first place. And I’m not judging mind you, I need money too. The mortgage on the White house ain’t free, and the organic groceries my wife makes me buy costs money, too. But the legal profession is stressful enough, crowded enough, and so chalk-full of ego that if you aren’t deriving your job satisfaction from something other than cashing a paycheck, I happen to think that you will hate being a lawyer anyways.
Before you go decide to law school, you really do need to put a lot of thought into it; and student loans, income and employment prospects are factors to consider. But if these are the only factors that you are considering, then forget it. Take that awful movie “The Paper Chase” out of your
Qwikster Netflix queue, and start applying to business school.