Should I Go To Law School?

by Judge Josh on October 13, 2010

Erik is poised to become one of our nation’s 8.7 trillion practicing attorneys. Is it a good idea?

Hey Judge Josh,

My name is Erik. I really dig all the insightful school and career advice Outlaw Student and has to offer. Thank you and keep up the good work!

Thanks, man! I really appreciate that!

Now, for my question: I am recent college grad with some work experience who’s considering law school.

law school

OK.

I graduated from a university in NY with a B.A. double-major in Political Science and TV/Video Production in 2008, intending to pursue a career in the TV biz. After working in TV for less than a year, I quickly realized going to school for TV and making TV your career were very different things.

Boy, you said a mouthful there. It’s a rough business — always was, actually, but now that it’s really easy to outsource overseas any editing or post-production work for anything shot digitally, it’s even tougher.

Just as my misgivings about working in TV were coming to a head, an opportunity with a small software company came along. So I decided to give working in software a shot and left TV. I started with the software company as a client trainer.

Whoa! You’re starting to creep me out a little here. I myself left media to work with a small software company, and my first job with that software company was as a client trainer — err, “implementation specialist.” I hope your story ends better than mine did…


Just shy of one year with the company, I was promoted to business analyst, then product manager.

Oh yeah…there you go. At my job I quit three different times before I got fired (don’t ask).

I gained valuable business experience working in software, but like TV, it didn’t pique my interest as a career.

Right. A notch on the belt, priceless experience — but experience you’d like to take elsewhere. Have gun, will travel.

So a few months back, I left my job to take some time off and figure out my next move. I have given serious thought to grad school and law school, but am leaning more toward law school. Recently, I started volunteering with a legal services agency that provides legal assistance to low-income people and have really enjoyed it so far.

Excellent. Just a reminder here that if helping out the underprivileged is something you like to do, you can do a ton of it without actually becoming a lawyer, if you choose.

One that comes to mind is CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate) program. CASA volunteers are trained officers of the court who advocate for abused and neglected children. They are IMMENSELY important people in the lives of these kids, and it’s an awesome program. Check out the national chapter here, the New York chapter here, or Google more localized chapters wherever you’re living.

Just a thought. Readers, any similar programs you know and would like to share?

My primary concern with taking the huge personal and financial leaps necessary to go to law school is that I’m not convinced I want to be a trial lawyer. I think I would like to do something else in law, but haven’t quite figured that out yet.

That’s OK — plenty of lawyers out there don’t do trials. You can be in-house counsel for any type of company under the sun, or you can practice estate-planning law, contract law, intellectual property law, real estate law, elder law, etc.

Those guys rarely if ever go to trial, but they still stay busy and make good money. Whether you’d enjoy that kind of work, though, only you can say.

Aside from being a practicing attorney or working for a law firm, what other vocations can a J.D. lead to or qualify someone for? I’ve heard a law degree is flexible, but don’t know what that means in terms of real-world, career prospects.

Well, I’d definitely want to be a practicing attorney if I got the law degree; otherwise, you’re just gonna be a guy with an excellent knowledge of how the law works, but no means to collect the commensurate wages in order to pay off the massive student-loan debt.

Exceptions? You could be a politician or a lobbyist. Lots of those guys start out as lawyers for no excellent reason other than…that’s what politicians and lobbyists do, apparently. Become laywers, then become lobbyists and/or run for office.

Maybe, though, you meant “trial attorney” rather than “practicing attorney” when you said that, in which case, you’ve got the suggestions above working for you.

You could also hang a shingle and start your own firm or just go solo, which is cool, but of course there’s some marketing and entrepreneurship involved there. Then again, nothing beats NOT having a boss in my opinion, but there’s a lot of mental baggage that travels with you when you own your shop. This I assure you.

Thanks for your help!

Well, not sure how much help I’ve been, actually, but I hope maybe a little. All in all, I’d advise you NOT to go to law school if you don’t want to be a lawyer of some kind, any kind.

But remember, there are tons of different kinds of *law* you can practice successfully, minus the courtroom antics that make up half of the primetime network TV shows.

— That’s all I’ve got today. Anyone else got questions, advice or comments for Erik? Let us know in the comments below!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia October 13, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Well I think you need to be ABSOLUTLEY certain that you want to practice law before you make any committment. Law school will become your life for three years. My very good friend is an attorney and he has two children in law school currently. You need to know that you will really have no life when you are in law school, except law school. My friend’s oldest son is in his second year of law school and has been hanging on for dear life the entire time. He is a super smart guy but he is having a tough time trying to decide if he wants to stay in even after this long and about 80k in student loans. His dad has been the major reason he has stuck it out thus far. The other kid just started and so far is doing ok but he has decided he wants to join the service and become a JAG attorney to help him pay for the student loans. I would recommend getting more exposure to the law in various environments before you make your decision – Then theres the LSAT. That will determine where you get accepted. Are you good at tests?

Reply

Z October 13, 2010 at 2:54 pm

If serving low-income/ underprivileged individuals is what you’d like to do, I would consider a Master’s in social work. You could try looking into it and seeing if it fits your interests.

Reply

Steve UMD October 13, 2010 at 3:25 pm

I think you should go to law school. Am planning on going to law school myself even though i have accounting degree. There are so many people out there with a B.A. degree its very hard to get a job and even if you do get a job the salary may not be satisfying. Your still young so go to law school. u should do it men!!!.

Good Luck

Reply

Laya October 13, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Give it your best shot! I’m in law school, third year now, after being home with kids for 20 years, and I’m loving it. The kind of work where you help disadvantaged people get their fair hearing doesn’t pay very well, but you might get your student loans paid off by doing it.

Try the LSAT. It’s a very good predictor of how you will do in law school. If your score isn’t good, don’t break your head on law school, go for paralegal. You go to school for 3 to 12 months (depending on where you are) and then you can work.

Good luck!

Reply

Karen Joan Z. Cunanan October 13, 2010 at 9:35 pm

First you really have to know what is your goal in life.. start asking your self… do i really like this? do i have a passion for this? would i be happy if i do this? is this for my own benefit or for the benefit of the people around me?

after you answering those questions… start deliberating.. and always reconsider your goal…

Reply

Grey_GirlPTK October 13, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Well you have a couple options. If you do pursue law it can be useful in TV industry, and might open up other opportunities there that appeal to you. You can also go into politics, etc…

If you want to focus on the underprivileged you won’t be earning as much as working other areas of law. In this case I suggest going into social work or something along those lines. A master degree might be a little less pricey then the law degree.

If not law then look around. See what grabs your interest. Ask friends and family what they think you tend to be good at. Talk to people doing the work that looks good to you and see what they have degrees in, and if you need a special degree to do it.

Paralegals usually have certification and finish in 3-12 months. This gives you some law without 3 years and hefty costs. It would let you be a part of the practice of law without the negatives. You could also work helping people navigate the legal system.

Reply

Hannah's Mom October 13, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Erik sounds like the sort of person who rises to the top of the heap on whatever mountain he begins.

I think he should start looking at what various government agencies are hiring now and in what capacities. A BA in Polysci should be a springboard into Human Rights, Social Services, or Urban Planning – places where a management trainee can make both a difference in the world and a more than decent living.

Reply

Jason October 14, 2010 at 12:12 am

OK. To be honest, I have no legitimate advice here.

However, if you do go into lawyering, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d be faced with some ethical decisions now and again (like our well-loved superheros in movies – which, to my shame, is the first thing that came to my mind, actually)

Whatever you do in the end, don’t lose sight of your motivating goal (God, that’s easy to do when you get stuck in the grind of daily life)

I suppose an extra “Good Luck!” won’t hurt so here it is.

Cheers.
Jason

Reply

Stacy October 14, 2010 at 5:53 am

I am currently a 3rd year in law school and I really do not recommend it to anyone unless you have a way to pay for it without taking on more than a couple thousand in student loans. Your career choices become very limited when you have that big student loan debt to consider. And legal jobs are very limited in this market, and have been for a while – there’s a saturation. The time commitment is huge and I’ve often wondered why I left my job to go to law school – I am going to have to come out earning twice as much as before just to be back where I was 3 years ago. And the jobs that involve helping people are the ones that pay less so you’ll have a harder time paying back your loans.

As far as not wanting to be a trial lawyer but wanting to help the indigent – honestly, I’d go for the social work degree instead. Most of what I see from people in “public interest law” is through trial advocacy – either you work for the PD doing crim law for indigent people (trials), you work for the state’s attorney helping people get their child support (again, trials), or you work for legal aid doing things like helping with/preventing evictions (trials) or divorce cases (trials) etc. Basically a lot of working with indigents involves going to court.

That’s just my two cents and my experience as a 3L. Others might be different. (disclaimer)

Reply

Yolamu Kamdambo October 14, 2010 at 6:12 am

I would like to study law which has been my desire and in need of the previledge

Reply

Corri October 14, 2010 at 8:43 am

Honestly, I really think you need to get a firm idea on what your finished goal is before you go running into graduate school for law. Sure it sounds good, but it costs a ton of money and if you’re just going to go, it’s not worth it unless like Judge Josh pointed out a few months ago you have the extra time and cash and want to expand your knowledge. (not in those exact words mind you, but about the same idea). Anyway, it’s pointless to rush off into something if you’re not sure you even want to do it. So I suggest.

1. Look at the things you think you might want to do. Toy around with them. Read up on the subjects, try and get some real world experience in those areas and see if you even enjoy it. You found out you didn’t like working for TV as much as you thought you would, best to find the same thing out law wise before jumping into it. Google different lawyer jobs and the such, see what requirements each one has.

2. Once you have your choices slimmed down to a few major ones, try and figure out if you can do any of them without actually going to law school. Not every job as JJ pointed out requires it. If you can agree with the pay and enjoy what you’re doing and dont’ really need law school, why go?

3. If at this point you realize you still need to go and it’s what you really want to do, then just go do it. The sooner the better if that’s the final outcome so you can go and help the people you want to help!

Reply

Mel October 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Many law schools have a loan repayment assistance program if you work in public service.

Have you checked out the info on Equal Justice Works? (http://www.equaljusticeworks.org/) “Loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) provide financial aid to law school graduates working in the public interest sector, government or other low-paying legal fields.” Check them out here: http://www.equaljusticeworks.org/resources/student-debt-relief/law-school-lraps/list-law-school-lraps?destination=512

Then I recommend that you go to the Public Interest Law career fair website and look at the employers in their list: https://www.myinterfase.com/equaljusticeworks/event_view.aspx?token=D78jKqkCuSNtmQZbpF2yPg%3d%3d

Maybe you can find some organizations in a city near you. Get on their website, find some staff lawyers, email them and ask to meet with them for an informational interview or call them. Let them tell you what they think about their career, and ask what they would recommend. That should help you get the “inside scoop” on whether law school is right for you.

Reply

Judge Josh October 19, 2010 at 3:31 pm

This is great, Erik. Perhaps a cautionary tale! :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMvARy0lBLE

Reply

Richard Rios October 28, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Well, right now Im going for my Bachelors in criminology at Central Conn. State University. After, I will either stay here and go for my Masters in criminology or get it at an out of state college. From there, I will go for my last degree (Law degree). In my case, if I can’t get as far as my Law degree, I will accept anything in the criminal justice field. Maybe you should do the same?

Reply

Hannah T. March 8, 2011 at 11:51 am

Hey! I’m kind of in the same boat…interested in law and wanting to move that direction, but not quite sure if I can commit to 3 years of law school and then actually want to be a lawyer at the end of it. (Plus, I just don’t have the money, so there are a LOT of loan issues I have to consider.)
I’ve been hearing from a lot of people that going to a school for paralegals can be a great idea – you get a feel for how it is to study law, you gain some insight into what the legal system/court is actually like, and at the end of it you have some solid options, even if you don’t actually end up wanting to do law school. And if you do, well then you’re already on your way. :)

Reply

Leave a Comment

Anti-Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree

Previous post:

Next post: