Ready to attend law school and become a hot-shot lawyer? Not so fast. Law school might not be the best decision for your career.
You’re a bright and motivated individual with strong ideals who loves to argue. Law school seems like a perfect fit for the next step in your career. Right? Well, maybe.
Attending law school is a monumental undertaking on various levels. You will be challenged mentally, emotionally and financially.
I am a practicing attorney, and I’m happy with my career choice because I find it to be an intellectually rewarding career. As an attorney, you are constantly challenged to think outside the box in order to find solutions to your clients’ complex legal issues. And I enjoy that. But, despite my career satisfaction, I’ve met many attorneys over the years who wish they were more well-informed before attending law school.
So, before you jump into the deep end, read these safety tips. (Click here to tweet these tips.)
1. Law school is expensive
Unless you’re independently wealthy or have parents who want to invest in your education, you will be incurring large amounts of debt to attend law school. Individuals who graduated private law schools in the past few years have an average debt of $122,158. That figure doesn’t include any undergraduate debt.
Let that sink in.
With that enormous debt, you’ll most likely be paying your loans for about 30 years. It’s like having a home mortgage. This enormous financial investment will naturally lead to fierce competition for top-paying jobs.
2. Law school is uber-competitive
There is certainly nothing wrong with a little competition. You could even argue that law school breeds success because it pushes us to our limits.
But here’s the truth: even though you attend law school for three years, your first year of law school has a highly disproportionate affect on your career trajectory.
Strange, right? But the reason is simple.
Highly prestigious law firms will interview students after their first year of law school based on their first year grades. If they like you, then you may be asked to be a summer associate. From there, the sky’s the limit.
The major flaw with this system is that most of the students in your class will not be invited to interview with these high-octane law firms. Rather, only a small number of students will be invited. Everyone else is essentially on their own for a summer job and beyond.
Caveat: if you attend one of the nation’s top five or 10 law schools, your employment possibilities with a large firm increase dramatically, regardless of your grades.
What’s the huge perk in securing employment with a large law firm? The money, of course. Your extremely high salary and yearly bonuses will ease the burden of your enormous debt.
3. Being a law student (and lawyer) is stressful
It’s no secret that being an attorney is stressful. You’re the person people come to when they have problems. Big, serious problems. And it’s your job to fix those problems. If you do fix the problem, good for you — but don’t expect a raise. That’s what you were hired to do.
How about if you don’t fix the problem? Or, if your problem-solving strategy is not to your client’s liking? Get ready for a lot of days filled with irate clients emailing and phoning you. Not to mention the amount of pressure you’ll receive from the firm’s higher-ups. You, as their underling, are expected to generate revenue and do the down-in-the-trenches legal work.
Law school alternatives
If you’re contemplating law school, you are most likely an ambitious, go-getter. And, if that’s the case, the world is yours for the conquering. There are plenty of other career paths from which to choose. Even if you are currently practicing law, it’s not too late to change your path.
If you’re looking for an alternative to high school, here are a few solid options to consider.
- Get your MBA. The earning potential for MBAs is excellent. Just make sure to do your research and pick a school in which the students are heavily recruited by businesses.
- Attend graduate school. There are numerous professions where would-be lawyers excel, like human resources and marketing. These jobs require two major attorney skills: problem solving and thinking outside the box.
- Become a paralegal. You may think this is just a dumbed-down version of being a lawyer, but that’s not the case. Paralegals are vital to provide legal and administrative support for attorneys and clients. They can earn a good living without the stress and responsibility of being an attorney.
- Become a writer or journalist. Although traditional newspapers are dying a slow death, online media is exploding with opportunities for talented and tenacious writers. This is a perfect career for someone thinking about law school, because lawyers and writers have similar skills and strengths. In order to succeed in either field, you need to have excellent research, organizational, and communication skills. And, of course, writing skills!
- Become a psychologist or therapist. Many people contemplating law school are serious about wanting to help others. If you are one of these people, then why not explore a career where you can delve into the mind of another, with the goal of improving their life?
Although I’m a happy attorney, I’m also a realist. We are all unique individuals with unique skills. You should pursue what you want to do. Whether it be law school or raising sheep – your happiness and satisfaction should be at the forefront of your decision.
Did you consider law school, but ultimately decided not to attend? What’s your career now?
Kevin Hotter is an attorney, freelance writer, blogger and photographer. You can visit his blog or get in touch with him via Twitter: @KevinHotter.