Law school, as exciting and thrilling as it may sound, is all about fit and compatibility. I mean this in terms of which law school you should choose to attend (more on this later), as well as whether you should even attend law school at all. The main purpose of this article is to help you answer the latter part. If many of the points in this piece apply to you, a career in the legal world may very well be for you. However, this article, as informative as it may be, should serve merely as a guide–but hopefully will provide you some very valuable insight!
1. You want to take advantage of the less competitive law school admissions
The dog-eat-dog days of the 2000s are over (at least for now). Because of the growing surplus of law school grads, many people have been forced to accept jobs that are not law related and, even more disturbingly, many have been left unemployed.
Because of this, many law schools over the past several years have seen a plummet in applications, which, in turn, has contributed to a drop in average LSAT scores and GPAs, making law school admission, as a whole, less competitive. While Harvard’s 15.4% acceptance rate is not a laughing matter, it is nearly four percentage points higher than it was in 2009.
Consequently, because of the drop in enrollment, the number of people applying for jobs in the legal market has also declined. However, if enrollment happens to increase again within the next few years, so too will applications to firm jobs.
While application numbers have hit their lowest in 30 years, this may very well be just a phase. This means that if law school is your calling, you better apply as soon as possible.
2. You want a high-earning potential
Not all legal jobs are high paying, but if you’re looking for a six-digit starting salary in a field that is not medicine or engineering, look no further. Entry-level level attorneys at big law firms are known to earn as much as $160,000 per year. Take into account bonuses, and you have got yourself a lucrative career.
There are a few important things to consider. The first thing is debt. With private law school debt reaching an all-time high average of $125,000, it is no wonder it often takes attorneys, even those in big law, several years to pay it off.
That being said, this alone should not deter anyone from going to law school. Even people with lower-paying jobs (e.g. government, public interest, academia) typically are able to pay off their debt in a timely manner.
Additionally, big law jobs tend to be concentrated in big cities, such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Therefore, if you don’t think you would enjoy life in a fast-paced urban environment, then it’s probably not for you.
3. You want to make a positive difference
While they do not typically pay nearly as much as large corporate law firms, public interest firms are a popular route for people looking to facilitate positive social and political change–both global and domestic.
Whether you are looking to work for a nonprofit organization, a federal government office, or as a public defender, there are a variety of ways to make a positive difference in fields ranging from human rights and environmental policy to workers’ compensation and education policy.
With public interest salaries ranging from $40,000 to $70,000, money is not usually the motivating factor for pursuing this route. Rather, it is the desire to drive positive change and make a difference in the lives of others.
4. You want the intellectual challenge
Because of all the writing, reading, and critical thinking that a legal education requires, law school is challenging and, therefore, tends only to attract the brightest, most capable of college students. While most people choose to attend law school for its real-world legal training, many pursue it simply for its academics, oftentimes seeing law school as a career in and of itself.
One of the most intellectually challenging–and sometimes most exciting–law school activities is participating in Socratic debate, also known as the Socratic method. Typically, a professor will randomly call on a student, ask an open-ended question about an difficult legal topic, and expect the student to provide an answer, along with an explanation to his or her reasoning. In the process, the professor will challenge the student’s position with more open-ended questions and, by doing so, eliminate contradictions and force the student to question their own assumptions. In the end, the professor will summarize all the thoughts and ideas brought to the table during the Socratic debate.
Because the Socratic method is one of the most integral aspects of the law school experience, one should not attend law school unless they can handle grueling in-class questioning and be constantly prepared to contribute to classroom discussion.
5. You want to expand your career opportunities
While popular wisdom holds that you should not attend law school unless you plan to become an attorney, the truth is that a law degree can open doors to many fields outside the legal world. A law degree is versatile because law really is connected to virtually everything; after all, law provides the framework within which our society functions. Also, a legal education gives you the ability to think critically and logically, skills that anyone who wants to succeed should use.
Whether they started out as attorneys or headed straight to non-legal fields, plenty of people have benefited from their law degrees in various non-legal careers. Popular career paths that come to mind include journalism, politics, entrepreneurship, counseling/psychology, and academia.
While I normally would advise against attending law school without any intention of becoming a lawyer, if you absolutely know what you want from a legal education and how it would benefit you in your career, by all means. Even if you do not know, a law degree can very well open doors that you probably would have never imagined.
6. You did well on the LSAT
The two things that matter most on a law school application are your college GPA and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score. The LSAT is a standardized test administered four times a year that allows law schools to accurately measure a student’s reading comprehension, and logical and analytical reasoning abilities, skills that are vitally important for any person’s law school success.
With the lowest possible score at 120 and the highest possible score at 180, the LSAT is a highly learnable test that, with plenty of preparation, many people can do well on. While a score of 150 is generally considered the median, a score of 164 would normally rank in the 90th percentile (top 10 percent). Oftentimes, people who score in the low 140s on a cold diagnostic practice test end up scoring above 165 on the real thing, but that takes time and practice.
Do you think you have what it takes to ace the LSAT? In that case, I have provided a link to an actual LSAC-sponsored LSAT practice exam, which you can take to gauge your ability to perform on the actual test. If you score low, do not be discouraged. Remember: the LSAT is a conquerable test–so long as you put in the time and effort.
Before I close, I would like to provide a few caveats. Since law school is extremely expensive (and increasingly so) you should probably decide against attending law school unless you have received a substantial amount of scholarship or are attending a top-ranking law school. That is not to say that getting a Juris Doctor (JD) from a top law school will guarantee success, but it is worth noting that certain schools have better employment statistics than others.
The US News & World Report (USNWR) law school rankings, while controversial, actually provide important and useful law school employment information. Since employment statistics carry significant weight in the rankings (20%), there is, unsurprisingly, a mostly positive correlation between a school’s ranking and its employment rates and starting salaries. Some of the top 20 schools, according to this source, include schools such as Yale, UC Berkeley, University of Virginia, Harvard, Northwestern, UT Austin, Vanderbilt, UCLA, and the University of Chicago.
That being said, I would strongly advise against making the USNWR rankings the main determinant in your law school decision-making. However, it should serve, at the very least, as a general guide, just as this article should.
If you think this article may have led you in that direction, start doing as much research as you possibly can–read newspaper and magazine articles about law school and the legal world, shadow a local attorney or judge, or get in touch with current law students or professors. Be absolutely sure that this is what you want to do.
Good luck in all your future endeavors!
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