Monday, July 9, 2012

Should I Go to Law School?

I was watching Madagascar with my nephew yesterday.  If you haven't seen it, it's a movie about some zoo animals in New York City who get released into the wild.  Chris Rock is the voice of the zebra, Marty. 

Marty is the catalyst for the release.  Early in the movie, he is speaking to Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) about the direction of his life and how he is sick of doing the same thing every day.  At one point during his speech, Marty says, "maybe I should go to law school." 

I was writing this post anyway, but that was a perfect reminder about how many people choose to go to law school. 

I found there are two camps of people in law school.  The drivers and the wanderers.  Drivers know they want to be a lawyer.  Maybe their parents were attorneys.  Maybe they wanted to change the world and thought law school was the way.  Or they had a first career and realized later in life they wanted to be a lawyer.  Wanderers are the Marty's of the world.  They choose law school because it seems like a good option or it's a way to delay the real world for awhile.  I fell into the second camp.

Lawyers are like any other people.  Some are good, some are bad.  Some are successful, some are not.  And we are finding out that we are subject to the same laws of economics as every other job - supply and demand.  When the demand is high, lawyers have jobs and high salaries.  When demand is low, there is a surplus of talent, unemployment and low starting salaries. 

We are in the low demand and high supply cycle.  The proof is all around us.  Lawyers that have graduated in recent years are employed in factories or doing insurance to make ends meet while they look for a legal job.  Law school admissions have dropped with the increased unemployment and underemployment. 

Making ten dollars an hour on the factory line doesn't help pay off six figures worth of student loan debt. 

So, should you go to law school?  Should you spend three years of your life racking up debt to go into a field that right now has only 55% of its graduates employed in the field after graduation?

This week, I'll discuss the decision, the costs, and the results of law school.

If you are thinking about law school, ask yourself why.  What type of lawyer?  Why do you want to be a lawyer?  Did you hear that they make good money?  Did you hear they live in nice houses and drive nice cars?  Or is it just a decision to delay getting a job while you figure things out? 

My high school history teacher said, "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail."  It's true in life and law school.  If you choose law school, you have to know why.  Do your research on what a lawyer does.  Be proactive.  Speak to lawyers in the community, in different fields.  Call them up, send them an email.  Ask them what they think.  Do they regret the decision?  Are they happy?  What's the work-life balance like?  Maybe you decide you would hate to keep track of every hour of your day so that you could bill a client for it.  Maybe you decide you enjoy special education law.

Options are limitless with a legal degree.  Which is good and bad.  Good because it can open doors to otherwise unavailable jobs.  Bad because it allows people to keep wandering, and never focus. 

The debt is real, even though you won't feel it for six months after graduation.  But those thousand dollar a month payments will come and a job may not.  This is life and you have to make informed decisions.  Otherwise, events control you instead of the other way around.

This week, I'll discuss the reasons to go to law school, how to choose a school, and how to manage the debt.  As always, I'll be honest.  


  1. Good topic, I have some very definite opinions myself, which I'll try and share as you work through the week. Especially when it comes to amassing student debt...

  2. I am one of those people who wish I'd gone to law school although in retrospect it was probably best that I didn't. You wouldn't believe how many resumes I see from lawyers who are applying for the RECEPTIONIST'S positions in law firms. It's very sad. If I had the time and money I would go to law school but I'm going to give this writing thing a go first. :)

    1. And it's going very well so far. Looking forward to your first two books!