Law school is expensive, grueling, and you have no guarantee of getting a job at the end of it all. If you’re not sure that this is the career path for you, you will likely lack the momentum to conquer the hurdles that lie ahead. That is why it is so important to make sure that you want to be a lawyer before you commit to law school.
Do you know what a lawyer actually does?
But like, do you? Most people have a vague understanding of what a lawyer does. Arguing, reading, writing, going to court. However, if you have not been exposed to legal practice firsthand, you may be surprised that the reality greatly differs from your expectations.
When I graduated with my Bachelor’s in criminal justice a year and a half ago, I was dead set on never going to law school. Everyone in my family wanted to me to go, but I was hell bent against it. Instead, I was going to be a federal law enforcement officer. I was in the middle of the lengthy process of applying to be a Federal Air Marshal when I fell into a job as a paralegal as a way to pay my bills while I waited for the Marshals to call.
Once the Marshals came back with a rejection, I was able to focus my energy on my paralegal job. After a few months, I realized that not only was I good at my job, but I really enjoyed it! I worked closely with the attorneys in my office, and saw that the work that they do is actually pretty interesting. I would get lost for hours doing research for some of my cases, and be surprised by how much time had passed.
I began to have dreams that I was in law school, which left me with a weird lingering feeling when I woke up. Then in June 2017, my friend convinced me to take the LSAT with her in September. *Spoiler Alert* she backed out. As I geared up for the LSAT and took on more responsibility at work, I became more and more confident in my decision to go to law school. Now, I don’t have a doubt in my mind that this is the right path for me.
The moral of this story is: get firsthand experience working with lawyers. Internships are great, but I think that full-time work experience is the best way to know if law is really for you. Working full-time after undergrad is the best decision that I ever made. It gave me a clear sense of direction, I learned the ins-and -uts of working in a firm, and I got those dolla dolla bills y’all.
Your experience will vary wildly across different practice areas and firm sizes. I work at a small personal injury firm and love it, though I think I would hate working at a corporate “BigLaw” firm (Though, who knows? I’ve been known to change my mind). If your first experience with legal practice was lackluster, switch it up and try a different setting.
Law school will always be there
Remember that friend who backed out of the LSAT? Don’t worry about her, she’s doing great. Her parents were pressuring her to go to law school, but she had no idea what she would do with a J.D. She was finishing up her Master’s and was itching for some real-world full-time work experience. Her paid internship at a company that she loved was prepared to offer her a full-time position when she graduated. She wound up taking the LSAT in December, but chose not to apply to any schools. Instead, she took the full-time position and is now a lobbyist, advocating for policy that she is passionate about. She may choose law school in a year or two, but for now, she’s happy.
If you’re unsure about law school right now, DON’T GO! Get some work experience, volunteer, travel the world. It will likely either push you towards or away from law school, but either way, you will have a stronger sense of direction.
Throw out your expectations of a “unicorn job”
Don’t go to law school if you only want to work in an extremely small and narrow field: politics, constitutional law, environmental law, animal law. I’ve heard the term “international law” thrown around quite a bit, but no one really seems to know what it means. These areas all sound cool and interesting, but they are not where the jobs are, and the reality is you likely will not be able to find work in these fields. If the sole reason that you want to become a lawyer is to save the dwindling habitat of the Capuchin monkeys in Malaysia, and you will be wholly unsatisfied practicing any other area of law, then maybe save yourself a few hundred grand and go do some voluntourism instead.