Should You Go To Law School? Here’s How to Decide
Got law? Thinking about it? Take a closer look at our five strategies to help you decide whether you should go to law school.
- Student Tips
So, how should you decide to go or not? We have rounded up five strategies to help you decide whether law school is right for you.
1. Ask yourself some questions
Am I in it for the money?
If you are drawn to law solely by the prospect of a high salary, you should probably reconsider.
Law school does not guarantee a high salary. While some lawyers do make significant amounts of money, it does not (usually) happen immediately, and salaries are very dependent on the type of law that you study and practice. Spoiler alert - a partner in a big law firm earns a lot more than a public defender. In addition, the cost of attending law school can be significant. Even is you do start your career with a high salary, if you went into significant debt to earn your degree you may not feel the financial benefits of your new salary until you have paid off your loan.
Do I have any experience?
Have you volunteered or interned with a law firm? If you have and you have enjoyed the work, then it could be a great fit.
If you have no experience at all, then get some before you decide to apply. If you don’t have time to intern or volunteer, at a minimum, you should schedule some informational interviews with willing law firms to see if you are interested. Don't assume that enjoying legal dramas or a aptitude for debate means you will enjoy the profession.
Need some help? Contact your university’s career services office to send you in the right direction.
How much do I want to work?
The legal profession is not known for its flexible working hours. Most successful lawyers and other legal professionals work well over 40-hour work weeks in fast-paced, deadline-driven environments.
If you are up for the challenge, go for it. If you are not, reconsider the type of career you would like to have.
Do I like to read?
Law school requires you to read at least three hours per day, not fluff fiction or blog posts. Legal writing is difficult, dense, and challenging reading. Every day. If you take a day off, you have to make up for it just to keep up with your classes. And it is not just about reading. You need to be able to understand, retain, and analyze what you have read.
Why does this matter? Because the reading doesn't end when your degree does. If you can’t tolerate a heavy reading load as a student, then you won’t be able to keep up as a practicing lawyer, either.
To be a lawyer, your reading skills need to be next level.
Recommended reading: How to study in law school?
Do I want to go or do my parents want me to go?
Parental or other outside pressure forcing your decision is not a reason to go to law school. Sure, they want you to be happy and successful, and they see law school as a viable option to bring you those things.
The problem? Think about the points above - if any of those points are a deal breaker for you, law school might not be the best option. If you would only be happy earning seven figures, if you aren't interested in the field, if you can't imagine a work/life imbalance, or if you would rather watch the film than read the book, it doesn't matter whether your parents, college professors, or significant other think you would 'be a great lawyer.' You won't be happy - or successful - if you go to law school on terms that are not your own.
Go for the right reasons—your reasons.
2. Check your GPA and LSAT scores
One of the most important questions you need to ask yourself before starting the process of applying to law school is: "Will I be able to achieve my career goals if I do not attend a top-tier school?"
While there are hundreds of reputable law programs at colleges and universities throughout the US, only a few of those schools have the highest rankings and reputations that will give you access to the country's top law firms and legal careers. And while it is possible to land a top position without attending a top school, the odds are not in your favor. Like law school, legal careers are highly competitive, and big-name firms often hire from only a few schools.
Your undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores will, in large part, determine where you can apply to law school. If your scores are not in the highest percentiles, you will not be admitted to a more competitive school, which means it is important to know exactly how competitive you hope to be post-degree before you even start applying to law school.
Regardless of your aspirations, knowing your standing and working to achieve the highest marks you are capable of should be part of your pre-law-school application plan. If you are still working on your undergraduate degree, find out what grade range your preferred law schools accept, as well as their LSAT expectations. You should also investigate which subjects and classes will best prepare you for the law schools of your choice.
When it comes to the LSAT, practice, practice, and practice some more. The LSAT is largely a measure of aptitude rather than knowledge. It is designed to determine whether a test-taker has the reasoning skills and comprehension ability to learn in law school. And, if at first you don't succeed, try try again. Unless you achieve a perfect score on your first try, you are allowed to take the exam a total of seven times in your lifetime - and up to three times in a single testing year.
3. Use your imagination
Envision different scenarios of you, as a lawyer, in the future. You are at a dinner party and someone asks what you do. You say, “I’m a lawyer.” How does that sound to you? How does it feel? What do you hope that your career choice implies about you?
Imagine that you are a lawyer working on an important case and you have a family commitment at the weekend. A partner calls you late on Friday and indicates that you need to work on the case during the weekend in order to be prepared for Monday. Do you cancel your plans? Or do you take the weekend off anyway? How do you feel about your career infringing on your personal life?
Consider how you will deal with issues of morality, conflicts of interest, and challenges to your own personal belief system. Could you defend someone you believed to be guilty? Would you be able to condemn someone who broke the law for an, objectively, good reason? How will you feel working with someone who interprets laws or statutes in a manner that you disagree with? Will you be able to uphold laws and precedents that conflict with your religious beliefs or worldview?
Does calling yourself a lawyer and having the responsibilities of one appeal to you? If so, go for it. If not? Reconsider.
4. If you are not sure, take some time off
If you are nearing the end of your undergraduate degree, you may feel a lot of pressure to decide what you are doing next. Family, professors, friends, and society in general might expect you to know now, but the reality is that you don’t need to have the right answer right now. If you feel unsure, give yourself the time you need to figure it out.
Taking time off between your undergraduate years and law school will give you a different perspective. Work, volunteer, travel, continue studying - whatever you do, use the experience to determine whether the inclination to go to law school - and the desire for a legal career - remain. If you still feel the pull to go to law school, make sure that you have completed and acquired everything you will need to begin the application process.
5. Consider your reality as a legal professional
Remember Strategy #3? Don’t romanticize the life of a lawyer. Legal careers have the potential to be highly rewarding, but like most careers much of the reward will come from your own efforts.
Law demands a serious investment of time, energy, and money. And while film and television have the tendency to glamorize the profession, much of what you 'know' about being a legal professional is exaggerated. Yes, you can make a significant difference to individuals, groups, even the entire country - or world - but that difference rarely comes from one landmark trial or one momentous breakthrough. In reality, making a difference as a legal professional is, for most people, a lifelong commitment that is rarely recognized with banner headlines or a landmark verdict.
Understanding the challenges of working as a legal professional and the demands of the professions will help you determine whether pursuing law is the right choice for you. If you are still wondering if law is the right path for you, take our quiz to see if you should go to law school.
*This article was originally published on 30.11.2017 and was updated and amended on 26.09.2022