Written by Joanna Hughes

While the promise of a high paycheck is an alluring one for undergraduates considering law careers, it's not the leading factor motivating them, according to a new study. Commissioned by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), 'Before the JD: Undergraduate Views on Law School' reveals fresh insights into what’s driving aspiring lawyers.

Here’s a closer look at the findings, as reported by Law.com.

Beyond the Paycheck

The AALS survey of thousands of undergrads and first-year law students determined high salaries to claim the fifth place spot in the list of reasons drawing undergrads to law careers. In fact, just under a third of the survey participants put high-paying jobs in their top three.

Which begs the question: if not money, what is motivating these future lawyers? Laying the groundwork for a career in politics, government or public service claimed the first place spot while having an interest in legal work was second. In third and fourth were the opportunity to help others and the desire to be an advocate for social change, respectively.

What are the reasons keeping prospective lawyers away from the profession, meanwhile? Respondents expressed concerns about the cost, poor work-life balance, and the length of law programs.

An Encouraging Time

According to AALS executive director Judith Areen, the current climate in Washington may have fueled the responses, but current events can only account for part of the big picture. Why? Because the study -- the first of its kind in more than half a century -- also found that students start thinking about law careers early -- many even before starting high school.

Still, Areen finds the results heartening. “I find this truly encouraging. I was pleasantly surprised with all the publicly spirited factors as reasons for going to law school. In a difficult time in our nation’s history, it was encouraging,” she said.

Read more about law school here.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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