Should I Become A Lawyer?

Why do you want to become a lawyer? Before you invest three (very intense) years and almost $200,000 attending law school, you might want to carefully consider this question and be able to give yourself an honest answer.

Sure, there are many benefits to graduating law school and earning a Juris Doctor (J.D.). Obviously, a law degree will allow you take the bar exam and practice law. Starting salaries for lawyers can be quite attractive, especially in large cities. And, J.D.'s are very versatile degrees, which means that you don’t necessarily have to be a full time lawyer. Law degrees are useful in the business world (believe it or not J.D. is the second most common degree for CEO’s), and many government or academic jobs are staffed by law school graduates. But, going to law school for the wrong reasons can be a huge mistake.

Bad Reasons for Attending Law School

If you want to work in business, government, or education, there are almost surely more direct routes to the job than law school. Before becoming a lawyer with an alternate career path in mind, you should carefully consider whether getting a law degree really benefits your goal. Interview people in your prospective field, particularly those in management, to determine whether a J.D. will help you reach your destination. Some employers may even be wary of hiring you, fearing that you will leave to practice law full time. Do your best to find someone who has taken the path you are considering, and seek their advice.

Also,  false assumptions about the legal profession may lead you in the wrong direction. For instance, if you are attracted to law school because you want to make a lot of money, there are some things you should know. The reality is that almost half the graduating law school class will earn less than $100,000 per year, and the largest grouping of salaries (34%) is between $40,000 and $65,000. When you couple these modest salaries with the staggering amount of debt most law students graduate with, attending law school to make a lot of money is a huge gamble.

Another commonly cited reason—“I like to argue,” is also a prescription for failure. The reality is that enjoying argument has little to do with whether you will enjoy or find success as a lawyer. The practice of law can be a dry and tedious process. Opportunities for argument are few and far between. Most cases never make it to court, making negotiating a much more important skill than argument. Many lawyers—especially those at big firms—work for many years before they are allowed to go make arguments. And, if you really like to argue, there are better options—think politician.

Probably the worst reason to attend law school is because you are not sure of what else to do. Perhaps, you didn’t get into the other graduate program you wanted. Law school (and the practice of law) is a very competitive, stressful, and demanding lifestyle. Most young lawyers work incredibly long hours, including weekends. If you are not reasonably confident that you are in it for the right reasons, these long hours and often boring tasks, will wear you down. Law school is not a good backup plan to medical or dental school. For these and the reasons stated above, if you are thinking of going to law school because you don’t know what else to do, you should seriously reconsider.

Good Reasons for Attending Law School

So, if there are bad reasons for attending law school, what are some of the good reasons? Well, no one can really answer that but you. There are many successful lawyers—and those with non-traditional law jobs—that attended law school because someone they respected influenced them. For others law school is the result of working with or around lawyers. Still other people wanted to choose a profession that allows them to help other people. Regardless of your reason, what makes a reason good is that it is carefully and intelligently considered.
Another important consideration is whether or not you possess the traits that are common to good, satisfied, lawyers. These traits may not be what you would ordinarily associate with the successful practice of law. While this list isn’t exclusive (and there are many who would disagree with it), it is obvious that possessing these traits certainly will not hurt:
  • Detail oriented
  • Loves learning
  • Achievement-oriented
  • Respects rules
  • Hard worker
  • Talented writer
  • Thick skinned
  • Competitive
  • Confident
  • Analytical

Also, becoming a lawyer will change you. Law school teaches a different kind of thought process. When you leave law school, you will be more confident and approach questions in a totally different manner. You will learn to see the grey areas in black and white situations. And, you will undoubtedly improve your communication skills and judgment. These traits have the power to improve all aspects of your life.

What's Next?

So, if you think becoming a lawyer is for you, then you should read the rest of the Considering Law School section of this website.  You will find valuable, free information that will put you on the right track.  You should also download the free version of the Law School Coach - Guide to Law School Admissions.