Table of Contents
- Work Experience
- Reasons & Research
- Related Articles
The first step in any law school admissions journey is to decide that you want to apply to law school. Inherently, this decision should include deciding that you want to become a lawyer. As an initial consideration, applying to law school with no intention of becoming a lawyer is almost never a good idea. Aside from that point, this article aims to help with considering all other dimensions of the application decision.
I recommend four different steps when trying to decide whether or not to apply to law school.
As a person without any family members that had JDs, I found mentorship invaluable in providing insight regarding the application process, the law school experience, and what being a practicing lawyer would be like. If you are considering law school and lawyering, I strongly recommend joining pre-law organizations at your college, and/or reaching out to individuals through your alumni network who are lawyers that are open to mentorship. Reaching out to current law students at schools you aspire to attend or to lawyers you admire through LinkedIn is another way to get some inside information and mentorship. Bring a list of questions to your conversation with these individuals – ask a lawyer about their day-to-day work life, character traits they think are necessary for success in their career, things they wish they had known before becoming a lawyer, etc. Ask a current law student about the learning environment (competitive or with camaraderie?), things they wish they had known before tackling 1L, how they made the decision to apply, etc.
Second, work experience.
If you are able to, gaining experience in some sort of legal work before law school is extremely helpful in ensuring that you know what you are getting yourself into. I worked as a paralegal for 2 years before law school, and this experience was what really made me certain I was making the right decision when I hit the submit button for my law school applications. Any sort of position that gives you some experience with the law – whether it’s volunteering as a legal assistant at a local legal aid clinic, securing a paralegal position, or working as a summer intern at a local law firm, any position that gives you some interaction with legal work will help you exponentially with making an informed decision.
Third and fourth, list of reasons and research.
Another process that I found extremely helpful when deciding to make the huge commitment to the law school process was writing out a list of reasons as to why I thought being a lawyer was right for me. I looked back on this list anytime that I doubted my choice or felt drained throughout 1L, and it truly helped me to push through those difficult moments. When doing this, it’s important not to consider a legal career in a vacuum, but rather to think through other career options in comparison to lawyering as well. Additionally, this step functions in conjunction with the fourth step, research. While writing out your list of reasons, ensure that you are doing so in an informed manner, backed by research regarding the financial and pragmatic realities of your decision –in conjunction with the more idealized components.
Generally, Topics to Research/Include on your List:
- Related Questions – Individually, these questions may not seem to be very determinative. However, taken as a whole, they can be illuminating. Some require at least a vague understanding of your application profile:
- What is your ideal position as a lawyer? Big law attorney? Plaintiff’s side public interest work? Counsel on the Hill? In-house counsel?
- Where do you want to live in the future? How much flexibility do you want to move around? Do you need to be by family? How can you coordinate with your partner or family, or other individuals you want to be close to? What area of the country has the practice areas you are most interested in?
- What are your target schools? Will these schools realistically get you to the location and position that you want to be in?
- What will your financial reality be (post law degree)? How much will your target schools cost? What are your chances of receiving financial aid or scholarships? How much debt are you able to realistically take on (compared to your ideal career outcome)? What is the risk assessment of your likely amount of debt compared to your income (or ability to get a public interest repayment plan from your target law schools?) How much money do you want/need to live comfortably and fulfill your other desires from your life (hobbies, travel, family)?
- What is your ideal work/life balance for your future life? Do you want to have children or pets? Do you want to travel a lot? How much down time do you need/want in your life?
- Related Research:
- Admissions Capacity. It’s important to be realistic with yourself about your goals (long-term career-wise and short-term law school-wise), and how they match up to your admissions prospects and prior academic success.
- Financial Reality. A lot of people don’t understand that becoming a lawyer doesn’t guarantee you financial security. It is so important to be realistic about the financial realities of your decision. While becoming a public interest lawyer may fulfill your desire to have a meaningful career, if you are burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt (and attended a school without a public interest repayment plan), this burden may make your life so stressful as to negate or at least seriously negatively impact the meaningful benefits you are otherwise deriving from your career. As another example, if you want to be a lawyer to make money or for prestige, make sure you understand the statistics for actually receiving job offers from big law, or for landing a stellar clerkship going into the profession from any given school within your target range. None of this advice means to cast a value judgment on anyone’s hopes for their future – rather, I write out these examples to impress upon you that understanding the actual financial realities of your choices REALLY matters, specifically to making the decision to attend law school, simply because it has become such a burdensome financial investment.
- Location. If you aren’t picky about location, law school ranking won’t matter as much. This is an important criteria, because if you want to be by family in San Francisco, for example, and know that this will have a huge impact on happiness in your life, it’s important to consider the regional outcomes for the schools you are applying to.
2. Career/Personal Skills Fit
- Related Questions:
- What do you find meaningful? How important is it to you for your work to be meaningful? Does this match what you can realistically do with a law degree?
- How well do you handle stress?
- Do you like confrontation, or are you conflict-averse?
- Are you detail-oriented?
- Are you organized, type A?
- What work do you find meaningful? What makes you feel fulfilled?
- Do you like reading? Are you an efficient reader?
- Are you ambitious? What does this mean? What picture of your future would fulfill this for you, on balance with developing meaning in your life?
- What are you passionate about?
- Do you quit easily?
- Do you like school?
- What are the two main characteristics that are non-negotiable for you to be satisfied with your job?
- What makes you most happy?
- What impact do you want to make on the world? Will being a lawyer help you to reach this goal?
- Is there another type of work that might suit you better that you have overlooked?
- What made you initially consider law school? Is this reason a sustaining reason – one that you believe will support you through the years of long hours ahead?
- Related Research:
- I found mentorship and work experience to be extremely helpful to me in developing a deeper understanding of whether lawyering fit me as a person and what I wanted from my career. It’s also important to get a sense of the range of qualities that will match any given pathway from law school –> lawyer. I purposely did not provide “ideal” answers to any of the questions in this article. It is up to you to determine what your answers are to each of the questions, and to determine if (after answering these questions honestly), you feel based off of the research you have done and the people you have spoken to, that your vision of your career matches with the reality of what it will be. There is no one ideal goal or personality trait or type of person to become a lawyer. However, these are still helpful questions to evaluate about yourself, to get a sense as to your level of comfortability (and therefore, happiness) in pursuing this career path as compared to what will be required of you in the type of law you are hoping to pursue.
Overall, main takeaway – anyone that puts in the work can become a lawyer. However, not everyone will be happy as a lawyer. I have found that the people who most hate the profession often tend to be those that did not go in with enough awareness or understanding of what they were actually getting themselves into. So my main advice is to be extremely intentional in approaching this question, in researching and seeking out advice and mentorship, and in honestly evaluating yourself for the right answer.
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