I'm certainly not an expert attorney, but through my years in law school and as an associate at a Big Law firm, I've come across certain pieces of advice that I would give to aspiring lawyers. Below are four things you should think about if you want to ultimately become a practicing lawyer.
Your Reasons for Attending Law School
While you don’t need to have every single answer right now, you should have a fairly clear idea of why you want to go to law school. And no, I wouldn’t recommend going to law school because a close relative or friend is pressuring you to attend, because law school “is a good backup plan,” because a law degree is “versatile” in society, or because they don’t know what else to do. True, some lawyers transition into business or politics and you may choose that path after law school. That said, I’d highly recommend attending law school solely because you want to be a lawyer. This question wisely assumes that starting point, but there are many future law students who attend for the reasons above. This is a dangerous starting point and can often lead to career unhappiness.
The Financial Ramifications of Law School
Law school continues to be expensive in the U.S. Unless law school is being financed by friends/family or through a scholarship, you will most likely have debt after graduation. You’ll be paying off this debt for years, even if you take advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program or any other program to ease your loan payments. Just understand that even if you obtain a Big Law job, you most likely will be making loan payments for the foreseeable future. As an aside, you also have to consider the opportunity costs of law school, which amount to three years of lost income and work experience.
The Importance of Experience in the Legal Industry
This is something that can play a major part in helping you determine whether legal practice is right for you. It’s too easy to imagine what legal practice is like without getting up close and personal with the reality. Legal practice is often boring and it’s unlike what you observe in films and television. By finding a summer internship or full-time position in the legal industry (ideally, at your dream office), you’ll be able to observe practicing attorneys as they go about their day-to-day business. Ultimately, working in the industry before law school is a low-risk way of doing some market research and getting a better sense of whether you’ll actually enjoy being a lawyer.
Accounting for Law Schools' Prestige
There’s no way around it: prestige matters within the legal field. Where you attend law school—along with your 1L grades—will play a large part in the first job you obtain after graduation. Prestige is often measured by the top schools in the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings. Having said that, the U.S. News rankings focus on national prestige. Local prestige also exists and you’ll need to consider this if you want to practice in a smaller market. Regardless of where you practice, your law schools’ prestige will make it easier (or harder) to find your ideal job after graduation.