Deciding to go to any grad school is a big deal. Apart from a PhD, law school specifically is one of the single longest grad school commitments you can make – not to mention one of the most expensive! Before jumping into LSAT studies or sending off your T-14 law school applications (read: “Top 14 law schools” shorthand – fun, right?), you should first sit down and do some serious thinking on whether law school is right for you. Not only will it be personally helpful, but also to start you thinking about your narrative for law school applications!
These are the 5 questions that I forced myself to answer before applying to law schools:
What type of work do I want to do down the road?There’s an old maxim that goes “those who love law school hate being a lawyer, and those who hate law school love being a lawyer.” While definitely a bit reductive and not true for everyone, this funny phrase is a helpful reminder that the idea behind going to law school is to emerge and work in the legal field. If your dream job likely doesn’t need a law degree, then law school might not be the best use of time or resources for you. If you’re not sure what “the legal field” looks like, that’s also okay right now – start doing some research, maybe get a legal internship and definitely talk to people who have been to law school!
What type of law interests me?
Prior to law school, many students don’t have much exposure to the legal world (sadly, watching all of Suits doesn’t count), unless you’ve worked as a paralegal before. This is totally fine and very normal, and it means that many students aren’t sure what even falls under the umbrella term “legal studies” when they enter 1L year. If this is you, don’t sweat! Start familiarizing yourself with areas of law by perusing the website of a few law schools you’re interested in – many will have “fields of study” or “roadmaps” that chart out a number of different areas of legal study. Even just a course catalog or good old-fashioned Google search will give you a great starting point for beginning to understand what type of law you might want to study.
What experience do I want to have before law school?
Some students reading this post may currently be finishing their undergraduate studies. Some students may be 5-10 years into a corporate career outside of law and considering a mid-career shift through law school. Both of these (and anything in between) is “normal” for law school students. Law school students come with a variety of background experiences and at a variety of life stages. The important question for everyone considering law school is: What experiences do I want to bring? Many law schools recommend having a few years of “real life” (e.g., post-college) experience before attending law school, rather than going “straight through” from college (alternatively called a KJD, or Kindergarten to JD). However, the decision is a really personal one – it’s helpful to think about what experience or perspective you want to bring into law school, which can help shape your decision. Do you want to have volunteered in state campaign politics for a year before you attend law school to study election law? Do you want to work in NYC finance for a bit before you decide if you want to pursue transactional law? Do you want to travel the world on a fellowship before you buckle in to slog through 1L readings? Think about what you want to bring to the table before applying!
How will I pay for law school?
You will probably hear someone tell you: “Don’t go to law school if you don’t want to be a lawyer.” And this is also probably sound advice. Unless you have ~$150,000 (on average) lying around with nowhere to spend it, paying for law school can be a very big deal. Thinking hard about the financial resources available to you pre-, during and post- law school (e.g., family support, scholarships and fellowship, post-grad jobs) will make the financial burden of law school less surprising.
Where do I want to live, study and work?
The legal field is (maybe surprisingly) very geographically based. To practice in any state in the US, you have to pass “the Bar” for that state, and a lot of law schools have specific ties to specific geographic areas in the US. When considering law school, think about where you want to be geographically for 5, 10, 20 years down the road and make sure that the law schools you are considering support that plan.
Before deciding to apply or attend law school, it’s crucial to have a clear and valid understanding of why you want to go to law school.
Unfortunately, just wanting to “be Elle Woods” doesn’t really cut it! Start by trying to understand your response to the above 5 questions, but don’t stop there. Talk to people you know who are lawyers or maybe cold email someone in your area who works in the legal field to get the TLDR on what they do. Teasing out these reasons for yourself will make your law school application significantly stronger, as well as giving you something to remind yourself of when you are reading your 5,378th judicial opinion in 1L year…
Alternatively, after this exercise, you may also realize, law school isn’t for you, and that’s okay too!
The purpose of this exercise is to have potentially difficult conversations with yourself and to think critically about your future path. If you can do that, you will have the skills to ensure you are making the best decisions for your future.