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Is Law School a Good Fit For You?

Students should not make the decision to go to law school lightly. First, law school is really expensive. Second, law school is hard. Third, careers in the Law are not for everyone.

As far as law school is concerned, potential applicants should be aware that they commit to three years of extremely hard (and often tedious) work. Here is what Steven Lawrence Jr., a Duke graduate who went to the Chicago School of Law, writes about his experience of law school (quoted from Duke University PreLaw Advising Booklet http://prelaw.duke.edu/froshoph.html):

The Law student must be ready and willing to meet one of the biggest challenge that he will ever face. Law school is full–time business. By full–time, I mean 10 hours a day, every day of the week. It is quite exhaustive, particularly during the first year. There is a new vocabulary to learn, and a way of thinking. As the faculty is fond of saying, law students also have to learn to read for the first time in their lives. In law, every word is of crucial importance; so you don’t read just to get the gist of the material. This point came across to me the first day of law school. I had spent four years in college contemplating such issues as truth, goodness, government, religion. In the first case we had to read in Contracts, the issue which Judge Henry Friendly, one of the most distinguished judges in the country, had to face is: “What is chicken?” The case turned on whether the parties to the contract meant “stewing chicken” or “fowl.” The movement from considering “what is truth” to “what is chicken” symbolizes perfectly for me the movement from college to law school.

So, when considering going to law school, you should be prepared to work long hours reading and analyzing in great details case studies. It may be very tedious at times. It also reflects what a good part of your work life will be as lawyer.

From a general point of view, careers in the Law can offer great satisfaction by giving one the opportunity to use the uniquely human skills of thinking, writing, speaking, and caring on behalf of persons in need. Also, prestige and decent salaries are non negligible positive aspects.
That said, potential applicants should consider:

  • the large number of lawyers in the United States (1 for every 350 persons),
  • the large number of lawyers who are unhappy in their work,
  • the large amount of debt that many students incur during law school,
  • the long work weeks that new lawyers in urban firms are expected to work (70 to 80 hours in order to log the expected number of billable hours).
What kind of person can be happy as a lawyer?

People with great discipline, tenacity, who are willing to pay attention to details and obey the rules, who enjoy intellectual challenges and problem solving, and finally who are able to engage in tedious tasks for long term results.
It is important that students do not go to law school just “because they did not know what else to do”. Careers in the Law demand a true commitment. Pre–Law students may want to get information from alumni from the law school they consider to go to. Employment or volunteering at a law firm is also a great way to learn what it is to work as a lawyer. Pre–law students should consider a law–related internship before they decide to apply to law school.

A good source of information is the American Bar Association Careers in the Law webpage: http://www.abanet.org/publiced/legalcareers.html

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