Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Should I Go to Law School? Part Two

Last semester I posted about deciding whether to go to law school or not. You can find it here. Now that I have some internship experience to draw from, I thought it might be good to do an updated version of the topic. I know many of you are recently accepted and trying to decide whether to make a seat deposit or not. I remember this time last year sitting in your place, and feeling completely panicked and hopeless. I called every person I knew and asked for their advice. Most of them said the same thing; "I can't tell you what to do." My mom really wanted me to go, because that's what I had always said I wanted to do. Friends said it seemed important to me. I looked back and tried to remember. HAD I really been that certain that law school is the place for me? I began seriously compromising my dreams to justify my fear of law school. The expense of it, all a gamble given the current legal job market, began to weigh heavily. I'm getting law school much, much cheaper than most people do and it's still a lot of money to owe at the end. I worried that I would be endangering my family's well-being by taking this risk.

A friend told me that he would kick my ass if I didn't go to law school. The language startled me, because he seemed so much more passionate about it than I felt after months of listless pondering. His passion was fueled by memories of me, waxing on about the law and what I hoped to accomplish by working in the field. I decided to go for it.

From the moment I sat in the (very uncomfortable) wooden chair in the moot courtroom of the law school during my first day of orientation, I knew I had made the right decision. Now, with my 1L year behind me, I can still say that I love law school.

Was it difficult during the first year? Absolutely. Sometimes tedious. Sometimes frustrating. Often overwhelming. I thought I would love Criminal Law when it came time to take it, and ended up really hating it. It's the field I want to work in so I was very disheartened to find that I enjoyed Property and Constitutional Law immensely, and hated the very thing in which I planned to work. I decided to take an unpaid internship for an attorney in criminal defense. I would let the practical experience determine if I was in the right place. I knew right away that it totally is.

Many attorneys complain about tedium such as doing legal research in a big firm. There is a lot of paperwork and it's long, long hours. I knew right off that big law was not the life I wanted. I found something I was passionate about and tried to direct my studies that way. I love criminal law. I love defense work. Meeting people and hearing their stories, going to court, and doing the best I can to improve the system is exhausting but very fulfilling.

To decide if you want to go to law school you need to have an idea of what kind of work you enjoy doing. If you've never had a job and are going directly from undergrad, I highly recommend working the summer before you start law school. It does not need to be legal work, but do SOMETHING. I knew that I don't like to be micromanaged. This tells me I will prefer small firm work or owning my own business. Working for the government such as legal aid could be okay, given you can generally manage your own cases, there just happen to be a lot of them.

I also knew that I liked dealing with criminal matters, and took some criminal law classes in my undergrad to explore this area.

If you don't find an area of law to be passionate about, and decide what kind of environment you flourish in, you will do yourself a major disservice if you spend the money for law school.

Don't borrow a ton of money for law school with no idea what being a lawyer is like. Get in touch with volunteer mentor attorneys from your law school (they may be willing to meet with you before you accept admission) and ask them what an average day is like. What do they hate about their job? Have they worked in other types of law? Go tour a law firm and see what they typically assign their interns to work on. Do some research and make sure this is the kind of thing you can do for the next ten years at least, because if you accrue the student loan debt and can't go work somewhere else making comparable money, you're going to be stuck in law for quite a while.

For me personally, I LOVE my job. I love what I do every single day. I am the type of person who will pitch in and do whatever people ask without being annoyed or bored. I'm happy to file, take dictation, fill out paperwork, generate and edit documents, get coffee, whatever.

If you aren't that type of person you will have to learn to be, but some people just can't handle grunt work. Now for me, being a self-starter with a personality built for owning my own business, grunt work is just par for the course.

I guess what this rambling is intended to convey is that you should really know who you are before you consider law school. This doesn't mean that you have to be closed to changing who you are, but that you should make decisions based on building a lifestyle for yourself. It would be a mistake to make a major decision like this and be stuck in a lifestyle you hate solely because you accrued 100K (plus) in debt.

Good luck, feel free to comment and I will reply.

1 comment:

  1. I know how you feel. I hated criminal law classes because I had to memorize tons of books and the research is just horrible. What I did was I did some internship to pay for my law school and I found that I loved working with elderly who are in need.
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