5 Questions to Ask Before Going to Law School

Law school is expensive.   Depending on the school, the tuition costs alone can exceed $150,000, in addition to your debts from undergraduate studies.   High paying legal jobs are difficult to get right out of law school.   All of these factors caution against going to law school unless you have a good reason to attend.  This article presents the factors that you should consider.

A recent study of full-time tuition costs showed that the average annual tuition for the 2015-2016 academic year was an average of $45,467 for private schools, $38,885 for public schools out-of-state students and $25,890 for public schools in-state students.   D. Smith-Barrow, U.S. News Data: Law School Costs, J.D. Salaries, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT (March 16, 2016); https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/articles/2016-03-17/us-news-data-law-school-costs-jd-salaries .  The same study found that the “[g]raduates from the majority of schools made between $50,000 and $74,999” annually.   Id.

When I was the General Counsel of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, I would frequently visit colleges to teach undergraduates about the basics of intellectual property law.   Frequently, several students would come up come to me after my presentation and ask “should I go to law school?”

My answer was: only if its your passion to be a lawyer or you have the resources to pay for school.   The reason:  law school is expensive and it is difficult for graduating students to get jobs that pay enough to service law school debt and pay it off quickly.   You don’t want to be burdened with a huge debt and no way to pay it back.

A Law Degree Is No Longer a Guaranteed Job

It used to be that law school graduates were guaranteed a job on graduation.   This is no longer the case. A recent article in the New York Times entitled “An Expensive Law Degree, and No Place to Use It” highlights the risks associated with going to law school today.   https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/19/business/dealbook/an-expensive-law-degree-and-no-place-to-use-it.html   The article paints a grim picture for the graduates of one law school:

As of this April, fewer than 70 percent of Valparaiso law school graduates from the previous spring were employed and fewer than half were in jobs that required a law license.   Only three of 131 graduates worked in large firm, which tend to pay more generous salaries. 

Not a rosy picture.   Yet, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go to law school.   I went and I’m glad that I did.   I loved my career.

Yet, you should get more information before you leap.   Let’s turn to some of the questions that you might answer.

The Questions to Ask BEFORE Applying to Law School

Here are some questions that you might ask yourself before going to law school:

  • How will you pay for law school?   Law school is a great education for any future job.   If you have the resources to go to law school and are committed to finishing and doing well, GO!
  • If you need to take out debt, how long will it take to pay it back?   Don’t take out a lot of debt to attend law school unless its your passion and you absolutely must be a lawyer.   Otherwise, paying off the debt is like paying off a home mortgage.  Don’t forget to include any undergraduate debts in the mix.
  • Are you likely to get a job on graduation?   Look at each potential school that you are considering and find out the percentage of graduates that get jobs after graduation.
  • What areas of the law am I interested in and how hot is that area?   You need to predict your success and that depends on the demand for your future legal services. Look at the legal market to determine the areas that are growing in the future and likely to need new lawyers.
  • Is it my passion to be a lawyer and why do I want to be a lawyer?   Go to a life coach or a career counselor and spend a few sessions figuring out why you want to be a lawyer.   It’s a huge commitment and you need to be all in.   Figure out if a legal job suits your personality and strengths.

How to Increase Your Chances of Getting a Top Job on Law School Graduation

It’s no longer enough to graduate law school.   You must think about ways to differentiate yourself from the other law school graduates from the beginning.

When you interview for internships during law school and upon graduation, you must be able to say why you are uniquely qualified to contribute to a firm’s practice.   Remember rule number 1:  law firms are about revenue generation.

You must start developing your brand early.  Law school is a good time to start and professors are excellent mentors.

Here are some helpful suggestions to start as soon as you are accepted to law school:

  • Decide the area of law that you are interested in pursuing and start writing papers the can be published in a law review, blog or other source.
  • Find out the associations that focus on your speciality area and attend a meeting.   For example, you could attend an American Bar Association meeting and get involved.
  • Start networking in your community.   Attend local bar association meetings.
  • Volunteer for a worthy cause; show civic involvement.
  • Keep yourself healthy.   Work out and eat right.  I hate to say it but fit, together looking people are more likely to get hired.
  • Make speeches and presentations whenever possible.
  • Develop your interviewing style and start crafting some good and unique interview questions.
  • Start focusing on firms that you might want to work for as a summer associate or after law school.   Start researching the firm and try to attend events hosted by the firm.   Make connections early.   Don’t be afraid to go up to people and meet them.
  • Look on LinkedIn and find lawyers who attend your law school and undergraduate schools.   Contact them and start networking now.   Ask them if you can drop by their office or go to coffee.  It’s bold but effective.   The worst that happens is that they don’t respond.

Go to Law School, But Be Smart and Prepared

Success doesn’t just happen.   It takes strategic planning and thoughtful execution. Answer the above questions before law school and once enrolled, use the discussed strategies to position yourself to be a real success.   Always believe in yourself–you can do it!