Is Law School Right for You? Ask Yourself 5 Simple Questions.

 

The law is an amazing profession, but it’s not for everyone.  In fact, it’s not for the vast majority of people.  And when it’s not a good fit, the downside is awful.  Mismatched lawyers are miserable.  Their lives can really suck.  They may be very good at what they do, but it’s not particularly fulfilling.  Or it’s too time-consuming, preventing them from doing the other stuff that would be fulfilling.  Maybe they can’t stand dealing with other lawyers.  And if they’re not very good at what they do, their clients can suffer far far worse.

But for those who belong here, the law is a wonderful place to be.  It challenges the intellect, inspires ideas, and gives you a chance to really make a difference.  And that is huge.  It doesn’t matter what kind of law you practice; you’re dealing with real people, with real lives, and you’re helping them with a real need.  A life in the law is deeply fulfilling, and a life well spent.

Unfortunately, most mismatched lawyers don’t figure it out (if ever) until far too late, when they’re already practicing.  Some cut their losses and start a new career.  But most don’t.  Maybe they’re in a large law firm and just hate it, but can’t leave the paycheck.  Maybe they feel they’ve invested too much of their lives in law school and advancing through the profession, and so are unwilling to chuck it all and start over doing something else.  Maybe they sincerely can’t think of anything else to do.  And they wind up getting more and more miserable.  It’s no wonder that alcoholism, depression and divorce are rampant among lawyers.

The best time to figure it out, of course, is before going to law school.  Some people wisely drop out (or, thankfully, wash out), but that’s rare.  No, once a mismatched lawyer is admitted to law school, the odds are they’re going to stick it out and become a sinkhole of misery.  Far better to have turned away and pursued a more fulfilling life before ever going to law school in the first place.

But how can you tell if the law’s going to be a good fit for you?  It’s tough, if you haven’t tried it out first.  Whether you’d be happy or not is all hypothetical until you start working.

Fortunately, you know yourself pretty well.  Nothing hypothetical there.  If you’re honest with yourself, you know what traits you have and don’t have.

And fortunately, we’ve known plenty of other happy lawyers, and had the chance to observe what traits we all seem to share.

So if you’re wondering whether you ought to go to law school, you might want to ask yourself a few very simple questions:

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1.  Do you want to be a lawyer?

If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t go to law school.  Sure, lots of people say it prepares you for other kinds of work, and trains your brain to do marvelous things.  But if that’s all you want out of it, go take some continuing ed courses in History, Philosophy and Economics.  A rigorous study of History will give you the same issue-spotting, researching and detail-checking that you’d get from law school — probably better.  Philosophy will certainly give you a better grounding in logic, analysis, and reasoned argument.  And Economics, along with the other two, will give you enough grounding in how people actually work, and why they do what they do.  There is nothing else that law school teaches if you’re not planning to be a lawyer.

Law school serves a single function: it is a trade school for those who would practice law.  And it’s fucking expensive.  Would you spend a hundred grand to go to plumbing school and apprentice as a plumber if you weren’t planning on being a plumber?  (And yes, that’s a valid comparison.  Plenty of lawyers make about as much as the average plumber.)  If you don’t want to be a lawyer, don’t go to law school.

“I don’t know” is not a good answer.  “I don’t know” is the same as “no.”  “No” does not mean you’re opposed to the idea of being a lawyer — that’s not what we asked.  We’re only asking if you actually desire to be one.  If the honest answer is anything other than an unqualified “yes,” then stop right here.  Do not go to law school.

But if the answer is yes, then keep reading.

2.  Why do you want to be a lawyer?

If you want to be a lawyer because lawyers make good money, then you shouldn’t go to law school.  Yes, some lawyers make great money, but that’s still no reason to be one.  If a major part of why you want to be a lawyer is the money, then in all sincerity you lack the single biggest trait of a good lawyer, and you do not belong in the profession.  If you can’t think of what that missing trait is on your own, you doubly don’t belong here.  Put simply, that trait is not putting yourself first.  The number-one thing that separates the law from almost every other endeavor is that the client’s interests always always always come first.  If you’re in it for the dough, you’re in it for you, and you’re not in it for the client.  (And if you’re in it for the dough, unless you’re going to be one of the top 1% of lawyers, you’re an idiot.  Because most aren’t going to make huge bucks.  Idiots don’t belong, either.)

If you want to be a lawyer because of the prestige, job security, or other benefits to yourself, the same goes for you.  You’re putting yourself first, and you probably have an unrealistic idea of what being a lawyer is like as well.  Please find something else to do with your life.  We’ll all be better off for it.

Do you want to be a lawyer because… well… you don’t know for sure?  Or because going to law school is some kind of default, because you still don’t know what to do with your life?  Or because you don’t want to be blue-collar, but didn’t get a background in science or engineering, don’t have the chops to do business, and didn’t develop any marketable skills in college?  Be warned: the law is not a default career.  Don’t count on discovering an aptitude and love of the law by chance during law school — it ain’t gonna happen.  Please go somewhere else.

But if you want to be a lawyer because of a genuine desire to help others — with what, it doesn’t matter — then you might be one of us!  Keep reading.

3.  Are you smart? Are you a good person?

This is really two questions in one.  Intelligence has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person.  But we’re lumping them here because what we’re really asking is whether you are the right kind of person for the job.

You don’t need to be a genius to be a good lawyer.  But you do need to have above-average intelligence.  You need to be able to learn new things quickly all the time, figure out what’s important, and deal with it right there.  Most people can’t really do this well enough.  It doesn’t make them bad people, it just means the law isn’t for them.

On top of basic intelligence, you need some basic maturity and good judgment.  You’re going to be making decisions that affect your clients’ lives in important ways, so you need to be able to make the right decision.  Intelligence only gets you to the point where you know what decision has to be made, and helps you identify what options you have.  Judgment and maturity (and experience) are how you make the right decision.

“Smart,” however, means more than just intelligent and wise.  It also means you know stuff.  A good lawyer is going to be a well-rounded person.  Every case, every matter, involves new issues to learn, new situations to figure out, and new people to deal with.  The more and varied your life experience, the better you will be able to deal with it.  Taking lots of different courses in college helps.  Doing lots of different activities and working different kinds of jobs helps more.  There’s a reason all that stuff looks good on a resume.

Beyond smarts, a lawyer must have a diligent work ethic.  You don’t need to be chained to your desk, but the law is a time-consuming profession, and you need to be able to put in the time to do it right.  That doesn’t mean you need to be chained to your desk every waking moment — unless you’re on trial or dealing with an emergency, there’s no reason why you’d need to forego your non-work life.  In fact, the most successful lawyers always seem to have time for family and personal pursuits, despite the fact that they work very hard.  And throughout law school and throughout the practice of law, the people who perform better are not the smartest ones, but the ones who put in the time to prepare more thoroughly.  It can’t be done quickly, and it can’t be crammed.  Those with a diligent work ethic will shine.  The rest will suffer.

And a lawyer must have strong morals, and a basic sense of decency.  This should go without saying, but there’s a popular misconception that the law is filled with assholes, and that assholes make better lawyers.  Nothing could be more wrong.  The lawyers who get ahead are without exception, trustworthy, fair and honest.  The rest of us make sure that those who aren’t don’t get very far.  It may seem like there’s a glut of lawyers in the world, but within the profession it’s a very small world indeed.  A lawyer who lies, who cheats, or who steals will not last very long at all.

4.  What kind of law are you thinking of practicing?

“I don’t know” is a perfectly valid answer here.  If you’ve made it this far, you probably have at least the bare minimum of threshold personality traits to practice law.  But let’s fine-tune it a little more.  What you want to do with that law degree will affect not only whether getting it makes sense, but also where you ought to go to school.  There are countless combinations of law schools and kinds of practice, but here are a few for comparison:

If you want to practice large-scale corporate law, helping big deals get made, doing M&A work, structuring intricate financial matters, etc., then your best bet’s going to be working in “biglaw” — the super-sized firms that work for major corporations.  The pay there is the best, the hours are the worst, and getting in is the hardest.  Because they pay far more than the true value of a freshly-minted JD, there is an oversupply of candidates for the jobs.  So they get to cherry-pick only the best candidates, which usually means those with the best grades from the most prestigious schools.  (Note, we did not say the “best” schools.)  If that’s your goal, you’re going to need to ace the LSAT and either have a near-perfect undergrad GPA or some awesome real-life experiences.  Otherwise, you’re not going to get into those top schools, and you’re not going to work at biglaw.

If you want a career studying the law, maybe shaping it, then academia is the place for you.  Oh, did we say biglaw was the hardest job to get?  We lied.  Legal academia is way harder.  In addition to a JD from a top school and law review, you’re probably also going to want to wrangle a federal appellate clerkship.  More importantly, you’re going to have to get published.  Not self-published.  Not a blog.  Not articles in Forbes.  You need to publish law review articles (even though nobody outside of academia ever reads or uses them).  The more the better.  At this point, however, you’re going to need to get into a top school.  If you can’t, then your chances of success here are low.

But you don’t need to go to one of the most prestigious schools if you want to practice local, small-scale law.  St. John’s and Cardozo prepare people far better for general local practice in New York than does Harvard.  However, you do need to go to a school that’s good at what it does.  The better the school, the better you’ll be taught, and the better you’ll be at what you do, and the better your chances of success.  Go somewhere in the top 100.  If you can get into one of the more prestigious ones, and can afford it, then by all means do — it really opens doors throughout your career — but it’s by no means necessary.  (And if you can’t get into a top 100 school, then you might want to rethink whether you meet the threshold requirements for practicing law in the first place.  Seriously.)

Do consider the fact that you’ll need to get a job, and even in the best of economic climates the lower your school’s ranked, the less likely you are to be hired.  The better your school, and the better your class rank there, the more likely you are to get hired.  Someone who had what it takes to get into Yale, but only did average there, is still going to be more marketable than someone who did great at Gonzaga.

5.  So how are those grades, anyway?

As you may have gathered by now, your grades and scores are pretty damn important.  As well they should be.  More than just determining how good a law school you can get into, they’re a great indicator of how well-suited you are for the legal profession.  If you don’t have the grades and the LSAT to get into a decent school, you’re probably going to be happier doing something else.

“But my grades don’t truly reflect me as a person,” we can hear you saying.  And you’re right, they don’t.  Grades and test scores don’t have any correlation to being a good person, having awesome potential, or your value as a person.

But grades are an outstanding indicator of whether you’re the kind of person who will achieve.  Face it, if you’re in college, you’re a grown adult.  You’re not a child.  If you’re not achieving now, what makes you’re going to start later?  Law school is not going to be kind to you if you don’t already have what it takes to earn great grades.  And if you have what it takes, why aren’t you getting those grades now?

And test scores like the LSAT are, like it or not, strong indicators of how well you’ll do in law school and beyond.  The LSAT tests logical thinking, reading comprehension, and issue spotting.  If you’re not really good at these now, you’re simply not going to do well in law school and beyond.  You’re not.  Don’t insist that you are, you’re not.

So as we said before, if you don’t have what it takes to get into at least a top 100 school, you really need to rethink whether the law is a good fit for you.

But if you’ve gotten this far, and you’ve got the grades and scores to get into one of those schools, or better yet one of the more prestigious schools, then come on in.  You’re probably going to love it in here.  And we’d love to have you.  People may complain that there are too many lawyers, but what they really mean is there are too many crappy ones.  There’s always room for more good ones.  Always.  So yes, we’d love to have you.

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112 Responses

  1. Ryan says:

    I feel like there should be a sixth question in here along the lines of, “Can you afford it?” Trust me, I want to be a lawyer; I’ve wanted to practice law since I was thirteen. But I don’t have much money. Undergraduate degrees cost enough these days. How can I be successful in life through a legal career if I have to pile hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt on my head?

  2. Nathan says:

    Ryan, do you qualify for a scholarship? And why not work your way through? I worked my way through (expensive as hell) Georgetown, and graduated with zero debt. Full-time jobs during the day, classes at night, and the weekends were for outlining and such. There are awesome law schools with excellent evening divisions, so don’t let that stop you.

    (In fact, many professors insist that evening students are better, because not only do they tend to have broader experience beyond being mere students — such as raising families and holding down jobs — but they also tend to have more perspective, don’t psych themselves out over little shit, and are very very serious about being lawyers. Few evening students are there by default. Most are there for exactly the right reasons.)

  3. Ryan says:

    Thanks for the quick reply. I haven’t really considered law school courses in the evenings an option…but maybe it’s the route I’ll end up having to take; that is, of course, assuming I can land a decent full-time job in this economy.

  4. Zach says:

    I know a few attorneys that gone to a third tier school (Akron) 2 are now judges, one is a prosecutor, A few others I know practice around my area and do just fine, none seem to hate what they do, why is it so imperative that I make it into a T100 school?

  5. Nathan says:

    When did they start practicing law? It’s not as viable a career-starter as it once was.

    And keep in mind that this is generalized advice, and there are always exceptions to a general rule-of-thumb. Most people aren’t exceptions, though.

  6. Anonymous 4 Now says:

    So does anyone have any thoughts about a professional choosing you rather than you choosing it? I am definitely an I DON’T KNOW kind of person as it relates to studying law. However I am also a 4.0 undergraduate student who plans to study for the LSAT for a year to obtain optimal results, at which time I will continue to work full time during the day for my Financial Firm and attend law school at night. I want to practice biglaw for my current employer(as I did state during my interview of my intent to attend law school at night). I come from a very poor family, so IVY league law school is not an option, however my family have ALWAYS been sitting ducks as it relates to matters of the law. I slowly but surely beginning to believe it is actually my DESTINY to be in law because I absolutely love the culture of my fanancial institution and while I take great pride in working in my position which is second to lowest on the totem pole, I have so much respect for the company that I’d love to help them out in the capacity of a legal big fish asset to this company one day. Also serving dutifully on the side as needed as my family’s much deserving secret weapon. Did I mention I love helping people. Well I do. And my work ethic. I started working as an entrepreneur selling candy and doing nails when I was 12. My work ethic now is still exceptional, but I need to be challenged more and a JD is part of what will help me do so. Any feed back anybody has to this would be greatly appreciated.

  7. Nathan says:

    Sounds like you’d be a good fit, Anonymous. Better than most. Good luck with it!

  8. Caleb says:

    Nathan, I love this post! For the most part, I think it is dead on, but I’m only a law student so what do I know.

    While I generally agree with you on the Top 100 point, I think there is a valid exception that you didn’t include: Regional Schools. Some students want to eventually practice in a specific geographical region and not all of those geographical regions have T100 law schools nearby. In some of those regions the majority of practitioners are graduates of those non-T100 law schools.

    For example, I go to one of two law schools in the state where I live. When I started school, neither of the law schools were in the US News & World Report’s top 100. However, from what I can tell, the overwhelming majority of practitioners came from one of these two schools.

    This isn’t to say that a graduate from a T14 school wouldn’t have a much easier go at finding a job here, but it does mean that going to a T100+ school isn’t going to hurt anyone’s prospects of getting a job in the state.

  9. Nathan says:

    That’s a good point, Caleb, thanks!

  10. Monica says:

    Hi,
    I’m middle-aged working in the medical device/pharma industry as a regulatory professionals interacting with FDA and other regulatory agencies. There seems to be a proliferation of Masters or PhD in Regulatory Science, but that does not really interest me. Plus I figure when I’m retired, I could really help people either doing pro bona work in contracts, housing, immigration or family law. Do you think either internet or local night law school would work?

    • Nathan says:

      By all means go to night school — some of the finest lawyers out there, and even a Supreme Court Chief Justice, went to law school at night. Professors fight to teach evening-division classes at the T-14 schools that offer them, because the students have real-life experiences, perspective, and dedication that they don’t get with the kids who went straight from high school to college to law school. But do go to the best program you can get into, and by all means make sure it’s an ABA-accredited program. The ABA has particular rules for night school (they call it “part-time”) that are holdovers from the bad old days of excluding certain classes and races from the profession. Times have changed, but the rules are still there.

  11. Megan says:

    Excellent article. Just what I was looking for. Thanks for the great advice. Not sure I’ve read the words “we’d love to have you” in any other law-aspiration-related blog. It’s great. Thanks again.

  12. kelsey says:

    i’m 14 but ever since i was 12 i’ve wanted to be a lawyer. The only thing is that i don’t know if i have what it takes to be one. does anyone know of any tests or something like that, that can help me figure it out?

    • Nathan says:

      You’re 14? It’s probably too soon to tell whether you have what it takes to be a lawyer. But you have plenty of time to find out. Between now and, say, your second year of college, figure out the following things about yourself:

      1) If helping another person would cost you money, would you still do it?
      2) Are History, Philosophy and Economics mind-blowingly awesome?
      3) Do you understand WHY you feel the emotions you feel? Can you get others to feel the same way?
      4) Can you set aside emotion, and logically think through a complex scenario?
      5) Are you willing to work uncomfortably hard to make sure you’re doing a good job? And I mean uncomfortably?

      If all five answers are YES (5 or 6 years from now), then you probably do have what it takes. If any of the answers turn out to be NO, then the law might not be the best fit for you.

      As for your second question, take civics and government. If they still even teach that stuff.

  13. kelsey says:

    oh and also does anyone know what kind of extra classes i should take in highschool that would help me become a better lawyer? and also what are some good lawschools? i hear harvard isn’t all that.

  14. Christina says:

    Hi, I am a sophomore in college, Chemical Engineering major. I work hard but my GPA isn’t outstanding considering the classes I have to take. I am also not at an Ivy league university, but it is still a very good school. I am looking into law but unsure if it will be the right fit for me. Do you have any suggestions of what I should be doing, besides online research, to help me decide if law is the path for me? Are there any prerequisites required or recommended for law school since I am not a Pre-law major? Do engineers even have a chance at getting into law school? I am really interested in ethics and possibly environmental law.

    • Nathan says:

      Don’t bother with pre-law. People with math and science backgrounds actually do better on the LSAT than pre-law types. Probably because you have better logic and analytical skills. And whatever people may say, the LSAT is a good indicator of how well you’ll succeed in law school.

      Engineers and people with science degrees are always in demand in patent law. So yes, they have a chance at getting into law school. Actually, your major has almost no effect on getting in. To ensure that you do well once you’re in, however, it’s a good idea to take a few history, philosophy and economics courses. Not just surveys, but some that get into the nitty-gritty of research, clear thinking, and analysis. That’s a far better prep for law school than any pre-law curriculum.

      The basic prerequisites for getting into law school are an outstanding LSAT score and something that makes you stand out from the crowd. People with less than stellar undergrad grades get into top schools, believe it or not, when they stand out as someone worth taking a risk on. You have a reason for your GPA not being as high as the 4.0 Liberal Arts majors, so don’t be shy about it — play it up!

  15. Sarah says:

    Hello Nathan,
    I just had a chat with a former professor who suggested that I pursue Environmental Law. I had never, previously, considered law school an option, because I felt that corruption was not something I’d like to be a part of. Mmm…I’ve probably imbibed far too many stereotypes. However, I am passionate about helping people and the environment, I am an exceptionally hard worker and take pride in thorough research. I graduated Magna Cum Laude with departmental honors, etc. Do you think this would be a good option for me?

  16. Lynn says:

    I am a Junior in a midwest high school. I am in mostly honors and AP classes (in which I get A’s), and am involved in the Debate team. After reading your article, as well as other job discriptions, I feel law is something I would enjoy and excel at. However, other posts and statistics have scared me. Online is filled with horor stories about how you won’t get a job in law unless you go Ivy League. However, I live in the Midwest, and don’t want to venture that far away to go to college or get a job. Also, while my projected ACT score is in the low 30’s ( and if I don’t get a score of at least 30 I will study and take it again until I do) , I don’t know that I have what it takes to get in (especially since I’m in regular Chemistry and Calculus). I was considering Creighton University in Nebraska, because it is close. Do you think I could get a job after attending there? I know I’m only in high school, but what I want to do affects what college I go to. All of this is making me feel so stressed- do you have any suggestions?

  17. Wendy says:

    Thanks for the article Nathan! I’ve been working for a Fortune 200 transportation company in sales for almost 4 years but I am getting burnt out and really want a change. I was more or less pushed into this career by personal obligations and looking to make a change before it’s ‘too late’. Read: Turn 30. Law school is a BIG DEAL and I want to get into a top school (if I do a thing, I want the best); reading your article helped me confirm I can do it even if I don’t know what type of law I want to practice yet. Now to ace the LSAT….170 is my goal!

  18. Nathan says:

    Sarah: Pretty much all law is about helping people. Whether the client is an individual, a corporation or a government, it’s always a human being on the other side who needs something done, and it’s the lawyer’s job to figure out how to accomplish that (or advise perhaps a wiser course of action). From my limited experience of it, the practice of environmental law is not terribly hands-on. It’s heavy on agency law and bureaucracy, and one is either working for the government coming up with and enforcing regulations, or helping people and businesses minimize their liability under those regulations. But I’d ask someone who blogs on environmental law for a better answer. Like I said, my experience is limited there.

  19. Nathan says:

    Lynn: Local law schools are just fine — even preferable — if you want to practice locally. You might not get as much exposure to policy and the cutting edge of scholarship, but then again you might. And your professors are much more likely to teach you how the law is actually practiced where you are. I know nothing about the school you’re looking at, though, so you’d be better off asking people who practice where you want to practice. Good luck!

  20. Nathan says:

    Wendy: I’m glad to hear you’re eager to get into the law, even after reading this piece. Just make sure you’re not doing it as a safety or a default, because that way great unhappiness lies. Few people are more miserable than lawyers in it for “a career” or “the money” or because they couldn’t think of anything else to do with their lives. Maybe shoeless homeless hungry pregnant abused drug addicts, but not too many others.

    But it sounds like you’re confirmed in your hear that you’re doing it for the right reasons, and that’s wonderful! The profession may seem full of lawyers, but no matter how full it seems, there’s always room for more good ones! The best of luck to you!

  21. Alyssa says:

    First I want to say that this article gave me a good perspective on what I should prepare myself for. Now I have a few questions, if you don’t mind answering them and I don’t mind you being brutally honest if you think I’d be turned away. I want to know the likely hood of me having success in a field I LOVE without my background being a factor that could hinder my chances later on. I never finished high school I was supposed to graduate 2006 but moved around so much that each school wouldn’t accept the last ones credits and would force me to start over in certain classes holding me back to graduate for 2007, and long story short by the time I was supposed to graduate my credits were re evaluated and I was to be held back another year, no summer school no night school, a whole entire extra year in HS. I was so frustrated I dropped out and gave up on school completely. My mom needed help with the bills, was able to get me a job in the city at Merrill Lynch for awhile so I figured I’d do that (all the whole knowing I hated business) but I knew it would pay the bills. I bounced around from a few jobs after that doing what I can to make ends meet, never actually went back to finish or even get my GED. Now I am 24, I have a 9 month old daughter who I look at and want the world for. i want her to NEVER give up the way I did and I want her to be proud of me. I gave up on school and that was a huge mistake but I can’t take that back all I can do now is move forward I’ve already started the process to get my GED, my next step I was assuming I can do a 2yr community college, bust my ass, get into a better school for the remaining 2yrs, and then from there take my lsat and proceed to law school. I KNOW it is going to be hard work, I’m not afraid of that, I’m going to be working full time, raising my daughter, and going to school. I want to know if you think I’d be turned away because I never finished HS and it took me 6yrs to figure out that I was ready and serious about my life, my future and my career.

  22. Alyssa says:

    Also, the reason I want to become a lawyer is to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves, who don’t know the law ad are usually taken advantage of for that reason alone. I think about all of the people in jail, and how many of them are NOT guilty, I think about how many people have their rights violated and can’t do anything about it because they don’t know any better, I’d love to be doing this to be one of those big shot big bucks lawyers, but that’s not where my heart lies. So many people need help and because they can’t afford it they can’t get it. I want to be that help for them. Honestly not sure if that means I would have to be a defense lawyer or a public defender (laughing) but either way I just want to help people. Animals as well they have no rights in this world, no one to speak for them and even the people that do speak for them have a small voice. I want those people to be heard. Maybe I’m reaching far, but I’m a very determined person when I put my mind to it, if I want something I will get it. I just don’t want to be judged for my past when I can prove that I’m going to do everything necessary to benefit my future.

  23. E says:

    Hi Nathan.

    I am very confused about going to law school. At the moment I am a double major in political science and Spanish (focus is Portuguese) and a double minor in French and Italian.
    I grew up in Mexico and had to struggle for a while in college because I was not a very good writer also because I became so preoccupied with social work (politics to be exact). So my GPA is not outstanding. I really like the idea of international law.
    But I am afraid, does knowing languages and social work help me get into a law school?
    I think I am good at persuasion and very persistent! And I work VERY hard and people know it.

    Do you think I have a chance? or should I look elsewhere?

    Thank you,
    E.

  24. Nathan says:

    E: The question isn’t whether you have a chance at getting into law school — there are plenty of school out there, at all levels of selectivity.

    The question is whether you ought to study law. It sounds like you’re interested in public interest work, and there are plenty of lawyers who do that. It rarely pays very well, but it’s definitely a thing that lawyers do. But what those lawyers do isn’t always what people think. You should research what the practice of public interest law actually entails, talk to people who do it, and decide if that’s really what you want to do with your life.

    So don’t ask yourself if you can get INTO law school. Ask what you intend to do once you get OUT of it.

  25. Via says:

    Hi, I’m a high school student (graduating this year ) and I really wanna pursue a career in law after college. I plan on going to decent University ( though nothing compared to Harvard or Yale) but I wanted to major in Political Science and Business Administration and Management. My only worries though is the amount of money not ony my undergraduate year will require but my graduate and Law school years. My question for you is how can I do something I love and want to do if things such as the wrong timing to be a lawyer ( economically ) stands in the way ? I dont necessairly want to become a lawyer for the money but I would like to possiably graduate with a good paying job and be able to live “comfortably”. The only reason why I want to do a double or minor in Business Administration and Management is because if some reason my law career doesn’t take off by the time I would like then I guess I can do something with that degree. But then I could never get back the time and money invested into Law school. Please give me some advice and I guess guidance in wither or not this chance is worth taking. Thanks

  26. Julie says:

    I’ve never been one to comment on blogs but I felt it to be necessary. After 3 years of 4.0 undergraduate work I’m nearing the time of applications to graduate school. I’ve been interested in law for years and my goal as an undergraduate has been law school. Over the last several months I have read nothing but negative reviews and advice on studying law. While it hadn’t deterred me entirely, it has been very discouraging. I’m very confident in my abilities and direction, but still the non-stop posts about too many lawyers and how every lawyer is miserable is enough to really get a girl down! I want to thank you for your post. I think it is straightforward and honest but not biased or defeating. It is what more people should write like, informative without all the personal hang ups.

  27. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the article. Not sure if the author is still responding still, but I’ll say my piece anyways. I graduated from the #1 school in the country for civil engineering and am now a practicing engineer with a great salary. But, I am unfulfilled and want to become a lawyer. My undergrad GPA was only 3.0 but I did many extra curriculars and leadership positions. After reading these comments, I think night school could be a viable option for me, however the cost is just really frightening to me. So, yeah my question is, given my shitty GPA I am going to need to really play up my personal experiences and work experience correct? How can I relate my work experience to being a lawyer? I know this can be done but it’s not super obvious to me right now, considering my job is basically modeling pipelines and making sure they don’t explode. Any help would be appreciated thanks! Plus, I don’t know if I necessarily want to do patent law. I’m unsure what type of law I want to do, but definitely not biglaw. How can I relate my skills to law in general I guess? Hope that makes sense, thanks!

  28. David says:

    For some reason after taking a practice LSAT I began to introspect and wonder why I was bothering. Like many foolish Millenials, I went online for answers but did not find them here and do to some quirk in my personality, some unconscious desire to write or vent, I felt that it was worth the time to craft a long-winded and most likely illogical response. I am sorry for this but maybe you will welcome an opinion so full of holes and improprieties. Reading the comments section on this essay, it seemed to me that so many young professionals are being more positive and adulatory than the writing warrants, and I cannot shake the feeling that this is due to an unwillingness to cut bridges or insult an implied expert opinion. I guess I do not care anymore and have rarely been impressed with so called expert opinion.
    In Section 2, “Why do you Want to be a Lawyer?,” this paper makes a critical mistake when it assumes that lawyers who are in it for money or prestige are morally unsuited for this career. There is a quote in the third line: “Put simply, that trait is not putting yourself first. The number-one thing that separates the law from almost every other endeavor is that the client’s interests always always always come first.”
    I never found this view to be particular to law or logically at odds with the modern capitalist ethos. Most businesses expect employees to give their hardest and never ask questions, to do whatever it takes to improve the shareholders’ stock portfolio and the CEO’s prestige, and to never ever question the boss, the client, the goal, ever. This mentality that “the customer is always right” is not at all particular to law, nor is it exactly a mindset that should be applauded.
    “Putting yourself first” seems to have a negative connotation, but in moderation it is a good idea. The critical fallacy I feel that you are making is that, in contrast to popular culture’s negative view of lawyers, lawyers who sacrifice their own sense of selfish ego by giving their all for random clients are performing a moral good or a unique service to the community. This is wrong. Being adaptable under all situations for the client is not a moral good: it a willingness to throw away one’s own morality in favor of the clients’ own worldview, which may or may not be inferior to that of the lawyer in question. It is, in short, the exact opposite of having “strong morals, and a basic sense of decency”.
    Then you continue with a fairly insulting tone, claiming that if we “are in it for the dough, unless you’re going to be one of the top 1% of lawyers, you’re an idiot. Because most aren’t going to make huge bucks.” This is a newsflash, and I hope it does not surprise too much, but only idiots think the economy is doing well. Most Millenials are having major problems transitioning from higher education into earning a living wage. This is Millennials who had the ability to go to higher academic courses. Most who could not afford college are, simply put, consigned to low-wage, low-skill, low-opportunity careers. When you deny that law is a lucrative career path, you deny basic economic reality. Yes, of course there are better jobs, but they require a different set of talents, which to be honest, most lawyers do not have. Mathematical skill on par with economists or computer technical knowledge on par with IT professionals require different talents than law. Still, strictly speaking, most lawyers are in it for the money. Why else would they choose one of the best non-STEM career paths?
    Many may like the competitive atmosphere as well as the type of work involved and the sense of accomplishment that comes after winning a case, but most professionals in the global market do not choose the career they most want, but the career that is most financially feasible under stressful laissez faire conditions. Simply put, most people do not want to live in the streets as starving artists regardless of their own personal inclination towards laziness, creative individuality or a dislike for corporate culture. Taken as a whole, people move towards the job that pays best. Those who can afford it go to higher education not because they prefer working strenuous 60 hour work weeks to 30, but because they know that a 30 hour job cannot pay bills needed to raise a family, attract a mate or keep up with the Joneses. To pretend otherwise seems ludicrous and the moral high tone in this essay seems unnecessary.
    This paper could have focused on whether or not prospective applicants for law school deal well with stress, timed critical thinking or ability to pay for law school and it would have been just as effective if not more.

  29. Sylvia says:

    Hi,
    I’m 15 years-old, and I’ve always wanted to be lawyer. My mom was a judge, so that was part of the influence. I get straight As in school, a grade ahead of my peers in math and science, and I can speak 4 languages. The main reason I want to be a lawyer is so that I can help people who have been cheated, harmed or been treated unjustly in anyway. I’m interested in criminal law. (Plus, I love all those law shows!) I’ve been planning ahead for a couple of years, so now I’m trying to see what law schools suit me… Anyways, this page has given me some guidance, so I’m sure that I’l become a lawyer.
    Thanks,
    Sylvia

  30. Seth says:

    Hello Nathan,
    I’m a highschool senior that is considering a career in law. I am going to double major in History and Theatre (if that is possible), because I would like to earn my degree in law and then try and get a job in theatre. If that does not happen, I could hopefully get into a firm. I have a 3.9 GPA, in all AP classes, passed the AP European History Exam. I have faith in myself that I could become a lawyer, but if it not my top priority, is it not for me?

  31. Stefon says:

    Hello (anyone who will respond) I am a junior in highschool and I have wanted to practice law ever since last year (I took civics). Up until I took civics I longed to be an Oncologist and I really don’t understand law school at all. Can anyone help?

  32. Karma S says:

    Hey, I am a lawyer in Pakistan(common law jurisdiction) who has completed the external LLB from the university of London , with a third class honours . Our degree only adds the second and third year grades excluding the first. I have interned at some good law firms in my country and worked in drafting the rape legislation and some constitutional law cases. I am currently working at a mid size firm.
    I have always wanted to return to the states for a career in law but am not sure any more due to the low GPA. I believe that a years experience and already possessing a law degree may give me the analytical skills to score high in the LSAT. I plan on doing a clerkship as well before applying to law school and am already writing legal articles for magazines and plan on reaching out for newspapers.
    my question is based on the information, what are my chances of getting into a good law school? should I even bother applying to the T15 law schools ?

    Thanks in advance.

  33. Luis says:

    I am 42 years old. I have a huge interest to go into law school, and among the top 5. Am I too old for it? Your thoughts….

  34. Jessica C says:

    Thank you very much for this article. However by the time i answered number 5, it pretty much ruled out the other ones. I didn’t have the best grades in high school but i passed on the Recommended plan. Had the drive to obtain a certificate in Multifamily Property Management PLUS a Certificate in Medical Billing and Coding. I got a couple of certifications under my belt to be the medical field. I’m in training for Dental Assocate while i work as a Front Desk Associate til i can become a manager all at the same job. I made excellent grades after high school. However, i have been very interested in Law but more towards Immigation cases & etc. I work hard and studied hard, to be successful. I may not have the grades but I would think a sense of drive and good work ethic would mean something, so why must i have to obtain all “A’s” or go to a high credited Law school ? I made A’s and B’s

  35. Kat says:

    I am almost done with my masters degree in Environmental Science. I am considering, instead of a phD, pursuing a degree in Environmental Law, not because I am drawn to the career of “lawyer” so much as the consulting aspect of my field. Being savvy in navigating the CFR and regulatory bodies has served me well to date. I see myself perhaps getting into writing legislation and might one day consider politics.

    I don’t know if law school is the right path to reach that end game. Thoughts?

  36. Kath says:

    I found your article while looking for things to say in an essay about competent attorneys. It is causing some deep thinking. I am in my forties and have a law degree I haven’t used. Now I want to dust it off and doing a course in legal practice. but the first two questions make me wonder…

  37. Beth says:

    They should’ve just titled this: “Reasons why you shouldn’t become a lawyer” instead. Geez…. Most of the information in each reason consists of all the cons in becoming a lawyer. It’s only scaring those with ambitions and aspirations away.

  38. Rupini says:

    Hi. I really want to become a lawyer so that I can help people to get justice. The problem is I don’t know how to debate and public speaking. But I know how to talk well when it comes to certain issues. Can you please tell me how to overcome my problem? Actually, I have a social anxiety. Thank you.

  39. Rupini says:

    Sorry about my grammar mistake. The sentence “Actually, I have a social anxiety” become “Actually, I have social anxiety.”

  40. madi says:

    Thanks for this arricle! It’s just awesome. Now I know that I wanna be a lawyer!

  41. Alexic says:

    I am a freshman in college and I do want to practice criminal law. what kind of classes can I take in college to become familiar with it, in case I don’t really like it because I also want to practice environmental law. I just want to know if legislative law is good for me.

  42. Alexic says:

    at the end I meant criminal law instead of legislative law

  43. Kathrine says:

    if one of my family members was involved in a crime, can i still be a lawyer?

  44. For anyone who is out of school, you should get your various student education loans consolidated in to just one account. You’ll be able to combine several financial loans into one set rate and you’ll avoid being forced to be sure you pay multiple creditors and accounts each month. Research prices for the best interest rates before you choose a lender.

  45. Christina says:

    Hi.
    Im a 26yo wanting to write the LSATs.
    I did poorly in undergrad, mainly which I would like to blame on my lack of financial stability, but I know even when I did have money, I worked more because I was greedy. I almost dropped out in third year to work at a cold calling job because I brought home 2grand each week and it was unheard of as a student making more than her college professor.
    Money has always been a motivator for me.
    Anyways, my college degree only got new so far so I went back to cold calling within 3 months of graduating. In 2013 I wrote my GRE and was accepted for biomedical program across the country. I didn’t take it and instead decided to spend fewer dollars at a local college with a coop program that landed me my current profession. Mind you, my community college days enveloped geography and environmental GIS and I was a stellaaarrrr student. I wasn’t working, lived in a real dorm, and totally regret going to university for a degree. My diploma got me further in the oil and gas industry /Geomatics field than my degree and I don’t want to waste it.
    After a year of working- since my exams last year, I finally have enough saved to put a 30% down payment on a house, or pay for law school.
    I need advise though. I love environmental and Geomatics. Although law constantly protects it, I do see grey areas and I think by going to law school of be able to change them. It’s definitely the area I’d like to practice. By performing poorly in university I mean I had a 2.6 GPA, yet I Managed to score really well on my GRE (bio), and then got a 4.0 GPA in college. Do you think law schools would even look at me? I can score really well on the LSAT. It’s not too far different than the analytical thinking skills you apply writing your GRE. Im conflicted with a decision to either go to law school, fully paid, especially since my profession in oil and gas is suffering right now, or buy a great house since the economic downfall brought their prices down.
    I’m summary: Do you think I would be overlooked because of poor university performance when I was 17-20yo? 5 years after obtaining my degree I proved to myself what I was capable of and I believe I can do greater things than where I am at in my professional career.

    • Nathan says:

      Real-life experience usually overshadows long-past academic grades. In fact, a law student who has had a life beyond college is often preferred by admissions types. I’ve heard lots of law professors also say they prefer the students who didn’t just come straight out of college, because they have more perspective and useful practical knowledge of the world and how society really works, and so can contribute more to the class discussions, than the typical kid whose only experience has been their life in grade school, high school, and college.

      Now, if money is your motivation for becoming a lawyer, I’d advise you to do something else with your life. That’s one of the worst reasons to enter the law, and makes for an unfulfilling life at the expense of clients who deserve better.

      But if you want to go for the right reasons, I’d say your college grades won’t hinder you as much as you think. Make sure you ace the LSAT, and with your experience your chances of getting into a highly-ranked law school are not bad. Anecdotes aren’t data, but take me, for example: 2.5 undergrad GPA — flunked first year, and even though I turned around and did really well from then on, no amount of As are going to erase a 0.9 first-year GPA. But I did turn into a good student, as you did. Then I worked after graduating, and nowhere near as impressively as you did. Aced the LSAT. Applied to four or five law schools, and got into Tulane and Georgetown. Went to Georgetown, made law review, made editor, graduated in the top of my class. And I’m hardly unique. So what you want to do has been done before.

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