Friday, June 10, 2011

The thing about law school

I hired an intern for our office for the summer, and the topic of law school has come up recently between the attorneys in our office - if given a second chance, would we do it again?  So I thought, "this would make one excellent blog topic..." So here's my 2 cents on it, for what it's worth.
I can say with certainty that my answer would be no.   I hate saying that because honestly, I do love my job, but...sometimes I wonder if all of it was worth it.  But let me explain...
See, the thing they don't tell you before you go off to law school is this: you will spend three years of your life attending classes and lectures that do nothing at all to prepare you as an attorney.  It's like a rite of passage instead of something that actually trains you to work in a certain field.  And you don't know this until you're out of law school.  No, while you are in law school they stress that you have to take this course or that course because it's on the bar exam when in reality, nothing you learn in that course will a) help you in the bar exam or b) be something you will actually utilize once you are an attorney. 
Law school was hands down the most stressful three years of my life.  The constant competition, the constant studying, the lack of any spare time or freedom wears on  you.  It takes a huge toll.  There is a reason that lawyers are one of the top categories for professions that experience substance abuse, depression, etc.  We were told this during our three day orientation before classes started my 1L year.  I thought "sure, sure...but I won't be one of those people."  Until I became one of those people.  The kind that fell into a deep depression and experienced extreme anxiety over everything. 
The sick and twisted part of all of this?  You pay for it, meaning you actually pay a large sum of money to undergo this stress.  So you really have no one to blame but yourself, but by the time you actually figure out that, you're already a year or two into law school and too far in debt to get out.
Of course, graduating law school I will admit was one of my biggest accomplishments, second to passing the bar exam.  Graduating law school, however, doesn't really mean too much when you actually graduate.  Yes, it's a huge relief to be done, but three days later I was in bar exam prep classes getting ready for three months of constant studying for a two day, thirteen hour test in late July.  So yes, you get your diploma, but that celebration is limited and short-lived.  There is only so much you can do with that degree, and if you want to use it to practice law, you must pass a ridiculously difficult and arbitrary exam to do that.  The unfortunate thing is I know way too many people who busted their butt in law school and graduated only to fail the bar exam multiple times.  The majority of these people couldn't pass the test because they just didn't do well with standardized testing.  Where is the fairness in that?
I say this not with bitterness but from experience.  Upon graduating law school, you meet with a loan specialist who gives you  your final amount you owe.  And my experience?  That amount scared the living crap out of me.  It was big.  And the monthly payment to repay it was equal to my rent I paid for my apartment.  Not cool.
Of course, during law school I kept hearing the saying "well, you're going to be an attorney...just wait until you make the big bucks."  Yeah, well, only about the top five percent of our graduating class got jobs in the big firms.  The huge majority of law students graduating either start their own practice or working for a small to medium-sized firm.  The starting salaries for those firms can range anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000, and they usually start at the bottom of that range, which gives you hardly enough to cover your living expenses but your student loan payments.  The reason for this is as a new attorney, you are walking into a firm with little to no experience in court, so your firm pays for what they get basically.  Why would they pay you a huge salary when they have no guarantee that you'll be a good asset to their firm?  They won't know until you start.  Once you are in the field, you learn by making mistakes and learning what not to do.  It's baptism by fire.  Not everyone has those experiences, but trust first time in court?  Not pretty.  I learned from it, but it was one tough lesson to learn.
So honestly, if I had to do it all over again, would I?  Probably not.  Someone asked me "when you have kids and one of them wants to be a lawyer, what would you say?"  Thinking about it, I think I'd say to really consider the costs and what you will be getting yourself into.  I wouldn't discourage it, but I would definitely tell them to go into it with their eyes open and to know with certainty that this is the career for them. 
Not sure why I decided to dedicate an entire post to this today, but getting it out is almost cathartic.  Perhaps I should be a pre-law counselor?  :-)


  1. Since I was young I always wanted to be a lawyer. Then as I grew up through my teens, a lot of friends and family members agreed to my decision due to my constant need to debate things I believed in. Then I realized the schooling length of time, and the debt and then the "starting out" phase of being a lawyer and decided to opt out. To this day I still get comments such as, "you should have been a lawyer". Do I regret my decision? No, because of the way life happens I would not have met my hubby and had my little Sweet Pea!


  2. I always wanted to be an attorney. But when I got married at 19 and had our first child less than a year later, those dreams sort of got swept under the rug. I did finish college, but never went to law school and instead, worked as a paralegal for years. I can honestly say that once I learned the inner workings of the legal world, I was glad I never went to law school. I didn't want to be the attorney, I was perfectly content working as a glorified secretary (even if I did 1,000 times more work than my boss and he just blindly signed documents without even glancing at them) ;) I loved my job. I think with the schooling thing, though, that no amount of school prepares you for what you encounter on the job in any profession. I quit working in the law firm when the firm I'd been working for disbanded (my boss had a scandalous affair with our biggest clients paralegal- poop hit the fan!) (eek!) (there's a novel there, somewhere!) ;) Anyway, I decided to do something completely different and went back to school to be a medic. Um, no amount of book work or national tests prepared me for my first day and getting brain matter on my pants, or consoling a child whose parent is laying there partially scalped. The classroom is so different from real life, no matter what path you take. Okay, guess I've rambled enough here!!

  3. I was alwAys so conflicted about what I wanted to do with my life. Law or science? In the end Neither. I will always regret that part. But now I just want to stay home with my kids. But we gotta eat and sleep in a house so you know I work- outside the home. I think it may be the grass is always greener right? I know it's super hard work to stay home and be with kids all day.

  4. So, serious question then... if it hadn't been law school, what would it have been?

  5. Well, the same here.
    I decided to study Translation and Interpreting, which is one of the most difficult and hard degrees in Spain. I knew that. But everyone kept saying we would find great jobs and earn a lot of money as translators.
    But the truth is nobody told us about depression and anxiety (which I suffered, btw... and, consequently, a heart condition too) or how difficult would be to find a good job as a translator.
    My classmates are unemployed (most of them), and those who were lucky enough and got a job are English teachers and we earn less than €8400/year.
    I don't think it was worth it.
    And if one of my (future) kids say, he/she wants to study Translation, I will tell him/her the truth. And yes, I'll try to discourage it.

  6. I never at an interest in Law School ... but kudos for you and anyone who does!!!



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