Million Dollar Question: Should I go to law school?

Over the summer I met with a group of undergrads thinking about going to law school.  And all of them had the same question – is law school the right decision for me?

People choose to come to law school for all sorts of reasons.  Some of my friends watched too much Law and Order growing up and imagine themselves as the next Jack McCoy or Casey Novak, bringing justice to our crime ridden society. Or others see Boston’s gleaming Prudential tower and dream of their own corner office at Ropes and Gray. Others even envision themselves in the chambers of the International Criminal Court prosecuting the world’s most terrible dictators.

I, on the other hand, imagine myself working with an NGO, traveling to the Middle East, meeting with local constituencies emerging out of armed conflict about constitution drafting and types of governance systems can bring long term, sustainable peace. Pretty specific, I realize.

But to be honest, I didn’t come in expecting to do this work exactly.  After I graduated college, I intended to take 2 years off and then go to law school.  The two year marker started to approach and I knew that I wanted to work in developing countries promoting women’s rights, but I wasn’t sure if I should go to law school or grad school. So, I took some time to explore my options. It was hard to find a job in that field – it took me about a year – but I eventually landed an admin position at the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). Definitely not a dream job, but it gave me a really good sense of what it takes to work in that field and after two years at CRR, I decided to do both law and grad school.

Eventually, my career plans evolved into what they are today – that was an iterative process that happened as I took more courses, explored internships, and refined my interests.  Still, I had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish before I set foot in the law school.

I can’t even tell you the number of people I met in 1L that said, “I didn’t know what else to do, so I decided to go to law school,” or “I wasn’t ready to get a job, so I decided to go to law school.”  If this is sounds like something you’ve been thinking or saying, PLEASE take a year or two to reconsider. Get a job on Capitol Hill, work at a law firm, work on a llama farm. Try something new that will help you think critically about what you want to get out of life.  You will spend at least 70% of your waking hours working, so you should probably pick something you like.  

Also, law school is an expensive life experiment.  Save yourself $150,000+ and take a moment to think about it. Consider a friend of mine who graduated last year – Before law school she was an elementary school teacher.  She decided to go to law school because she thought she’d enjoy the policy side more than being in the classroom. Three-years and $150,000+ later, she realized that she liked the classroom life better.  She’s back teaching 3rd grade and didn’t even bother to take the bar.  Like I said, going to law school is an expensive way to figure out if you like something.

You don’t need to follow my path – in fact, I’d recommend that you streamline the process by talking to people working in the field you’re interested in.  Do internships.  Don’t take 5 years to decide, then you’ll be an old lady law student like me, who makes hilarious references to Blossom and the original Boy Meets World that no one else seems to understand.

Bottom line – Think long and hard about what you want.  By entering law school you’re not sealing your fate, but you will get so much more out of it if you know (at least somewhat) what you want or what interests you. So you feel passionate social justice?  Maybe you’ll decide you want to be a public defender or work on housing or employment issues.  At least it’s a start.

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