Have you ever thought about becoming a lawyer? Maybe you’d like to be a public servant and help those in need. Or perhaps you’ve been watching reruns of Perry Mason and have dreams of winning big cases.
If you are thinking about going to law school with the idea of making it big as an attorney, you might want to reconsider. Law school, as it turns out, is a really bad idea for a number of reasons.
Law school, and the legal profession in general, is no longer a golden ticket to the good life. Things have changed a lot in recent years. There’s been a seismic shift, and going to law school is no longer a good idea for most.
Here are seven things to consider before you take the LSAT and start submitting applications:
Law school these days is outrageously expensive. At most law schools the cost is $30k – $50k per year. And that’s just for the tuition. Room, board, and other expenses are extra. It’s not uncommon for law students to rack up nearly $200k in student loan debt for their three years of legal training.
The Pay Isn’t That Great
Contrary to popular belief, most attorneys aren’t rich. According to the ABA Journal, most lawyers earn about $100k a year. Now, while that’s not shabby, it’s also not the end of the story. It’s important to keep in mind that most lawyers don’t start out earning that amount. They also have a boat load of student loan debt they have to repay.
Unless you graduate from a top-tier law school and land a coveted spot with a big firm, your starting salary will most likely be in the $50k – $60k range. Some report starting salaries as low as $35k a year.
And that’s if you even land a job working as a lawyer, which leads us to…
The Lack of Job Opportunities for Graduates
According to a recent article in Forbes, just over half of new law school graduates were able to land jobs as attorneys in the months after their graduations.
Half. Just take a moment and let that sink in.
What were the other half of recent graduates doing? Not working as attorneys, that’s what. Perhaps they were working in construction, baby sitting, stocking shelves in local retail stores, or something else. Some may have even been unemployed.
Now, I’m certainly not saying there’s anything wrong with these jobs. It’s just that they are not what one would expect of recent law school graduates.
Compounding the problem is the fact that unless you come from a wealthy family, you will most likely have a hefty student loan to repay after graduating. That may be easier said than done if you are unable to land a good paying gig as an attorney.
In the world of attorneys, where you go to law school matters – big time. With rare exception, all of the best jobs go to those who graduate from the highest ranked law schools. And even then, the best jobs are usually offered to those who graduate at the top of their classes.
The only other profession I know of that makes THAT big of a deal about where you went to school is college professors. To land a job as a college professor at a good school, you need to be a graduate of some pretty good schools.
For most other professions, where you go to school isn’t as big of a deal. If you want to be a physical therapist, for example, as long as you graduate from an accredited physical therapy program and pass your state boards, you should be able to find work as a physical therapist. The name of the school on your diploma isn’t too important.
The elitism alone is a major factor in many competent attorneys giving up on the profession and working in other careers.
You Probably Won’t End Up Arguing Big Cases
When asked, many say they want to become lawyers because they love the idea of arguing cases. In other words, they want to become trial lawyers.
Here’s a reality of being a lawyer that most don’t consider: The overwhelming majority of an attorney’s time is not spent in the courtroom. It’s actually spent in an office filling out paperwork, meeting with clients, researching, and doing other mundane things.
The life of Perry Mason it is not.
It’s also important to note that not all lawyers argue cases. There are some lawyers, in fact, who go their entire careers without stepping foot in a courtroom. In real life, being a lawyer is nothing like you see on TV. It’s actually really boring.
You Probably Won’t Change the World
If you have dreams of becoming a public defender and helping needy individuals fight the injustices of the world, think again. The pay is lousy.
According to Payscale, the average annual salary of a public defender is about $60k. There are many careers that pay that much or more that don’t require going to law school. In fact, there are many careers that pay exceptionally well that don’t even require a college degree.
There’s also the student loan issue. If you have nearly $200k in student loan debt when you graduate and you are only earning $60k a year, you’ll probably have to live on a fairly tight budget to make ends meet.
Most Lawyers Hate Their Jobs
Before going to law school, take the time to ask a few attorneys who have been practicing law for a few years if they would do it all over again or choose another career if given the chance. You might be surprised by what they have to say.
Most lawyers are miserable. According to a study of various occupations conducted by Johns Hopkins University, it was found that lawyers were the least happy in their careers. They were also the most prone of any career to experience clinical depression.
According to Psychology Today, lawyers have the highest rate of suicide of any occupation. And close to 20 percent of attorneys suffer from a substance abuse issue of some kind.
There’s even an entire website devoted to the subject of lawyers with depression.
These are grim statistics.
If You Still Think Law School is For You
If you are still convinced that being an attorney is the only career you’ll ever truly be satisfied with, then at least consider taking a year off from school to work as a legal assistant to see what working in the field is really like before applying to law schools. It could very well be the most important year of your life.
I also recommend reading The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis for a more in-depth look at the career and its many problems.