Good reasons to go to law school: You are genuinely interested in law. You want to help people. You want to improve the justice system. You have expertise relating to one type of law, such as patent and copyright, contract, entertainment or personal injury. Bad reasons to go to law school: Mom or Dad or Uncle Jim is a lawyer. You want to make a lot of money (money alone is a terrible motive for doing anything).
So none of these reasons strikes a chord with you. You’re still on the fence. Here are a few more criteria.
Counting the Cost
The first concern is money. Law school takes a LOT of it. Tuition rates for one year start at about $6,000 and top out at about $23,000 and that does not count room and board (another $6,000 – $13,000). Once you get a job, loan payments can take as much as 36% of your income, thought the average is nearer 20%. And there are books, fees and other expenses to consider as well. Even with financial aid this is a considerable chunk of change. It will probably pay off in the long run, but the run is pretty long.
And speaking of long, consider the time all this will take – three years full time (15 credits a semester, plus summer school) and four or five part time (9-10 credits plus summer school). Are you at the stage of life when you can afford this? Certainly many people long past college age who have families and even previous careers have done it, but you will need the full support of your loved ones. You won’t have much time for family life.
This Is a Test…
Then there is the test; not the bar exam, yet, but the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The questions are largely multiple choice with one essay, and like most standardized tests it does not measure knowledge specifically related to law. What law schools want to see is whether or not you can think logically and express yourself coherently. Taking it twice may or may not be to your advantage. Many schools average the two scores, rather than taking the higher one.
Your score on the LSAT counts for a great deal with admissions committees, because it is a more accurate measure of what you know than a GPA. The test itself costs a fairly reasonable $118 (or higher, depending on the test location), but preparation adds up. Old tests and answers are available for purchase, as are individual tutoring programs (expensive), classroom courses (less expensive) and practice tests (free). Experts say that you should not take the official test until you do well consistently on practice tests. The lowest score you can achieve and still have more than a 50/50 chance of being admitted to law school is 160 out of 180.
The Pay-Off – What Are the Odds?
Application lightens the wallet as well. Law school hopefuls usually apply to between five and eight schools at $50 for each one. Applications also require an essay. Those upper level writing courses you took as an undergrad (you did take them, didn’t you?) will come in handy here.
Consider, too, the competition. If you went to a state university, there is only about a 35% chance that you will even be admitted to a top school, unless you perform spectacularly on the LSAT. Averages for applicants from Harvard and Yale are higher, about 85%, but most cannot afford these elite schools. Almost everyone can eventually get in somewhere, but job opportunities are not as plentiful for graduates of Ronnie’s Pass-the-Bar Law School as they are for those from Georgetown.
Get the philosophy of Law at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_law.
Employability is the bottom line. Do you want to work as a public defender or prosecutor? That should not be difficult. Is your specialty social justice and class action? Not too hard to get, but it doesn’t pay much. Divorce or personal injury? A hardscrabble career at first, but many manage to do well. As for the upper echelons of corporate law, well, it’s not what you know it’s who you know and where you graduated.
Idealism can wear thin. Don’t start the process in dreamland. Make your decisions based on the facts and especially the odds of your achieving your goal.