Reasons NOT To Go To Law School

Inns of Court

When I was just a kid my family (my mom especially) liked to tell me that I should be a lawyer because I liked to argue so much. Not knowing any better I took their advice to heart and determined that I would go to law school. I did everything I could to make that dream happen – it influenced my extracurricular activities, my school decisions, and to some degree even my relationships/social life. I just knew that I was meant to be an attorney.

So imagine my surprise when I realized during my senior year of college that I didn’t really want to go to law school! My gut told me to go to grad school instead and study something I was passionate about. But after 20 +/- years of working towards law school, I couldn’t just walk away. The idea of disappointing my family like that was unbearable, so I decided instead to go forward with the original plan and just make the best of it. I knew by the end of the first semester it was a mistake, but stubbornness runs deep in my family. (smile)

I learned a lot in law school – about the law of course, but also about society, my peers, and myself – things better left to another post perhaps. For this post I want to share the top reasons not to go to law school. These are a combination of my own experience and a few colleagues who were nice enough to contribute to the cause – consider them words of wisdom we all wish someone would’ve told us before we enrolled.

Without A Doubt Book Cover

Anyone remember that O.J. trial? (This is a great book btw)

I want to be rich and/or famous

Oh don’t we all? Especially when we’re young and think being rich and famous would solve all of our problems. The truth is, the majority of attorneys do make good money. But they work hard for that money – 50+ hours a week, living life in 6 minute billing increments. Of course most of us also have student loans to pay back so… The rich and famous attorneys are far and few between. Sure one case can make you, but chances are someone had to be really hurt to get you that case, so it’s a bit of a catch 22 when wishing for action. If you’re in it for the justice, well then, the money shouldn’t matter so much, huh? And P.S., there is no justice in the justice system. It really is all about the better attorney – no pressure though!

My family/friends/etc. want me to be a lawyer…

Most of my immediate family didn’t make it past high school, so they were all very encouraging when it came to higher education (which I appreciate very, very much). I think my mom felt like my going to law school would somehow give her an affirmation of being a good parent, of getting me through the “rebellious years.” The others were a mix of wanting a secure future for me and getting free legal advice. But here’s the thing, your family/friends/whomever aren’t the ones who have to do all of the work. These are your choices that you are making for your life. You’ll be the one who has to keep up the grades, pick the right major, and then survive law school – not them. And you will be the one who practices law every day and sees the realities behind the profession.

I’ve always thought that being a lawyer was like being an inactive law enforcement officer. There are some truly good days that make it all worthwhile, but you also see people in all their not-so-glorious humanity as well. There are so many rules to follow, so many politics to maneuver, it’s really no wonder that alcoholism runs rampant amongst attorneys. (And no, I am not saying you’ll become an alcoholic because you are an attorney, I’m just saying it’s a prevalent pitfall of the profession.)

Blind justice clip art

Blind Justice indeed

I love to argue – and win…

Congratulations! I’m sure your friends love carrying on conversations with you…*ahem* Let me tell you something now that I didn’t realize until it was way too late – you get further by persuading people than by arguing with them. And persuading is exactly what lawyers do. It’s never really an argument so much as (at best) a heated debate. If you’re arguing, you’re on the defensive and perhaps missing a key opportunity to present your side of the story. Oh and you will lose sometimes won’t always get everything you want/ask for. The final decision is almost never up to you – that lies in the hands of your clients or a judge. Sometimes they’re capable of appreciating the finer nuances of the situation, but oftentimes it all just depends on a mood or even a bias. Nobody’s perfect. And when you lose don’t get exactly what you were hoping for, there may or may not be ways to appeal the decision – either way it will be steeped in rules that oftentimes take the wind right out of those puffy red cheeks. Maybe you should consider being a political commentator instead?

I don’t know what else to do…

Look into other grad school options, join the peace corps, take the first interesting job you come across, explore your options!! You can always go to law school later. In fact, I often wonder if I would have done better with a more mature perspective. Law school can be an expensive and stressful gamble if you aren’t 100% dedicated to the cause. Explore your reasoning for thinking about law in the first place – is it on this list? (If so, reevaluate!) Would you rather be more active – perhaps a cop, a forensic scientist, or an FBI agent (my dream long ago) would be a better option? Do you want to bring about justice and change in the world? Try joining a non-profit in another capacity first. If you really enjoy it and feel like a law degree would be helpful, that knowledge will help you better focus your studies and graduate with a much better sense of direction. Law school is a life changing journey, much more so than an undergrad degree. You owe it to yourself – and your potential future clients – to choose the option truest to yourself and your own happiness. I can promise you that personal happiness will go a long way in building a successful career. (smile)

Graduation photo

I promise I was happier than I appear in this photo!


8 thoughts on “Reasons NOT To Go To Law School

  1. Pingback: 10 Alternative Careers for JDs | PonderTheIrrelevant

  2. Yep, persuasion is preferable to argument. And not just because you will feel better about yourself, but because your audience (judge or jury) will respond better. I mean, there must be a reason there’s an objection for argumentative questions. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Been pondering whether or not to respond–Having been through the experience back in the dark ages (graduate Washington University St Louis law School in 1969) it took me the rest of my life to get over it.
    When Paper Chase came out as a movie, I walked out after the first 15 minutes–I guess you would call it PTSD today. Same thing when they made it a TV series–Just could not watch it. Finally after about 10 yrs I was able to watch and enjoy both and in fact have them on DVD. What happened in the movie was my story only it was in Property–not Contracts. If you have not done so, real One L by Scott Turow. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I made up my mind to go to law school, my mentor (a lawyer in the local community) gave me the Paper Chase movie and had me watch it with him. Unfortunately at that point I just couldn’t believe that could really be the case – some lessons you have to learn first-hand I suppose. It’s a great recommendation for anyone considering law school as an option!
      I’ve not read One L, but I’ve heard good things about it. Maybe one day when I have a fairer outlook πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • “I’ve not read One L, but I’ve heard good things about it. Maybe one day when I have a fairer outlook”

        Based on my experience, I would say about 20 yrs after graduation would be about the right time to read it. πŸ™‚
        By the bye, one day–long after I was in “practice”– John Houseman (the contracts professor in the movie and TV series) passed me in Marshall Fields in Chicago. Believe it or not, fear struck my heart. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

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