Is law school right for you? The answer to this question is often unclear. If you’re thinking about law school, you probably fall into one of two categories: You either dream of being a lawyer or you’re at a career decision point and looking for your next move.
Before you buy a shiny new laptop and start channeling Elle Woods or Denny Crane, I suggest you consider these 5 good and bad aspects of going to law school. We will start with the bad because most folks only look at the upside and never consider the downside.
Why law school is wrong for you
#1: Student Loans
Law school is expensive and the prices keep going up. In addition to the cost of school, living expenses continue to increase and these expenses make up a large part of the student debt taken on by law students. According to data published by University of Houston Law School, the average cost of tuition, books, and living expenses for in-state residents of Texas is $50,504, and for out-of-state residents, it is $65,322. Notably, Texas is fairly affordable compared to some East and West Coast schools.
#2: Post law school employment
Despite what a lot of people think, many attorney jobs don’t pay that well – and it can be difficult to find a good paying job. My firm was recently looking for a new legal assistant, and about a third of the applicants were lawyers who could not find work. This is especially problematic if you are carrying more than $150,000 in law school debt.
#3: Being smart alone doesn’t cut it
To be successful in law school, you will need to work really, really hard.
Most everyone in law school is smart and capable, just like you. As a result, if you want to rise to the top of your class, you will need to work hard.
#4: That hard work in law school is just the beginning
Like most professions, being a successful lawyer is a lot of hard work and long hours.
By way of example, a lot of firms have billable requirements of 2,000 billable hours per year. This means if you take two weeks off, then you will need average 40 billable hours a week. A lot of lawyers find that it takes about 60 hours of work to achieve 40 hours of billable work. Twelve-hour days don’t leave much time for other activities, and twelve-hour days and kids at home can be downright exhausting.
#5: Stress stresses you out
The practice of law is hard. It’s a contentious, adversarial process, and your actions put your clients and your license on the line. Missing a deadline or reading part of a contract incorrectly can have serious negative implications. You need to be able to get things right, even with opposing counsel talking down to you or trying to throw you off balance. It’s imperative that a lawyer has a healthy way to deal with the everyday stresses of the job. If you don’t handle stress well, you should consider finding a different profession because there is no reason to be unhappy and stressed out for the rest of your adult life.
Why law school is right for you
Despite the negative things you may hear or read, I personally love the legal profession, and it has provided me with an opportunity to help others and provide for my family. Here are what I consider to be the top 5 reasons to go to law school.
#1: As a lawyer you will have countless opportunities to change the lives of others for the better
History is filled with examples of how lawyers made our country a better place in really big ways. But lawyers on a daily basis make our country a better place in thousands of small ways. By going to law school, you will have the chance to truly help others in a variety of ways.
#2: Law School generally changes the way you think about things because you are forced to look at both sides of an issue.
The ability to see both sides of an issue is something that our society (both on the left and the right) has a very difficult time doing. When you go to law school you are asked to read cases and study issues from both sides, not just the side you believe in. Being able to understand an issue from both sides will help you as a lawyer and as a person.
#3: The money is not bad.
While it can be hard to find a good paying job, there are a lot of them out there in the legal profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for lawyers was $118,160 in May 2016. If you work really hard and do very well in law school, you have the opportunity to work at a big law firm where the starting salaries for lawyers is usually between $130,000 and $160,000.
#4: You like to be challenged.
Law school and being a lawyer is challenging. More often than not there isn’t a right answer and you must make the best decision possible based on the information you have. There is no shortage of difficult problems to solve and, thus, you will constantly be challenged as a lawyer.
#5: In law school and as a lawyer, you make lifelong friends who will enrich your life.
Not to be too philosophical, but the older I get the more I value the relationships in my life. Some of my most cherished relationships were formed in law school and some of my best friends are fellow lawyers. Law school and being a lawyer will provide you an opportunity to meet some wonderful people who you will value the rest of your life.
If you are considering law school, I encourage you to talk to someone who does it. We lawyers love to talk to those considering following in our footsteps. If you don’t know anyone, do a web search and send a few emails. Better yet, if you can get to Houston, come to Sutliff & Stout’s next open meeting on the topic.