Don't Go to Law School, They Said

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As I start my third and final year of law school, I look back on the first two with a smirk and a sigh of relief. You couldn’t pay me enough to do them again. (Well, maybe you could.) But it got me thinking about what got me here.

I was one of those high school graduates who had the rest of her life planned out. I spent four years of college knowing where I wanted to go when it was over, and four years of summer breaks proclaiming “I’m going to law school!” In response, people often exclaimed, “Good for you!” and “That’s great!”

But I also got a lot of something else.

Yes, many people told me not to go to law school. Many. And those many were people I respected — attorneys, professionals, friends, family — people whose opinions I valued. But apparently not enough to listen. I focused too much on the joking nature in which they said it and too little on the substance of the message.

Just like those high school sweethearts who think their relationship will survive college — that they’ll be the next Cory and Topanga, I thought I’d be different too. Law school would be a cake walk. My double major had prepared me perfectly. I was the epitome of ideal academic performance. English and politics with a minor in criminal justice, honors program, departmental honors, a job, enough honor cords around my neck at graduation to make me the Michael Phelps of my class, and so many extra curriculars I had to shrink the margins and font on my résumé to get all of them to fit. I had so many scholarship offers I had to create a spreadsheet to keep track of them. But so did everyone else at my first day of law school orientation. Hell, many, maybe even most of them had better than that. Suddenly my 30 books a semester and 10 letters of recommendation were much less impressive.

Since law school started, I’ve thought a lot about the reasons I went. But more and more, they sound tired and cliché. They likely are. This doesn’t make them false, but it also doesn’t make them good. In addition, invariably there are a number of myths about law school, also tired and cliché, the most popular being that going to law school is a safe or smart way to delay entering into the terrible job market. As we all know by now, and I’ve touched on briefly before, full time legal employment numbers for recent graduates are in the toilet. There are two things I find particularly interesting about the “why did you go to law school?” answers. First is how few people have an answer at all, let alone an answer that isn’t an overused string of buzzwords. Second is how many people know (some even knew when they started) what a poor investment it could turn out to be, and did it anyway.

I don’t really get to exclude myself from the second category. I guess you could say I was willfully blind, in that I didn’t do any research regarding the likelihood of finding full time legal employment. By the time I started law school, however, I got caught up quickly on the stark nature of the job market. And you won’t hear me accuse my law school of keeping this information from me.

Now when I meet 1Ls, or 0Ls, or college kids that think they want to go to law school, I stress to them the importance of making an informed decision, of knowing what they’re getting themselves into, of having a plan and realistic expectations. I repeat ad nauseum that they should know what the market is like and why they want to go to school. The twist is, of course, that I didn’t do any of those things, and I still don’t have a plan for what comes next.

All of that being said, I don’t regret my decision to go to law school, at least not to the extent that I wish I hadn’t done it.  I’ve wanted to be an attorney since I was 17, and I still do. My struggle now is articulating reasons for choosing this path in the face of the present reality, reasons that sound like someone with two years of “training” in “thinking like a lawyer,” reasons that sound like someone who knows case law is not on her side but has a counter argument that nullifies those rulings. Not reasons that still sound like an idealistic me at 17.

Original images from Shutterstock

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