Law school is competitive, and successful candidates need to demonstrate not just the qualities that make them uniquely prepared for a legal career but also why they want to enter the profession. Because law school is a long and difficult road, you should be absolutely sure you want to go before you apply.
Asking yourself a few key questions can help you make sure law school is the right decision for you. Answering them can help you make a more persuasive argument in your application and identify the schools that can best prepare you for what you want to do. The questions you should ask yourself include the following:
1. What do you want to do with a law degree?
While you can do almost anything with a law degree, that does not mean you need a law degree to do everything. You may want to talk to people in the fields you are interested in to get their input. Just because many people in your field of interest have a law degree does not necessarily mean they need one. Once you talk to people, you may find that a different degree will serve you better, such as a master of laws, a master of public policy, or something similar. Naturally, if you want to work in the courtroom, you will need a juris doctor. In this case, think about the area of law you would like to practice in and even the geographic location, as this will have a bearing on where you end up going to school. Law degrees do not always transfer across state lines.
2. Why do you want to be a lawyer?
Many people end up going to law school for the wrong reasons. If you think that being a lawyer looks fun on television or in the movies, you need to spend some time shadowing or at least talking to attorneys. The daily life of a lawyer is often very far off from what it looks like in entertainment. Moreover, lawyers frequently work for years before they get to set foot in a courtroom or get a job that pays a comfortable amount of money. Too often, people think that becoming a lawyer is a path to getting rich. In reality, there are a lot of legal jobs that do not make a lot of money, especially if you want to work in the public sector. Even in the public sector, it can be a long path to making money in the six figures.
3. How competitive are you as a candidate?
Before you apply to law school, you need to be realistic about the type of school you could likely get into with your current stats. Unfortunately, law schools care a lot about GPA and will also put a lot of weight on LSAT scores. The other unfortunate truth is that even a school ranked at 15 does not carry nearly the same weight as a top-tier institution. For some people, this point will not matter. However, if your answers to the first couple of questions put you in a competitive position, you will likely need to get admitted to a top school. You can make up for shortcomings in your application, but this will take even more time and effort.
4. Is law school an affordable option?
You also need to think about money before you apply to law school. Getting a juris doctor takes three years, and the tuition and fees at top schools can be more than $60,000 per year. Scholarships are notoriously difficult to secure for law school, so you may end up owing a lot of money when all is said and done. Account for living expenses as well as moving expenses if you end up going to another state to study. Get a solid understanding of the amount of money you are likely to owe and weigh that against your likely salary. Do some online research to figure out opportunities for work and likely starting salary to make sure you won’t end up with a student loan burden you are unable to handle.
5. Do you know what law school classes are like?
Before applying to law school, you should know what you are getting into in terms of classes. If possible, visit a class at a nearby university. Often, these classes are very different from what you are likely used to. Frequently, teachers use the Socratic method and challenge your thinking in front of everyone else. Students are often called on at random to discuss a case, which means you need to be on top of your coursework at all times and comfortable with public speaking. On top of that, law schools put a lot of weight on class rank, and grades are typically determined on a curve, which means your performance depends on that of your classmates. As a result, law school is often not a collaborative learning environment.