Is law school worth it? Some critics and financial experts will tell you that law school is not a wise financial move and it’s easy to see why. According to Huffington Post, the average law school graduate carries student loan debt of up to $122,000. Indeed, there are lots of reasons to be wary of amassing big student loan debt (if 122,000 weren’t enough). However, there are also plenty of reasons to go to law school and over a half-a-dozen signs (by our reckoning) that it could be a good career choice for you.
If you’ve found yourself asking “Is law school for me?” check out these indications to help you decide.
1. Your school’s reputation
“For the group of very select law schools at the top, the employment prospects are terrific,” says Steven Harper, a former attorney and author of “The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis.” “Life can look awfully good, and it will be awfully good for the vast, vast majority of those people, but that’s maybe 10 percent out of 200 law schools.”
Is law school worth it? Better to ask if the law school in question is considered first- or lower-tier. Not only is there a clear discrepancy in job prospects, but students of lower-tier schools were statistically more likely to be underemployed.
The Ivy League isn’t the only ticket to a post-graduate job, says Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, an organization that helps students with the decision to attend law school, and provides employment and underemployment data on law institutions nationwide. Schools with a solid local reputation and strong ties to the community can be just as effective at finding work in that area.
2. Your rank
Your standing among your peers and how you compare is a huge factor in whether you’ll land that lucrative career in law. Some might argue that it’s even more important than the reputation of your law school. Just as grades are a major factor in the hiring process of any job, so too do judges care about your performance when it comes time to choose their clerks. If nothing else, law school can encourage you to keep your grades up — and that’s a pretty good reason to go to law school.
Harper says that students who can stay above the bottom 25th percentile in GPA have the best shot at landing a job that pays enough to repay student loans.
“You have to be really honest and realistic with yourself about ‘how well am I going to stack up against my peers?'” he says. “You have a very hard time convincing anybody, I think, who’s entering law school that they’ll ever wind up below the median, much less below the 25th percentile in anything, whether it’s practicing law or something else, but guess what? That’s just mathematics. There’s an honest self-reflection that has to happen.”
3. Your specialty
It’s easier to find work in certain legal fields over others. Having an idea of which fields to pursue (and the relevant courses affiliated with it) can help improve a graduate’s marketability. More than just asking “is law school for me” you need to take into account which field you want to study (and if it currently trends toward future employment).
Legal specialties currently in demand include cybersecurity, intellectual property and corporate law.
Taking on a summer associate gig can also help you get your foot in the door. In many situations, holding down a summer associate position can lead to an entry-level position after graduation.
4. Your expectations
“(Students) should think foremost on why they want to be a lawyer,” says Andrew J. McClurg, author of “1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor’s Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School.” “If their only reason was to make a whole lot of money, that was never a good reason, even when the economy was great.”
For some, the glory and the money are the top reasons to go to law school, but McClurg raises an interesting point. Law is a noble profession that often requires a great amount of time and sacrifice. If your heart isn’t in it, you will find yourself in a miserable position.
Know all of the variables. Understanding what your return on investment will be post-law school is key. A great way to determine where your expectations fall (and if law school is worth it) is to pursue a part-time career in a law firm. This can give you valuable experience and a chance to shadow lawyers to answer the question we can’t stop coming back to: Is law school for me?
5. Your connections
Getting into a good school and acing your classes is only half the battle. The law grads who are getting jobs are the ones who have spent time hobnobbing with future employers, says McClurg.
“Joining student organizations and going to bar functions and putting yourself out there and making connections, other than your academic record, that’s really one of the only things you can do” to increase your marketability, he says.
It also means that there’s no real guarantee that you’ll land a job in your first choice of legal field. To make the most of your time, you should diversify your legal skill set. By leveraging the aforementioned connections, you can assemble a less particular set of skills and improve your chances of finding employment.
6. Your financial prospects
Part of the reason so many people ask “is law school worth it” is because of just how expensive it is. If your financial prospects were not stellar to begin with (and if there aren’t any great financial aid options) that could be a sign to steer clear of law school. It’s important to understand your financial options when making this decision.
The good news is that more than 100 law schools offer loan assistance and forgiveness incentives, reports Equal Justice Works, and public interest workers may be eligible for accelerated federal loan forgiveness. Scholarships also abound, but read the fine print, warns McEntee.
“Oftentimes scholarships come with stipulations, and stipulations are difficulties,” he says.
7. Your goals
When it comes to reasons to go to law school, your decision should involve a healthy balance between ethics and ambition However, it cannot be stressed enough just how important experience is in reaching this conclusion. You should spend as much time as possible familiarizing yourself with the day-in and day-out of an attorney’s career.
If, after all this, you find that your life goals do not fall in line with the job, then law school might not be right for you.
Is law school worth it?
You really can’t afford not to know the answer to this question, given the amount of time and money you’ll be investing . Think long and hard about all these reasons to go to law school and don’t rush into anything.
STUDENT LOANS RESOURCE: If you need help covering the cost of law school, check out our information database.