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If you’re considering a career in law or a career that would benefit from a legal education, you might be wondering, “Should I go to law school?” That’s a legitimate question — after all, law school could be one of the biggest decisions of your life, and there are plenty of factors to consider before applying.
If you’re wondering how to become a lawyer, law school is the clear answer. However, legal education can also benefit other career paths. To help you decide if law school is worth it for you, this article covers the benefits of attending law school and what you should consider before applying.
The benefits of attending law school
Attending a law school can be a great decision to further your education. A law degree can lead to high earning potential, increased job opportunities, and a large professional network. This degree can also develop your critical thinking and communication skills. We explore some potential benefits of law school below.
The skills learned in law school, such as analytical thinking, problem solving, and communication, are highly marketable. For example, JDs are generally expected to pass the bar exam and become lawyers after law school, but they often find careers in alternative fields like banking and finance, legal writing, consulting, human resources and government or politics.
Lawyers and other legal professionals often earn above-average salaries. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers earn a median annual salary of $127,990, with the highest 10% earning more than $208,000 and the lowest 10% earning less than $61,400. $. The median annual salary for other legal professionals is $82,430.
The path you take in your legal career may vary depending on whether you own your own practice or work for a law firm or other establishment. Owning a practice is generally more lucrative. Additionally, attorneys employed by local and state governments earn less on average — about $100,000 a year — than those in the federal government or the private sector, who can earn more than $150,000, according to the BLS.
The salary of a lawyer is certainly attractive, but keep in mind that many lawyers work more than 40 hours per week.
Growth and learning
Law school is likely to be one of the most difficult experiences of your life. That being said, you can come out of these challenges as a sharp legal practitioner.
Many students struggle to learn to think like a lawyer. Additionally, law school programs cover difficult topics such as civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, legal method, property law, legal writing, and torts.
Law schools use the case method approach, which involves reviewing several related judicial opinions in an area of law. During this review, you may need to explore the facts presented, determine the legal principles applied to reach a conclusion, and analyze the methods of reasoning used.
Networking is an important benefit of law school. As a law student, you are surrounded by professors who are likely connected to your local legal community and beyond. Networking can lead to internships and full-time employment after graduation.
Additionally, because law school cohorts tend to be small, peer relationships among law students are also essential. These can lead to career or other opportunities that you might otherwise miss. Many schools also hold student-alumni networking events to help students network.
What to Consider Before Applying to Law School
There are many aspects to consider before applying to a law school. Law school is academically competitive, and you need to consider how this commitment would fit into your finances, interests, and schedule. Consider the following factors to determine if you should go to law school.
Create a Law School Plan
You should consider your law school project as early as your undergraduate studies. As a freshman undergraduate, you might speak to a pre-law counselor who can help guide your academic journey and expose you to the legal profession. Traditional pre-law majors include English, history, political science, economics, and business.
During the second half of undergraduate studies, you should have completed an internship. At this point, it’s time to start researching law school and preparing for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)®. The LSAT is the most common standardized exam for aspiring law students, but some law schools also accept the GRE.
As an undergraduate senior, you can join a pre-law organization to learn how to become a strong candidate for law school. Other preparatory steps include the following.
- Create a Law School Admissions Council (LSAC)® account.
- Attend an LSAC forum.
- Write a strong personal law school statement.
- Create a strong resume.
- Gather related documents for LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service, which streamlines the law school application process.
Weigh the time investment
Attending law school requires a significant investment of time and money. As an aspiring law student, you can expect to spend at least seven years in school. You’ll complete a four-year undergraduate degree before attending law school, which typically lasts three rigorous years.
Law students can expect to spend at least 40 hours a week reading, writing, and studying. It is not uncommon to read up to 100 pages per night, and the texts are often dense and require strong reading and analytical skills.
Consider the financial investment
How much does law school cost? According to data reported by law schools to the American Bar Association (ABA), tuition for the average law program costs $40,791 per year for full-time students in the state. This amounts to $122,373 after three years of study, and this figure does not include tuition or living expenses.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition and fees for all graduate programs cost an average of $19,749 per year. This means that law school is significantly more expensive than most other types of higher education.
All that considered – is law school worth it? It depends on how you finance your education and what you do with your degree.
Examine your financing options
In addition to law school loans, there are many scholarship opportunities to consider. Organizations and foundations at the local, state, and national levels provide funding based on recipients’ financial need, academic merit, and/or ethnicity, among other factors.
You can use a database such as FastWeb or AccessLex Institute to find funding for law school. You can also check out resources like this list from LSAC. Law schools may also provide information about dedicated funding on their websites.
If you choose to take out loans, be sure to favor federal loans over private loans. Federal student loans come with lower interest rates and a variety of income-oriented repayment plans.
Consider your career path
With a JD, you can do more than just work in a law firm. Other career paths exist in the judiciary, business, teaching, and public interest. Consider the following career options for law school graduates.
Law firms. This is the most common career path for JDs. About half of law school graduates begin their careers in law firms, according to the ABA. Law firms vary in size and are generally categorized as large, medium, small, or international.
Judiciary power. Another option is to work as a court clerk in the courts. Articling is a great opportunity to gain experience in the courts and see the court process from a judge’s perspective. Court clerks are hired and supervised directly by judges.
Company. JDs can work as in-house counsel, helping businesses succeed and protecting them from risk. Like law firms, businesses come in different sizes and have different needs.
Education. Becoming a law professor is also an option. If teaching is in your future, you can focus on honing your legal research and writing skills. You could also start developing publications in the academic space.
Public interest. Nonprofits typically seek to address substantive issues such as civil and individual rights. JDs may also find careers in government, such as in district attorney’s offices and state agencies.
Know your academic strengths
Understanding your academic strengths and weaknesses is essential to succeeding in law school.
Essential skills for law students include problem solving; analytical thinking; critical reading, writing and editing; oral communication; listen; to research; and cooperation. If you are struggling in any of these areas, invest more time and energy into improving those skills.
The Bottom Line: Is Law School Worth It?
Whether law school is worth it for you depends on many factors, including your unique goals in life. This commitment is certainly not for everyone, so it is important to consider the personal and financial implications of attending law school before enrolling.
Law school can be a tough experience involving long hours, stressful exams, and a competitive academic environment. However, if you have a clear goal in mind, these challenges can help shape your dream career.
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