Should I Go To Law School?

I’ve been told that I should be a lawyer basically my entire life (not “should” as in “must be,” should as in “would be good at”). My grandfather is a criminal defense attorney (well, he was — he recently retired after fifty-odd years of practicing law), and I’m the only one of numerous children and grandchildren who has ever shown any kind of law school leanings. None of that, of courses, is a reason to go to law school (and/or become an attorney), but it speaks to the fact that the the possibility of becoming  a lawyer has been somewhere in my mind for as long as I can remember.

I graduated from Bryn Mawr with my B.A. in philosophy. Generally, after I tell people that, they have one of three reactions: If it isn’t “What are you going to do with that?” or an anecdote about a philosophy class they once took and didn’t understand, people usually ask me if I’m going to law school. I’ve also heard that being a philosophy major is helpful on the LSATs.

Apparently, I can be very logical (or at least, I can be when my emotions aren’t involved; I’ve realized that I’ve become increasingly swayed by my emotions over the past couple years). I want to do something that makes a difference, something that will benefit my community. I’m currently an intern with an amazing law project that I think is just one of the most fantastic things ever (and to which you really should consider donating, if you have a spare $5 or $10 or more and feel so inclined — shameless plug, yes, indeed; when it comes to TJLP, I apparently have no shame). All of those things make people seem to think that I would be a good lawyer and should consider going to law school.

However, several completely amazing people who all happen to be attorneys (and really fierce activists) and have been influential in my life have warned me away from law school. Well, it was partly warning away, partly cautioning me to really be completely, absolutely, positively certain that it’s what I want to do and that I am utterly aware of all of the consequences — financially, emotionally, ideologically, politically, and spiritually (I’m still working on that). Which possibly makes my grandfather the only attorney I know who’s actually encouraging me to go to law school.

Law school. It’s absurdly expensive. From what I hear, it indoctrinates; it’s not about teaching people to critically question the legal system. Dean Spade wrote an article about law school in hopes of providing “a moment of pause in the assumption that law school is a wise choice for activists who want to transform the world.” I’ve read it numerous times — the general response of those activists/attorneys I mentioned above to the “I want to go to law school!” attitude is, “Have you read what Dean Spade wrote?” So, yes, I have. And I’m seriously taking that under consideration.

Nevertheless, there’s still something that makes me think law school might be what I want to do. Maybe. Obviously, it’s a decision that only I can make — not the family and friends who think I’d be good at it, not the attorney friends who are far more hesitant about pro-law school attitudes. I don’t know what I want to do yet. What I can say for certain is that I’m not going to law school until/unless I am positive that it is what I want to do and can articulate my reasons with more than “it feels like a good idea.”

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9 responses to “Should I Go To Law School?

  1. If I win the lottery I would go to law school. If you have a passion for it, the money will find a way to you, via- personal loans, pell grants, federal govt…etc… I say Go for IT!

  2. I might post again later as I think of more things to say, which I’m sure I will since law school is 99% of what I think about every day, but for what it’s worth
    1. Law school is very expensive. You need to think about how you are going to finance it and what that means for your career choices. If you are taking it all out in debt (whether federal or private loans), a career in public service right out of school is next to impossible. That’s why so many law graduates end up at big firms – they can actually pay back their debt. How much are you willing to take out? Are you only willing to go if you can get scholarships and grants? Also look into public service programs – UCLA has a very good public law program (debt repayment for post grads) and also claims to have been a pioneer in gender law.

    2. Law school is hard and it sucks. Not that I’ve been, yet, but first year does not seem to be a lot of fun and you don’t have any choice in what you study. Everyone says that your first year grades are the most important and that you have to do basically whatever you can to get those grades. Are you willing to put in that much work, long nights, stress, etc. and not have fun for at least your first year? Plus the joy of the Socratic method and standing up for your opinions when your professor is just going to toy with you.

    3. Law school people are weird. They won’t admit it, but law school is a weird place. Lawyers are weird. You will get some normal ones, but you also get a lot of people that aren’t.

    4. Law school can also be fun. You are surrounded by really smart people who think like you. That gets you over some major barriers. Hopefully they are also willing to engage in debate and not be stupid.

    5. Philosophy is a great major for law, not just for the lsat, but because you learn how to question what every word means. Obviously there’s more, but it’s a great foundation.

    6. Law is a very versatile degree. People also say law school ruins how you think because you can only think like a lawyer. I feel like these two points go together somehow.

    7. Law school is what you make it. Regardless of where you go, your experience and what you get out of it is up to you. If you want to be there and achieve something you will. If you want to float and get middling grades, then you can.

    8. My posts seem to always be very long and now I’m very tired. Happy to discuss law school at any point. Would be interested in more specifics about what you’re weighing or thinking about, even it’s just a ramble.

  3. I think your post is a lot of what I’ve been thinking about too about law school how to truly help the community, can you really do it as a lawyer? I found your blog when googling Dean Spade and I just read his article, and it confirmed a lot of what I have been thinking and what I’ve heard too. It’s so confusing, I really don’t want to mess up, be in so much debt, but no one can give me a clear answer, I can only do that for myself. Thank you for sharing though!

    • Hi, Angela! Thanks so much for commenting on my blog. Also, it’s great to hear that I’m not the only one who’s read Dean Spade’s article.

      While I clearly can’t help you decide about law school (although I wish you luck with your decision!), I will say that I know several people who are doing some really amazing things as attorneys. That said, finding a paying, non-problematic job that allows one to really do the kind of activism that one wishes to do appears to be really, really difficult (depending on the kind of activism in which you are interested).

  4. I agree with what Katie said, but as a current law student at one of the most conservative law schools in America I must add a few comments. First of all, I caution against going to law school if your dream is to become an activist.

    1) Most lawyers do not become activists, nor does law school prepare one to become an activist. Many people enter law school thinking that they will “change the world”, and will be able to use their newly acquired knowledge of the law to become fearless legal activists. However, after the seemingly insurmountable student loans that they acquire over the course of their law school education these same would be activists become corporate lawyers. It is true that some lawyers do become activists, but a law school eduction is not necessary for a career in activism. Law school provides potential lawyers with the skills they need to practice law, and with a basic understanding in American legal system. Although this skill-set may be useful, it is not necessary to invest the time, money and energy that a law school education requires in order to gain these skills.

    2) Law school is not Bryn Mawr. In fact, it is the opposite of Bryn Mawr. Three months after I graduated Bryn Mawr I started attending law school. I was immediately sent into a culture shock. Grades are not only discussed, but they are everything. I realized that my fellow student’s laptop background’s picture of George W. Bush was not an ironic image, but was because he valued him as an American president. Ask any student of their feelings of Obama, and they will most likely go on a tirade of how he is ruining America with Obamacare. At my school the most liberal students would be characterized as moderate republicans. While OUTlaw students are accepted as a group organization, being gay is against school policy.

    3) I am aware that law school provides its own allure. Law school looks like a gateway into a great career as a lawyer, and as a way of entering American politics. Most senators are or were lawyers. Although law school is a necessary step if your dream is to pursue a career as a lawyer, it is not necessary for a career in political activism. Nonetheless, I am obligated to note that I do know of some students and lawyers who have done wonderful work to help the community. I had a professor who worked for a NPO which dealt with the rights of rape victims. Many students volunteer with the Homeless Advocacy Project, and help with cases that deal with the needs of the homeless. It is not impossible nor is it difficult to become an activist after law school. Yes, a law school eduction may be value in providing new opportunities to you. However, you must weigh the advantage of these opportunities with the demands and stresses of a law school eduction.

    I hope that my advice is helpful. You might think, “if she hate law school so much, why does she not leave”? Well, I do not hate law school; in fact I greatly enjoy it. I have found it to be a very valuable experience, and actually enjoy my time here. I have found valuable opportunities to volunteer, and my time here has made me more sure of my dream to become a clerk and a lawyer. I think it is wonderful that you are considering attending law school. However, I hope that you are seriously considering both the positives and the negatives of law school attendance. Law school is a great investment, however it is not the best choice for every person. Good luck!

    P.s. Nonetheless, you should take the LSAT. It is good for 5 years. If you decide that you want to spend more time before going into law school then your score will still count during those 5 years.

    • Lisa! Thank you for commenting — I really appreciate your advice (and it’s good to hear from you!).

      Regarding your first part of the comment, I’ve definitely heard that before (it’s certainly a part of the Dean Spade article), but thank you for it nonetheless. In response to the second part, oh, wow. Wow. That strengthens my feeling that I should not base my decision of where to go (were I to choose to go to law school) on prestige. Example: If they’d accept me, I was considering University of Chicago because they’re so highly rated, and they’re in Chicago. They’re also apparently incredibly conservative. On the other end, I’m considering CUNY (City University of New York) because even though it’s not highly rated, it emphasizes public interest (and I’ve heard that it’s one of the less conservative law schools, which may not be saying much), and there appear to at least occasionally be some really cool people there.

      I’m glad you enjoy law school! And thank you so much for all of your advice; even though it’s taken me ages to respond, I really do appreciate it. Good luck with everything!

  5. I realize this post is from twenty ages ago, but I had meant to respond to it and didn’t get around to it until now. I can’t tell you whether or not you should go to law school, but I thought I would give you the following link, in case you were interested. It’s from my extern sponsor (I did a family law externship in Charleston last year, and I’m really glad I did, even though I decided I’m probably not going to law school myself, because I saw an alternative to the corporate law practices I’m used to), and offers a dissenting viewpoint among the sea of lawyers who claim to hate law school and think it’s a waste of time.

    http://www.gregoryforman.com/blog/2011/01/law-school-is-not-a-losing-game/

    • Hey, Beth! Sorry it’s taken me a while to respond. Thanks for commenting, by the way. Also, thanks for the post you linked to — it’s interesting, and it does provide a viewpoint that contrasts all of the people who are upset that they aren’t making big money after law school. That said, it doesn’t exactly address a lot of the questions I’ve been asking myself (of course, the attorneys who introduced those questions into my mind are far more radical — and I say that in a transformative, beautiful sort of way, not in the “crazy extremist” kind of way — than pretty much anyone I’ve read online, regarding law school and being an attorney). Still, I appreciate the link. :)

  6. Pingback: If I Didn’t Need Money, I’d Be An Attorney | Beyond Bryn Mawr

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