Eight Things No One Tells You About Studying Law

For some reason, the allure of a legal career is still potent. Not only are many children not exposed to the multiplicity of career and educational opportunities available, society has a tendency to idolize professional programs like law and medicine, contributing to this bewitching pull. But Ally McBeal, Elle Woods, and Claire Huxtable aren’t the only ones to blame for this phenomenon. Much-promulgated fables of six-figure salaries, power, influence, status and prestige are irresistible to many young, naïve, and poor undergraduate students.

Largely because of this, law schools continue to attract more and more applications from the most talented students across the country.  Many students, enthusiastic, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, extol their dreams in their personal statements, writing about how they want to “fight for social justice,” “heal the world” and “make the world a better place,” making their essay sound more like a Michael Jackson song than an application for admission.

While the attainment of a law degree is an admirable accomplishment and is still held in high regard, there are some things that one should know before seriously considering the practice of law as a career.  Many of these notions are not readily advertised by law schools, and are only known to those already in the legal industry, or to those who do their research, snd yet they are important for a prospective law student to truly “count the cost.” Here are just some of the unsavory truths of obtaining a law degree.

8 The Financial Investment Is Steep

Should they choose to take one, an LSAT preparation course will run students about $1000.  The LSAT (Law School Admission Test, a test that is needed for admission to all common law schools in the US, Canada, and Australia) itself is several hundred dollars, and double that if a test-taker wishes to re-take the test to get a higher score.

According to the American Bar Association’s 2010 estimates, law school in America will cost interested parties an average of $20, 238 per year. A further investment of a few hundred dollars (varying from state to state) is required to register for and write the bar exam.

In addition to this, there are annual bar fees to pay once licensed, and then CPD (continuing professional development) or CLE (continuing legal education) courses to pay for throughout a legal career. Woe to those who are sole practitioners or are licensed to practice in more than one jurisdiction. It is not cheap to become a lawyer. Neither is it cheap being one. Count the cost before making an application.

7 You Will Likely Graduate With A Load Of Debt

How does one pay for a legal education?  With student loans and a line of credit! Unlike Master’s and doctorate programs, there are fewer scholarships available for those who pursue legal studies.  It is not uncommon for students to graduate with upwards of $100, 000 in debt.

6 A Job Is Not Guaranteed

Related to the last point, what makes law school even more frightening is that there may be no pot of gold at the end of this law school rainbow. Competition does not stop once students begin law school; it only intensifies. A law student will have to vie for a coveted few summer law student and articling positions.

Students need an articling position (which is like a legal internship) in order to secure a law license and practice law. And just because an articling position is secured does not guarantee that the student in questions will be hired back by that law firm. Hire back statistics have been decreasing since the recession of 2008, and some firms have closed up shop all together, leaving current articling students and future articling students stranded.  Many students can pretty much sing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” at the end of their legal studies.

5 You Won’t Necessarily Make A Lot Of Money

Money shouldn’t be the main propellant to seeking a legal career.  With seven years of schooling after high school, many lawyers make as much as a paralegal, or a plumber.  Barring a lawyer finding work with a national firm or an enormous company, and especially if they choose to work for the public interest, the starting salary can be as low as $30 000 a year.

4 If You Are Making A Lot Of Money, You're Working For It

Those who are making $70 000 or $80 000 out of law school are working for every penny – often putting in 70 or 80 hour weeks, ordering in dinner, and leaving their law firms after midnight in a taxi. The work-life balance is upset dramatically by landing a high-paying job as a lawyer. Those who value their time might want to keep that in mind.

3 You Will Question Your Self-Worth

If you have always tied your self-worth to your academic achievements, law school will be difficult. Law school has a way of grouping together the crème de la crème of students and humbling them. Suddenly, everyone is at least as smart as each other, and smart people will find they’re grouped with others who are even smarter. Some may see other letters of the alphabet on their transcript they had never seen before. Grades may or may not correlate with the effort invested in a certain assignment or course.

2 You Will Work Long Hours

Students put in long hours of work during law school, and then put in long hours of work as a lawyer. Lawyers may technically work from 9 am to 5 pm, but if they have a trial the next day, they are implicitly expected to stay back and prepare adequately for that trial. Such a schedule can be alienating to a lawyer’s family.

Being a lawyer demands that a person spends much more time on personal relationships. Friends and families often don’t understand the unique pressures that lawyers face.  Moreover, lawyers are constantly in the thick of conflict and conflict-resolution. As such, the practice of law can be lonely and take an emotional toll.  Lawyers have one of the highest rates of depression and alcoholism among professionals.

1 Law Can Be Really Dry

All of these reality court television shows and TV dramas have made law seem like an exciting courtroom match with lawyers in expensive tailored suits, polished shoes and designer high heels, wielding the weaponry of their words like a sharp-tongued savant.  However, for the most part, the practice of law couldn’t be further from the truth.  Some lawyers spend very little time in the courts, and even when they are, court cases can be high-drama situations, like the OJ Simpson or Trayvon Martin cases, or they can be quite ho-hum in the instances of filing a motion.

On the whole, law school and the study of law can be really dry, akin to eating a bowl of flour three times a day. It can really seem like masticating saw dust. There is a lot of reading to do, and much of it may not tickle a person’s fancy. While many of the cases are highly interesting and intellectually stimulating, just as many cases, as well as corresponding doctrine and journal articles, are long, dense, and require an intellectual rigor that can be hard to muster at times.

More in Job & Salaries