Is it a good idea to go to law school if you don’t want to be a lawyer?
The canonical answer: it depends. It depends on your values, your other obligations, and your tolerance for debt. Also, the answer depends on the quality of the school you choose to attend and the opportunities that the school makes available to its students. I’m sure there are more factors, but those are the ones I find the most compelling.
I am extremely happy with my decision to go to law school. I’ll be happy with that decision of whether or not I ever practice law because I feel like I’ve learned painstakingly and excruciatingly details about the rules that structure society. It has created a depth and wealth of experience that you couldn’t get in any other way, and it’s getting more and more interesting every day. One of the main reasons I went to law school is to learn more about how the world works. I have it in spades.
When I say that your decision to attend law school depends on your values, I mean that you want to consider how much you value education for its own sake. I know I value education as a goal far more than most people, so spending $ 100K to attend law school doesn’t bother me in the least. Again, this is true if I never work as a lawyer and end up making the same amount of money I did before I went to law school.
Your current obligations (and opportunities) will also influence your decision. My situation helps because I have a working spouse and a relatively low cost of living. On the other hand, my son was born during my first week of school, which made things difficult but not impossible. If you want to do it, you will find a way.
Debt is a big concern.
Unless you already have money, you will incur debt. Law school will generally cost more than $ 40K a year, not counting living expenses. The debt will be used to cover what your household income and savings will not cover. Again, your answer to the question about debt depends on your tolerance. I have no problem with debt – in some wicked way, it makes me work harder.
Also, the decision depends on what type of school you enter. I’d say, at the risk of being called elitist (and I am, in more ways than one), go to the best school you can get into. Higher-ranked schools generally attract better teachers and tend to provide better opportunities for their students. And if you find that you want to practice law, prestige is important (to the point).
You’ll get the most out of law school if you follow your passion while in school and are open to opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise consider. See it as an opportunity to try new things. Many things happened while I was in law school that could not have happened if I had not attended. Some of them changed lives. I have had the opportunity to spend hours with people at the top of their fields (and in some cases, they pay me to do it!). I don’t think I would have had access to many of them if it hadn’t been through college.
Law school changed my thinking amazingly and fundamentally.
I can evaluate and analyze any complicated problem and quickly see deeply in various situations that I could not penetrate before. I ask better questions. Friends, I learned how many things work in the world, and I better understand people’s motivations and incentives on a general level, if not a detailed level.
I’m also more comfortable with my writing (hence my long-winded posts) – I don’t know if the words are brighter than they had been. Still, I feel more capable of accurately capturing, organizing, and expressing my ideas.
Law school can also help you in your future business.
I’ve been less intimidated by exploring options and starting projects that I would have thought beyond my scope before going to law school. The people I have met through law school (students, lawyers, professors, etc.) are remarkably connected and have put me in touch with people I would not have been able to reach out to before. You can also expand your network while in law school by taking classes at your school’s business school if they have one. I met a good group of entrepreneurs that way. Finally, law school tells others that you know how to work, even when it’s routine.
I know this post is long and mainly focused on my own experience. My point is to encourage you (the reader) not to believe the hype and to make your own decision based on your conversations and your own life. Most of what I read about the value of law school is quite misleading on both sides.
Many (most?) Of the people who answered negatively to this question have not gone to law school. While that doesn’t invalidate your opinions, it dramatically increases the size of the grain of salt you need to take. In contrast, many of the attorneys who responded appear happy with their decisions to attend law school.
If you decide to go to law school, make it yours. If you don’t feel like it’s for you, you can quit after a semester or a year. There is no shame in that.
Not. This answer may have been different 15-30 years ago, but it is black and white today. I rarely write emphatic responses like this, and I rarely dare to disagree with Keith Rabois openly, but this one is clear.
If you don’t want to be a lawyer, it would be a very bad decision to go to law school.
- The opportunity cost is enormous. Three years of your life, at least, and maybe worse (see next panel).
- The risk of incurring debt in the tens of thousands of dollars is a big problem; Debt will tempt you to make terrible career decisions (that is, join a law firm for a few years so you can pay off the debt) that will leave you stranded by the time you turn 30.
- Increasingly, companies view law titles as negative when it comes to non-legal positions. We no longer live in the 1960s, where the law school was seen as a generalist door-opening camp; it is now considered narrowing and selective selection.
Look, this is all probabilistic. Maybe you will go to law school and have experiences that will lead to a great career/future. But most likely, you are wrong spending those three years in law school.
As Matt Cohler points out, the only reason to go to law school if you don’t want to be a lawyer is if you want to run for office very soon after graduating from college (like Bill Clinton in Arkansas). In that case, it might be helpful to go to law school in the state where you will be running for office.
If you are young and starting, then do not plan to enter politics or academia, no.
- Law school is (generally) expensive. Unless you are in an independent wellness situation (and/or have family members or others who will pay for law school for you), you will end up with a significant debt load after law school. The need to address and ultimately pay off this debt burden will likely cause you to make life and career decisions that you would not have otherwise made.
- The financial opportunity and (more importantly) experience cost of going to law school are significant.
- Law school networks do not seem as useful to me as other professional networks (except those that work in law and politics) because most people who attend law school end up working as lawyers or in politics, and because the work that lawyers do tends to be domain-specific and individual (versus the more collaborative nature of many other types of job services)
- The specific knowledge you acquire in law school is not useful enough in non-legal professions to justify the overhead costs, except in politics and some parts of academia.
If you plan to enter politics or related fields in the United States, or certain academic branches related to law, then the answer is probably yes.
What would people recommend a (hypothetical) 22-year-old college graduate to do with his life?
No, no, thousand times no! Ask yourself the same question with different professions: Is it worth going to medical school if you want to be an accountant? Is it worth getting an MBA if you want to teach elementary school? The answers to those questions are obvious, but for whatever reason, law school has managed to perpetuate the myth that it is a “universal degree” with value in countless fields.
It is undoubtedly true that law school provides some instruction in other fields besides the law. In law school, I studied business, economics, accounting, science, etc. But I did not receive the in-depth education in any of those subjects that I would have in an advanced degree program because I was being trained to be a lawyer., not a doctor or accountant.
There are certain outside law fields where a JD can be an advantage, and those of us who are lucky enough to attend the top 5 law schools or law schools with reputable JD / MBA programs, can probably find the one. Entry into other fields if we try hard enough. But this is not the typical experience, and it raises the question of why someone would spend three years training for a profession that does not interest them, especially when such training now costs> $ 200,000. Get a degree in a field you’re interested in.
When I was young, I thought I would go to law school, but when I had my first big break in 1979 and was hired for Major League Baseball’s executive development program, I put all those thoughts aside. I loved baseball, and I loved the job and the people I worked with.
But after a year or so, I looked around. I realized that despite my intelligence, hard work, good attitude, general competence, and other excellent qualities, other baseball people of my generation advanced by one. The way that I wasn’t, gaining access to opportunities that I only dreamed of. So I looked for an explanation in reality and my conscience and finally realized that all those other people had a credential that I was missing: namely, a penis.
- How to become an Optometrist
- How to become a pilot – Steps, Cost, & Eligibility
- Is it a good idea to go to law school if you don’t want to be a lawyer?
- How much do radiologists make in usa?
- How much do surgeons make?
Here’s the thing: I didn’t want a penis. I realized that It was very high-maintenance accessories, and I had never aspired to have one of my own. So I decided to get the next best option, a JD.
Friends, I never wanted to be Atticus Finch or even Perry Mason. I was a business person looking for an edge. I went to night law school (Fordham) for four years as an AL player records and exemptions manager. When I graduated, I was very lucky because the incoming Commissioner was Peter Ueberroth, who didn’t like lawyers but was very comfortable working with professional women. I liked Peter, and he gave me a job. He created a new position for me. And that was my second big chance.
With that said, I freely acknowledge that the economics of law school is very different today than it was in 1981 when I enrolled at Fordham. I’m glad I went because law school allowed me to develop an excellent set of tools for analyzing problems and trying to solve them. But I only had about $ 20K in debt when I graduated. If you can go to law school at night (maybe your employer will take care of some of the tuition?), It’s a great way to stretch your intellect into ways of thinking different from what you’re used to. In short, it is a great thing if it means taking on six figures of additional debt, not so much.
The decision to go to law school is something I almost made but ultimately didn’t make. Here are my reasons why I considered attending.
- I wanted to earn a lot of money, buy expensive things, and prestige. What I saw was myself in a suit, with high salaries and the respect of my colleagues. Fortunately, I realized that while these things would be amazing at first, they would be miserable in the long run.
- He had nothing else that he wanted to do. I thought the next few years would pass anyway, and I could also develop my analytical skills and credentials. I realized that incurring law school debt would likely force me to work as a lawyer for some time. In short, it would eat up the rest of my 20s, and at 30, I would seek to calm myself down. I did not like the possibility of entering my 30s with a career that I did not think carefully or deliberately choose.
- I had already invested in the prerequisite skills. My undergraduate degree helped me develop logical thinking, writing, reading, argumentative talent, all good traits to enter law school. But my interests are very varied, too itinerant, too scientifically oriented, and I realized that it compromises my interests to take advantage of what was already good; it was an easy and cowardly route. Furthermore, this line of reasoning is a failure to ignore sunk costs.
- Everyone else was doing it. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2011, the job market was not particularly attractive. Many of my classmates were heading to law school, and it seemed like the best way to cash in on my degree. I realized that I would not be happy following the crowd.
I would have considered law school a good decision if some things were different.
- Suppose I didn’t discover a passion for something else. The biggest thing that kept me from going to law school was that I couldn’t help but feel like I was selling my real interests.
- Suppose I saw myself having a very corporate career style. In the end, I thought this would be too stifling for me in terms of geographic mobility, personal interests, and lifestyle.
- Suppose I didn’t have family members who were lawyers and hated their jobs. They entered law school like I almost did because they had a bachelor’s degree, didn’t know what to do, applied on a whim, and seemed respectable.
- Suppose I felt like I had to maintain a certain standard of living to impress my parents or family. My parents had unconventional careers, and I think they recognize the importance of following what you want and not expect.
It is a question that continues to plague prospective law students in 2017. While nearly all prospective law students understand the general risks of attending law school, there are still quite a few who want to earn a JD while quitting the Legal practice.
Unfortunately, there is a no different answer to your question, as several variables are at play. With that said, here are some important points to keep in mind.
The financial aspect
As a basic starting point, law school tuition is expensive.
It is difficult to predict future market trends, but let’s assume that tuition fees will increase slightly for the foreseeable future. And beyond tuition, you’ll have to add living expenses and other miscellaneous expenses, like books and academic fees. It can be very expensive, especially if you attend law school in an expensive city like New York City. Total costs will certainly run into six figures.
So when looking at the financial angle with this question, the bigger question is how you will pay for law school.
If a family member or friend is paying for the entirety of law school, I would say they have more flexibility if they don’t intend to practice. The same advice applies if you have received a full scholarship. You are not going to take a massive financial hit if you attend law school under these circumstances.
With that said, you need to consider opportunity costs. The best route for you may be to gain three years of experience (and income) in the industry that interests you. Even if you are not going to be financially burdened after attending law school, opportunity costs are real costs.
Now, if you can’t afford law school on your own and have little to no scholarship money, you’ll get loans to fund your legal education. Here, the situation becomes more complicated.
Depending on your income after law school, you will likely pay off your law school loans for the foreseeable future. Some programs can make your loan payments less demanding, such as the Income-Based Payment and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. But still, your law school debt will create solid headwinds as you try to accumulate wealth in your young career.
Whether you are comfortable with these headwinds is up to you.
The professional look
The next question is whether you want to write a six-figure check to participate in an experience that prepares you for a career that doesn’t interest you. It assumes that you are not earning a dual degree (such as a JD / MBA) where a JD would be a complementary asset as you do work related to the other degree.
For so much discussion about a law degree “opening doors,” law school focuses on training students to become lawyers. Sure, you learn important skills like attention to detail and how to handle stress. But you really shouldn’t go to law school just to learn these skills.
Coming back to opportunity costs, you will have to judge for yourself whether learning the vague statutes and stages of a lawsuit are more valuable than learning other skills in the industry you intend to work in. Legal knowledge may tangentially relate to an industry that interests you (for example, the political world), but are you willing to risk being still interested in that field after three years? Stranger things have happened.
There is also the question of whether you expect a law degree to help you find a position in an industry with no experience or connections. It is another dangerous game to play. It may be more difficult than you think, especially since you’re three years short of tangible work experience in that industry.
Ultimately, the worst-case scenario is a combination of not finding a job with excessive debt in law school. You must do whatever it takes to avoid this. It goes without saying, but this situation can cause great damage to your career prospects and financial future.
Where he attends
But along with the career factor, there is another factor to consider. Attending US News & World Report’s so-called “Top 14” school may hedge your risk in previous legal practice, rather than attending a lower-ranking, “less prestigious” school.
A law degree indicates that you are smart and can remain committed to achieving a long-term goal. But there is some added prestige to saying, “I’m a Harvard Law graduate,” even if you don’t end up practicing law. You will take advantage of the credential you receive upon graduation from a highly regarded school. Employers in other industries will know that you are smart and that you can probably positively impact their organization. It could lead to some interesting opportunities.
If you do not attend a “prestigious” school with national (or even regional) prestige, you will be less likely to rely on this benefit. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going to Harvard because you can say “I’m a Harvard graduate” when looking for non-legal jobs outside of law school. You cannot consider that benefit solely in a vacuum.
Ultimately, there is no clear answer to your question. But when evaluating your decision, I think it is important to take into account traditional psychological biases. Try to be as objective as possible while leaving out biases like the overconfidence effect and confirmation bias.
While you won’t be 100% sure you’re making the right decision, thinking about all the angles of your question will put you in the best position down the road.
Check out my podcast that touches on my journey from legal practice to the world of startups.
The answer is well reasoned, and all the points he makes are good negatives. However, I think the choice to attend law school has some merit (especially if the opportunity cost drops to 2 years):
a) you will leave law school a substantially more rigorous analytical thinker (often your friends will notice changes in your approach), which is of great value in whatever discipline you pursue;
b) for better or worse, virtually every element of American society is infused by legal restrictions and regulatory problems these days; The law is much more of an art than a science, and almost any business goal can achieve with clever legal maneuvering. If you are not a lawyer, your lawyers and the lawyer you receive tend to become a “black box,” similar to going to the doctor. Even if you never practice, legal education will equip you to ask the right questions and manipulate your attorneys.
Late to this.
How likely are you ever to look for a job where such a credential would help you, in light of your current job and college, etc.?
If yes, then:
Take the best courses from the best teachers (don’t forget to register at other schools), and
Make lifelong close friends with people who might help you one day, both in terms of moral and professional support.
You will improve your critical thinking, writing, and speaking by going to law school.
You can learn negotiation and contracts.
That being said, I think you can get a great education online, too, like on Quora. On Quora, you can discuss things with some brilliant minds who are experts in their fields of interest.
I went to law school, and I don’t practice law, and attending was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
That said, I was in a unique position to have worked for four years before school and also had the opportunity to do a joint JD-MBA, which I completed in 2009 at Harvard.
A world-class legal education is an intellectually challenging and rigorous program that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
The way I thought was:
1) I enjoy school and learning.
2) Life is long.
3) Having the legal training/toolkit will make me stronger as an individual taxpayer, which will ultimately be the measure of my long-term success.
I think anyone trying to calculate the “opportunity cost” of doing something like this at such a young age is either overconfident or unimaginative, or both.
While I can think of some fields in which a JD might be helpful that are not considered “attorney job” crisis management, I think that would be an overstatement.
There are crisis management degrees at BS, MS, and Ph.D. levels.
Degrees that would provide a better path to crisis management than a JD (without being crisis management programs) would include off the top of my head:
- Communications (technical side, learning various teams and how they can interact)
- Law enforcement
- Scopes health, both healthcare and administrative
Engineering (evaluation of structures, reconstruction of structures that are civil engineering, chemical engineering to deal with the risk of them, as well as the management of those that can release electricity to make the network work again and evaluate weak points in distribution system)
Transportation management (large-scale crisis often requires moving many people and supplies away)
I’ll offer one more half-hearted defense of law school: law schools can be extremely good at teaching you to think “at scale.” Much of the law school curriculum involves studying instances in which a statute, rule, policy, etc. That particular thing that may have made sense in most “normal” contexts suddenly seems dubious when applied to a specific set of facts.
The ultimate goal is to challenge students to think of better and more scalable rules (or sets of principles) that work well in “normal” and more extreme / less common situations. It can be an applicable skill for anyone who designs rules and policies (not just legislators, but essentially anyone serving in an administrative or managerial capacity). It would probably be helpful if challenged more people holding such positions to think beyond the more obvious sets of facts.
On the other hand, this practice can also lead to over-analysis, so lawyers and law students are often so annoying to non-legal people. Sometimes normal people have to apply the 80/20 principle, even if it makes lawyers squirm, which is why lawyers and law students are often so annoying to non-legal people. Sometimes normal people have to apply the 80/20 principle, even if it makes lawyers squirm, which is why lawyers and law students are often so annoying to non-legal people.
Friends, Sometimes normal people have to apply the 80/20 principle, even if it makes lawyers squirm. Financially, yes, particularly compared to the option of entering the workforce with just a bachelor’s degree. Read The Economic Value of a Law Degree.
About 40 percent of law graduates do not practice law. Holders of law degrees generally earn about 60 to 70 percent more than holders of similar bachelor’s degrees. And they are overrepresented in leadership positions in both business and government.
Read The Economic Value of a Law Degree and some of the blog post discussions here: Brian Leiter Law School Reports and Reflections on “The Economic Value of a Law Degree” and its response.
Not. Not only are you paying money in exchange for a degree that only opens a door, being a lawyer, but you are paying the opportunity costs by losing income and the experience that you would gain by working full time. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I can do anything with a law degree.” On the one hand, it is not true: you cannot practice medicine.
On the other hand, ask yourself, of all those non-attorney jobs you can do with a law degree, how many require the degree or cannot be obtained without it? The answer is none. Don’t go to law school if you don’t want to be a lawyer. Get an MBA if you are established in a graduate degree that you don’t plan to use, or better yet, get a funded Master / Ph. RE.
Since I graduated from law school but never practiced law, I may be in a better position than most to answer your question.
The correct answer is that it depends on your career plans, finances, intellectual curiosity, marital status, specific interest in the subject, aptitudes, temperament, and, no doubt, half a dozen things that I do not mention. Ignore one-size-fits-all answers, especially those that advise a clear direction.
I graduated from law school and medical school, and now I don’t practice any. I greatly appreciate the education of both of them, which, in my opinion, was worth the cost.
Regarding law school, I agree with one of the other commenters that 90% of the educational value comes in the first year. Was it worth another two years to get a JD degree? The jury is still out, but so far, maybe not. Possibly a more positive response if he had attended a different law school. Going for just one year and then quitting might not be a bad option under the right circumstances.
I regret two things: First, I took the cheap and went to a state law school. That, in hindsight, was a mistake. I could have and should have opted for ivy or equivalent. Second, I am sorry to have suffered from the horrendous abuse that was part of medical school. Excepting that element of those experiences, I was given more than the fair value for the time and money invested, even given poor judgment in choosing a law school.
If you go to law school, two tips. First, go to the best school you can go to. Second, take the opportunity to do a summer internship with a large company, even if you never intend to practice.
I hope that helps. Good luck.
You have no intention of being a lawyer. So you want a law degree. Look for law schools that are not strict about attendance or law schools that will solve your attendance problem by paying a simple amount of money (Money can buy everything you see!)
You can only become a lawyer when you complete your law degree and “sign up” on the list of defenders in the COUNCIL OF BARRAS OF STATE of the HIGH COURT OF THE STATE in question.
Suppose you are only planning to complete a law degree for knowledge or a future purpose. In that case, you can either attend a decent university that will solve your attendance problem in a ‘friendly’ way, or you can attend law classes regularly (if you are a good student) and fulfill your purpose!
PS: This answer applies to you only if you are studying in India.
PS I’m not sure if crisis management needs a law degree.
It’s a great idea to go to law school, even if you don’t want to be a lawyer, as long as you don’t have anything else you want to do.
Money is cheap when you are young. You have a lot of time to earn money. If you are over 30 years old, you would have to be a lawyer, judge, or legal scholar to go to law school. But if you’re under 30, I don’t think it matters that much.
I went to law school (at 21) because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I thought it would be a good education. I never practiced law. Instead, I went to work in business. I started as an assistant, as I didn’t seem to have the financial analysis and accounting background, even though I had studied accounting and statistics in law school, as well as securities and commodities law.
In 4 years, I paid off my large student loans and was able to pay an advance and get a mortgage on a modest first home. Friends who had chosen other less lucrative careers (such as teaching or public service) were not as successful as quickly, but they still did well. We could quickly assimilate large amounts of potentially useless information and examine and identify problems and priorities based on our law school processes. We could persuade, negotiate, present, and sell ideas because of our law school skills.
Since then, I have served on various nonprofit boards where my legal training has been invaluable. I have been able to assess and address business problems. The risks in areas as varied as human resources, trademarks, patents and copyrights, fair loans, international law, real estate transactions and to help (if only to refer to good lawyers), friends with the landlord-tenant, and family law and estate planning, from what I learned in law school.
It’s a nice skillset to have, no matter what you ultimately do with them.
The other answers, like Cliff Gilley, express valid concerns about law school. It should not be taken lightly to spend years of your life under the weight of giant federal student loans, which carry a fairly high-interest rate and generally cannot be canceled in bankruptcy. However, what came to mind was a Sam Zell talk that I attended in law school.
He noted that not a day goes by in his career as an entrepreneur when he doesn’t draw on the understanding of the legal system that he gained as a law student and lawyer. I’m not saying you should go to law school. But maybe invest some time and energy to get a basic education in American law, private business entities, business transactions, visiting a public law library, or attending Continuing Legal Education courses? That could pay.
As someone who has practiced for two years and still doubts whether being a lawyer is the right path, I would say that going to law school was a good decision because it forced me to cultivate a style of thinking that serves me well in all my affairs. Efforts. Besides, he really couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Perhaps the best judge of whether you should go to law school is whether you are genuinely interested in or fascinated by the law. If your answer to this question is no, then you definitely shouldn’t go. If the answer is yes, you need to consider the cost, time, and schools you are likely to have the opportunity to get into. I would also talk to some attorneys to see what their day job is like. You may discover that it is something you would enjoy.
Given the economy and the reasons cited by everyone else, I highly recommend skipping the law school opportunity if you can’t get into a highly rated school. The brutal truth is that your chances of having an outlaw career are limited if you don’t go to a reputable school. Even my alma mater, the University of Texas School of Law, might not rank high enough to take the plunge if you loathe the idea of becoming a lawyer.
If you don’t want to be a lawyer, there are several alternate paths to gaining a similar skillset without investing $ 200k and three years of your life. Would you go to medical school if you didn’t want to be a doctor? Would you get an accounting degree if you didn’t plan to be an accountant? No, law school is a trade school that focuses on creating lawyers; it is no longer a reasonable “stop” between college students and the real world.
Also, if you decide later that you want to be a lawyer, your real-world experience will make you a better candidate for the school you want to attend and a more effective and successful student in the long run.
should i go to law school