Law school requires a tremendous investment of time, effort, and money. The application process is time-consuming and, depending on the number of schools applied to, may cost several hundred dollars. The first year of law school is grueling, requiring students to study harder and put in more time than they likely thought possible as an undergraduate. And let’s not forget tuition costs.
Employment rates among law school grads reached a peak around 2007 and have declined slightly since. About 12 percent of 2015 law school graduates were unemployed nine months after graduation.
Before making such a leap, then, students should carefully consider whether it is the right choice for them. People’s reasons for going to law school vary. Many who attend law school are driven by a desire to help people. Lawyers help people navigate many different kinds of problems, including estate planning, immigration, family and custody issues, buying or selling real-estate, setting up and running businesses, and complying with tax laws or government regulations. Others attend law school so they can pursue public service or work to affect social policy. Others see a legal profession as a gateway to a higher-class lifestyle and a way to pursue high-paying jobs in corporate America. Some may be drawn into the law as a result of interest in particular subjects (e.g., the environment, intellectual property), while others may be primarily motivated by the prospect of helping people. Some are attracted to law school by the intellectual challenge.
If, however, the best answer you can come up with to the question above is “I can’t figure out anything else to do” or “Because my parents are lawyers,” you might want to think a little harder.
What can I do with a law degree?
Students don’t need to have a clear idea of what kind of legal career they desire when they’re applying to law school. Still, it never hurts to start thinking about such things early, and such considerations may help students make up their minds about whether they wish to attend law school.
Most, though not all, law school graduates become practicing attorneys. According to the National Association for Law Placement’s Class of 2015 Employment Report and Salary Survey, 51.3 % of all law school graduates find themselves in private practice within a law firm. Roughly 19% of graduates opt for public service–government, military, or public interest law–while 10% of students perform judicial clerkships before going on to more permanent positions. In recent years, the greatest growth in the job market for law school grads has come in jobs for which a J.D. is an advantage, but is not required: 14.5 percent of 2015 grads found full-time work in such jobs.
Law school graduates also have opportunities in a wide variety of fields: media, public relations, public administration, management, law enforcement, and foreign service, just to name a few.
Students may find the following resources helpful:
- Why Do You Want To Go To Law School?–by Andrea Swanner Redding, Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College
- Would You Be Happy As a Lawyer?– by Paul J. Weber, University of Louisville
- Harper, Steven J. 2013. The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis. New York: Basic Books.
- Susskind, Richard. 2013. Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- NALP (National Association for Law Placement): www.nalp.org. See, e.g., regular reports on recruitment, hiring and salaries: http://www.nalp.org/research.
- ABA Employment Summary Report: http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm
- Law School Transparency: lawschooltransparency.com
- “Being a Lawyer”: http://www.lsac.org/jd/thinking-about-law-school/being-a-lawyer
- The Legal Whiteboard: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legalwhiteboard/. Blog that regularly covers employment data.