As I watch various acquaintances enroll in law school and listen to my 1L mentee wonder if she should drop out, I feel compelled to say something: You probably shouldn’t go to law school. That’s my opinion, as someone who is about to graduate with a JD. Here are five reasons why I think you’d be better off doing something else with your time.
Five reasons you probably shouldn’t go to law school
- Law school is expensive.
Financially, of course. The tuition is usually upwards of 30K a year. At my school, it was closer to 45K. The books are expensive too: A single textbook could cost you $300 or more, and you’ll be taking five or six classes every semester. You’ll have to shell out money for a laptop that is reliable and works with your school’s exam software, invest in professional clothing, and figure out how to pay for all the coffee you’ll need to keep you awake for three years straight. Law school is also expensive in terms of time, energy, and mental resource. It’s an experience that consumes your entire life, creeping into your thoughts even when you’re not actively doing law school. You only have so many seconds to spend each day: Do you really want the legal system to absorb the majority of them?
- Law school is unnecessarily competitive.
It’s taxing on your mental and physical health to spend so many hours studying and to constantly exist in a hostile environment. Some start to feel like they have to keep up appearances, to be sure they’re spending enough time studying in the library. Even at the most non-competitive law schools, the curve tends to bring out the very worst in people, since only a few students can earn an A. It’s you against the world. Furthermore, 1L nervous anxiety inevitably leads to absurd gossip and, worse, false accusations of honor code violations that cause horrible, stressful drama. It’s also incredibly taxing to exist in an environment where, at any moment, you could be singled out and asked to intelligently answer a question or explain something about the day’s readings in front of fifty or more of your new classmates. Cold calling is exhausting.
- The job market sucks.
While in school, it’s hard to find a paying job. Some schools, like mine, even have rules saying you need special permission to have a job during your first year. As an upperclassman, probably about half of my classmates have a paying gig. If you do manage to get a paying job, it usually doesn’t pay much. My law student jobs have paid $14–$15 an hour. For contrast, minimum wage in my state is $11.25/hour and before law school, I earned $20+ an hour. This education slashed my earning potential. After school, you have to figure out how to survive for almost six months while you study for and take the bar, await the results, and find someone to hire you. You’ve just spent three years and six figures of student debt earning a doctoral degree, and you can expect to earn less than six figures annually by a long shot unless you want to practice corporate law or live in a wealthy, urban area.
- Poor balance abounds.
The feminine is stifled roughly in law school. There is no balance, there is only masculine. You might be told not to wear perfume, or that your hair is distracting. And forget about being in touch with your emotions: Law is reason free from passion. I had to learn to disconnect emotionally because my 1L year drove me to the point of suicidality, panic attacks, and psychosis. This isn’t a safe place for mental health recovery and healing. Then there’s the fact that you have to tell the bar everything about you, most of it seemingly unnecessary. Why is so much of law school an outdated hazing ritual? You are expected to work and study so much, you are constantly exhausted. We are told that each credit hour should amount to two hours of reading outside of class, and we must take 15 credits per semester to graduate. That works out to 45 hours a week, and then you must find time for your commute, your job or externship, your family, your other obligations, and yourself. There were weeks during 1L when I studied for more than sixty hours in a week, and I’m sure my classmates studied even more. This kind of pressure is very likely part of the reason why lawyers suffer from such a high rate of substance abuse issues, another crucially important imbalance in legal culture.
- The idealization of being perpetually overworked is life sucking.
I don’t want to work in a field where we brag about how much time we spend working. Yes, I want my work to be an important part of my life, and I want to feel fulfilled by it. But the culture of being constantly available and working 60+ hour weeks doesn’t mesh well with the daily lifestyle I wish to live. A career should enhance a life and enable stability, rather than defining and determining an identity that’s based sheerly on your labor value. Who are you without your profession? When I asked myself this question, I found that my personal foundational values were inherently incompatible with the reality of the American legal profession.
I can find a lot of positives in my law school experience: I learned a lot about myself and my ability to adapt, I learned how to function in an environment that I didn’t flourish in, and I met some really amazing friends. But all of those things can be accomplished in ways that are much more pleasant and less soul-sucking. What’s calling you to law school? Are you having second thoughts? My best advice: Don’t go unless the voice calling is a strong and clear one. Don’t go unless it’s an enthusiastic YES. And if it is, best of luck, friend.
Your choices are yours, but choose your path with wisdom.
with love to all who read my ramblings,