I get this question a lot, and I see a lot of equestrians on Twitter that want to go to law school or say they want to be lawyers. I wanted to provide a realistic view of the “Should I go to law school?” question and a realistic view of what being a lawyer actually is versus what it’s made out to be (Spoiler Alert: It is not an episode of Law & Order).
Simply asking Should I go to law school? is a loaded question because there are so many factors that go into that decision. I can’t really tell you whether you should go to law school. So… why am I writing this post, right? I can tell you some things you should take into account before you make the decision to possibly put yourself into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and a majorly subpar job market.
First, get a feel for what the legal world is like. You can do this in various ways, but my biggest suggestion to anyone that asks me about going to law school is get an internship at some type of legal-related job. You could intern at a law firm, government agency, or even with a local judge. All of those internships will give you a taste of what it’s like being a lawyer. Will you get to do actual lawyer? No. But you will get to see real life lawyers and what they do day-to-day, and if you’re lucky and prove yourself, you will get to do some legal-related work… just nothing that can be considered “practicing law.”
The reason I suggest getting a feel for the legal world is because law school has a huge flaw. It does absolutely nothing to prepare you for the real legal world. It does nothing to prepare you for being a lawyer. It does nothing to prepare you for going to court. Sure, most schools offers classes in trial strategy, or on writing legal briefs, or even clinics which is where you will be a “Student Attorney” often handling real cases under the guise of an attorney (often a professor). But, as someone who took all of those classes in law school, I still was in no way, shape, or form prepared to be a lawyer when I graduated and started my first full-time legal job.
This brings me back to the internships thing. The biggest and most valuable preparation I had for being a lawyer was my internships that I did during my time in law school. So even if interning at a law firm or a government legal agency sounds super lame especially during one of your college summers – it can not only save you from 3 years of misery, but if you do decide to become an attorney, you will have a leg up on those who didn’t have an internship.
Second, why are you becoming an attorney? Gone are the days of not knowing what you want to do after college so you’ll just go to law school. The job market is not equipped from that. You are no longer guaranteed a legal job after you graduate from law school and pass the bar. While my law school fortunately has a high employment rate after graduation, and I (thankfully) secured full-time employment shortly into my last year of law school – I still have friends who don’t have legal-related jobs and are unemployed and have been for an entire year at this point. Also, I still don’t have a job for after this first job I have ends (and yes, I am majorly stressed about that). If you are becoming an attorney because you don’t know what the hell else to do – that is the absolute wrong reason to go to law school. You will be miserable. I know someone who went to law school as a back-up if his writing career didn’t take off, and he hated every second of it, didn’t do well, and didn’t even take the bar after we graduated. Now listen, your choice is your choice. If you think going to law school even though you don’t know what you want to do is right for you, then by all means do it. I am not here to tell you how to live your life – I am just here to give you a realistic perspective on what doing something like that could mean for your job prospects, happiness, and most importantly, financial security after graduation, especially if you will be paying for law school yourself.
This brings me to another part of why you are becoming an attorney: If you’re doing it solely for the money, don’t do it. You will be unhappy, miserable, depressed, etc. Like I said, the job market sucks. It is hard to find a job, and I am not going to lie to you about that. Can you make hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars practicing law? Yup. You can. But you also better be prepared to sacrifice your social life, family life, romantic life, riding life, pretty much any life you have aside from the one you have working. I know this sounds dramatic, but let me share a few stories.
- One of my supervisors at my second internship told me that her good friend, who worked at a very large firm in New York City (Read: Cha-ching!), had planned a trip to a foreign country each year to see some of his family members. The trip was pre-paid, already planned, and something that was done every single year. Well, a big trial came up, and his supervising partner told him he wasn’t going on the trip. When the person said that he had this trip planned, had already paid for it, and went on it every year, the partner said that was too bad, he was needed at the office, and he wouldn’t be going. However, they did reimburse him for the pre-paid trip.
- The same firm had booked several rooms in a hotel nearby for their employees to go to in order to shower, freshen up, and take naps. Other than that, the employees weren’t allowed to go home if they were working on an important project.
- My good friend who recently started working full-time at a big firm based in both my state and in New York told me she has to make a certain number of billable hours each week. Now, I don’t know her actual salary, nor would I ask, but my guess and impression from what I know about the firm and her job is that she gets paid pretty well. For those of you who don’t know what billable hours are, it’s an amount of time you spend doing work that you can bill a client for. This has to be actual work – not sitting on your cell phone, going on Facebook, etc. The billable hours aspect is often quite rigorous and stressful, but it’s a huge part of law firm life. I asked her what a typical day at the firm is like for her. She told me she gets to work around 8:30 am and doesn’t leave until 7 pm. She also told me some of her friends at other firms will leave the office to go to happy hour and get dinner and then go back only to leave at 3 am and return at 8:30 – 9 am again.
- Finally, I know someone who worked at a big law firm in New York City many years ago (Read again: Cha-ching!) She told me that not one day went by where she didn’t hear someone screaming or crying in their office.
I know those stories aren’t uplifting. I know that those stories also aren’t all typical. There are lawyers that love their jobs, that love working crazy hours, that love the high-stress environment, that are willing to make those sacrifices for the big money. And, if you’re one of those people, then all the power to you. But my point is, if you’re solely doing it for the money, you will likely burn out within a few years and want to pick a new career and/or find yourself deeply depressed.
Third, are you willing to do the work? Law school is not a walk in the park. I remember being in college and studying 15 minutes before my final exam and still getting an A. Law school is not like that – I don’t care who you are. You will work your ass off. You will read a lot. You will write a lot. You will be expected to take a 2 – 5 hour exam at the end of the semester where you may need to recall any and all information you learned during the year. Oh, and by the way, you’re taking multiple exams. A usual law school semester is 4 – 5 classes, and each of them usually has either a final exam or a large paper that you need to actually be working on throughout the semester (Read: You cannot do your final paper the night before. It just won’t happen).
Fourth, you will have to make sacrifices, including ones that involve riding. While I would love to write a huge paragraph on this. Just know that you will have to ride less at some points in the semester, especially during your first year when your grades matter the most. I think really what we all need to see is: Less pony time. And, I know this shouldn’t be a deciding factor. Plus, riding horses is expensive, and sometimes we have to make sacrifices in order to ensure a successful, secure future for ourselves that will allow us to continue our passion, but there are other jobs out there that will allow us to do the same thing without sacrificing our sanity and forcing us into a career we potentially didn’t want in the first place.
I know that this post may have sounded super negative, but I always get asked about law school, and I felt the need to be realistic about the whole process. I do plan on writing a post about the positives of going to law school and being a lawyer, but I do think the potential negatives and risks need to be put out there, especially because not everyone is willing to be realistic about the state of the legal field, law school, being a lawyer, etc.
If you are considering going to law school, or are in law school, and have questions, I am always here to answer them! I will try my best to be positive but authentic (Read: I won’t lie to you, and no one else should either). You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Ask.fm, or shoot me an email!