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If you’re considering a career in law or one that would benefit from legal education, you might be asking, “Should I go to law school?” This is a legitimate question—after all, law school could be one of the most impactful decisions of your life, and there are many factors to consider before applying.
If you’re wondering how to become a lawyer, law school is the clear answer. However, legal education can benefit other career paths as well. To help you decide if law school is worth it for you, this article covers the benefits of attending law school and what you should consider before you apply.
The Benefits of Attending Law School
Attending law school can be an excellent decision to further your education. A law degree can lead to a high earning potential, increased job opportunities and a broad professional network. This degree can also grow your critical thinking and communication skills. We explore a few potential benefits of law school below.
The skills learned in law school—like analytical thinking, problem solving and communication—are highly marketable. For example, juris doctors (JDs) are commonly expected to take the bar exam and become lawyers after law school, but they often find careers in alternative fields like banking and finance, legal writing, consulting, human resources and government or politics.
Lawyers and other law professionals often earn above-average salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers earn a median annual salary of $127,990, with the highest 10% earning over $208,000 and the lowest 10% earning less than $61,400. The median annual wage for other legal occupations is $82,430.
The path you take in your legal career may depend on whether you own your practice or you work for a law firm or another establishment. Owning a practice is typically more lucrative. Moreover, lawyers employed by local and state governments make less on average—around $100,000 per year—than those in the federal government or private sector, who can earn over $150,000, according to the BLS.
The salary for a lawyer is certainly attractive, but keep in mind that many lawyers work more than 40 hours per week.
Growth and Learning
Law school is likely to be one of the most challenging experiences in your life. That being said, you can emerge from these challenges as a sharpened legal practitioner.
Many students struggle to learn how to think like a lawyer. Moreover, law school curricula cover difficult topics such as civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, legal method, property law, legal writing and torts.
Law schools employ the case method approach, which entails examining multiple related judicial opinions in an area of law. During this examination, you may have to explore the facts presented, determine the legal principles applied to reach a conclusion and analyze the methods of reasoning used.
Networking is a significant benefit of law school. As a law student, you are surrounded by professors who are likely connected in your local law community and even beyond. Networking can lead to internships and full-time employment after graduation.
Furthermore, because law school cohorts tend to be small, peer relationships among law students are critical as well. These can lead to career opportunities down the line or other opportunities you might otherwise miss. Many schools also hold student-alumni networking events to help students network.
What to Consider Before Applying to Law School
There are many aspects to consider before applying to law school. Law school is academically competitive, and you need to consider how this commitment would fit into your finances, interests and schedule. Mull over the following factors as you determine whether you should go to law school.
Create a Law School Plan
You should consider your law school plan as early as undergraduate school. As a first-year undergrad student, you might speak to a pre-law advisor who can help guide your academic journey and expose you to the legal profession. Traditional pre-law majors include English, history, political science, economics and business.
By the second half of undergraduate school, you should have completed an internship. At this point, it’s time to start researching law schools and beginning preparing for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)®. The LSAT is the most common standardized exam for aspiring law students, but some law schools also accept the GRE.
As a senior in undergrad, you can join a pre-law organization to learn how to become a strong law school applicant. Other preparatory steps include the following.
- Create a Law School Admissions Council (LSAC)® account.
- Attend an LSAC forum.
- Write a solid law school personal statement.
- Create a strong resume.
- Gather related materials for the LSAC Credential Assembly Service, which simplifies the process of applying to law school.
Weigh the Time Investment
Attending law school requires a significant investment of time and money. As an aspiring law student, you can ultimately expect to spend at least seven years in school. You’ll complete a four-year undergraduate degree before attending law school, which typically lasts three rigorous years.
Law students can expect to dedicate at least 40 hours per week to reading, writing and studying. It is not unusual to read up to 100 pages a night, and the texts are often dense and require strong reading and analytical skills.
Consider the Financial Investment
How much is law school? According to data reported by law schools to the American Bar Association (ABA), tuition for the average law program costs $40,791 per year for full-time, in-state students. This adds up to $122,373 after three years of school—and that figure does not include student fees or living expenses.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition and fees for all graduate programs cost $19,749 per year on average. This means law school is significantly more expensive than most other types of graduate school.
All that considered—is law school worth it? This depends on how you fund your education and what you do with your degree.
Look at your Funding Options
In addition to law school loans, there are many scholarship opportunities to consider. Organizations and foundations at the local, state and national levels offer funding based on recipients’ financial needs, academic merit and/or ethnicity, among other factors.
You can use a database such as FastWeb or AccessLex Institute to find funding for law school. You might also consult resources such as this list from LSAC. Law schools may also provide dedicated funding information on their websites.
If you opt to take out loans, make sure to prioritize federal loans over private loans. Federal student loans come with lower interest rates and a variety of income-driven repayment plans.
Consider Your Career Pathway
With a JD, you can do more than just work in a law firm. Other career paths exist in the judiciary, business, teaching and the public interest. Consider the following career options for law school graduates.
Law firms. This is the most common career path for JDs. About half of law school graduates start their careers in law firms, according to the ABA. Law firms vary in size and are generally categorized as large, midsize, small or international.
The judiciary. Another option is to work as a judicial clerk in the courts. A clerkship is an excellent opportunity to gain experience in the courts and see the legal process from a judge’s perspective. Clerks are hired and directly supervised by judges.
Business. JDs can work as in-house legal counsel, helping businesses succeed and protecting them from risks. Like law firms, businesses come in varying sizes and with different needs.
Teaching. Becoming a law professor is also an option. If teaching is in your future, you can focus on honing your legal research and writing skills. You might also begin developing publications in the academic space.
Public interest. Nonprofits typically seek to address substantive issues such as civil and individual rights. JDs can also find careers in government such as at district attorney’s offices and state agencies.
Know Your Academic Strengths
Understanding your academic strengths and weaknesses is critical for success in law school.
Critical skills for law students include problem-solving; analytical thinking; critical reading, writing and editing; oral communication; listening; research; and collaboration. If you find yourself struggling in any of these areas, invest extra time and energy in improving those skills.
The Bottom Line: Is Law School Worth It?
Whether law school is worth it for you depends on many factors, including your unique goals in life. This commitment is certainly not for everyone, so it’s important to consider the personal and financial implications of attending law school before you enroll.
Law school can be a challenging experience involving long hours, stressful exams and a competitive academic environment. However, if you have a clear goal in mind, these challenges can help you craft the career of your dreams.