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Debate: Law school

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Should I go to law school?

Background and context

For decades, individuals have weighed the pros and cons of whether to go to law school, while many others have plunged into the endeavor without considering the advantages and disadvantages as they relate to one's career goals. Below are presented the pros and cons from key sources over the years. The arguments fall around the following questions: does going to law school expand opportunities, or does it merely hold-out the opportunity to become a lawyer? If I don't want to be a lawyer, is law school still a good idea?
What are some of the key non-lawyer career opportunities that a law degree can open? And, can these opportunities be equally or better opened through other approaches? Is a law degree an "all purpose degree", and is legal training a transferable skill? How significant are the opportunity costs of going to law school and incurring significant student debt? Is the pay in law firms good, making the investment in a law degree a good one? What if you don't get a big law firm job, what are the other job options, and are these an adequate return on the investment in law school? Are public interest law jobs well-paying? Do you have to go to top law schools to get a top firm job? Is the experience of law school worth it? Is it intellectually and philosophically rewarding? Or is it stressful and soul-sucking? Are law school loans excessive? How do they limit career choices and living-standards going forward? Are lawyers happy? Does it require too much of a commitment of time? Is the practice intellectually rewarding? Is the work environment healthy and does it breed positive personality traits? Overall, is going to law school a good idea?

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Opportunities: Does going to law school expand opportunities?

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Pro

  • Law degree is perhaps the most versatile degree "Why Go to Law School?" Kaplan: "Lawyers can function in the business world, whereas M.B.A.'s cannot function in a legal position. And although lawyers cannot be doctors, neither are they as closely held to their "field" as are M.D.'s. [...] A law degree gives you almost unparalleled mobility in your career&151;lawyers run movie studios, manage baseball teams, hold political office, serve in the foreign service, run Fortune 500 companies, and head a wide range of legal service organizations."
  • Huge variety of legal fields to choose from. David Lat. "In defense of going to law school." Above the Law. July 13th, 2010: "There are so many options for law-related employment outside of Biglaw — midsize or small law firms, federal government (e.g., the DOJ Honors Program), state government, clerkships (federal and state), fellowships, non-profits / public interest, and in-house (yes, even for new graduates). And that’s without even touching upon the many career alternatives for attorneys — all the things you can do with a law degree that don’t involve practicing law."
  • A J.D. opens opportunities in political/govt work "Why you should consider a JD MBA." MyMBACareer.com: "An MBA JD degree is also useful if you are considering a career in politics or government. Even if you don't plan to practice law or work in a business setting, there are many ways in which an MBA JD degree can help you prepare for a job in public service. Your range of knowledge will make you a valuable addition to any campaign, political staff or government office. In the same vein, government organizations are constantly working with private business and legal firms, and a JD MBA graduate is perfectly suited to such work."
  • J.D.'s can work in industries surrounding lawyers Hindi Greenberg. "So What Else Can You Do with Your Law Degree?" American Bar Association. July/August 2005: "they can explore the industries that serve law firms or produce products for use by lawyers, or even set up their own businesses providing consultations to other lawyers in areas of self-developed expertise. Businesses that provide services and products to lawyers are expanding rapidly—computer consulting, legal product development and design, law book sales, practice management, office design, jury consulting, and legal software development, to name just a few. Look at the display ads in various legal publications to get an idea about the varied businesses that cater to law firms, many of which hire former lawyers to service those firms."
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Con

  • J.D. is not "all purpose" degree; it's for lawyers "Should You Go to Law School? Not Unless You Want To Be a Lawyer." Wronging Rights. January 22, 2009: "I know that you have heard that a J.D. is a 'great all-purpose degree,' but it isn't. That's a lie put about by parents who are trying to trick you into middle-class professionaldom and law schools who are trying to take your money. A J.D. is not an all-purpose degree, it is a law degree. It does not qualify you to become a diplomat, a 'senior policy advisor' to anything, a politician, a banker, an aid worker, a political operative, or any of those other jobs that seem like they might be a fun way to satisfy your West Wing fantasies. It qualifies you to be a lawyer, and it doesn't really even do that -there's still the pesky matter of the bar exam."
  • If you don't want to be a lawyer, don't go to law school "Should You Go to Law School? Not Unless You Want To Be a Lawyer." Wronging Rights. January 22, 2009: "I loved law school, and I am incredibly glad that I decided to go. [...But] when [people] ask me if they should go to law school, and why they are surprised when, instead, my response is: 'Well, do you want to be a lawyer?,' and then 'no' if they tell me that they don't. [...] I know that you have heard that a J.D. is a 'great all-purpose degree,' but it isn't. That's a lie put about by parents who are trying to trick you into middle-class professionaldom and law schools who are trying to take your money. A J.D. is not an all-purpose degree, it is a law degree. It does not qualify you to become a diplomat, a "senior policy advisor" to anything, a politician, a banker, an aid worker, a political operative, or any of those other jobs that seem like they might be a fun way to satisfy your West Wing fantasies. It qualifies you to be a lawyer, and it doesn't really even do that -there's still the pesky matter of the bar exam."
  • The bar is very hard; you might not pass "Top Ten (10) Reasons Not To Go To Law School." Karemar. July 19th, 2007: "6. THE BAR EXAM IS BRUTAL - This beast is two or three days, depending on your state of hypothetical hypotheticals and nonsensical nonsense questions that you will never be confronted with again in your life let alone career. You will study like an animal for three months, only surfacing from your dungeon to eat and feel some sunlight on your face for one insane exam. Plus, if you fail and 40%of you overall will, you have to do it all over again in six months. That's six months of telling your family and friends that you will pass it next time and you have it all figured out. Don't fail it again as 33% of you will and then become suicidal. $120,000 in school loans, holding off on the $36,000 job and no bar certification. Damn! [...] I failed the California bar on my first attempt and though it was close, the excruciating three months between the first bar and the next bar were brutal. Also, I was overly confident after my first attempt, thus maybe I deserved to be humbled by the almighty bar. Happy to note, that I passed it the second time and thus didn't hit the suicidal mind state."
  • More competition for fewer law jobs Yahoo Answers comment by Megatron in 2009: "The legal profession is in crisis. Every year, more and more people graduate from law school, but there are fewer and fewer jobs. Even the largest and most reputable law firms are experiencing unprecedented cutbacks. I don't expect the situation to improve in the coming years. You are better off saving the money you'd pay for law school and invest in a franchise or small business."
  • Lawyers often have to over-specialize. Lawyers are often focused into very specific areas of the law over time. This makes it difficult to cross over to other fields, see a wide variety of issues, and be opened to a diversity of opportunities outside of that specialization.


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Pay: Is legal pay good?

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Pro

  • Law school and lawyering can pay incredibly well Lawyers are some of the highest paid groups of professionals in modern economies. This is because companies and individuals are willing to pay massive sums of money to defend themselves and their interests in and outside of court. A law degree, therefore, offers a great way for an individual to achieve much higher pay, a higher standard of living, and to climb the social ladder for themselves and their family.
  • Law school offers chance at high pay; other paths don't. David Lat. "In Defense of Going to Law School." Above the Law. July 13th, 2010: "Second, it increases the appeal of the possible options after law school. Sure, your chances of landing a $160,000 a year job at a major law firm may be slim. But how many non-legal career paths even given you a viable shot at that kind of pay (and prestige), just three short years down the road?"
  • Many do "win" at law school and with lucrative careers. David Lat. "In defense of going to law school." Above the Law. July 13th, 2010: "1. If a law degree is like a lottery ticket, remember: some people still win. [...] let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Biglaw is the pinnacle of the profession, and that your goal in going to law school is to wind up an Am Law 100 or Vault 100 firm, or maybe a National Law Journal 250 firm. Is law school a wise idea? If you go to a highly-ranked law school, then the answer is “probably yes.” As we recently discussed with respect to Cornell Law School, which is #13 in the influential U.S. News rankings, around 40 to 50 percent of their graduates will end up at NLJ 250 law firms. A 50-50 chance of getting a six-figure salary — probably while you’re still in your twenties, in the worst recession that most Americans have ever experienced — is not a bad thing."
  • Law degree is a good means of job security "Why Go to Law School?" Kaplan: "Although there are very few jobs that remain secure in today's economy, the fundamental role that legal systems play in our increasing global working world is striking. Certainly a law degree has become a necessary prerequisite for a great many jobs that could have been done without legal expertise 20 years ago. Your training and skills can allow you to stay employed and prepare you for a variety of situations."
  • More corps are hiring law students directly to in-house. Vanessa O'Connell. "Cut the law firms, keep the lawyers." Wall Street Journal. August 12th, 2011: "Companies used to depend on elite law firms to train new lawyers they could bring in-house years down the road. Now, some are just doing it themselves, hiring directly from law-school campuses rather than recruiting lawyers who had previously spent a few years at a major firm. These companies are growing weary of paying high hourly rates for inexperienced law-firm associates. Hewlett-Packard Co. was one of the first known companies to bypass law firms in recruiting new lawyers. 'I think it's the wave of the future,' said Michael Holston, H-P's general counsel."
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Con

  • Higher paying law jobs harder, less fulfilling Zaring & Henderson, "Young Lawyers in Trouble" (2007)): "We observe that higher firm profitability is associated with higher salaries, bonuses, and prestige. Yet, higher profits also have a statistically significant relationship with longer hours, a less family-friendly workplace, less interesting work, less opportunity to work with partners, less associate training, less communication regarding partnership, and a higher reported likelihood of leaving the firm within the next two years."
  • Only top-10 law school students get good jobs "Why you shouldn't go to law school." Law and Letters. November 15th, 2007: "3. The Sucker. This is the club for those who don't go to a top ten law school. You get the boring work and the moral difficulty of the corporate serf, with the terrible salary of the do-gooder, because you're working in some small firm doing family law, or criminal law, or wills and trusts, or real estate. [...] The point being that these job options suck. There are boring, immoral jobs that pay better (investment banking). There are moral, low-paying jobs that are more interesting (investigative journalist). There are boring, low-paying (or high-paying!) jobs that are less immoral (foundation fundraiser). Why take the worst of all possible worlds?"
  • Law schools often exaggerate job/salary prospects. Patrick Lee. "Law Grads Sue Over Tuition." Wall Street Journal. August 11th, 2011: "Two lawsuits seeking class action status were filed in Michigan and New York on Wednesday against Thomas M. Cooley Law School and New York Law School. The plaintiffs, who are graduates of the defendant schools, seek $250 million from Cooley and $200 million from NYLS in tuition refunds as well as other damages and reformed methods of reporting their graduates' employment numbers. The plaintiffs—three against NYLS and four against Cooley—seek "to remedy a systemic, ongoing fraud that is ubiquitous in the legal education industry and threatens to leave a generation of law students in dire financial straits," according to both suits."
  • Law practice is more saturated and competitive now. There are more lawyers than ever before. This means that it is harder to find good law jobs, and that the prospects of getting a position at a lower paying firm, or no job at all, is as high as ever.
  • Weak economy undermines ROI for law degree. When the economy is weak, like in 2009 and 2010, law firms often cut back dramatically on their hiring, and/or cut pay.
  • Short-term law careers undermine law school "investment." It is not uncommon for attorneys to make major career changes after just five years. This significantly undermines the "investment" of a law degree, as the "investment" is predicated on the idea that one will stay in the law practice for decades.
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Debt: Is post law school debt manageable?

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Pro

  • Law degree is a very good investment. A law degree creates major opportunities and offers the opportunity to make significantly more than would otherwise be the case. This makes a law degree a very good investment, which can pay for itself in five to ten years time. In the long-term, this can be a very worthy investment in one self.
  • Not everyone incurs significant debts from law school. David Lat. "In Defense of Going to Law School." Above the Law. July 13th, 2010: "4. Not everyone graduates with debt (or with as much debt as some people think). I was lucky enough to graduate law school debt-free; my parents paid for my college and law school. And I’m not alone. According to the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (figure 7), over 10 percent of law students will graduate with zero debt, and another 5 percent or so will graduate with less than $20,000 in student loans. So somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of law school graduates leave school with little to no debt — and a valuable professional degree to show for their efforts. There are several reasons why perhaps a fifth of law school graduates have little or no debt. Some have parents, grandparents or spouses who are willing to help out with educational costs. Some have savings from pre-law-school careers, in lucrative fields such as finance or consulting. And some attend reasonably priced state schools and/or receive very generous scholarship money. The dean of one top 25 law school told me earlier this year that about two-thirds of his school’s students receive some form of scholarship aid from the school. [...] So the 'sticker price' of law school, in terms of the cost you see on the law school website or in brochures, can be misleading. Many students aren’t paying full freight — and many of the students who are paying full freight can afford to."


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Con

  • Debt of law school limits opportunities Cameron Strachter wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "Rather than keeping options open, the crushing debt of law school often slams doors shut, pushing law students to find the highest-paying job they can and forever deferring dreams of anything else."[2]
Comment by Valkyryn on MetaFilter, February 27th, 2010: "'Just for the record, by 'gigantic student loan payments' we generally mean 'In excess of $1000/month, possibly $1500/month, for at least fifteen years.' So if you have a job that pays $40k a year now, you'd need a job that pays close to $60k to maintain your current lifestyle with student loan payments. The math really does suck."
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Education: Does law school offer valuable educational-experience?

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Pro

  • Law school offers invaluable perspective. Jamison Koehler. "On the True Value of a Law Degree." Koehler Law. January 16th, 2011: "Lawyers who went directly to law school from college may not fully appreciate the perspective and skills that law school provides. After all, that’s all they know. They don’t know what it is like to go through life without legal training. I do. While in law school, I would learn something in my constitutional law, tax or corporations class and think: How could I possibly have survived for the past 40 years without knowing that? I also worked with a lot of lawyers during my first career. Just as a person who never went to college may overestimate what everyone else who went to college may have learned during those four years, I was always somewhat in awe of the people with law degrees. They seemed to speak a language that only they understood."
  • Law school educates future leaders. Kevin Noble Maillard, law professor at Syracuse University. "It's Not a Trade School." New York Times. July 25, 2011: "It prepares people to become leaders in our society, which makes it imperative that they be rigorously trained as thinkers. They will become stewards of policies that affect our everyday lives: in our schools, our jobs and our families. All of this responsibility, in diverse fields, comes from legal education. As Chris Judge, my student at Syracuse, reminds me, “there are many paths toward becoming a lawyer,” and students and administrators should reject the customer-provider model of education."
  • Law school teaches people to "think like lawyers." Geoffrey Stone. "Learning to think like a lawyer." Room for Debate. July 25th, 2011: "First, and most important, it can teach students to “think like a lawyer.” As any lawyer will tell you, this is critical. The practice of law demands a rigorous, self-critical (and critical), creative and empathic (how will my opponent and the judge see this issue?) mind-set. In general, legal education does this brilliantly. This is at the very core of a legal education."


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Con

  • Law school is extremely hard and time consuming "Top Ten (10) Reasons Not To Go To Law School." Karemar. July 19th, 2007: "I know that college went by extremely fast, but that was college. Law school is a different beast, with a poor social scene and students who are so competitive that they do not leave the library ever. This time creeps by. Also, breaks are not spent on vacation, however they must be spent improving your resume so that you can get a good job when you graduate. Think of law school as working hard while in school, approximately 70 hours a week only to work during your summers 50 hours a week. They don't want to work you too hard during your summers, because they are ultimately trying to hire you and then force you into their labor force."


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Public service: Can legal work be a good public service?

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Pro

  • Law schools is a good way to help people. Many law students are primarily motivated by the prospect of helping people, as attorneys are all about defending people or corporations in court.
  • Lawyers have rewarding role of upholding justice. Susan Chen. "The Many Benefits Of Being A Lawyer." Ezine Article. November 22, 2006: "as a lawyer, you have the capability to contribute a great deal to society, and perform great social service by bringing offenders to justice and helping the innocent find justice."
  • Lawyers empowered to check large companies, govts. Jamison Koehler. "On the True Value of a Law Degree." Koehler Law. January 16th, 2011: "Other benefits are specific to the area of law you practice. As a solo practitioner armed only with a legal degree and a deep-seated commitment to the rule of law, my wife has been able to hold multi-national companies accountable for dumping their waste on foreign beaches. She is currently suing the private contractors accountable for human right violations in the Middle East and Asia. I went to one of her hearings a year or so ago to find a scene right out of Erin Brockovich. One side of the room was filled with the defendants, lawyers from three or four different firms, company government relations and press people, and so on. My wife sat on the other side of the room with an associate, a paralegal or two, and a couple of law students who had been volunteering their time."
  • Successfully defending innocent clients is very rewarding. Jamison Koehler. "On the True Value of a Law Degree." Koehler Law. January 16th, 2011: "For me as a criminal defense attorney, there is nothing more gratifying than the moment in which you walk into the cell block and see the look of relief in your client’s eyes. There is also that stunned moment of silence after a not guilty verdict has been announced and your client turns to you and says, you mean that’s it, I am free to leave now? Nothing I did in my previous career comes anywhere close to that in terms of sheer satisfaction."


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Con

  • Law school is not best way to make social change Jennifer Fields. "Is Law School for You?": "While lawyers do have the ability to affect change on a case-by-case basis, it is important to realize (as I eventually did) that there is a tremendous amount that lawyers can't change. Deborah Aaron, author of What Can You Do With a Law Degree? A Lawyer's Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside, & Around the Law, emphasizes that law school may not be the best way to make your dream of changing society come true. "It's a very expensive way to contribute," she said. "Law school is so expensive and public interest jobs pay so little that you can't afford to go out and change the world and do good."
  • Idealistic law students usually find corporate law is only option Chapter 5 of Derek Bok’s book "Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More.": "For students who begin their legal training hoping to fight for social justice, law school can be a sobering experience. While there, they learn a number of hard truths. Jobs fighting for the environment or civil liberties are very scarce. Defending the poor and powerless turns out to pay remarkably little and often to consist of work that many regard as repetitive and dull. As public interest jobs seem less promising (and law school debts continue to mount), most of these idealistic students end by persuading themselves that a large corporate law firm is the best course to pursue, even though many of them fund the specialties practiced in these firms, such as corporate law, tax law, and real estate law, both uninteresting and unchallenging…."[3]
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Happiness: Are lawyers happy?

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Pro

  • High pay of legal profession can add to happiness. Getting paid well in a law firm can add to one's happiness in a diversity of ways, just as in other professions. It reduces financial stress, makes it possible to do fun and exciting things like travel, makes it possible to provide for your family generously, and creates opportunities to start-up one's own business in the future, make investments, or give money to charitable causes deemed important.
  • Always new things to learn as a lawyer. Jamison Koehler. "On the True Value of a Law Degree." Koehler Law. January 16th, 2011: "The potential to learn as a lawyer seems infinite. Things are always changing, and you can never know everything, even within a highly specialized area of the law. That thought would have intimidated me as a younger man. Today I find it very reassuring to think that I can practice criminal law for the next thirty years without running out of new things to learn."
  • New lawyers can gain credibility/responsibility quickly. Susan Chen. "The Many Benefits Of Being A Lawyer." Ezine Articles. November 22, 2006: "The Legal Profession Pushes You To Your Full Potential. A common misperception towards lawyers in general, not just in the USA but also all over the world, is that younger lawyers are usually not to be trusted with complicated cases. We often tend to gravitate towards older lawyers because we see them as more experienced. People will typically start trusting a young lawyer as he starts earning some credibility from winning some cases. Thus a newbie in the legal profession may proceed a bit slow in the beginning of his career, but after a few success and wins, his career starts gathering momentum."
  • Legal arguing/writing can be creative/beautiful. Jamison Koehler. "On the True Value of a Law Degree." Koehler Law. January 16th, 2011: "The law can also be a great outlet for creative energy. When people ask me why I no longer write short stories, I tell them that I haven’t written a line of fiction since I started law school. The law takes up every bit of creativity that I have. There can be such beauty in a well-written motion or legal opinion. As I often told my father, a well-crafted legal opinion can be more satisfying to read than any work of fiction or poem. I often think of a particular legal opinion – like the Massachusetts decision on gay marriage – the way he might think of a work by John Milton or William Carlos Williams. You find new meaning in every reading. You read it and you think, gee, I wish I could write like that."
  • Helping clients can be a very rewarding thing. Happiness is often a function of one's belief that they are helping their fellow citizens. Lawyers are constantly advocating for and defending their clients, performing an essential and very helpful function in society. This can be very rewarding.
  • Many hugely successful people started with a law degree Hindi Greenberg. "So What Else Can You Do with Your Law Degree?" American Bar Association. July/August 2005: "Lawyers contemplating change are in good company. Consider the following one-time attorneys: Mahatma Gandhi (Inner Temple, London, 1891); Sir Thomas More ( Lincoln’s Inn, London, 1501); Peter Tchaikovsky (School of Jurisprudence, St. Petersburg, 1859); Studs Terkel (University of Chicago, 1934); Fidel Castro (University of Havana, 1950); and Howard Cosell (New York University, 1940). Other former lawyers include the two founders of the California Pizza Kitchen restaurant chain; the founders of Nolo Press, a self-help legal book publisher; and Mortimer Zuckerman, a real estate tycoon and the owner of the magazine U.S. News & World Report."
  • Law practice offers constant variety. It offers different clients, cases, situations etc., with a fairly regular turnover. This is in positive contrast to other careers that may require that the employee perform the same task over and over again. Lawyers can shift around from project to project in litigation, and then also shift around in the legal practice itself from litigation, to prosecution, to court cases, to mergers and acquisitions and so forth.
  • Law jobs, like all careers, have pros and cons. There are pros and cons to every job, including legal work. Ultimately, all jobs are the same in this regard. So, the negatives of legal work should be seen in this comforting light.


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Con

  • Lawyers are usually unhappy Notre Dame's magazine summarizes some of the studies: "Lawyers suffer from depression, anxiety, hostility, paranoia, social alienation and isolation, obsessive-compulsiveness, and interpersonal sensitivity at alarming rates. For example, researchers affiliated with Johns Hopkins University found statistically significant elevations of major depressive disorder (AMDD@) in only three of 104 occupations: lawyers, pre-kindergarten and special education teachers, and secretaries. Lawyers topped the list, suffering from MDD at a rate 3.6 times higher than nonlawyers who shared their key socio-demographic traits."
  • No light at end of tunnel for successful students, attorneys. David Segal. "Is Law School a Losing Game?" New York Times. January 8, 2011: "what might be the ultimate ugly truth about law school: plenty of those who borrow, study and glad-hand their way into the gated community of Big Law are miserable soon after they move in. The billable-hour business model pins them to their desks and devours their free time. Hence the cliché: law school is a pie-eating contest where the first prize is more pie."
  • Successful lawyers encounter "golden handcuffs" "When my wife and I left D.C. almost ten years ago, many of the lawyers of our generation had made partner at big firms here in town and were well into their practices. They were respected members of their firms. They lived in large houses. Many of them had stay-at-home spouses. Their kids were in private schools, and they traded in luxury cars every year for the latest model. And yet, having worked so hard to arrive, many of them were painfully dissatisfied with their lives. [...] One friend of ours stood on the deck of his beautiful home, overlooking a large, expensively landscaped yard in Arlington, and told us he felt like he was in golden handcuffs. I hate what I do. But if I stop, I will have to give up all of this."
  • Don't go to law school just because others do Dahlia Lithwick. "Letter to a Young Law Student. Don't go to law school: But if you must, take my advice." Slate. Aug. 15, 2002: "If there is one law of law-school thinking it's this: 'If everyone else wants something, I must want it, too.' Not since the days of the Tonka backhoe and Malibu Skipper will you have so lunged for stuff in which you have no real interest, just because everyone else is lunging. Law school manages to impose odd new values on virtually everyone. And each step of the way, law students make choices—to interview with certain firms, take certain classes, apply for certain clerkships—based on an impoverished sense of other options and the fear that other people will get all the good stuff if you don't grab it. This is hard advice to give and harder, I expect, to take. Fear and conformity dig some pretty deep paths at law school. Don't just follow because they are there."
  • Lawyers suffer from high divorce rates Notre Dame's magazine summarizes some of the studies: "The divorce rate among lawyers appears to be higher than the divorce rate among other professionals. Felicia Baker LeClere of Notre Dame's Center for the Study of Contemporary Society compared the incidence of divorce among lawyers to the incidence of divorce among doctors, using data from the 1990 census. LeClere found that the percentage of lawyers who are divorced is higher than the percentage of doctors who are divorced and that the difference is particularly pronounced among women."
  • Lawyers suffer from alcoholism and drug use Notre Dame's magazine summarizes some of the studies: "Lawyers also suffer from alcoholism and use illegal drugs at rates far higher than nonlawyers. One group of researchers found that the rate of alcoholism among lawyers is double the rate of alcoholism among adults generally, while another group of researchers estimated that 26 percent of lawyers had used cocaine at least once -- twice the rate of the general population. One out of three lawyers suffers from clinical depression, alcoholism or drug abuse. Not surprisingly, a preliminary study indicates that lawyers commit suicide and think about committing suicide more often than nonlawyers."
  • Big Law lawyers can't have much of a life outside of work. Steven Butler. "Is being a lawyer worth it?" Helium. January 30th, 2009: "Minimum billable hour expectations at large law firms, whether by stated policy or not, are typically around 2,000 hours per year. This target does not include time worked on pro-bono matters, training, attention to non-billable firm marketing and related projects, and general administrative work around the office. The pay may be incredible, but the hours are rough - making the deal not as attractive on a "dollars per hour in the office" (or chained to your cell phone and blackberry) basis. The psychological and physical costs of this lifestyle are real and don't typically fit well alongside goals of having a happy life outside the office."
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Time: Is law practice manageable in terms of time?

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Pro

  • Alternative law schedules less time consuming, more flexible Hindi Greenberg. "So What Else Can You Do with Your Law Degree?" GPSolo magazine. July/August 2005: "In lieu of changing jobs, some practitioners are staying put in their practice areas but are seeking alternative work schedules to allow time for cultivating interests both in and outside of law. As this phenomenon grows, the demand to accommodate part-time lawyering and alternative work arrangements will escalate. This bodes well for those who desire quality time in and out of the law office. [...] For those seeking to use their legal background in a less intensive, all-consuming style, the part-time and contract practice of law have become hot topics both for individual lawyers and for law firms. With the downsizing of some firms and influx of work in others, there is a growing demand for both contract lawyers, who work on a temporary, hourly basis, and part-time lawyers, who work as permanent employees on a reduced work schedule. [...] Lawyers also are exploring alter-native work arrangements such as telecommuting (where the lawyer works with a phone and computer from a location other than the law office, hooked up to the office by modem and fax) and job sharing (where two lawyers each work a reduced schedule, either sharing cases or maintaining their own caseload, and share office space and support staff). In a job-sharing arrangement, the two attorneys often prorate benefits so that the firm is paying only benefits, such as health insurance, vacation, and sick leave, as if for one full-time lawyer."
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Con

  • Work hours at law firms are insane "Top Ten (10) Reasons Not To Go To Law School." Karemar. July 19th, 2007: "4. INSANE HOURS - Practicing law is far from a 9-5pm job, in fact at the bigger firms it's far from a 9-7pm job. I personally don't have a problem with work but the mundane paper pushing you will be doing isn't necessarily inspiring. Prepare to spend nights in the office, weekends in the office and holidays in the office. All for what? So your managing partner who has gone through this in his past can spend the next week in the Bahamas. When does your time come to be that managing partner? Approximately 22 years from your start date. Good Luck."
  • Billing system in law firms makes for long hours "Top Ten (10) Reasons Not To Go To Law School." Karemar. July 19th, 2007: "5. BILLING. For those of you who don't know, Attorney / Lawyers bill each client per hour of work or even bill for partial increments of time spent on the client. Therefore, if you spend 10 hours at work, most firms require you to bill 8 hours a day. That's 8 hours of work for a client in which your firm is billing that client $200 to $750 an hour. Even if you were to account for every hour and actually spend that time working for the client, every client will complain! You are in a lose / lose situation. The hours you bill are always too much for your client, but never enough for the firm. This is why extra hours and Saturday's and Sundays become important days in the office so you can do more billing."
  • Lawyers are always beholden to clients' demands. Denise Doty. "Is being a lawyer worth it?" Helium. January 23rd, 2008: "The law is, as they say, "a jealous mistress". You are forever beholden to your client's wishes and demands, as they are the ones that pay your salary. You become adept at speaking to clients whether you are at your desk, in your kitchen, or on the soccer field. The advent of e-mail and personal communication devices have only increased the ways in which you can be contacted."
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Intellectual? Is law school and law intellectual?

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  • Practicing law is more art than science. Inside law school. LSAC: "Law is more an art than a science. The reality lawyers seek in analyzing a case is not always well defined. Legal study, therefore, requires an attentive mind and a tolerance for ambiguity. Because many people believe incorrectly that the study of law involves the memorization of rules in books and principles dictated by learned professors, law schools often attract those people who especially value structure, authority, and order. The study of law does not involve this kind of certainty, however; complex legal questions do not have simple legal solutions."
  • Law school is a good way to pursue specific subjects. Some may be drawn into the law as a result of interest in particular subjects (e.g., the environment, intellectual property).
  • Law school is good for those that enjoy thinking analytically. Ever element of interpreting the law, constructing cases, and defending clients involves broad legal analysis.
  • Legal practice exercises a wide array of skills. Skills generally required include analytical thinking, creative writing, research, communication, counseling, problem solving, negotiation and the ability to work independently.
  • Lawyers often must think theoretically and creatively. "In Defense of Law School--A Response to Lippe." Jurisdynamics. July 10th, 2009: "I know from my practice days that lawyers at law firms with sophisticated clients are often asked to think outside the box, to propose changes to legislation or regulations, to make novel arguments in court, and to suggest cutting edge legal strategies. Moreover, the legal profession extends far beyond law firms and in-house counsel offices. Lawyers working for public entities and non-governmental organizations are even more likely to be asked to "invent" law for the future."



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Excitement? Can law practice be exciting?

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  • Practicing the law can be very exhilarating "Why Go to Law School?" Kaplan: "Excitement. Although the life of an attorney is not really like that portrayed in the television series Ally McBeal, there are aspects of lawyering that can be a great deal of fun. Tasks such as preparing for a trial, defending a client, prosecuting an accused criminal, or putting together a business deal can give you a rush of adrenaline. The interpretation of existing law can be both intellectually challenging and exciting in itself as you participate in the continuing evolution our legal system."
  • Dissecting and winning arguments is exciting. Jamison Koehler. "On the True Value of a Law Degree." Koehler Law. January 16th, 2011: "As a public defender, I once spent an entire Saturday holed up in my home office studying a single, fairly obscure opinion that the prosecution was using as the basis for its case. I read all the preceding cases the opinion cited. I pulled the notes of testimony from the preliminary hearing for the case off of Lexis. I marked up my copy of the opinion. I graphed the logic on a piece of scrap paper. And I just lay there thinking about the opinion, trying to let the case seep into my body as if by osmosis as I looked for ways to distinguish its fact from the facts of the case I was defending[...] it was always clear to me from the way the prosecutor described the case that he or she had read nothing more than the headnotes. And for the more obnoxious of us, that’s where the competitive instinct kicks in, the rush of adrenaline and satisfaction we get from sensing weakness in the opponent’s argument."


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Con

  • Law firm work is very boring "Why you shouldn't go to law school." Law and Letters. November 15th, 2007: "those sixteen hour days will be spent doing things like rooting through warehouses of documents looking for privileges to avoid disclosing things in discovery. Needless to say, this work is incredibly boring. Or you could be doing piles of research on minutiae of securities law in preparation for a bloody negotiation. You'll have neverending pressure to bill more and more hours, and much of your work will be morally dubious at best, actually wicked at worst. (Consider, for example, how many lawyers must have been involved in the efforts to bury all the incriminating tobacco company documents.)"
  • Legal work requires sitting at a desk for long hours. "Is being a lawyer all that bad?" The Healthy Lawyer. March 3rd, 2009: "My last problem with being a lawyer is that I didn't realize how much I would hate sitting at a desk all day long. That is why I said if I wasn't a lawyer I would want to be a personal trainer. I get up and go to the water cooler or bathroom so many times during the day, just because I hate sitting still."
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Work environment: Is the legal work environment positive?

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  • Lawyers can be jerks; very hard to compete against "Why you shouldn't go to law school." Law and Letters. November 15th, 2007: "You'll be Surrounded by Jerks. The lawyers-as-jerks stereotype is one that has more than a grain of truth to it, in my experience. In about four and a half years of actively practicing law, I came across numerous examples of utterly atrocious behavior, often in litigation. It's not always big things -- though big things are the ones that hit the news -- but patterns of obstreperous behavior and downright stupidity that can wear you down over a day-to-day basis. Bickering over stupid document production requests, delays, phantom schedule conflicts... all these things add up. Contemporary lawyering is often an expensive form of childish game-playing with the rules of civil procedure. It's psychological warfare for minute tactical advantage."
  • Lawyers can be jerks; very hard to work with. Even inside of firms, among colleagues, the battle-hardened legal world can create an unfriendly work environment.
  • Clients are a frustrating part of law practice "Top Ten (10) Reasons Not To Go To Law School." Karemar Blog. July 19th, 2007: "The best reason not to go to law school and not to become a lawyer is this: CLIENTS. Clients destroy the practice of law and in fact destroy the enjoyment of most businesses, however in law, clients are the worst. Clients hardly ever pay their bills, insist on running the show, though they know nothing about the law, and torment you with incessant calls and emails. [...] Clients are not for me, some people put up with clients and their whining. I, however seek to create value to users through new business opportunities. No more hand holding and babying grownups."


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Personality traits: Does law school cultivate good personalities?

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Pro

  • Diversity in law fits diversity of personalities Ben Paris, Curriculum Director for Graduate Programs at Kaplan Education Center: "There's no one personality profile for successful lawyers. Many people think that lawyers have to be super-competitive and argumentative, but that just isn't so. If you're interested in litigation, you probably have to be able to deal with confrontations, but most lawyers aren't litigators. There's enough variety in the law profession for many different kinds of people to make a meaningful contribution."


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Con

  • Law school cultivates arrogance "Why you shouldn't go to law school." Law and Letters. November 15th, 2007: "Arrogance. A lawyer is surrounded largely by non-lawyers who come to him/her for expert advice. That alone can encourage some arrogance, but even more is necessary for the psychological warfare between lawyers. Lawyers often try to use extreme false confidence (a.k.a. arrogance) to intimidate one another into tactical concessions, e.g. by making the other lawyer think that they've screwed up, that "things are always done this way," etc. That is a tactic especially used by older lawyers against younger ones. The younger ones need to develop their own armor of arrogance to resist it."
  • The legal practice breeds impatience in life "Why you shouldn't go to law school." Law and Letters. November 15th, 2007: "Impatience. See above with respect to stress. Also, the law is a very deadline-driven occupation, especially in litigation. There's always more work to do than there is time to do it in, and there's always a court and opposing counsel breathing down your throat with respect to strict deadlines. If you miss a deadline, the consequences can be terrible: a lost case, a malpractice claim against you, etc. Don't be surprised when this spills over and you find yourself swearing at people who walk too slowly while crossing the street."


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Legal acadamia: Is this a good career prospect?

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Pro/con sources

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See also

External links and resources

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