Lawyers get a bad rap. Thomas Jefferson once described them as those who "question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour." Interestingly, Jefferson was himself a lawyer, as were nearly half of those who signed his revolutionary parchment. And therein lies the irony -- people love to poke fun at lawyers, but jurists have been behind some of the most important social changes in history.
When weighing the decision to pursue a law degree, it's important not to overinflate your expectations. After all, not every lawyer turns out to be a Thurgood Marshall or Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And there are important factors to consider, such as:
- The time and cost of legal education, including student loans
- Uncertainty about the legal job market
- Geographic limitations among different jurisdictions
- Increased responsibilities under the law
- Higher levels of stress
As you consider the concept of practicing law, think about the following things law school can do for you.
It Challenges Your Intellect
In describing his law school experience, actor and writer Hart Pomerantz once said, "[l]aw school taught me one thing: how to take two situations that are exactly the same and show how they are different." There's a lot of truth to that statement, as your law school education is designed to hone your analytical skills to the nth degree.
The ability to distinguish the fine points is a critical part of legal analysis as many cases often hinge on the smallest details. For example, in 1893, the Supreme Court addressed the question of whether a tomato was a fruit or a vegetable. Botanically, the Court noted that tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, but it ultimately held that they were, for legal purposes, considered vegetables. Why did this question rise to the highest court in the land? At the time, there was a tariff on vegetables but not fruits, so plenty of greenery was at stake.
As a law student, you spend your time reviewing cases like these where the smallest details could shape law and commerce for years to come. While being trained as a stickler for fine print may not make you the most entertaining guest at a party, it certainly comes in handy when negotiating with a cell phone provider or when dressing down a debt collector for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
And, for those of you who've ever squandered an entire evening watching videos of police stops online, you'll know that having a law school education gives you an edge when dealing with law enforcement.
It Broadens Your Job Prospects
Going into the legal field doesn't confine you to a law firm cubicle when you graduate. In fact, a legal education opens up career opportunities in a wide range of professions. Consider how the skills you learn in law school, like how to research and analyze the law, could actually give you an edge in various law-related career paths such as:
- Public policy/legislative analyst
- Lobbying/advocacy organizations
- Real estate
- Law enforcement
While these positions relate in some way to substantive areas of law, the skills you develop in law school (communication skills, problem-solving skills, etc.) are transferable to many professional fields. Plus, you'd know how to classify your fruits and vegetables.
Having a law degree can often help you land jobs with a higher starting salary than you'd find with a bachelor's or associate's degree. But again, keep in mind that if you take out student loans, some of that high salary will be used to pay off those loans.
You Really Can Make a Difference
There are simply too many stories of law students affecting change in the real world to include in this article. However, a few highlight the point that legal education can be like a superpower for the public interest, whether it be creating the framework for an independence movement or freeing the unjustly imprisoned.
In one case, a group of law students from UCLA obtained clemency for a man serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug offense. In another, two Boston College law students won a "momentous victory" in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, the court granted the petition of a resident with long-standing U.S. roots who was deported for a minor drug offense and, in the process, reshaped the scope of crimes subject to deportation.
Also, to illustrate how a law school education can have a broader impact, one California non-profit formed by a Stanford law student who taught law courses at a local juvenile hall has been nationally recognized for reducing juvenile incarceration rates.
And even if your legal career is more focused on your local community, you'd still be making a difference. People often need a lawyer at the lowest points in their lives - whether it's a divorce, a criminal charge, or bankruptcy. Helping people through these tough times can make the legal profession a very rewarding one.
Learn More About Going to Law School
The road less traveled is usually filled with uncertainties unless you have the opportunity to walk with someone who's been there before. The lawyers at FindLaw have taken the journey through law school to the practice world and beyond and are here to walk with you. Stick with FindLaw for Law Students for the information, resources, and helpful tips prospective law students need for the journey ahead.