Everyone has heard the old line “there are too many lawyers”. While this may be true, the next question one must ask is…why? Why is pursuing law such a popular path to follow and what exactly are the benefits and negatives of pursuing a law degree? In this article I’ll explore the ‘right’ reasons and also some ‘wrong’ reasons to pursue this time consuming and expensive undertaking.
The Love of Law
The first and ‘best’ reason to pursue a Law Degree is of course that you absolutely LOVE the law. Do you sit up late at night debating controversial legal issues with your friends? Do you find yourself getting into heated arguments over the right to fair trial of non-citizen combatants in the Iraq war or perhaps the various ethical and legal sides of the abortion issue? Is your favorite channel C-span or Court TV and is your bookshelf full of books about famous legal cases or issues?
If this sounds like you then you might be law school material. The best lawyers…and law students have a PASSION for the law. They don’t look at reading 500 pages of a constitutional law book as work, they relish it. While there are certainly other good reasons to go to law school, perhaps no other is as good a predictor of success as your love of the subject matter.
One of the often overlooked but perhaps most important skills you learn by attending law school is the development of your critical thinking ability. The ability to look at an issue from its various sides, do the research to fully understand the intricacies of an issue and the ability to argue and defend your position are incredibly valuable skills that will serve you for the rest of your life in and outside of the law field.
Many attorneys find that the research and critical thinking skills help them in areas they never even considered from personal relationships to managing employees and building a business. Of course these skills are crucial in the legal profession itself, but a legal education can be a great exercise in improving one’s ability to handle the complex negotiations of life.
Obtaining a law degree can be a tremendous asset when paired with a degree or specialized knowledge in another field. By using your specific knowledge and experience and having a law degree you then are perfectly tailored to work as legal counsel for a plethora of fields. For instance a pharmacy degree paired with a law degree makes you a great asset as counsel in a firm that specializes in pharmaceutical firms. Architecture, real estate or construction experience teamed with a law degree can make you a great real estate attorney. The real world experience you possess in the specific field makes you an invaluable asset to law firms that might have top notch attorneys but little hands on, practical experience in that field.
It is very important to be aware of the wrong reasons to pursue a law degree…and there are many. Some people decide to go to law school because they simply don’t know what else to do. Besides being an obvious waste of time, most often these people do not end up even working in the legal profession. Others want to become an attorney not because they really like law, but because they want the perceived ‘prestige’ that having a law degree attaches.
People that go to law school for this reason tend to have self-esteem issues and are looking to fill a void with the ‘title’ of lawyer even though they really have very little passion for the profession. They often don’t really know what they want to do and think spending three years in school is a way of either staying out of the ‘real world’ or that they’ll ‘figure it out’ in law school. Law school is so work intensive that is highly recommended you don’t attend unless you really know you want it for the right reasons.
Finally, there’s the money. While any profession is ultimately responsible for giving you a pay check, potential law school candidates should be aware that the vast majority of lawyers don’t make gobs of money. While it is true that if you attend a top, Ivy League school and get into a top firm you can make a very good living, this is really only something that a very small percentage will accomplish. The big money starts if you make Partner in a firm, which is highly competitive and can take many years.
For those simply looking to make good money, there are other professions that are comparatively easier to accomplish this in finance and banking and without the need to attend law school. However, if your passion is the law then there are certainly great financial rewards for those that position themselves correctly.