There are a lot of bad reasons to go to law school. Here are some of the most common:
(8) Everybody in my family is a lawyer
Is everybody in your family also a workaholic with a drinking problem who hates their spouse and never sees their kids? Seriously, as bad reasons go this is a relatively benign one (maybe somebody you know can actually help get you a job), but do you really want to have the same life as your whomever? And law professors may not know very much about the actual practice of law, but I’ve been struck over the years by how few of them seem to have any interest in encouraging their children to become lawyers.
(7) I want to help poor people/save mountaintops from being blown up in West Virginia/stop human right violations in Africa/make a difference in this world.
Cynical law students tend to dismiss their classmates’ interest in doing anything but trying to make money by pointing out how these noble ideals soon crumble in the face of the realities of On Campus Interviewing. But that’s the point: It turns out there’s very little money in law for doing anything other than representing the interests of the rich and powerful. That doesn’t mean people who claimed to want to do something else were disingenuous: more likely they were merely naïve. If you want to go to law school to help poor people, please keep in mind that in America in 2011 nobody who matters gives a rat’s ass about the interests of poor people, so unless you’re independently wealthy or extremely lucky you will not be able to help poor people by going to law school.
(6) I want to be rich
Going to law school in order to become rich is a bad idea. Very few lawyers end up making big money, even loosely defined. If you’re very fortunate you’ll make just enough money to feel poor by comparison to the vastly wealthier people you’ll be dealing with regularly in your professional life. Plus you’ll be making about $12 an hour. Go be an I-banker if working insane hours in the pursuit of filthy lucre is your thing. Oh right — it’s really hard to get a good I-banking gig. (Unlike becoming a partner at an AM100 firm – that’s a piece of cake these days).
(5) Lawyers do all kinds of interesting work
I once saw a T-shirt emblazoned with the message, “Everything you’ve learned from TV is wrong.” Words of wisdom Lloyd, words of wisdom. Most legal work is boring and stressful. Not surprisingly most lawyers are bored, stressed people. (That is, the ones who actually have jobs. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)
(4) The previous paragraph is irrelevant to me, because I’m going to graduate in the top ten percent of my class at a T-14, work at a big firm for five years while living like a monk to pay off my debts, and then do what I really wanted to do all along
You get the hell out of here.
(3) My parents will be disappointed in me if I don’t do something respectable instead of pursue my dream of being a ____
Semi-employed permanent bankruptcy is in no way respectable, and there’s a very real risk that that’s where going to law school will leave you. Your parents don’t understand this because their knowledge of what being a lawyer entails is based on TV (see (5), supra). If you want to write the Great American Novel you’ll probably fail, but it won’t be the kind of failure that produces $200,000 in non-dischargeable debt while filling you with self-loathing.
(2) What am I supposed to do with this useless undergraduate degree in English/PoliSci/Sociology/Assyrian Musicology?
It’s a fair question. Here’s the best answer I’ve got: Don’t double down on useless degrees. People who already have educational debt from undergrad and then pay $60K a year in tuition and living expenses to go to law school are like people in a terrible relationship who decide to have a baby because maybe the kid will bring them closer together.
(1) I don’t know what to do with my life
Have you ever said to yourself, “I don’t know what to do with my life – so I’m going to spend three years of it going deeply and irreversibly into debt, in a quite possibly futile attempt to enter a profession that I have no actual desire to join?” I bet you haven’t, because who would ever say something that idiotic? Every year, however, thousands of people are perfectly capable of doing something that idiotic. If they weren’t, half the law schools in the country would be out of business tomorrow.