Should I go to Law School???

Hi everyone! I’m currently an undergraduate student at Northeastern University going into my 3rd year (out of 5 years) studying Criminal Justice and Political Science. Law school was never really something on my radar or something I was interested in high school or even freshman year of college. I never really saw myself as a lawyer, and still don’t? (yes I know there’s a lot more you can do with a law degree than just being a lawyer)? But I’m interested in the legal field/legal professions and am wondering if maybe law school is something I should be considering more. I’m more interested in advocacy/human rights/social justice/cirminal justice etc, and think maybe having a law degree might open more opportunities down the road? I am currently interning at a law firm for 6 months (working full time) and the work they do is really interesting, although not something I will likely pursue (class action pharmaceutical fraud/antitrust litigation).

I know that ultimately it is my choice on whether to go to law school and that’s a decision I’ll have to make for myself, but I’d love to get some other input into my situation. Neither of my parents went to law school so I don’t know a lot about it. I’ve spoken to a few attorney’s at the firm where I’m working and one advised me not to go to law school for general interest in law, that I should have a more concrete idea of what I want to do with it. Any thoughts on this? I know I have a few more years and I’ll likely take a gap year or two before going to law school.

Any thoughts or suggestions or opinions would be amazing! Or more examples of things I could do with a law degree that is NOT being a lawyer??

You can pretty much do anything with a law degree. For example, we are a specialty tax consulting firm and hire a lot of attorneys (generalist) as they are very good at researching, writing and have good analytical and communication skills. You can go into government work and public policy, you don’t have to be a litigator or work at a law firm.

Interesting enough, my wife went to NEU for law school, they have a great co-op program as you know (her co-op was public interest work). While she is now a prosecuter, many of her law school friends are using their law degree in their businesses or consulting careers.

The one thing I will say is that law school is very expensive and I would figure out how you are going to pay for it before you commit. Many prospective law school students will take a couple of years off and work to gain experience before attending law school. The LSAT (along w/ grades) are going to dictate which law schools you get into so take those two things very seriously!

If you do happened to get top grades and test scores, you have the possibility of getting scholarships. We have a close friend’s D who got a full ride at USC Gould and a guaranteed summer internship all three years with a top 10 law firm. She just graduated and has a 200k+ starting salary.

You have time to figure this out…try to enjoy the ride…

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@socaldad2002 thanks for the reply! I guess what is overwhelming to me is the fact that I can do pretty much anything with a law degree! I feel like if I don’t have a clear idea of what I want to do with it that I’d be wasting my money? Not sure. Obviously I still have plenty of time to decide, but it’s always good to have these things in the back of my mind.
Thankfully, finances will not dictate where I can apply/attend law school but of course I don’t want to waste money either.

I think you answered your own question. Most college students don’t know what they want to do in their career and most end up changing their career path several times along the way. When I was in college I wanted to be a sports psychologist, then a lawyer, but ended up with a career in tax/accounting!

Expose yourself to a lot of different classes and opportunities and you will start figuring out things that you like doing which will help shape your future career goals.

Law has gotten a lot more competitive. Jobs are harder to find. Firms have reduced incoming first year class sizes. Cut/reduced summer programs. And that was pre-Covid. I would suggest that you make sure law school is where you really want to be rather than I wasn’t sure what else to do. As noted, its expensive. And jobs aren’t necessarily the easiest to find (at least not for all law school grads). I went to law school a couple decades ago with people who didn’t really want to be there and they struggled.

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I do not agree with the assertion that one can do anything (any career) with a law degree.

OP: If you do not want to practice law, then earning and paying for a law degree while losing about 3 years of income is not a wise course to take.

P.S. The primary example of an alternative career for one with a law degree–working in a specialty tax consulting firm–is actually the practice of law whether done by an attorney, an accountant or CPA, or by one with neither degree. (The CPA lobby is too pervasive for any individual state bar to challenge. The State of Texas tried, but was outgunned & out-financed. Same for non-lawyer realtors regarding property & contract law.)

While alternative careers exist, a law degree is neither necessary nor efficient. The cost of a law degree is three years of tuition & living expenses plus the loss of income for about 3 years. The total cost is substantial and can be as high as $480,000 or more. Not worthwhile for one who does not plan to practice law–even if the total cost was just half of the $480,000.

If you are unsure about the desire to practice law, then only attend law school if you are wealthy or if you are awarded a full tuition scholarship for all 3 years. The cost is still substantial, but less costly.

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Another wrote that a lot of attorneys are hired for a “specialty tax consulting firm” that is not a law firm.

Although I do not know the specifics about all such firms, I am familiar with dozens that exist and thrive in various states.

Some state bar associations pursue tax resolution / tax controversy firms for the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) and pursue individual attorneys working for those firms on multiple charges of violating bar association rules. (Most would–and should–be shocked at what constitutes an alleged violation of state bar rules. In states that prosecute attorneys working for a non-law firm in the tax resolution industry, each attorney is often charged with 4 or 5 alleged violations of state bar rules.)

There are ways for tax resolution / tax controversy firms to avoid prosecution by state bar authorities, but it is still the unauthorized practice of law in many or most circumstances.

With respect to working in government or public policy, a law degree can be helpful although unnecessary and expensive.

P.S. I would like to state that the work done by many tax resolution / tax controversy firms is excellent and done at a reasonable cost.

I can only speak about my niche tax consulting industry, but our attorneys do not “practice law” in the traditional sense. I have worked in both law firms and accounting firms and what our attorneys do (and what many in our industry do) is not practicing law. In fact, even though our firm was founded by a CPA, we are not a CPA firm. And really my point is that having a foundation in law can be important in many businesses, you don’t necessarily have to be a “paper pusher” or be a litigator to use your attorney skills in the real world. Heck, our 1st mortgage broker was an attorney and was in no way practicing law but I was happy to have him review and explain to us all of the legalese of a mortgage loan.

Secondly, OP said paying for law school is not an issue, which I took to mean that his parents can easily foot the bill. It’s nice to not to have to worry about paying back loans if he chooses to go to law school.

Lastly, in a long 35+ year career, it’s perfectly ok to “lose” 3 years of not working to pursue graduate studies and advanced degrees. Working full time and long hours for several decades is overrated IMO. No real need to rush into the “real world” so quickly. Enjoy being young and educating yourself…it will all work out…

If a firm offers tax advice, it is the practice of law.

(And, yes, that includes the Big 4 accounting firms, H&R Block, and tax resolution / tax controversy firms, and tax credit firms.)

Whether or not a particular state bar pursues such practitioners for UPL or pursues individual attorneys for various alleged bar violations such as assisting non-attorneys in the practice of law is up to that particular state bar. The state of California, for example, is fairly lenient in this regard.

Also, real estate agents & brokers, and mortgage brokers engage in the practice of law.

With respect to the overall cost of earning a law degree, losing three years of income can turn into a 30 year nightmare for those who take out substantial sums in student loans for tuition, fees, books and living expenses.

Op- just because there are lawyers who teach HS social studies, and lawyers who work in state agencies as administrators, and lawyers who are bankers does NOT mean that going to law school opens up tons and tons of opportunities besides being a lawyer.

I’m with Publisher- the only rational reason to go to law school these days is to practice law. Washington DC is filled with people who work in policy, as lobbyists, as polling experts, in think tanks advising on national security- who went to law school-- but that reflects the labor markets of the 1970’s and 1980’s, not the reality today. To spend three years in law school, and then pass the bar, get a job at a firm, leave to get better life/work balance only to decide you want to teach HS social studies- boy, that’s the long way around the mountain.

You’re still in college. read, read, read. Learn as much as you can about as many things as you can. A path will become clear. I think half of my college buddies ended up in law school because that’s what you did if you didn’t like blood (so med school was out) didn’t like animals (no to vet school) and weren’t good enough in math to pursue engineering or CS. Not a single one of them is practicing law now-- at the tail end of our careers- which is fine for the days when a semester of law school was less than 5K-- and many of them paid nothing because they won generous merit scholarships.

Most of those scholarships are either not so generous, OR only go to the top student in the entering class- not the top 5% like it used to be, OR are only an option for “bottom of the barrel” law schools where bar passage rates are terrible and horrible and will limit your career options substantially.

Go to law school if you really and truly want to practice law. And if you don’t- find another path which won’t involve gobs of debt.

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You got very good advice from the attorney at the firm at which you are working; in light of the enormous expense(upwards of $250,000-yep, a quarter million dollars), the dicey attorney employment picture, and three years invested, it’s a very good idea to only go to law school if you want to be a lawyer.

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My daughter announced to her attorney dad that she wanted to go law school. And I told her that was fine as long as she truly believed she really wanted to be a lawyer. The times (as referenced by @blossom) of law school being a place holder for liberal arts graduates who didn’t know what else to do after graduation is long gone now that the cost is can be crippling when you consider tutition and living expenses.

If you want to be a lawyer (saying that in the tone of John Housman) then by all means go full steam ahead. However if you are just doing it to do it I don’t think that is wise investment in your time and money. Not to mention that without the burning desire some will not thrive in law school. It is a lot of work to do well in law school.

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There are some public law schools in flyover states that are low cost & a great option for one who wants to remain in that state to practice law.

OP: As you may already know, criminal justice majors tend to do poorly on the LSAT exam. (Although political science majors do well.)

Your stated interest in law: “advocacy / human rights / social justice / criminal justice” is often referred to as “unicorn law” because it is overly idealistic and probably does not exist.

If uncertain, but curious about pursuing the study of law, then the first step is to prepare for & then take the LSAT exam. If you score high enough to be competitive for a full tuition scholarship at one of your target schools, then the financial risk decreases considerably.

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Be advised that those full tuition scholarships may or may not carry over for years 2 and 3. I think the Wall Street Journal did an expose last year? about the schools which intentionally “cut” the scholarships when kids don’t keep the unrealistically high GPA or class rank requirement… A lot of kids end up borrowing years 2 and 3- they assume they’ll be top 5% which may or may not happen.

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@blossom: Can you list the law schools detailed in the WSJ article ?

Scholarship stacking has been a well established tuition management technique at some low ranked law schools for awhile.

One law school in California will treat the scholarship award as a loan if the student transfers after the first year.

Law school teaches you skills that can be translated into other career paths for sure. BUT, your ability to get a job outside law is VERY difficult. Magazines/blogs claim a JD is good for anything and it is, but no one wants to hire you because they assume the minute you get a law job, you will leave. And, as previously stated, it’s a VERY expensive way to become a journalist or whatever. Take gap years, explore life and careers (you know for free) and then go to law school if it turns out you hate everything else or are not getting where you want to go otherwise. But the mistake many students make is they go to law school first, only to then discover they want to be an event planner or marketing manager or whatever. They pay $200,000+ for something that they could have done for free.

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Hi - rereading this thread as my D is interested in law school (at this point! she’s an undergrad). Curious if you wouldn’t mind sharing, socaldad, some general status re: your D’s friend who go the full ride at USC Gould (!!!). I know those full rides are few and far between, just curious. Thanks very much!

Law school admissions – and merit awards – are very stats based. There are a number of sites which track admissions and merit awards, including something called law school numbers, a predictor on 7 sage, plus others. You can enter data on gpa/lsat and see what that has meant in terms of admission and merit at schools. Law schools generally use merit awards to get high stat kids to attend, thereby increasing the school’s gpa and LSAT medians, and increasing its ranking

Law school admissions is handled entirely through the Law School Admissions Council which recalculates gpas to “level the playing field.” It can help some students – where schools give a 4.3 for an A+ – and hurt others – who got a a B from a summer class at a local public school which isn’t included in college gpa but is included in LSAC gpa.

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