Should I go to law should (or some variation) is a question I often get. The short answer is probably not. If you are just thinking about it and you say to yourself “well I have the grades for it”, then you shouldn’t go. For the determined ones, I made this little non-exhaustive list of things you should consider before deciding to apply to law school. Of course it’s based on the Canadian system, but it should remain relevant for other common law countries.
- How are you going to pay for your studies? Law school outside of Québec (it’s about $2000 a year) can be very expensive (around $12 000 a year, up to $29 257 for University of Toronto + the bar tuition if you want to become a full fledged lawyer). You should think of how you are going to pay for those three years, and I mean it. A lot of people just assume they can get loans (which is true, they are very easy to get), but paying them back is not always easy as there is no guaranty that you will make a lot of money after you graduate. If you don’t get a substantial scholarship, already have the money to pay for it or have a parent that will pay your tuition, you should seriously consider whether or not getting all that debt is worth the pain of law school and of working like a mule as a lawyer in a market that’s not very favourable to the profession. If you’re still determined, then be my guest and get all that debt … that’s what I ended up doing.
- Why do you want to go? If you’re thinking of applying just because you have great grades and you’re telling yourself why not, you shouldn’t go. If you are smart, you will be able to graduate and maybe even with excellent grades, but your experience will be 10 times less pleasant than the average law student (unless like me you discover by chance you like it half way through, but the first half was TERRIBLE!). If you are in it for the money and you are willing to work 80 hours a week for a corporate law firm (and think you can actually get the job) then be my guest (or get a MBA…). If you are interested by law but not by being a lawyer, you should think of another option that can give you the career you want without having to go to law school (there are some non-law school law program) or if grad studies is what interests you, a lot of law grad programs accept non law school graduates. If you want to go and you are obsessed with a particular cause (like the environment or human rights), you should watch out because there are very few job in those fields. Most jobs are in property, corporate, tax, criminal and family law type jobs. If none of those things interests you at all (since they might be your only job prospect), you should think of another way to advance your cause. If you are really passionate about law or being a lawyer, then there is probably no hope for you; you will probably apply.
- Can you stomach it? Although law school is not as horrible as many people make it sounds, it is still far from being a day at the park. You will work a lot and have little time for yourself. Getting good grades is hard and many students will struggle just keeping themselves together. Although students are much nicer than some might think, there are a lot of big egos in law school, so be prepared. It can be a lot of work and very demanding. You also sadly have to start planning your career early on before you can actually decide what you like; so you need to be very organised. Getting admitted to the bar is even less pleasant. Then you have to be okay with the prospect of working obscene amount of hours per day when you start your real job. You also have to be able to stomach the very stressful environment that is studying and practicing law. If that doesn’t sound appealing, then you might want to rethink about applying to law school.
- But I want to save the world and change law! No. Although a career in law can be very fulfilling and you can help a lot of people, you are in it for a life time of disappointment if you think you will “save the world” as a lawyer. Justice and law are different things. As for changing the law, become a legislator. It’s much easier to change the law as the person who adopts it than through courts. Courts are by nature conservative institution that dislikes change. Judges only change the law (to the extent they can) when they think society is ready for the change. So a good dose of cynicism is quite helpful to survive in the law world. Plus you might not practice the type of law you want or get the desirable clients needed for strategic litigation. There are easier way to change the world than through law.
This guide is purposely negative, but still realistic. There are obviously positive sides, but regardless of them you should only apply if you think you can overcome the negative ones. Otherwise law school is, in my opinion, a bad choice for you.
If you still think law school is for you; then tune in for the following guide, in about two weeks, which will deal with how to pick a law school.