What I Wish I Knew Before Attending Law School

I am glad I went to law school. At the time I applied, there was nothing else I wanted to do, however, there were times when I was not always sure if I did the right thing. This is coming from someone that could not imagine what else I would be doing with my life. There are many things I would have done differently if I had someone tell me what I’m about to share with you now. If you are contemplating law school, it should be something you really want to do. This life is not for the faint of heart. Once you decide this is truly the road you would like to travel, please consider the following:

Student Loan DebtCourtroom1

I knew how much law school cost, but the gravity of the debt you amass does not really hit you until you start paying it back. If you’re like many students today and you do not have anyone that can help pay your law school tuition or loans, student loan debt should be a serious consideration. The monthly payment can, in many instances, equate to a mortgage or a really nice car. You have to decide, is the debt worth it? Like many attorneys, it is possible that you will show up to a job you do not like, everyday, just to pay down your massive debt. When I say everyday, it really could be everyday. Attorney hours can be quite gruesome.

Additionally, there is a huge misconception that all attorneys make a lot of money. NOT TRUE! The high paying positions are extremely competitive, especially post market crash. The market crash left many talented, qualified attorneys looking for jobs. Even partners with numerous years of experience were pushed into the pool of qualified applicants.  These will be your competitors.

If possible, find grants and/or scholarships; work full time and attend school at night; or go to a state school where you have residency, the tuition may be cheaper. The debt can be daunting, but do not let it stop you if this is what you really want to do.

Career Goals

Everyone has different goals and reasons for attending laws school. Is law school really necessary to obtain your career goals? If you can’t think of anything else to do, and decide to go to law school to bide your time, I would think twice before taking on such a life changing experience. I understand that not everyone knows what he or she wants to do with their life, but I would have some idea before attending law school. It is 3 or more years of your life and a lot of money.

Many attorneys have felt the pressure to go the big firm, big salary route just to keep up with student loan payments, or worse… the Joneses. This can be a miserable and unfulfilling path if working at a big firm is not what you want to do. A number of law graduates end up doing something all together different than practicing law, and now they have a large debt they never needed to assume if they had just figured out that law school was not the right choice.

Some of you may want to go into non-profit law, or other fields dedicated to public service. These fields do not typically pay well, so take this into consideration when determining which law school you will attend. Seek out a law school that offers a loan forgiveness program for students that pursue a career in public service.

Practice Location

In some areas, there are fewer opportunities, but less competition. If you are offered a job somewhere you never thought of living, it is not necessarily a bad thing. In locations like New York City, Washington, DC, and California, the competition is stiff. There is a large population of attorneys, and that may equate to a large pile of resumes to consider for each open position.

Find a Job– Immediately

When you actually begin law school, immediately start networking, narrowing your field, and looking for a job. Many may disagree with my philosophy, and saying this may be a bit controversial, but I think finding a job is your first priority after entering law school. Of course grades are important, but take some time to FIND A JOB. There are more barred attorneys than ever, so the job market is tough. Get a head start.

There are many happy attorneys out there, but there are just as many unhappy ones. Follow your heart, and do not force it. This is a decision that could possibly affect the rest of your life and financial future. Law school can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, but only for those who want to be there. If this is what you want to do, go for it and don’t let anyone stop you! You can be a successful and satisfied attorney, it just takes perseverance and smart decision making. Good luck!

Post by Panya Monford (CLAS ’98)


Read More: College

Thoughts on “What I Wish I Knew Before Attending Law School

    Great advice. Law school is no place to “find yourself”. The happiest lawyers I know combine a life passion with the practice of law, and limit their salary expectations. Unless you are one of the rare individuals who are truly happy with a one-dimensional life devoted to being a law firm attorney (and for some that is the perfect fit), you won’t find a work-life balance with any firm or corporation paying high salaries. You can’t have it all – so choose wisely. Michael Jackonis, UVA BA ’86, Wm & Mary JD ’94, GW LLM ’03.


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