Make no mistake: going to law school will change your life. Whether you are an undergraduate looking to enroll in a law school upon graduation or you are already a professional looking to continue your education, committing to law school is a huge decision. Here are some things you should consider when making this big decision:
Why are you considering going to law school?
Analyzing your hopes and needs before applying will help you decide whether pursuing a law degree is worth your time, effort, and money can help choose the right school, and may also keep you on track during law school and beyond.
So ask yourself what you plan to do with your law degree. Yes, law degrees are more versatile than ever these days, which means that you don’t have to be a full-time attorney with your J.D. Before you start law school with an alternative career path in mind, though, make sure that a law degree will actually be helpful in achieving your career goals.
Have you tried out your chosen profession? Whether you’re considering a traditional or non-traditional legal career, have you spent some time researching and, even better, experiencing that profession? Even working on an entry-level can give you a better idea of whether you want to commit yourself to a particular career path and whether or not a law degree will help you get where you want to go. Try to find work or an internship somewhere in the legal or court system to get a feel for the practice of law instead of relying on what you’ve seen lawyers do on television. Nothing can beat first had experience in your chosen field.
Can you afford law school?
Law school is expensive in both time and money. Don’t underestimate the time commitment that law school entails. Besides attending classes, there is an amazing amount of outside reading and research required, so don’t assume that just because the classes fit into your schedule, you’ll have plenty of time otherwise.
Regarding money, assess your financial situation honestly and consider that law school may require taking out tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of loans which in turn may mean that you must take a job once you graduate from law school because it pays well towards your debt and not because your heart is in it. “BigLaw” is notorious for the latter. Don’t overlook financial aid opportunities: schools may offer grants or loan programs in addition to merit scholarships. But don’t just limit your search for financial aid to your law school: there are many outside scholarships you can apply for to help decrease the cost of law school. Any kind of aid helps to lower your potential debt.
Is part-time law school a good option for you?
Part-time law school programs offer students the opportunity to earn a Juris Doctor degree without enrolling in a full-time day program. The American Bar Association estimates that about 16% of law students attend school part-time.
Students may find that part-time law programs better fit their budgets, both regarding cost and the ability to space out classes over more years. Of course, the ability to work full time while taking courses is also an advantage for working professionals, especially parents, who can’t take time away from their jobs to pursue higher education. Through part-time programs, you can receive your J.D. via a schedule that works better for you and in most cases, the quality of instruction you will get is on par with the full-time teaching. Considering the time advantages and the potential financial ones too, there aren’t many downsides to enrolling in a part-time program. The main thing to consider, however, is that a part-time program is not the same experience as a full-time program, especially with regard to extracurricular activities.
Where do you want to go to law school?
This question isn’t just about geography, but also about the kind of law school you want to go to. Big or small? Private or public? Part-time or full-time? Considering different types of law schools and their programs might also help you decide whether to go to law school period. It is also important to research the outcomes of students at different law schools. What did they do afterward? What were their starting salaries?
You should also think about where you want to practice law after law school. If you are not going to a top five or internationally recognized law school (if you are, your J.D. will be recognized everywhere), chances are your J.D. will have the most value in the area (city or state) that you received it in. Similar considerations should be considered when it comes to the bar exam. Not all state bar exams are created equal. There is reciprocity in some states, meaning that if you take one states bar exam it counts for other states as well, however, your law school state’s bar may contain state-specific bar material that adds to your list of things to study.
This is a lot to take in—but diligently thinking about all of these factors will help you make the best decision for your future. Good luck!