At some point in their life, everyone thinks they should go to law school. You may in fact think you want to go to law school now.
I don't know you, I have no idea what the facts of your life are, but that doesn't matter, you aren't the exception. For the overwhelming majority of people (>99.9 percent), law school is the wrong choice.
How can I know this? Because I've been you — I went to law school for the same reasons you think you should go — and I was wrong. I should never have gone to law school, and you shouldn't either.
If you're not thinking about going to law school, you can skip this whole post, or just send it to your friends who are thinking about going and thank your god that you're not them. But if you are one of the many thinking about law school, start by asking yourself one simple question:
“Why do I want to go to law school?”
Yes, it's an obvious question, but almost everyone in your position either overlooks it or avoids it with rationalizations. So answer it, right now, to yourself. You want an easy way to stay in school, you want to be guaranteed a good high-paying job — whatever reason(s) you think you want to go to law school, spell them out and make them explicit to yourself.
I have heard every single answer to this question there is. These are the 6 wrong reasons I hear most often (see if your answer is in this list):
The 6 Wrong Reasons to Go to Law School
1. “I like arguing and everyone says I'm good at it.”
Of all reasons to go to law school, this is the worst by a large margin. Know who else likes arguing? Sports talk radio hosts, cable news talking heads and teenagers — i.e., idiots. If you like to argue just for the sake of being contentious, you shouldn't pick a job based on this unresolved emotional issue of yours, you should get counseling for it.
If you like arguing for the intellectual challenges it can present, that's an understandable and reasonable position. Everyone likes a healthy, intelligent debate right? Well, understand that being a lawyer has almost nothing to do with arguing in the conventional sense, and very few lawyers ever engage in anything resembling “arguments” in their commonly understood form. You aren't going to be sitting around a fine mahogany desk sipping scotch with your colleagues discussing the finer points of the First Amendment; you're going to be crammed in a lifeless cubicle forced to crank out last-minute memos about the tax implications for a non-profit organization trying to lease office space to a for-profit organization (if this gets your juices flowing, maybe the law is for you after all).
You won't even be having fun discussions in law school. In law school, the people who want to “argue” a lot are called “gunners” and are reviled by everyone, even the professors. Make no mistake about it: Law school is not a bastion of intellectual discourse. It is a fucking TRADE SCHOOL. You are all there to be trained to think and act exactly the same way as everyone else in the profession, so you can then be a drone in the legal system. No one is interested in your opinion. The only one of those that matters is the one expressed, with a capital “O”, by the judge(s) in whatever case you are currently reading.
Beyond that, to be genuinely good at legal “arguing,” you must be dispassionate, reasonable and smart. I have never met a person who was any of those things who also said they were going to law school because other people told them they were good at arguing. It indicates only the shallowest understanding of the law and pathetically sloppy critical-thinking skills. If arguing is really why you want to go to law school, save your money and start a blog about American politics where you can shout into the echo chamber of imbeciles all you want without bothering anyone smart who has things to do.
2. “I want to be like Jack McCoy from Law & Order [or insert your favorite legal TV show character].”
I have little sympathy for this perspective. It is 2012, if you still allow yourself to be misled by the bullshit on TV, it means you are either very naive or an unrecoverable moron, and you should immediately drown yourself in the nearest toilet to save the world the frustration of having to deal with you and your stupidity. Let me be VERY clear about this for you:
The actual job of being a lawyer is NOTHING AT ALL like what you see on TV.
It is possibly less like the real thing than any other profession depicted on television. Every doctor I've ever talked to scoffs at shows like ER and House, but they all say that at least the diagnoses are connected to the physical symptoms we see and are treated with the proper kinds of drugs. In legal dramas, the exact opposite is the case. Don't think so? The next time you get a DUI (if you're going to law school to be like Jack McCoy this WILL happen), represent yourself and try to give a speech while questioning the arresting officer. You won't make it longer than 30 seconds before you're held in contempt and locked up for wasting everyone's time. Is that a little harsh? Maybe. Welcome to the grown-up world.
There is NO lawyer/law procedural that even remotely shows what it's like to be a lawyer. You know why? Because being a lawyer is not only soul-crushing, it's REALLY BORING, and that doesn't make for good TV. If you want to know what it's like to be a lawyer, go work in a law office for a summer. Or shadow a lawyer for a day or two. There's nothing like a day with a lawyer to disabuse you of the notion that anything in the legal profession is like TV.
3. “It's the only way I can use my humanities degree.”
Having a soft major is nowhere near the career death sentence that so many make it out to be. The world is changing, and the U.S. economy with it. Our economy is shifting to a service and information based economy, and soft majors are already becoming more and more valuable.
Why? Because a services and information-based economy needs what the Humanities creates: literate, intelligent, well-read people who can write and communicate ideas effectively. The demand for these people is not going to flutter out. In fact, it will only grow stronger as the economy continues to shift and the supply of qualified candidates remains insufficient. Do not make the mistake of thinking law school is your only option. That is simply not true. In plain English: A humanities major now has many, many options they didn't have in the pre-Internet era.
Beyond that, this reason belies an assumption: That you have to get a job. When you finish school, everyone knows about the two most obvious options: 1. Get a job working for someone else or 2. Get more schooling. But there is a third option: Carve your own path in the world. This can take many different forms, like starting a company [for example see Paul Graham's piece]. Or it could take the form of many other sorts of lifehacking activities [for example, see Tim Ferriss' muse concept, or Chris Guilliebeau's $100 start-up concept].
If you limit yourself to the choices presented to you by people who one did one of those two things — get a job or go back to school — then you obviously aren't going to understand that. There are other ways to make a living, and lots of people following those paths, you just have to go look for them.