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“Yes, but…”

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 11, 2010 in The 2L Life

Good evening folks! :D

I’ve got a draft entry with a cost-benefit analysis of law school that I’ve been meaning to finish, and depending on how tomorrow turns out it might (maybe?) finally get done. But tonight’s entry is on a somewhat-related variant that I think (hope?) might be useful to someone (anyone?)…

…and at the very least I promise I’ll link you to someone else worth reading if you think this post is subpar :P

Last night I was one of seven students at NCCU Law to serve on a panel entitled “What is law school really like?” — similar to the panel I was on at N.C. State back in the Spring — where we spent a couple hours answering law school-related questions from about two dozen undergrads.

In the middle of the Q&A, a young lady asked if she should just go straight into law school once she graduates from undergrad, or if she should take a few years off to work first. And the first three responses to her question were all along the lines of “I can’t answer your question. You have to know yourself to decide that. Etc.”

It was a perfectly legitimate response, but one that I think strikes too much of a balance — to the point of not being useful. If it’s what you really want to do, my $.02 on the “should I go to law school right away?” question is of the “Yes, but…” variety.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Life doesn’t stop for law school. When we’re in undergrad slaving away in classes, it’s easy for us to discount just how much freedom we have to do what we want. As we get older we not only rack up bigger financial obligations — cell phone payments segueing to car payments segueing to mortgage payments (segueing to student loan payments) — but we also tend to fall in love with a spouse or children or a combination of the two. None of that stuff goes away when you decide to go to law school. I’ve got a number of Legal Eagle colleagues with families and/or sizable monetary responsibilities, forcing them to skip class in an emergency or work a side job to keep the bills paid or take time from studying to be parents / husbands / wives. It’s a testament to their tenacity that they can pull it off, but many folks also conclude the wall is too high for them to scale so they never go to law school at all.
  • “Now” money is more alluring than “later” money. Dove-tailing off the previous point, having readily-accessible cash flow is a comforting feeling. I didn’t make much money during the five years I was a college dropout, but I was making enough that I could keep the lights on in the apartment and food on the table. Any time something went wrong I knew a payday was coming up that could replenish whatever I’d have to pull from savings (or, more often than not, pay on a credit card :beatup: ). Giving that up for a lump-sum financial aid refund twice a year coupled with a ban from the ABA on working more than 20 hours a week is a big lifestyle shift, and makes the transition from the real world back into the academic world more challenging than it needs to be.
  • Law school’s not getting any cheaper. Speaking of challenges, the combined cost of law school tuition / fees / books isn’t going down. You’ve not only got basic economic inflation but also two sets of market pressures driving up rates: the war between law schools to boost their rankings, and the inflated volume of applicants caused by the deflated economy. Even public law schools, the bargains of the legal education arena, will find their tuition rates going through the roof over the next few years as federal stimulus money runs out and states look for ways to balance their ledgers. The longer you wait, the more money you’ll be paying up-front and through student loan interest over the next 20+ years.
  • It’s not getting less populous either. Law schools are also churning out thousands of newly minted lawyers every single year. That’s not going to change — the population might grow or shrink a smidge around the margins, but it’s safe to conclude they’ll continue to churn out thousands of new lawyers. every. single. year. These are the folks you’ll be competing with for jobs in the legal marketplace. Time spent in between undergrad and law school could just as easily be time spent as one of those newly minted lawyers, building experience in what’s going to become your career.

As for the “but…” part, despite everything I just told you, if you’re the type to get burned out it’s probably better to wait.1 Assuming you did a straight run through undergrad (instead of pulling a TDot) you’ll be in school for at least 7 straight years from the start of undergrad through getting your J.D. Remember having that feeling right around the 5th grade that you couldn’t possibly imagine having to go all the way through the 12th? That’s what you’ll be going through.

I also don’t want y’all taking this entry as a knock on the folks who decide (or don’t have a choice) to wait on getting their law degree. There’s a tremendous amount of value in the overly-clichéd topic of “life experience”; The Prophet actually penned an entry on that very subject just a couple days ago. And I can vouch for that reality: even though I absolutely hated being a dropout at the time, when I finally got back into school it definitely made me more appreciative of the education I was getting.2 The work experience I racked up has been a great help with finding employment and deciding what I want to do for a career.

And it gave me all sorts of colorful true-life stories to regale people with at parties :beatup:

But as beneficial as my experience was in hindsight, I’d never wish it on anyone. It wasn’t fun. There were many many days where I felt far-less-than-enthused with my life, where I was, and where I thought I was heading. And you can get just as much “life experience” as an attorney as I got being a random guy who only had a high school diploma ;)

So that’s my $.02 on going to law school now versus doing it later. Take it with the usual caveats, your mileage may very, I could be wrong, no express or implied warranties of any kind, etc etc etc — and have a good night! :)

  1. You could also avail yourself of a 4-year evening program, where you’d go to law school part-time at night and keep the rest of your day for working or being with a family. []
  2. In fact my first semester back was also the first (and only :beatup: ) time I made Dean’s List. []

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