While a legal education will hone your writing and analytical skills, becoming a lawyer is a serious financial commitment and requires substantial time. From the law school admissions process to the bar exam, you are committing multiple years and considerable amounts of money. Evaluate your interest in the law and a potential legal career. Before applying to law school, you should spend some time thinking about and researching whether a legal education is the right choice for you.
As part of this evaluation process, consider whether you will need to maintain a job while you attend law school. If so, an online JD program will give you greater flexibility and help offset some of the financial pressures that come with being a graduate student.
This section will dive into three key factors to consider when determining whether you should enroll in law school. It will also highlight some of the pros and cons of a law school education as well as discuss certain career paths that a legal degree may open up to you.
TL;DR / Key Takeaways
- Key factors to keep in mind when considering law school:
- Make sure you know your motivation for getting a legal education.
- While law school is very expensive, do not let cost alone deter you from attending.
- The process of becoming a lawyer is a serious time commitment that spans years, so make sure you are willing to put in the necessary time.
- In addition to the practice of law, a JD degree opens a number of career paths.
- Before starting the admissions process, do your research!
Three Key Factors to Consider
Before starting the law school admissions process, you should first ask yourself what your motivation is for pursuing a legal education.
Are you intrigued by the practice of law?
Is there a specific area of the law, such as criminal law, that is of particular interest to you?
Do you want to be a practicing lawyer?
Is a career at a law firm or as in-house counsel of interest?
In light of the cost and the time commitment required, first, to attend law school and, second, to take the bar exam, it is important to be able to clearly articulate your motivation. Attending law school should not be a default decision—one made because you have received your bachelor’s degree and do not know what you want to do yet professionally. It is important to be able to answer the question “Why do I want a legal education?” before you begin applying to law school. When you are staying in on weekends and studying for exams (or, worse, the bar exam), having a clear answer to this question will help you stay focused, even if you are not exactly sure yet how you want to apply the degree.
Unless you know for certain that you will have a job waiting for you after law school graduation, acquiring a legal education can mean incurring significant debt without being entirely sure how you will pay it off. The cost of law school remains on the rise and is currently averaging about $45,000 a year.1
However, despite the considerable expense associated with a legal education, The National Association for Law Placement’s 2019 Associate Salary Survey report shows that the median salary for first year attorneys was up almost 15 percent from where it had been just two years prior when the last survey was conducted2. If the practice of law at a large firm is of interest to you, current trends suggest that you could increase your earnings potential in a material way by attending law school, subject to changes in the hiring landscape due to COVID-19.
There are a number of different ways to help pay for law school, including through student loans. Some programs, such as Syracuse University College of Law’s JDinteractive program, award a select number of merit-based scholarships to law school applicants during the admissions process. In addition to scholarships, there are other financial aid options available ranging from grants to federal loans.
By attending law school online through one of the various ABA-accredited programs currently offered, you can also maintain a steady income while you get your degree. The flexibility afforded to students pursuing a legal degree online means that you will not need to move your family to be closer to a law school campus. Likewise, your classes can work around your schedule—not the other way around.
While law school is certainly an expensive undertaking that fact should not dissuade you from exploring whether a legal career is right for you.
No matter which law school you ultimately attend, pursuing a legal education is a serious time commitment. Unlike an undergraduate education, academic success in law school is measured overwhelmingly by your performance in the first year; therefore, it is imperative to get off to a strong start. In addition to taking classes and studying, there are a number of extracurricular activities that will broaden your understanding of the law and best position you for employment after graduation. For example, if you are interested in a career as a litigator, you may want to try moot court while you are in law school. Some legal programs, such as the University of Dayton School of Law’s Online Hybrid JD program, require you to partake in an externship in order to graduate.3
As you evaluate whether law school is for you, ask yourself if you are willing and able to commit the amount of time necessary to be successful.
What can you do with a law degree?
With respect to your profession, there are a number of different paths that open up once you have a legal education. The most obvious of these is pursuing a career as a lawyer. Once you have spent time practicing law, you may also have the opportunity to work at a company as in-house counsel. If you are interested in being a practicing attorney, but do not want to work at a law firm, you may want to explore becoming a Navy JAG Corps officer.
In lieu of practicing law, there are many non-legal opportunities in the consulting, government, and finance sectors for those who have a Juris Doctor degree.
If you already have an established career, but feel that a law degree may increase your earnings potential or open up other professional opportunities, look into whether there are part-time online JD programs that will allow you to keep working or that offer a specialization. The Hybrid JD program at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law was created for professionals who are already working in intellectual property and technology and want a legal degree.4 Similarly, students in the JD Flex Program at Golden Gate University School of Law can elect to pursue a focused career track in Intellectual Property Law (with an additional emphasis in Patent Law or Technology and Data Privacy Law) or Social Justice and Public Interest Law.
As a lawyer, you are trained to write and communicate clearly, manage your time efficiently, and think critically. These skill sets all transcend the needs of the legal field and can help you launch a career beyond the practice of law.
How to decide if you should go to law school
If you are still pursuing an undergraduate degree, it’s worth taking the time to meet with your college or university’s pre-law advisor. This advisor will give you a better understanding of law school and how the law school admissions process works. Likewise, if you have the opportunity, take a few legal classes as an undergrad. Ask yourself if the material is intellectually engaging and, most importantly, if you could see yourself taking similar law classes for the next few years.
If you are out of school, ask friends who have recently graduated from law school what their experience was like. Also ask about their job placement experience—were they able to secure employment, whether at a law firm or elsewhere, relatively easily?
Before you even begin the law school admissions process, do your research!
Talk to your college’s pre-law advisor
Ask friends in law school what the experience is like (they will be the most honest with you!)
Contact alumni of law school programs under your consideration