Is Law School for Me? By Richard DelliVeneri, J.D., Regis University Associate General Counsel Lawyers occupy a vital role in our society. Through their work they promote important social and economic purposes ranging from the protection of constitutional rights to the development of legal frameworks that foster the growth of business. And despite the many lawyer jokes that circulate among party goers, the legal profession in the United States still enjoys a good amount of prestige and attention. American TV is host to many hour-long, weekly dramas that offer a glimpse into the world of the legal profession. They often portray the lawyer’s life as glamorous, intellectually stimulating, and most assuredly, financially rewarding. This image of the lawyer in the American media may contribute to the popularity of the profession and the large number of applicants to American law schools. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is an organization comprised of more than 200 law schools in the U.S. and Canada and is best known for administering the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). LSAC reported that about 86,600 applications were submitted to American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law schools for the fall 2009 entering class. According to LSAC’s data, this represents an increase of about 4% from the applications submitted for the fall 2008 entering class. While becoming a lawyer may be alluring, deciding to attend law school shouldn’t be taken lightly. The significant investment of time, energy, and money required for a law school education merits a decision only after careful deliberation. This workshop is intended to offer a strategy and resources to help you make that decision in an informed way. It covers the following topics: Understanding the career decision-making process; Why it’s important to avoid taking short cuts in deciding to go to law school; Examining your motivations for wanting to go to law school; The need to learn about what lawyers do and strategies for acquiring that information; Researching economic trends in the legal profession; Understanding the nature and scope of career dissatisfaction among lawyers; Discovering what law school is like and what it takes to succeed there; Concluding remarks; Bibliography. Understanding the Career Planning Process Deciding to go to law school involves a crucial choice about the course of your career path. Like any other important decision you make, it requires a sufficient amount of information and sound analysis so that when you reach your decision, you can be assured you have made a choice that is informed, not arbitrary. The framework for the process of making that informed choice deserves some scrutiny. There are many models to describe the career planning process. One of them developed by JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey, Margaret Dikel, and James P. Sampson, Jr. (2002)* offers an insightful way of looking at the constituent steps of the process. It is built around a simple, but dynamic seven-step process. The following discussion explores these seven steps. * This model is presented in The Internet: A Tool for Career Planning, by JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey, Margaret Riley Dikel, and James P. Sampson, Jr., 2nd ed., National Career Development Association, 2002. Step One – Becoming Aware of a Need to Decide In this model the first step involves getting to the point of acknowledging a need to make a decision about your career. The underlying motivations for reaching this point can be numerous and complex. A traditional-aged college student may view this need to decide about a career path as a necessary step in transitioning from being a student with limited working experience to a member of the full-time, adult working population, dedicated to a specific occupational interest. Individuals with a working history in an occupation may come to the realization the work they are doing is no longer personally satisfying and wish to make a dramatic occupational change. Whatever the sources of the motivations are, at this first step in the process a voice from within is saying the time has come to make a decision about a future career path. Step Two – Self-Assessment Self-assessment is the second step in the process. Making an informed career decision requires an understanding and acknowledgment of your ABILITIES, SKILLS, INTERESTS, and VALUES. If you don’t know your abilities and skills, how can you determine whether you’re qualified to perform a job or market yourself as competent for the position? This self-knowledge also allows you to define the skills you don’t possess so you can figure out how and where to obtain them in order to become qualified for a desired job where those missing skills are necessary. Your occupational interests also need to be identified. The work of some occupations may be naturally appealing, while others may not. Having some sense of what these interests are can be very helpful in the career planning and decision-making process. The same is true for the work-related values you possess. If earning a lot of money is high on your pantheon of values, you probably won’t be interested in working for a nonprofit agency where high salaries are the exception, not the rule. You can’t ignore getting a handle on your abilities, skills, interests, and values if you want to make an informed career decision. This step in the process is often accomplished through formal and informal assessment tools. The Center for Career and Professional Development at Regis University offers these tools to the University’s students and alumni. With their help and a healthy dose of brutal honesty, you can reveal a deeper understanding of yourself that will be instrumental in guiding you through the third step of the process. Step Three – Identifying Occupational Alternatives This third step involves identifying occupational alternatives. These are the occupational options that may appeal to you based on your acknowledged abilities, skills, interests, and values. They are generally derived by examining the world of work to identify where your constellation of abilities, skills, interests, and values seems to fit. Resources linked to the results of the assessment tools mentioned above and career counseling sessions are often used to assist in identifying these alternatives. With so many career alternatives available in our economy, there are probably multiple options that could fit an individual. That’s why it’s advisable in this step of the process to identify at least several career alternatives. Identifying these alternatives does not involve making a decision about whether to pursue any of them as a career. At this point they are still only possibilities that end up on a list for further exploration. Step Four – Researching the Identified Alternatives Once a list of career alternatives has been developed, the process proceeds to the fourth step, which involves getting detailed information about each of the identified alternatives. This requires a good amount of research that can be conducted through a variety of resources, including literature available in libraries and through the Internet, and informational meetings with individuals who are engaged in these occupations. Thorough research is necessary to develop a full understanding of each occupation, unvarnished by the stereotypes we often pick up from the media and other sources that tend to offer only a superficial picture of what it’s actually like to work in a given occupation. Step Five – Choosing Among the Identified Alternatives Armed with all of this information about each of the identified career alternatives, the career decision-maker now comes to step five in the process. This is the moment of truth when you deliberate and choose among the identified occupational alternatives. The object of this step of the process is to select a career path and commit to marshalling all of the time, energy, and resources needed to transform that aspiration into a reality. Steps Six and Seven – Creating and Implementing Strategies to Achieve the Occupational Objective The sixth and seventh steps in the process of this model of career planning and decision-making involve designing and implementing all of the strategies necessary to reach the occupational goal. If educational prerequisites are necessary, these steps would include completing the requisite courses, certification, or degree needed for entry to the occupation. A job search strategy and the marketing materials to promote it are also involved in these steps. This includes preparing a resume, appropriate cover letters, and executing a comprehensive networking strategy. The authors of this career planning model don’t describe it as a one-way, linear process from step one through to step seven. Instead, they recognize that career decision-makers are likely to move back and forth through these steps. But at the core of each step in this process lies the essential element of information. It is the catalyst that makes possible an informed career decision, which is the ultimate goal. In the book, Should You Really Be a Lawyer?, which is included in the bibliography at the end of this workshop, the authors mention that career development guru and author, Richard N. Bolles, writes in his popular career book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, that each of us can expect to work about 80,000 hours over the course of our lives. He also speculates that most people probably spend more time planning for a summer vacation than trying to figure out what kind of work to pursue for those 80,000 hours. In the context of the career planning model described above, this amounts to proceeding from the first step directly to the fifth step, without exploring any of the information that would be developed in the intermediate steps. It should be obvious that making an informed decision is usually preferable, especially with respect to career decisions about our working roles where we can expect to spend upwards of 80,000 hours of our lives. The point of this discussion has been to focus on the need to spend the time and energy to explore all of the steps in this process and avoid taking short cuts. This is especially true for those of you who have reached the decision to attend law school without having done these things. Why It’s Important to Avoid Taking Short Cuts in Deciding to Go to Law School There are a number of reasons why deciding to go to law school isn’t the kind of decision where you want to take short cuts: It’s challenging –Law school requires a minimum of three years of intense and challenging study. To some, it can be considerably more challenging than their undergraduate school experience. Remember, it’s a professional school program. It’s competitive – Competition to get in to law school can be intense, especially at the nation’s top schools. The University of California at Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law, one of the nation’s top law schools, reported receiving 7,960 applications for the fall 2009 entering class of 292 students. The Stanford Law School, another highly rated law school, reports receiving over 4,000 applications each year for an entering class of about 170 students. If you want to learn more about how GPAs and LSAT scores are viewed by law schools, go to the website of the LSAC, www.lsac.org. By clicking on the “Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools” and “UGPA/LSAT Search” links, you can access a search tool that allows you to use a GPA and LSAT score to identify schools that admitted designated percentages of applicants with that combination of credentials. Once you get in to law school, the competition doesn’t stop there. Most law schools generate a class ranking list of students based on their cumulative grade point averages. This class ranking can become an important element in a job search for a summer associate position during law school and for a permanent position after graduation. Many prestigious law firms focus their recruiting only on the top 10% - 15% of the class. It’s Expensive –The University of Denver Sturm College of Law, a private ABA-accredited law school reports that tuition costs about $36,500 annually. This does not include books, fees, or cost of living expenses. State operated, ABA-approved law schools typically cost less for students who qualify for resident tuition. For example, the University of Colorado School of Law reports that the annual cost for tuition and fess is about $29,000 for resident students. It’s not uncommon these days for graduates of private law schools to generate law school education debts of $100,000 or more. The rule of thumb suggested by the University of Denver on its law school website is about $125 per month of loan repayments for each $10,000 of debt on a 10-year loan. This level of post-graduate debt repayment can bring with it significant consequences. It can affect where you live, what you drive, how much money you can save, and other important aspects of daily life. It’s not over when you graduate – When you’ve finished with law school, there’s still one challenging academic hurdle that must be crossed – the bar exam. Bar exams are administered by each state and are usually offered only twice a year, in February and July. Passing rates vary, depending on the state where you take it. If you want to get a clearer picture of the difficulty of the exam in a particular state, go to the website of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, www.ncbex.org. There you will find statistics on the passing rates, including those of first-time exam takers. Examine Your Motivations for Going to Law School If you’re interested in attending law school, one of the self-assessments you should complete is taking a sheet of paper and writing down all of the reasons why you want to go to law school, and then ranking them in order of importance. This exercise can be particularly valuable if you take the time and effort to carefully consider and articulate your reasons. If you find yourself having difficulty identifying your reasons, or if the ones you manage to come up with seem superficial, you’ve just revealed a weak link in your career decision-making process that deserves more attention. You may be wondering about the kinds of motivations some people express for wanting to go to law school. Here are some examples: "A degree obtained in history, political science, English, or a similar liberal arts curriculum doesn’t offer many appealing job prospects. Law, on the other hand, can open the doors to a lot of well-paid jobs." Considering the breadth of occupational areas where people with law degrees work, there’s certainly some basis for the notion that a law degree can open many doors. What Can You Do With a Law Degree? The Lawyer’s Career Change Handbook and More Than 300 Things You Can Do With a Law Degree, two of the books listed in the bibliography at the end of this workshop, offer numerous examples where individuals with law degrees work in and outside traditional law practice. But opting to go to law school just because it appears to offer more appealing job prospects than a liberal arts degree reflects a rather superficial analysis. There are many individuals with liberal arts degrees who are happily employed in the world of work at well-paying jobs. If you’re curious about some of the career possibilities for graduates with degrees in liberal arts majors, take a look at the resources from Career Services that link majors to careers. You can find them on the Regis University Center for Career and Professional Development in the Career Planning Guide. "Becoming a lawyer is a family tradition and expectation." If you’re going to spend at least 80,000 hours of your life working for a living, it’s probably better for your personal happiness and emotional well-being to voluntarily choose your occupation. Families can and do have a profound influence on career decision-making. However, it’s important to keep in mind that career choice is a very personal matter that should not be delegated to someone else. Otherwise well-meaning family members should concentrate on living their own lives, not directing the career choices of others. This subject, and strategies for dealing with the unwanted influence of others, is discussed in depth in Hand Me Down Dreams-How Families Influence Our Career Paths and How We Can Reclaim Them, another of the books listed in the bibliography at the end of this workshop. "Receiving a high score on the LSAT." The LSAT is not a vocational assessment tool designed to tell you whether a career in law is right for you. Instead, it attempts to assess your aptitude for law school academic study. If you want to know whether a career as a lawyer suits you, you should do some self-assessment to understand your skills, abilities, interests, and values to determine whether they are consistent with life as a lawyer. The Center for Career and Professional Development at Regis University offers help in this area of self-assessment to the University’s students and alumni. The Need to Learn about What Lawyers Do and Strategies for Acquiring That Information An important part of the process for exploring whether a career in law is right for you requires answers to two crucial questions: Do I know what lawyers do? Do I have enough information to know whether I would enjoy being a lawyer? Much of what many people know about what lawyers do comes from the media. Lawyers are frequently the subject of TV and movie dramas. Unfortunately, the dramatic depictions of lawyers in these contexts are superficial snapshots. Watching My Cousin Vinny or Law and Order doesn’t offer a realistic view of a lawyer’s day-to-day work. You have to remember these media representations are first and foremost intended as entertainment. Naturally, to draw large audiences and keep their attention, the producers of these TV shows and movies generally focus on creating high-drama. But much of law practice isn’t as glamorous as the media makes it out to be. The long hours of legal research and writing and the tedious review and analysis of voluminous documents can’t be shown in a one- or two-hour drama that needs to excite its audience. You have to get beyond the myths about law practice to understand what much of lawyering is all about. A good place to start getting that information is O*NET, at online.onetcenter.org. This is an occupational research tool that offers a considerable amount of information about occupations. Simply click on the “Find Occupations” link and use the keyword “lawyers” to find summary and detailed reports about this occupation. Among the information provided, you will find details about the tasks performed, knowledge, skills, and abilities required, and the context in which the work is done. Books are another rich resource for obtaining a fuller picture of what lawyers do. The Official Guide to Legal Specialties-An Insider’s Guide to Every Major Practice Area, by Lisa L. Abrams, is a book listed in the bibliography at the end of this workshop. It offers readers an opportunity to learn about a broad spectrum of legal specialties, with chapters devoted to each of them (e.g., antitrust law, civil litigation, criminal law, etc.). Included within these chapters is a section entitled, “Life as a . . .,” which provides a glimpse of what it’s like to practice law in that specialty. While this book isn’t intended to be an exhaustive discussion about each of the areas of legal specialty, it does provide an excellent starting place for collecting information about what it’s like to be a lawyer in the various practice areas covered. It also offers a convenient resource for comparing and contrasting life as a lawyer in each of these specialties. Learning about what lawyers do from books, magazines, and websites is very useful, but your exploration should not stop there. Talking to lawyers to learn about what they do is another essential part of this process. This includes seeking out informational interviews with lawyers. These are meetings with a lawyer, either face-to-face or by phone, that last anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes or longer, depending on the time the lawyer interviewee has available. It’s an opportunity for you to ask lawyers how they got interested in the legal profession, what they like and dislike about it, and what information and advice they may have for you in terms of your own career choice. If you’re uncertain about how to arrange for and conduct informational interviews, there are resources you can consult for help. For example, Quintcareers.com has a comprehensive tutorial on informational interviews available at www.quintcareers.com/informational_interviewing.html. There are other ways to learn about what lawyers do. Visiting a courthouse to observe courtroom proceedings offers an opportunity to see firsthand what lawyers do in pretrial and trial proceedings. But remember, time spent in the courtroom typically represents a very limited part of the trial lawyer’s activities. To get a more accurate picture, you could spend some time shadowing a lawyer at his or her office. An even closer look could be obtained by getting an internship or offering to volunteer for some work at a law office. Observing the work of lawyers over an extended time frame within their office environment and culture could provide an up-close and personal perspective that would be difficult to achieve by other means. The important thing to remember from all of these suggestions is that before you make a commitment to attend law school to become a lawyer, you need to have a thorough understanding about what lawyers do and you need enough information to know whether you would enjoy being one. You probably wouldn’t consider making a commitment to marry or enter into a business venture with someone without getting to know as much as you can about that person. The decision to go to law school deserves the same deliberate approach. Researching Economic Trends in the Legal Profession An essential step in exploring a career field is performing labor market information research. An otherwise appealing occupational alternative could lose its luster upon learning that the employment and earnings prospects for that occupation aren’t very good. Having some idea about those prospects before embarking on a career path can help avoid the disappointment and other more serious consequences that often come when unrealistic expectations aren’t realized. Resources for conducting labor market information research about the legal profession are within easy reach. For example, America’s CareerInfoNet, at www.acinet.org, offers employment and wage trend information for lawyers from the U.S. Department of Labor. Simply follow the “Occupation Information” and “Occupation Profile” links to the keyword search field, where you can search for “lawyers”. You’ll be asked to select a state and to then check boxes for state and national wages and employment trends. When you view the wages information, keep in mind that the information presented is aggregate data for the profession as a whole. If you’d like to get wage information related to entry-level positions, you should consult the website of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). NALP has a wealth of information available for pre-law students, including wage data. You can find the pre-law resources at National Association for Law Placement, Pre-law Resources , and the wage information at NALP Salaries & Compensation. When you examine the employment trend information for lawyers on America’s CareerInfoNet, one interesting exercise is to compare a state’s average annual job openings due to growth and net replacements with (i) the total number students graduating from law schools in that state and (ii) an estimate of the total number of persons who may pass the bar exam in that state based on recent results. These figures can offer some idea, albeit in a rough order of magnitude, of the level of competition for lawyer jobs in that state’s market. Understanding the Nature and Scope of Career Dissatisfaction Among Lawyers Any discussion about considering a career as a lawyer would not be complete without a reference to the literature on the subject of dissatisfaction in the legal profession. Much has been written on this subject, based not only on anecdotal information, but also formal surveys that have been conducted. Becoming familiar with the reasons for the dissatisfaction can be an important element in getting a clearer picture about some characteristics of law practice that have caused lawyers to leave the profession. It’s useful to know if those characteristics would be vexing to you, annoying but tolerable, or of no consequence at all. Dissatisfaction in the legal profession has a broad spectrum of causes. Included among them are long hours of work, stress that comes from the adversarial nature of many areas of law practice, disappointment with the level of financial rewards, and unexpected job insecurity. It’s not uncommon for lawyers in private practice who work as associate attorneys in law firms to be required to generate 1,800 to 2,000 “billable hours” per year. A “billable hour” is an hour of work for which a client is actually billed. Spending eight hours at work doesn’t ordinarily amount to an equal number of billable hours. In fact, studies show it takes about three hours of office work to generate two hours of billable work. If an individual works eight hours per day, five days per week for each of the 52 weeks in a year, that will amount to 2,080 hours. Assuming it takes about 12 hours at work to generate eight billable hours, it should become apparent that for some lawyers long hours of work don’t represent an unjustified complaint in order to achieve 2,000 billable hours per year. Spend some time learning about the nature and scope of career dissatisfaction among lawyers. Included in the bibliography at the end of this workshop are several online resources to get you started. You can also do a search on Google using the phrase “lawyer dissatisfaction” to generate more sources of information. The point of this exercise is not to discourage you from considering a legal career. Instead, it’s intended to provide the balance that’s necessary to obtain a full and complete picture about what it’s like to practice law. By all means, find out all you can about what lawyers like about their profession, but don’t ignore the other side of the coin. Discovering What Law School Is Like and What It Takes to Succeed There Of course, the first step in becoming a lawyer is attending and successfully completing law school. Having some knowledge about what that experience will be like is another key piece of making an informed decision. You can get some of that knowledge by reading relevant resources. How to Succeed in Law School and The Practice of Law School-Getting In and Making the Most of Your Legal Education, two of the books listed in the bibliography at the end of this workshop, offer valuable information and perspectives on this subject. Visiting law schools and sitting in on some law school classes would also be advisable. Witnessing firsthand what goes on in a law school classroom can offer a perspective unavailable from words on a printed page. Additionally, talk to law students about their experiences. Arrange informational interviews with a few law students so you can get an insider’s view about what it’s like to be a law student, especially at law schools you may be considering. Concluding Remarks Lawyers play an enormously important role in our culture. Each and every day, they make invaluable contributions to the economic, social, and political fabric of American life. When you consider the importance of this role, it’s no wonder that many people aspire to become lawyers. But, the legal profession isn’t for everyone. The results of lawyer satisfaction surveys demonstrate that many who chose this profession ultimately recognized a need to leave traditional law practice to pursue another occupation. For some of them, the problem originated with a failure to make an informed career decision. The purpose of this workshop has been to focus on the need for making an informed decision about going to law school to become a lawyer. Some strategies for achieving that goal have been suggested, all with the intent of gathering meaningful information for the decision-making process and avoiding the superficial portraits and myths about lawyers conveyed by the media. Admittedly, the strategies suggested in this workshop require time and effort. But considering all of the consequences that follow from pursuing a law school education, that time and effort will be well spent and very likely enhance the quality of career decision you make. Career Counselors in the Regis University Center for Career and Professional Development can help you with your career development needs, including your interest in pursuing a legal career and applying to law school. Call 303-458-3508 (800-388-2366, ext. 3508) to schedule an in-person, phone or Skype appointment. Bibliography General Reference Materials Should You Really Become a Lawyer? The Guide to Smart Career Choices Before, During & After Law School, by Deborah Schneider and Gary Belsky, Decision Books 2005 29 Reasons Not to Go to Law School, by Toni Ihara and Ralph E. Warner, 4th edition, Nolo Press 1996 The Practice of Law School-Getting In and Making the Most of Your Legal Education, by Christen Civiletto Carey and Kristen David Adams, ALM Publishing 2003 The Official Guide to Legal Specialties-An Insider’s Guide to Every Major Practice Area, by Lisa L. Abrams, Harcourt Legal & Professional Publications 2000 What Can You Do With a Law Degree? A Lawyer’s Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside & Around the Law, by Deborah Arron, 5th edition, Decision Books 2004 The Lawyer’s Career Change Handbook: More Than 300 Things You Can Do With a Law Degree, by Hindi Greenberg, Avon Books, Revised 2002 Alternative Careers for Lawyers, by Hillary Mantis, Princeton Review Publishing, LLC 1997 Running from the Law-Why Good Lawyers Are Getting Out of the Legal Profession, by Deborah Arron, 3rd edition, Decision Books 2003 How to Succeed in Law School, by Gary A. Munneke, Barron’s Educational Series, 3rd edition 2001 Hand-Me-Down Dreams-How Families Influence Our Career Paths and How We Can Reclaim Them,by Mary H. Jacobsen, Three Rivers Press 1999 Occupational Research Resource O*NET, online.onetcenter.org/ Labor Market Information Resources WetFeet.com Industry Profile-Law at http://www.wetfeet.com/Careers-and-Industries/Industries/Law.aspx America’s CareerInfoNet, Labor Market Information, www.careeronestop.org/lmi/LMIHome.asp National Association for Law Placement, Pre-law Resources - http://nalp.org/prelaw. Salaries & Compensation - http://nalp.org/salariescompensation Resource on Informational Interviewing QuintCareers.com, Tutorial on Informational Interviewing,www.quintcareers.com/informational_interviewing.html Resource on Bar Admission Rates National Council of Bar Examiners, Bar Admission Statistics, www.ncbex.org/bar-admissions/stats/ Resource on Law School Application Process Law School Admissions Council, www.lsac.org Resources on Lawyer Dissatisfaction FindLaw, profedev.lp.findlaw.com/column/article1.html R L Stevens & Associates, Inc.,www.interviewing.com/pubarticles/hhlawyerdissatisfaction.htm lexisONE, www.lexisone.com/balancing/articles/b090003a.html Career Counselors in Regis University Center for Career and Professional Development can help you with your career development needs, including your interest in pursuing a legal career and applying to law school. Call 303-458-3508 (800-388-2366, ext. 3508) to schedule an in-person, phone or Skype appointment. Appointments are available to all Regis University students, alumni and staff.