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Ms. JD’s Pre-Law Prep Guide: Selective Hearing: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Assuming you’ve done your homework on the realities of the legal profession, you’re probably feeling as though you are at a crossroads (if this little guy doesn’t cheer you up, we don’t know what will!). That’s understandable! Now it is time to weigh the pros and cons of moving forward with the pre-law process or finding a different path. We have come up with a few questions for you to consider while you are weighing your various options. Take a moment as you are reading along to think about your honest answer to these questions before moving on to our suggestions. Give yourself the opportunity to reflect  as it will only help you to make your decision.

What attracts you to the law? Why do you think you'll enjoy the everyday practice of the law?

Now that we have debunked some of the common myths about the legal profession and law school, it is time for you to dig deep and think about whether you can really see yourself as an attorney. Hopefully, your reasons to attend law school do not include because I’m bad at math; I’m good at arguing; because everyone else in my family is an attorney, etc.

As we have mentioned numerous times before (and we will continue to emphasize this point), law school is an investment and involves a lot more consideration than a single, flimsy reason such as ‘I don’t know what else to do after college.’ If you still aren’t sure of the answers to the questions above, don’t be afraid to drop in at a law school in your area and ask to sit in on a class, take a tour, and gain a general impression of what the law school atmosphere is like. This should help you determine whether you can see yourself entering law school and the legal profession.

How much do you think your legal education is going to cost you?  How are you planning to finance your legal education?

We know this is a topic we have touched on several times now, but that just goes to show how important it is to keep in mind.  Finances are probably one of the most important things to think about when deciding whether or not to go to law school. Essentially, you have to ask yourself is law school worth the investment? If so, how much is law school and how will you pay for it?

The first thing to note when looking into law schools is whether they are public or private.  Although sometimes not significantly, tuition tends to be less expensive at public law schools.  Note, however, that many private schools are more well-known for giving generous grants.  Don’t write off the law school that you are interested in based off of tuition alone especially because you may be able to negotiate your financial aid package. This is where we expect you to start doing your homework again and exploring the financing options each school has to offer its students.

Scholarships:  Most, if not all, law schools (public or private) tend to offer a wide range of scholarships and grants to incoming students--not to mention the possibility of increasing or gaining a scholarship after the successful completion of your first year.  If your goal is to earn a scholarship, make sure to note important scholarship deadlines.  Does the law school require you apply for its scholarships? Is each application instantly reviewed upon receipt? Look at renewal criteria--is it difficult to maintain the scholarship award? (Hint: The ABA requires law schools make renewal data available on their individual school websites)

Loans: Yes, that’s right. Loans! We said it. There. Now the elephant in the room is out in the open. In today’s economy, the idea of taking out loans can be scary. What you need to remember as the savvy consumers we know you are is that there is bad debt and there is good debt (even we were stumped by a few of these!). When investigating the types of loans you should take out, consider the difference between private loans and public loans.  Remember that most lawyers do come out with a high amount of loans.  For better or worse, it’s part of the law school game.

LRAP: If you’re someone who wants to work in public interest after graduating from law school, be on the lookout for law schools with successful LRAP (Loan Repayment Assistance Programs).  These are private programs that help students working in the public interest repay their loans.  Depending on what you do, you may also be eligible for federal loan forgiveness after working in the public interest for a certain number of years.  If you think you’re going to go into public interest work after law school, we recommend that you get to know an organization called Equal Justice Works more!  They’ve got great information on everything from job opportunities and grants to loan repayment.

Budgeting with the option of taking a few years off to enter the workforce, save money, and then apply: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we want to reiterate that it is important to do your homework on law schools. Sometimes that means slowing down and taking a step back.  This may mean that you take a few years off between undergrad and law school.  You may be thinking, ‘What? Take time off? That’s not a part of the plan!’  However, taking time off before going to law school is not unusual, some schools prefer it, and it can make you more marketable when you’re applying for jobs after law school.  Plus, you have the added benefit of making money and setting money aside into savings.  (Note: Your LSAT score is good for 5 years!)

What do you think your job prospects will be after school? Are your job prospects in line with what you hope to do based on your answers to the first two questions?

Look back at your previous answers as to why you want to go to law school and do some research as to what those career choices will offer. Make sure you are being realistic about where you want to go with your career in law while also looking at the financial aspect of the investment of law school discussed above.

Even after all we have told you, if your main reason to go to law school is still to make that six figure salary, you should probably consider doing much more research . While salary is important when determining your future career, being an attorney is much more than salary. It is important to keep in mind what lawyers can do and what they are worth beyond the salary they make, especially since so many attorneys are assisting those that are less fortunate.  So take your mind off those dollar signs, and take a look at the bigger picture! Look at how many attorneys who lives are fulfilled by their jobs beyond salary and how many attorneys are helping people in the United States and beyond. If you are hoping to gain a larger return on your investment into law school beyond a hefty salary, law school may be in your near future.

While all this information may seem daunting, breaking through these various myths and doing research into financing your degree and your legal areas of interest sets you up for success. Ultimately, law school is your decision. You are the only one who can decide if law school is truly worth the investment.  At the end of the day, it’s probably impossible to KNOW that you’re making the right decision.  (FYI for future law students, knowledge is a really high standard!)  Therefore, at some point, you have to make a leap of faith. And remember, “you were made to be awesome.”

Bridget Sheehan and Courtney Gabbara are both Assistant Directors of Admission at Michigan State University College of Law and recent graduates of the Law College. Having met in law school through Moot Court, both women have found a long lasting friendship based on their future career interests, laughter, and love of nachos. Bridget graduated from Saint Xavier University with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and has actively pursued her interests in family and criminal law. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois and enjoys college football, specifically Notre Dame (Go Irish!), reading, and country music.  Courtney earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Michigan State University and has been a Ms. JD Board Member since April of 2011.  Her hobbies include scrapbooking, running Warrior Dash, and cooking.

2 Comments

Sarah Devine

Such great advice!
Since financing a legal career is such a big factor for all of us, many schools offer a night program for those who want to work full time and attend law school. While this may make school more possible financially it is not for the faint of heart! Nevertheless, it is an option worth exploring.
Additionally, may law schools offer joint degree programs. This allows students to work on both a JD and a MBA or a JD and a PhD concurrently to earn two degrees in less time (one of my friends will have a JD and a PhD after just 5 years in grad school)! And it helps cut down on the often annoying and time consuming application process since once you are admitted to the JD program many schools let complete a abridged application to the program you want to complete concurrently!
Just a few more things to consider - I know it can be overwhelming but being an informed decision maker can make all the difference.

gabbarac

You are absolutely spot on with the night programs.  This is an espectially good option for “non-traditional students” who are coming back to law school as a second career option. Most students should note though exactly what was mentioned above—taking the part time route can be a challenge.  You would essentially be working 2 full time jobs, and that isn’t taking into consideration if you have a family or not.  Rest assured though, it can be done and it is a great option.  If considering taking the part-time route, start doing your homework early.  Unfortunately, not all law schools offer such an option, so in a way, it limits your options.  Although we do not swear by US News rankings, here is their list of top part-time programs.
Dual-degrees are also a great option for students who have a clear passion for a particular area of law! The benefits of being able to knock out 2 degrees in a fraction of the time is a wonderful option. In a few weeks, we will actually be dedicating an entire blog post to the break down of dual-degree options!
Great feedback and insight!

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