One Question You Must Answer Before Law School

I was told I would be a lawyer for as long as I can remember. My parents put me in a “future lawyer” shirt when I was two years old, I have always loved arguing debating, and reading is my all-time favorite hobby. It seemed like a good fit, so I began working toward this goal in earnest when I started college, and attempted to choose a relevant field of study. Then, when the time came to apply for law school, I chose a legal field I thought would suit me. All the while, I never paused to reflect on whether I was really making the best choices for me. Becoming a lawyer was always the plan, so I continued along the path without ever stopping to consider alternatives. In retrospect, I realize that I failed to consider the most important question: Why?

Why did I want to be a lawyer? Why did I want to go to law school?

I started with the “what” – be a lawyer – and the “how” – pick a good college major, get into law school, and choose a legal field of practice. Starting with “why” would have given me greater clarity of purpose and would have guided my decisions. 

I thought my answer to “why?” was that I had always wanted to be a lawyer, but that was insufficient to guide my decisions. Now I know the real answer to this question: I want to be a lawyer because I love studying the law and want to use it to improve the lives of underprivileged youth. Had I known that a decade ago, it may or may not have changed the decisions I made, but it certainly would have given me greater confidence in those decisions. I might have chosen a different college major, and I got lucky that I ended up at a law school with a program dedicated to child advocacy. But, the decision-making that got me there was agonizing because I had not yet clarified my underlying purpose in pursuing my J.D.

Why do you want to be a lawyer? Why do you want to go to law school? Do you want to protect the environment, or animals, or children? Do you want to help people prepare for their futures with wills and trusts? Do you love the Constitution? Do you want to connect with families going through difficult times? Are you obsessed with tech and want to contribute to an ever-changing field? Do you want to teach others about the law and how to practice it well? 

Your answer to “Why?” is absolutely essential. It is a huge decision to spend three years of your life and many thousands of dollars on law school. If you don’t know why you’re investing in law school, it will be challenging to stick it out. When you know why you’re there, it will make the long days of studying, the finals weeks, the cost of tuition, and the sleep deprivation infinitely more bearable. When you know your “why,” the “what” and “how” just fall into place. You’ll have a clarity of purpose that will guide everything else: your college major choices, your decision about which law school to attend, and accepting or declining a job opportunity or project, just to name a few.

Spend some time answering this question in whatever way works for you. Take some long walks, write about it, talk it over with people you trust. There is a lot of work worth doing, legal and otherwise, but not all good work is the right fit for each of us. Define your purpose by identifying why you want to be a lawyer, and watch your path unfold before you. 


Sarah Vaona is an attorney at Dependency Legal Services and is committed to improving the lives of underprivileged youth. She graduated from the University of San Diego School of Law with a concentration in public interest law and an emphasis in children’s rights. Her undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Religious Studies are from the University of California, Riverside. If you’d like to talk about your “why” or anything else, you can connect with Sarah by email at or via LinkedIn (

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