What No One Tells You Before You Go To Law School: It’s Impossible to Know If You’re Making “The Right” Choice
By Alison Monahan • January 10, 2012•Writers in Residence, Law School, Pre-Law
A lot of people go to law school because they think it’s “the right” thing to do. Maybe they’ve always been argumentative, or never really liked math, or have a vague idea that a career in law would be exciting and lucrative (just like on TV!). Social pressure starts building, no entry-level jobs materialize, and – before you know it – you’re sitting for the LSAT! Things go pretty well, fee waivers appear, and, just like that, it’s time to start classes. Whoa, what just happened?!?
Let’s take a collective deep breath, shall we, and back up. How can you figure out if law school’s the right choice for you? Once you’re in school, how do you know which career path is best? The harsh reality is that you can’t, really.
One of my favorite law professors put it this way:
When you’re faced with several options, all with their own pros and cons (but none of them obviously better or worse), you may as well hang all the options up on the wall and throw darts at them to chose. Will the outcome fundamentally impact your life? Yes. Can you predict how beforehand? No.
Suffice it to say we didn’t find this advice very satisfying. One option must be better! One must be worse! And it must be possible to know which is which before deciding!
Face It, You Can’t Really Know
His point was that, yes, the decision was important, critical even, but the outcome wasn’t fully predictable. What if you chose a firm, hate the work and cry in your office every day, but end up meeting your much-beloved future husband during a settlement meeting with opposing counsel? Did you make “the right” choice? How about if you chose a different first job, never meet that particular potential husband, love the work and your life, but get hit by a bus on the way to court? Morbid, perhaps, but it could happen!
Ironically, once we let go of the idea that there’s a single “right“ choice, it’s easier to realistically evaluate the options we do have, and, hopefully, make a “good” choice (or, at a minimum, avoid the multitude of possible bad choices, which generally are predictable).
So, how do you make a good choice?
- Don’t rush into anything. If there’s a voice in the back of your head telling you that maybe you should wait on law school, or that you don’t really want the job you just applied for, listen to it! If you have doubts, this probably isn’t “the right” thing for you to do (even if everyone around you thinks it’s ideal).
- Do your research. Becoming a lawyer is a big investment of time and money. If you can’t bring yourself to spend time researching what the profession’s really like, and conducting at least a handful of interviews with lawyers (practicing and ex), you shouldn’t be going to law school. Sorry, it’s true. Wishful thinking isn’t going to get you very far these days – you need the facts.
- Listen to what people tell you. This is tough, because there’s a natural human tendency to more willingly hear advice that comports with what you already believe. When you’re gathering advice, notice when you start thinking: “Bummer, but that would never happen to me.” Newsflash – you’re not as unique as you think. If most of the people you talk to hate certain aspects of the legal profession, chances are you will, too.
- Trust yourself. Ultimately, your decisions are your own. You know yourself better than anyone else does, and you’ve got the most incentive to do something that’s going to make you happy. Examine your personality, explore your talents and interests, and match those to the demands of the legal profession. Don’t stress out about whether you’re making “the right” decision, just try to make what seems like a good choice for you, right now, and things will probably work themselves out.
And, in the end, you can always console yourself with the idea that you probably don’t know what you’re getting into, anyway!
Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School. Stay tuned for her monthly Ms. JD column debunking myths about the legal profession.