Doing Your Research Is the Only Way to Avoid Buyer’s Remorse!
Most law students spent MUCH less time researching the decision to go to law school than they spent buying their last car. I know this was true for me, and many of the lawyers I know despite the fact that law school is about 3-5 times more expensive than the cost of an average mid-sized sedan. And, student loans are not dischargeable in personal bankruptcy, like car loans.
When you bought your last car, did you…
- Review top brands for safety and resale value via Consumer Reports?
- Research interest rates for car loans before heading to the dealer?
- Review Kelley Blue Book rates for you trade in?
- Get an independent assessment of the value of your trade in from Carmax?
- Shop around for the best deal – offline and online?
- Test drive a model, if not more than one?
- If the car is used, maybe you checked it’s accident history using Carfax or got an inspection by a third party?
- Walk away from negotiations to get a better price?
We want to help you do the same due diligence for law school. Below is a list of specific ways that you can go from uninformed to an educated legal consumer.
Top 10 Ways to Test Drive the Law
10) Read One L
Even though One L was written about Harvard Law School during the 1970s, Scott Turow does a great job of capturing universal aspects of the first year experience. Legal education has remained largely unchanged so the emotions and the behavior of students were remarkably similar in my personal experience.
9) Attend a Moot Court Competition
Moot court is a law school right of passage, and it’s an example of the type of activity involved in a trial lawyer’s daily practice. Many competitions are held publicly within law schools across the country during the spring semester. You can also watch some of the competitions online, but I recommend attending them in person to get the full effect. The part that you won’t see, but which will be obvious if the students do well, is the hours and hours of researching and briefing the student put into these fictional cases. Practice makes perfect.
8) Read About Law
Become educated about the legal industry by reading about the law. Subscribe to daily legal email alerts from WSJ Law Blog, ABA Journal, Law.com. If this is something that falls low on the list of things you enjoy reading about over the course of at least a couple of weeks, then that may be a telling sign. There is a substantial amount of reading involved in being a lawyer and going to law school so take a cold this content. The real goal is to learn more about law practice management (the business of running a law firm), challenges faced in the legal profession, and even specific areas of legal specialization that you find interesting.
7) Don’t Forget Student Loan & Tuition Costs
These are not an afterthought. Make sure you understand the amount of debt you will be incurring and make sure you are comfortable that you will be able to make the monthly payment in the future. If you want to work as a public defender, work an extra job or enroll in the night program of your state’s public law school to incur the small amount of loans possible. Public service lawyers do important work, but salary is not driven exclusively by importance.
6) Know the Market for Lawyers Salaries
Review salary information for lawyers in your part of the country on PayScale, Vault, and NALP Directory of Legal Employers. Compensation is often a key consideration in becoming a lawyer. I’m willing to bet that rumor is different from reality in some way. Knowing this information is critical to evaluating your personal cost-benefit analysis in deciding to go to law school.
5) Sit In On Law School Classes
Visit a law school near you and sit in on classes preferably during the last half of any semester and not on a day that a planned visit of prospective students is expected; call the admissions office and ask what their procedure is for visiting a class.
4) Attend a Trial
I recommend attending both a civil and a criminal trial, and don’t just attend for opening and closing statements and the verdict. Sit through the more tedious, technical part in the middle – the meat of the case. Most courtrooms are open to the public, but the best way to get an understanding of what trials are happening and when you should attend is by checking the court’s website and speaking to the clerk or information desk at the courthouse. It’s best to call ahead. Here are some links to get you started [add]. Judges’ hours are much like banks and the federal government.
3) Read Legal Opinions
This is in arguably part of legal practice, and it’s overemphasized in law school, but it’s an important test to see how you will fare with legal material. Law school is dominated by appellate law. (state and federal courts of appeals). If your eyes glaze over after the first couple of pages…. We’ll maybe it’s worth considering that law school might not be for you. Google makes legal opinions available for free for federal and state district, appellate, and supreme courts with search functionality.
2) Work at a Law Firm
As a paralegal or a file clerk. An invaluable opportunity to experience multiple lawyers, the legal and law firm culture, and the nitty gritty of legal practice, especially the administrative aspect. If this doesn’t appeal to you because you think you are more important than working as a paralegal or law clerk, then clearly the status and prestige of the law is blinding you to the reality that making a decision to spend a substantial amount of time and money without experiencing actual working environment is simply unwise.
1) Talk to Practicing Lawyers
This is immediately obvious, but it’s worth discussing because so few people take the time to have a frank discussion with a lawyer they know about the specifics of being a lawyer and practicing law. It’s important to remember that in each conversation you will only get that one person’s perspective… Seek out any practicing lawyers you know and ask them questions (informational interviews)
Some additional information on What You Can Do To Determine Whether You Want To Become a Lawyer.