So You Want to Become a Lawyer
I wanted to be a cop. Well, actually when I started college I wanted to be a brain surgeon. Later I was inspired by the movie Serpico and graduated with a degree in criminal justice. My brother, who was a lawyer, bugged me to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). I took it to get him off my back. I was offered a job with a suburban police department but before I started, the LSAT results came back. I did very well and decided what the heck? So I went to law school to become a lawyer.
That path worked for me, but I do not recommend it. Here are some things to consider:
1) Ask yourself why you want to become a lawyer.
If your answer is, “I want to get rich,” or, “I want to change the world,” think again. While some lawyers do make a lot of money, the majority hardly get rich. If you graduate from a top tier law school (such as Yale, Harvard, or Stanford) and go to work at a large firm in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco you will most likely make a lot of money (and work a lot of hours). However, most law graduates make middle income salaries (if they pass the bar exam and if they get a job). Read more about current attorney salaries.
Some lawyers do “change the world” to a degree. You can achieve this goal to a degree by taking a case that changes the law or by working hard in defense of the disadvantaged. But most lawyers go to work every day and do their job just like the rest of us. Law school can lead you to a satisfying career that provides a comfortable income, but be realistic before spending three or four years and a lot of money on law school.
2) It’s not like the way it looks in movies and on television. Not all lawyers are in court all the time. Many spend their days sitting behind a desk. For a look at some of the things lawyers do, take a look at the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Additionally, many law graduates do not practice law. They can also work in business, government, and education, among others. Law school trains you to be a problem solver and those skills are valuable in multiple arenas.
3) Law school is expensive and traditionally takes three years. At some schools like Albany and Duke, it is now four years. It also takes a great deal of your time during those years. This commitment will impact your work and your family, so be prepared.
Okay. You’ve considered these points, and you still want to go to law school. What do law schools care about?
4) Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores. Law schools want good LSAT scores to ensure you have the skills to succeed in school. The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).
Taking a test preparation course is not required but it might help if for no other reason than a boost in confidence. It is particularly a good idea if you have struggled with standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT. The Princeton Review is a popular test prep course.
5) Law schools don’t care about your undergraduate major. They care about GPA, ability to write, critical thinking and logic. Take every chance to improve your writing and critical thinking skills.
When looking for law schools to attend, be sure that the school is accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Currently, no online law school has ABA accreditation, however, one school, William Mitchell, offers a hybrid program which is ABA accredited.
After you graduate and want to practice, you must take and pass a state bar exam. One state, California, allows graduates of some completely online law schools to take the state bar exam. Read more about online schools and the California Bar.
Written by Sheldon Silver, JD
Shel is Justice Studies Department Chair and a program chair in the College of Liberal Arts at Ashford University.