With all the hype around getting a better LSAT score, law school applications and getting into the best schools possible, students often lose sight of the bigger question: “Is law school the right path for me?”
Often it’s not until a less than favourable LSAT score comes back or a few rejections letters arrive that students start to ask this question. But really, you should be thinking about this as early as possible.
Before you charge down the law school road blindly, ask yourself what you hope to get out of it and why you are taking that road.
Here’s a few of the things you can expect along the way:
- Hard work – this is something you need to expect from the entire law journey, from law school to articling and practicing as a lawyer you will have to work hard. In law school you’re looking at long hours reading cases, preparing for moots and mock trials and studying for exams.
- Writing – In law school your grades are based almost entirely on essay format exams. Often first year courses have only one exam at the end of the year, worth 100% of your grade. This is usually a 3 hour exam with a few questions asking you analyze factual situations and apply the law you have learned.As a lawyer you will constantly be drafting documents whether it’s court documents or corporate documents, letters, emails and contracts. If you enjoy writing, drafting and editing you’ll find lots to love about a career in law.
- Persuasion – as an argumentative kid I was often told I’d make a good lawyer. Enjoying a good argument, however, is not enough to ensure you’ll love law. It’s only part of the job and the kinds of persuasion you are involved in with law are often very different than those you face with your parents or classmates. You will be offering your opinion or persuading others in a variety of scenarios, from persuading judges of your clients case to convincing business people that a contract should be drafted the way your client wants it. It’s not all heated courtroom battles, in fact most lawyers see very little of this, but you will be expected to hold your own when communicating a reasoned opinion.
- Respect – despite all those lawyer jokes, we do get respect. Whether it’s that of your peers and colleagues who see you as a trusted teammate, or you clients who rely on you for your advice, or even just that person you’re trying to impress at a party, lawyers are generally respected and it’s a positive element to the job that many people take for granted.
- Stress – you need the ability to deal with it. Law school and working as a lawyer will put you in stressful situations, there are deadlines and time constraints, and often large sums of money, or more importantly your clients quality of life will be hanging on your ability to perform effectively. If you hate being under pressure or don’t deal with stress well you should look into changing this or look elsewhere for work.
- Continual Education – your education does not stop at law school. That’s only the beginning. Lawyers are constantly reading and learning, staying up to date with current changes in the law and learning about their clients businesses and lives. As a corporate lawyer you might learn all about a shoe manufacturing business one day and a diamond mine the next. If you enjoy learning and the idea of being a lifelong student (with better pay) then you’ll probably enjoy many aspects of being a lawyer.
- Pay – not to be overlooked is the monetary part of the equation. Lawyers make a good salary. You’re not going to buy an island and retire at 40 but you will likely be comfortable. Part of this depends on the route you take, what kind of law you practice and where. If this is all you’re in it for stop now. It’s not worth it. You won’t be happy.
This site has some great info on law firm salaries http://www.infirmation.com/shared/insider/payscale.tcl
- Career Options – Lawyers don’t just work in law firms. There’s also in-house counsel, state prosecutors, politicians or even journalists and many more positions available for someone with a law degree.
- Giving Advice – as a lawyer, you give advice. This can be a very rewarding part of the job. People are depending upon your interpretation of the law to help them make decisions. Most lawyers love to talk, love to opine, love to give advice.
- Problem Solving – Following along the advice trail, you also will be constantly solving problems. There’s a positive and a negative side to this. One way to look at is you get to come in and fix things, help people and attempt to make things just and right. Another way is that clients often come to lawyers when things are bad and you constantly have to deal with the problems in other people’s lives. This is more true on the litigation side of things. So whether you will enjoy this aspect of law depends on your mentality towards problems and problem solving.
- Managing People – depending on where you choose to work, there is often some element of personnel management with law. Whether it’s your legal secretary, paralegals, junior lawyers or other staff you will likely be managing people. This requires that you work on your people skills, although, there’s definitely some good lawyers out there with less than perfect people skills.
- Teamwork – Similar to the management point, you will often find yourself working in a team. Few lawyers truly work alone. Often cases or files involve a number of lawyers and other staff working together. This doesn’t mean you’ll be working with everyone all day, much of what you do will probably be on your own as you prepare documents or send out emails but it’s not often you’ll go a full day without interacting at least a few times with your teammates.
- Varied work/projects – one great aspect of law is that you get to work on a variety of projects and files. Especially if you’re working at a law firm. If you’re content doing the same thing everyday you probably won’t fit well with law. Lawyers often have a number of completely different files going at the same time with new ones coming in regularly. This doesn’t mean you need a totally new skill set for each file, but you will learn new things and have different scenarios and problems with each new project.
It’s not necessary that you love everything on this list, but if you’re moving towards a career in law you should at least be excited by a few of these.
All in all it is an amazingly rewarding career but you have to be up for the challenges!