A lot of students have just graduated from college. They don’t know what to do with themselves. Some are done with school and some want more. Some end up in graduate, law or medical school simply because they don’t know what else to do. They don’t want to have just any job. They want something amazing. And so they pick something they think will be amazing. The problem is, no one will question it.
Graduate school administrators are there to recruit students. They aren’t going to tell you that spending another $100,000+ on your education is a bad idea. Family members are so excited that you’re going to be so successful that they aren’t going to tell you no. And friends are just there to support you. So they all sit by while you potentially make the worst mistake of your life. The most expensive mistake ever.
I am a lawyer. So I cannot speak in any depth on grad school or med school. Although some of my thoughts (but not all) can be reapplied to those other schools.
So what is so wrong with law school? Technically, nothing. But there are many issues with respect to becoming a lawyer and becoming a happy lawyer, and no one is ever warned. I often speak to pre-law students about some of these pitfalls so that they can really think about their life and what they want to do with it. If they want to spend over $100,00o to go to law school, that’s fine. But they need to look at what is actually important to them. They then need to research how law school and being a lawyer can change those things. They should make their decision after being informed of some of the less positive repercussions of going to law school. Unfortunately, there are many issues they should consider and only a few of these tend to be discussed. I’ve listed only a few here. When I talk on-one-one with prospective law students, I cover many other nuances with them. Often times, their answers to questions they would never think are related, end up influencing them in ways they never thought they would be influenced.
First, lawyers are limited to work for the rest of their lives in the state in which they passed the bar. When I entered law school, I never, ever thought of living anywhere else. I love L.A. But housing prices are ridiculous. Even ones I can afford, I just don’t want to spend my money that way. Not when I see that for a fraction of the cost I could buy a mansion in Ohio or Kansas or something. Sure, I’d make less there, but the cost of living is less. But that’s not even an option. I’m stuck in California. I’m not sure I will ever move. I know I’m never taking the Bar Exam again. But that is a major consideration. You never know what your future will hold. You don’t know where your future in-laws will be from. Maybe you’ll want to move there some day. But you’ll have to retake the Bar Exam or change professions. If you’re really lucky, you will want to move to a state with reciprocity. But you have to research that. And while it’s not difficult, it’s also not automatic that you can just work in a state that honors reciprocity with your Bar-passed state. Of course, if you had just gone to grad school or worked a regular job, this would not even be an issue. This is something no one tells you to think about before you spend money on law school.
Second, I wanted to do nonprofit law. So did a lot of people I know. But those loans make it really hard. Those loan forgiveness programs are not so great either. Mostly they say that you have to first work in the nonprofit field, then apply. And then you have to compete against others. So what I’m hearing is – take a big gamble by taking a low paying job, work (probably) below the poverty line, once you subtract out your loan payments, and then hope that you get some forgiveness. And from what I could tell, they preferred to give that money to people who went to Stanford and Harvard. Not your ordinary, middle of the road student from the ordinary, middle of the road school. While I have found joy in other areas of law, the information I’ve obtained from non-profit law job fairs is depressing.
Third, $100,000+ is a lot of money to pay back. And if you marry someone who also went to an expensive school, good luck. At one point my husband and I were paying the same amount each month in loans as we were in mortgage – for a house in L.A.! If you don’t accelerate the payments, you will basically be paying back loans until potentially, your kids are in high school. Just in time to start saving to help them in college. So when were you going to save for retirement? There are lots of jobs out there that pay the same or close to what lawyers make, without the student loans. It’s no fun throwing out so much money every month. Just something to think about.
Fourth, with that much debt, your career options are limited. Sure, there’s lots of options for lawyers. You can become a real estate broker, politics and lots of other things. But basically, you will need to guarantee a good income if you’re going to pay off all that debt. You can’t just decide to be a pre-school teacher. You can’t just take a job because it sounds nice. So unlike someone with an undergrad degree, you really do have limited career options, until the debt is paid off.
Fifth, no one ever said you would ever become a lawyer after spending $100,000+ in schooling. Isn’t that nice? All that work and money and if you don’t pass the Bar Exam, you don’t get to be a lawyer. And then how are you supposed to pay back those loans? The Bar passage rate in California is around 50%. I know people who took it 5 times before they passed. That’s 2.5 years of taking the Bar, after you graduate, just so you can be a lawyer. But in those years, you still have household bills and student loans to pay.
Now don’t get me wrong! There are lots of happy lawyers out there. I actually love my job. I’m not saying you will be miserable if you go to law school. What I am saying is that life is full of possibilities; why spend so much money without exploring your options first?
So is law school right for you? That’s a tough question. One that many people don’t truly ask themselves. And definitely not one posed to the prospective student. These are just some of the things that should be considered before going to law school. Unfortunately, many law students find themselves questioning these things after their first year; after they feel trapped by the debt they’ve already incurred.
If you are interested in a one-on-one counseling session, please let me know. I offer a personalized consultation in which we discuss all the factors that really go into determining whether attending law school is the correct decision for you, whether the timing is right for you and whether you’ve chosen (are looking at) the right school. I’ve helped students completely change their choice of law school based on my advice and report that it was the best decision they ever made. I’ve mentored many students to help them feel secure in their decisions. To sign up, visit legal-learning-center.teachable.com.