The law is an amazing profession, but it’s not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for the vast majority of people. And when it’s not a good fit, the downside is awful. Mismatched lawyers are miserable. Their lives can really suck. They may be very good at what they do, but it’s not particularly fulfilling. Or it’s too time-consuming, preventing them from doing the other stuff that would be fulfilling. Maybe they can’t stand dealing with other lawyers. And if they’re not very good at what they do, their clients can suffer far far worse.
But for those who belong here, the law is a wonderful place to be. It challenges the intellect, inspires ideas, and gives you a chance to really make a difference. And that is huge. It doesn’t matter what kind of law you practice; you’re dealing with real people, with real lives, and you’re helping them with a real need. A life in the law is deeply fulfilling, and a life well spent.
Unfortunately, most mismatched lawyers don’t figure it out (if ever) until far too late, when they’re already practicing. Some cut their losses and start a new career. But most don’t. Maybe they’re in a large law firm and just hate it, but can’t leave the paycheck. Maybe they feel they’ve invested too much of their lives in law school and advancing through the profession, and so are unwilling to chuck it all and start over doing something else. Maybe they sincerely can’t think of anything else to do. And they wind up getting more and more miserable. It’s no wonder that alcoholism, depression and divorce are rampant among lawyers.
The best time to figure it out, of course, is before going to law school. Some people wisely drop out (or, thankfully, wash out), but that’s rare. No, once a mismatched lawyer is admitted to law school, the odds are they’re going to stick it out and become a sinkhole of misery. Far better to have turned away and pursued a more fulfilling life before ever going to law school in the first place.
But how can you tell if the law’s going to be a good fit for you? It’s tough, if you haven’t tried it out first. Whether you’d be happy or not is all hypothetical until you start working.
Fortunately, you know yourself pretty well. Nothing hypothetical there. If you’re honest with yourself, you know what traits you have and don’t have.
And fortunately, we’ve known plenty of other happy lawyers, and had the chance to observe what traits we all seem to share.
So if you’re wondering whether you ought to go to law school, you might want to ask yourself a few very simple questions:
1. Do you want to be a lawyer?
If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t go to law school. Sure, lots of people say it prepares you for other kinds of work, and trains your brain to do marvelous things. But if that’s all you want out of it, go take some continuing ed courses in History, Philosophy and Economics. A rigorous study of History will give you the same issue-spotting, researching and detail-checking that you’d get from law school — probably better. Philosophy will certainly give you a better grounding in logic, analysis, and reasoned argument. And Economics, along with the other two, will give you enough grounding in how people actually work, and why they do what they do. There is nothing else that law school teaches if you’re not planning to be a lawyer.
Law school serves a single function: it is a (more…)