Why People Choose To Pursue Law School

Why People Choose To Pursue Law School

Most aspiring lawyers aren’t in it for the money.

A recent survey commissioned by the Association of American Law Schools finds that aspiring lawyers report “public-spirited motivations” as the top reasons for pursuing law school.

“Public-spirited motivations” include paving a pathway for a career in politics, government, or public service; having a passion/high interest in type of work; creating opportunities to be helpful to others or useful to society/giving back; and advocating for social change.

“I find this truly encouraging,” Judith Areen, executive director of the AALS, tells Law.com. “I was presently surprised with all the publicly spirited factors as reasons for going to law school. In a difficult time in our nation’s history, it was encouraging.”


The study is based on survey responses from 22,189 undergraduates at 25 different four-year institutions, whose students are likely to go on to graduate and professional schools. Also included in the data set are 2,727 first-year students at 44 AALS member law schools.

According to Law.com, the study is the first major look at undergraduate attitudes about law schools in more than 50 years. The study was commissioned in response to the recent decline in law school applications between 2010 and 2015.

Significant Findings

There are a number of other significant findings the study found.

Undergraduates interested in an advanced degree say they get more information on campus about master’s degrees, PH.D.s, and master’s in business degrees when compared to information about law school.

The overall cost of law school, the three-year time commitment, and poor work-life balance are the main reasons undergrads report potentially not attending law school.

50% of undergraduates considering law school have at least one parent with an advanced degree.

55% of law students first considered law school before they even reached college. A third consider law school even before high school.

What do these findings mean for law schools? Well, according to Donald Tobin, dean of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, law schools should continue working to reach out to students earlier.

“One of the things that was a surprise to me was how early people are making decisions about graduate school,” Tobin tells Law.com. “Law schools do a lot of pipeline programs, but I don’t think we do enough with middle school and high school students. What can we do to make sure high school students know more about the law?”

Tobin says the study’s findings can bring law schools together to collaboratively work on reaching potential students earlier.

“There aren’t that many lawyers on college campuses,” he tells Law.com. “There are lots of Ph.D.s and MBAs, but we don’t have that kind of presence on college campuses. That seems important, and we need to find ways in which we can engage with undergraduates.”

Sources: Association of American Law Schools, Law.com