Should You Really Go To Law School? Introducing The Ghost Of Legal Future

That $190,000 starting salary sounds pretty good, right? Or maybe it’s the prospect of doing good for society, especially in the current political landscape. Either way, you’ve found yourself at a crossroads wondering whether you should go to law school.

You’re hardly alone. The last few years have seen a steady increase in law school applications, whether it’s been due to the “Trump bump”, an RBG moment, or COVID-19. Just in this past year, statistics from the Law School Admissions Council showed that as of December 2020, the number of applicants to U.S. law schools were up about 35% and the number of applications submitted were up about 57%, each compared to last year.

Yet, a recent study conducted by the Florida State Bar found that about 60% of young lawyers are so discouraged with their jobs that they were thinking about changing careers. A 2018 survey conducted by job site CV-Library found that about 50% of lawyers disliked their jobs. 

So should you go?

Knowing nothing else about you, I will offer some definitive reasons why you should NOT go to law school:

  • You love arguing, and you believe that practicing as an attorney is similar to the TV show “Suits”.
  • You were a master debater in college, and [see point above].
  • You don’t know what else to do.
  • Your parents told you that you need to move out of their basement and go do something with yourself.
  • You think being a lawyer is like [fill in the blank with whatever lawyer TV show you can think of].

MY GOAL: TO HELP YOU DECIDE WHETHER YOU SHOULD OR SHOULDN’T GO TO LAW SCHOOL

Author Shefali Lakhani

There are plenty of other reasons why you shouldn’t go to law school and plenty of reasons why you should, but I won’t share them right now. Over the course of the coming months, my goal is to help you decide whether you should or shouldn’t go to law school. I won’t try to do this by just sharing statistics of how much debt the average law graduate is in or what the bonus is for third year big law associates – I’m sure you could find all of those things on the internet yourself. You are, in fact, smart enough to be considering law school. I’ll help you make your decision by sharing stories, stories of lawyers of all different backgrounds and in different stages of their careers, lawyers who have excelled in traditional paths, non-traditional paths, and everything in between.

Like the Ghost of Christmas Future, I’ll paint a picture of how life might turn out if you go to law school (except much less intimidating, creepy and Grim Reaper-like). My goal is not to dissuade you from going to law school, but rather, like a “choose your adventure” style novel, share the different paths a career after law school can take. I will be your Ghost of Legal Future.

Who am I to offer these insights, you ask? Good question.

‘I REALIZED THAT LAW WAS NOT WHAT I HAD EXPECTED’

I went to Boston University School of Law a few years ago; I majored in Economics at Emory University, liked to read, was good at writing, and most importantly, I did not want to be a doctor. So, as a first generation child of immigrant parents, of course, law school seemed like the right choice. While I enjoyed many parts of law school – the friends I made, the legal theories I learned, and the critical and analytical thinking skills I developed, working as a lawyer was not at all like law school. I practiced for some time as a corporate lawyer, but it didn’t take long before I realized that it was not what I had expected. I decided that the traditional lawyer path was not for me, and I eventually switched careers into design. I now work as a designer and researcher. I enjoy learning about new technologies and using my problem solving chops to find strategic and innovative solutions.

My path to leaving law firm life wasn’t an easy one. Being a lawyer meant that for most of my adult life, I had been on a path that had been clearly laid out for me. I finished college, took the LSAT, applied to law schools, attended law school, and eventually ended up at a law firm, a path that most law school career centers generally funnel students towards. In leaving the law, I no longer had a clear path laid out for me. Instead, I had to finally do the hard work of figuring out my own non-traditional path.

Law school is often the choice for those who don’t know what to do after college (with the often false promise of a lucrative salary). Even in law school, most often, on-campus recruiting and joining a law firm seem like the path of least resistance (and the path offering the highest likelihood of paying off student loans). While this is the perfect answer for some, for others it leads to unmet expectations and a desire for something different.

‘I LEARNED HOW TO THINK CRITICALLY, ADVOCATE FIERCELY & NEGOTIATE EFFECTIVELY’

Still, looking back, I learned a lot through law school and working as an attorney. The work ethic that I developed, the attention to detail that I honed, and the ability to write as clearly and succinctly as possible were all invaluable skills I gained in the process. I learned how to think critically, advocate fiercely, and negotiate effectively. As I juggled multiple deals at a time, I learned to better manage my time. All to say, that, whether or not I remember the rules for negligence (I do, by the way), I learned valuable skills as a law student and lawyer.

The interesting (or, interesting to me) thing about the legal field is that there’s a whole separate field that’s emerged devoted to helping lawyers leave the law. Studies after studies show that lawyers are unhappy and unsatisfied with their careers. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Florida State Bar found that about 60% of young lawyers are so discouraged with their jobs that they were thinking about changing careers. A 2018 survey conducted by job site, CV-Library, found that about 50% of lawyers disliked their jobs.
Studies show that lawyers are depressed, experience stress and anxiety, and struggle with problematic drinking or drug use. In fact, according to a 2016 study conducted by the ABA, 28% of lawyers experience mild or higher levels of depression, 19% experience anxiety, 23% experience chronic levels of stress, and 20.6% struggle with problematic drinking.
Book after book, blog after blog, and podcast after podcast are dedicated to helping lawyers understand their options and to rehabilitating them to life “after the law”. Some examples include Unhappy Lawyer: A Roadmap to Finding Meaningful Work Outside of the Law, by Monica Parker; coaching program and community called “Leave Law Behind”; and The Former Lawyer Podcast, to name a few. Just google “leaving the law” and parse through the pages and pages of relevant results you’ll find!

MANY LAWYERS FIND SUCCESS, SATISFACTION & HAPPINESS

Obviously, not all lawyers are unhappy. There are many many lawyers who find success, satisfaction, and happiness in their legal careers, whether it’s at a law firm, at the public defender’s office, or elsewhere, and there are many lawyers who leave their traditional legal career behind and find success, satisfaction, and happiness in other paths. After having gone through my own career explorations, I’m always interested to learn about stories of other lawyers, both in traditional and non-traditional settings. I’m always curious to hear about the work they’re doing and how they found the opportunities they did.

Now, I’d like to share these stories. I want to help you, a potentially aspiring attorney, with the age-old question: should I go to law school? I’ll be sharing lawyers’ stories, backgrounds, and experiences. I’ll share what prompted them to go to law school, what their law school experience was like, how their careers panned out, what steps they took to get to where they are now, and if they’d recommend others do the same. I’ll share many diverse perspectives and paint a full picture of who our interviewees are as human beings (and not just lawyers). Maybe you’ll identify with or be able to relate to one of the interviewees. Maybe you’ll find yourself drawn even more to the idea of law school. Maybe you’ll realize that law school is not the path for you. Maybe you’ll realize that you want to get an MBA instead. Maybe you’ll be so tired of reading that you’ll just want to get up and get some ice cream and take a nap. That’s fine too. My goal is to share stories and data with you so that you can make an informed decision about whether law school is the correct path for you.

Let me, the Ghost of Legal Future, show you what might be in store for you…

Author Shefali Lakhani graduated with her JD from Boston University School of Law in 2016 and pursued a career in corporate law at three law firms in New York and Atlanta. Little more than three years into it, she decided that law wasn’t her cup of tea. She now works as an associate UX designer and researcher at John Hancock in Boston.

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