Over the years, many people who are/were considering law school have asked me to share my thoughts about getting a degree and practicing law. Most recently, Melanie Malka Cohn, a woman who had read a blog post, contacted me with regard to these questions and others concerning mediation. With her permission, I am sharing some of what we discussed, (as well as that she is 44 years old, with five children, and in line with her personal beliefs, “decided to have a family first and then pursue a career”), since it may be of interest to others as well.
I will preface this post by saying that many lawyers do wonderful things and change the world for the better through their efforts. One example that comes to mind is a professor I had while in law school, Toby Golick, a nationally recognized leader in legal services and education. Among her other accomplishments, Professor Golick has for decades practiced and taught others to work in the areas of elder law and welfare law, serving those who would likely have no recourse without her expert assistance.
And lawyers don’t have to serve the elderly and indigent to be doing something worthwhile. Attorneys can, and do, represent all sorts or clients, responding to diverse needs in an ethical manner. Additionally, many people who leave law practice (or choose not to go into it after graduating) are still very happy to have had the education, along with the opportunities that may have come with it.
All that said, law school isn’t for everyone, and perhaps this post and the ones to follow will help you as you decide whether it is right for you.
Attending law school is, of course, a major commitment. Generally, it takes three years to complete, and comes with large tuition fees and other costs. The job market for attorneys is uncertain. The nature of the practice of law is changing. Are you contemplating a legal career? If so, I would urge you to:
- carefully assess your current situation (financial and otherwise);
- examine your own feelings and attitudes realistically;
- learn about what practicing attorneys really do; and,
- conduct research, to the extent possible, as to what job opportunities are likely to be available upon graduating.
In other words, learn everything you can so you can make the best decisions for yourself; what is referred to in mediation as ‘informed-decision making’, a subject I’ve been blogging about.
Your current situation:
A good place to start may be to assess where you are now. If you don’t already have a budget, it would probably be worthwhile to create one, so that you are fully aware of your incomes and expenses. Your assets and debts may also figure into your ultimate decisions.
Look up the cost of law school tuition. Most schools charge a pretty hefty fee. Financial aid may be available; but it doesn’t make sense for everyone. Aid in the form of loans can lead to debt that may be difficult to repay, as the New York Times reminded us once again last week (Student Debt Is Worse Thank You Think, Oct. 7, 2015).
Ms. Cohn has a pretty good handle on these questions, and told me that she wants to find out about the City University of New York (CUNY) law school, which has a price tag that is a bargain, relatively speaking. She’ll be attending the school’s open house to learn more.
In addition to fees, other obvious costs are for food and housing. Would you be paying more than you do now to live at or near the school? Would you go to restaurants more often and do less cooking – which would add to your food budget? Check on other school-related expenses, such as for books, and less obvious ones like buying a good suit.
Where will the money come from? How are your expenses likely to change – up or down – over the next few years? Are you already in debt, due to undergraduate studies or for other reasons? Could you live with your parents to save money? Would you be willing to? Would they?
Are you in a relationship? Have you discussed with your partner what getting a degree involves? Do you have children or other family members who depend on you? The first year of law school especially takes up a lot of time; and it may well be that your partner has to pick up the slack when you’re not available. Many parents, single and married, turn to day care, a very important service that can be pricey.
Next: Part 2, Tomorrow: Examining your own feelings and attitudes realistically
All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.