Learn about what practicing attorneys really do:
Think about what areas of law might interest you, as Ms. Cohn has; and then learn what you can about them. How does a criminal defense lawyer typically spend her day? You can be sure it is very different than how a contract attorney spends most of his time.
What environment would you like to work in? A small firm? Large firm? Government agency? Non-profit? Start your own practice? Do you think that you would like to be a litigator? Visit a courthouse and sit in on cases that are open to the public.
Ms. Cohn is fortunate in that she has a close relative who is a long time lawyer. Though living in another part of the country, she can have the experience of reviewing documents and engaging in research for him. Plus, that of discussing actual cases.
She is also giving a lot of thought to applying for an internship, which can be a great way to get experience. (This will take time, and probably won’t pay much, if at all; but weigh that against learning that you are on the right path (or not), gaining knowledge and confidence, and maybe even making good contacts, and an internship makes sense to me.)
Ms. Cohn and I talked about other ways to find people to learn from as well. With Facebook, Linkedin and other sites, you can pretty easily reach out to those doing what you’d like to know more about, just as Ms. Cohn did in contacting me, though we were strangers to one another. It is understandable if you are nervous about taking such a step. All I can say is that, in my experience in reaching out, many people have been happy to speak with me on the phone, or even to meet. I, too, try to make time for those who reach out to me. (Some people will refuse; a few may be less than pleasant; it isn’t a terrible thing. Be courteous and respectful of the person’s time, know what you want to discuss, and don’t ask for a job. You will probably find a good number of people who feel flattered and are willing to share information.)
I wrote earlier that the practice of law is changing. As it turns out, Ms. Cohn’s relative who is offering to help her gain experience is a general practitioner, and has been one for decades. From what I’ve read, there aren’t too many of those left; most lawyers by far have a specialty these days. So, even if Ms. Cohn wanted to become a general practitioner, that option may not be realistic in today’s world. When you speak with people, ask what they expect to see in their practice areas in five and ten years from now.
What job opportunities will be available?
Are you open to spending over (maybe a lot over) $100,000 for your law school years? Don’t assume you’ll earn that much coming out of law school. Every year, there are graduates who do; but, many more don’t. Are you aware that there may be too many lawyers and not enough legal jobs? That many law graduates who want to practice aren’t able to, and so have taken non-legal positions? That the debt for at least some law school graduates is crushing?
Fewer people have been applying to law schools recently, because the legal job market has been tough. That should help those who do apply; but when and how much are questions worth exploring.
Conclusion: I would never tell anyone whether to go to law school or not. It is a personal, and sometimes a family decision. I hope that this post can get you thinking about important factors that may not have previously occurred to you.
Finally, I would say that students should really be committed to becoming attorneys; they should really want it. (If you’ve read this far, maybe that’s you.) It is not something to do on a whim, or because you don’t know what you want to do, or because one of your parents did it. If you do it, do it for the right reasons. Discuss it with your family. Learn what you would be getting yourself into. Have in mind what it will realistically cost; and, what you’ll realistically be able to earn afterward.
As for Ms. Cohn, I wouldn’t be surprised to get a call from her again – letting me know that she has been admitted to a law school’s graduating class of 2019.
As for you, please let me know whether this post has been helpful, share your comments, and tell me what you decide to do.