Sunday, February 5, 2012
I have had a number of appointments lately with students who wanted to talk about the pros and cons of staying in law school. Some of them were disappointed with their grades. Some had outside family, medical, or financial issues that were weighing on their minds.
If you are asking yourself whether or not law school is right for you, here are some things to consider:
- Why did you originally want to attend law school? Are those reasons still as important to you? Reminding yourself of why you originally enrolled can help to refocus your thinking about law school.
- Were your reasons tied to internal or external motivations? You may well have a mix of motivations. However, when the going gets tough and doubts arise, internal motivations are often more deeply supportive of your chosen path. (Internal motivation examples: I want to help immigrant families with legal problems. I loved working as a paralegal before law school. External motivation examples: My parents told me I should be a lawyer. I got turned down for medical school.).
- Have you changed your mind about what you want to do with a law degree? Some students have doubts because they decide they don't like the original type of law they thought they wanted to practice. That is okay - law includes a multitude of different legal specialties. Some students decide they don't want to work in BigLaw. That is okay - there are many different practice experiences: different sized firms, government work, non-profit agencies, public service. Some students decide that they do not want to practice at all. That is okay - there are a number of alternative careers for law graduates. Explore practice areas and career options with your career services office. Talk to professors and other lawyers about their careers and areas of expertise. If you decide that another graduate degree or work experience matches your career goals better than a law degree, that is the decision you need to make
- Do you enjoy cases, legal concepts, and legal analysis? If you enjoy the daily study of law, that may be a positive indicator to remain. However, if you hate what you are doing, you may be happier in another field of study. Note that enjoying the law is not the same statement as enjoying law school.
- Do you enjoy being in law school most days? Law school is not an easy environment for many reasons. If you are miserable every day, then that is not healthy for you. However, if most of the time you deal positively with the workload and environment and keep your perspective, then you may decide that the issues you have with law school can be handled. Most law schools have academic support professionals who can help you learn ways to study smarter rather than harder and to manage your time well. They can also refer you to other professionals who can help you evaluate any remaining issues.
- Are there family or medical or other priorities that mean you need to leave law school right now? All law students have responsibilities and circumstances that are outside the law school. If those priorities need your focus right now to the exclusion of law school, then you need to do what is necessary to meet those obligations. Consider the best way to meet any personal responsibilities within the options your law school provides.
- What are the options that you have at your law school? You may be able to take a leave of absence, go to part-time status, or have other options at your school. If you decide to leave at this point, make sure you follow proper procedures. If you have financial aid, make sure you understand the ramifications of your choice. If you can keep your options open (for example, a leave of absence), do so.
- Who are the people who can help you with your decision? Talk to faculty, deans, your academic advisor, parents, mentors. Do not try to make the decision by yourself. Find objective people who can help you see the pros and cons. Get as much information as possible from your law school's administration before making a decision. Consider what you will do next if you decide to leave law school - better to have a game plan if at all possible.
Law school may be the very best match for your goals and circumstances. However, law school may be a good match later, but the timing is off now. Finally, if law school is not a good match for you, there is no shame in choosing a different path and walking away from this choice. (Amy Jarmon)