Friday, August 1, 2014
This year, I will be teaching undergraduate, MBA, and law students at Belmont University. As an undergraduate professor, I often advise students considering law school.
I focus on helping prospective law students make an informed decision. Formally or informally, I usually walk the students through a simple cost/benefit analysis. Even with all the information about law schools out there now, most students still need some help navigating.
Usually, I ask prospective law students a lot of questions, including at least some of the ones below.
If readers have constructive additions to my list, please e-mail me or leave a comment. I am always trying to improve my advising.
- Why do you want to go to law school? (The student’s answer can be illuminating. Answers that are essentially – to please my parents or because I don’t know what else to do or because I want to get rich – should cause the student to think a bit harder. I think there is now enough data out there that students can see that there are much better avenues to getting rich than going to law school.)
- Do you understand the total financial cost of going to law school? (See Law School Transparency).
- Do you understand the opportunity cost of going to law school? (There has been a lot written about the financial cost of law school, but the opportunity cost of law school is worthy of more attention. Even if a student receives a full scholarship, they are often giving up $120,000 or more in income over the three years of law school. Also, if the student does not enjoy law school (I enjoyed it, but many don't) then they need to factor in the cost of three painful years.)
- Do you understand the demands of the law school curriculum? (Some weak students are simply not well prepared for the rigors of law school.)
- Do you understand the educational benefits of law school? (While the value of learning to “think like a lawyer” has been called into question by some, critical thinking and writing skills are clearly useful. Whether the benefits are worth the costs is a more difficult question.)
- Do you understand the various career paths of a law graduate? (A number of the career paths taken by law graduates are possible without the costs of a law degree. (E.g., certain government work and many business positions.))
- Do you understand what different types of lawyers do on a daily basis? (Interning for a legal organization (if possible in this economic environment), or at least meeting with a handful of lawyers, can help students better understand what a career in law is actually like. Far too many students get their thoughts on the life of a lawyer from TV shows and movies.)
- Do you understand the bi-modal distribution of entry level lawyer salaries? (Surprisingly, despite valiant efforts of many, quite a few prospective law students are still not aware of the distribution of law graduate salaries).
- Do you know the median salary of graduates of the schools you are looking at and what percentage of graduates actually land jobs as lawyers? (See school's ABA disclosures, e.g., Berkeley Law).
The list is a bit over-focused on the financial side of law school and law practice. Personally, I think finding a career that allows autonomy, mastery, and purpose is more important than finding a career that pays well, but finances should not be overlooked.
These questions are for students who are still not 100% certain they want to go to law school. Once they are informed, and decide that they do want to attend law school, I walk them through things like a proper understanding of the US News Rankings and the strengths and weaknesses of the schools they are considering.