I was first introduced to the idea of going to law school in Mr. Sherman’s 8th grade social study and language arts class. Cait and I were assigned to a project together where we defended a case made by the ACLU. This was in the midst of learning about monumental civil rights decisions made by SCOTUS, and I was fascinated. The fact that sifting through law and finding evidence for and against a situation could translate into every day life was pretty incredible to me. There was power in that for change.
Starting at Gonzaga, I declared my major as Political Science with the full intent on going to law school right after graduation. Obviously, I’m not wrapping up my legal education next year so that didn’t happen. I fell into campaign/community organizing with the Real Food Challenge and became immersed in a grassroots approach to social change. I also loved the topic of food justice and improving the health care sector, which a teeny tiny space in the legal world. The only law school I could find with anything substantial on the topic is, of course, Harvard and it’s Food Law and Policy Clinic.
So I put off the decision for a couple of years. In those years, I have been a paid organizer, worked at a startup, and immersed myself in the tech world of Seattle. That said, I have definitely been feeling the need to go back and really define a skillset for myself and up again pops up the idea of law school! I pulled out some LSAT studying books, started listening to The Law School Toolbox Podcast and began investigating career prospects in the Seattle area.
Every time I have brought up that I’m thinking about going, I have received almost a 50/50 split in responses. I’m curious to see how and if those change given the following facts that I have uncovered.
- Law school is expensive. Like, more than I even realized. At sticker price, my cheapest option is University of Washington School of Law because it is the only public law school in Washington, where I am a resident.
- That price tag, is currently $22,704 per year in tuition alone. Not to mention cost of living in Seattle, books, tutors, etc.
- Law school is a long time. It’s 3 years, which is pretty substantial for most full-time professional degree programs. During that time, the American Bar Association (ABA) also highly discourages students from working because studies are so rigorous and have an impact on your career.
- Where you go to law school, has a direct impact on your legal career for several reasons.
- You’re spending three years there which again shouldn’t be discredited!
- Knowledge of and access to the local legal market
- The legal profession is largely stagnant according to Georgetown Law School’s 2016 Report on the Legal Market .
- Demand hasn’t changed much since 2008
- There is some demand for changing the structure of law firms, but they are still overwhelmingly the employers that young attorneys want based on pay and prestige
These are all reasons why going would be a challenge and they are all thresholds that have to be crossed before becoming a lawyer (oh yeah, the Bar Exam is a thing too.)
So why become a lawyer?
According to the American Bar Association, women still make up only 36% of the legal profession (though the gap is closing in law schools) but the numbers are more stark in private practice. Hillary Clinton was one of the first women ever in the United States to make partner at a prestigious law firm and the situation hasn’t improved much since then.
There is a lot of good legal work to be done. Rewarding legal work. The kind of work that any well-intentioned justice-seeking individual would want to do. Unfortunately, that kind of work is definitely not the norm, everyone wants to do it, and it doesn’t pay. In short, your job prospects after law school become either basically being an indebted legal worker for 20 years in an underpaid position and then get your loans forgiven, or suffer through 5-10 years at a corporate job, pay off your loans and have a decent savings and then start tackling the good stuff. That is, if you can handle the stress/pressures and increased rates of depression that are characteristic of lawyers.
If you can’t hear from the tone of my writing, I’m skeptical. I’m really not sure if the legal profession is the place the do the most good, or worth the physical, mental and financial costs. It is a practice that has literally withstood the test of time, and I believe always will, but it is at a turning point.
To my friends in law school, actively pursuing law school, or current lawyers — I commend you. I hope you go on to use your certification to do incredible, meaningful things. I’m simply not sure I have the stamina or drive at this point in my life to accept these burdens in the hope of making a positive impact. Rather, I’m pretty sure I can make a positive impact on the world around me in other ways and for the time being, I think I will look more into those.
Thanks for reading! I’ve genuinely been trying to get as many responses from people as possible but felt necessary to explain the pretense for the discussion. I’ve also done a lot of research on the law school process, so feel free to reach out if you have any questions.