Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings (Part Six): “So, How is the Law?”

“Oh, sweetheart, you don’t need law school. Law school is for people who are boring and ugly and serious. And you, button, are none of those things.”  Legally Blonde (2001)

Our lovely daughter Katelin is studying cultural anthropology and business at SUNY Geneseo. Her friends are all nice, interesting people, and we have enjoyed spending time with them. It’s fun to see things from their perspective. During a recent visit, one of her friends surprised me with the title question: “So, how is the law?” I wasn’t sure how to respond. The law has been good to me. I am less sure it is a good career for twenty-somethings. I am not encouraging Katelin to go to Law School and did not want to encourage her friends to attend either. Here are some sobering statistics:

  • In 2009, the median salary for new Law School graduates was $72,000. In 2010, it was $63,000.  The national mean salary for attorneys was $93,454 in 2009, and $84,111 in 2010.
  • The average debt for Law School graduates is $75,500. That’s a lot of Cheetos.
  • The number of applicants to Law Schools was 83,400 in 2008 and 87,900 in 2010.

If you are considering Law School after graduation, please keep the following points in mind:

  • Law School can prepare you to do many things. You don’t necessarily need to practice law after you graduate.  We live in a society governed by the rule of law. Knowing what the rules are, or more importantly knowing how to figure out what the rules are, is a valuable skill in many areas.
  • If you go to Law School, you will want to spend at least some part of your career in the private practice of law. Three-fourths of Law School graduates are in private practice. It is where the jobs are and where the money is. Fortunately, it is also the best way to learn what it means to be a lawyer who zealously represents her clients. If you spend your entire career in government service or with a corporation as your client, you will miss out on this important perspective.
  • Avoid taking on too much debt. Apply to a number of Law Schools and pick the one that is the best deal. If you spend $40,000 per year to make $60,000, it will take longer for the investment to pay off.  If your third choice school is offering you a scholarship, it may pay off financially to accept it.  Student loans are easy money, until it is time to pay them back. You want to minimize your debt burden to give yourself flexibility after you graduate.
  • Don’t mess around once you start Law School. You need to graduate near the top of your class to get a great job in such a competitive market. I am 15 years out of Law School but still have my GPA and Law School ranking on my resume. You will carry those statistics around with you for the rest of your career.
  • Go to Law School near where you want to live. I went to Albany Law School. It is the best place to go if you want to practice law in Albany. There are some Law Schools that have a national reputation. You can go anywhere with a Harvard or Yale Law School degree.  A regional Law School is perfectly fine, though, if you know were you want to live.

One thought on “Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings (Part Six): “So, How is the Law?”

  1. I have found that, unless one really needs to “practice law,” law school isn’t necessary. By merely watching The Paper Chase 20 times and asserting oneself, one can intimidate apparatchiks who try to deny one service just because there is no notary bump on the power of attorney document one’s Mom sent over before she died.

    Defense rests, your honor.

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