Thinking about law school? When considering the cost of attendance, you might wonder: is it worth going to law school? While there are scholarship and aid options available, many people who attend law school view it as a serious long-term investment. Fortunately, all the “insider information” about earning a Juris Doctor (J.D.) is accessible: you just need to know what to look for.
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How Difficult Is Law School?
Is law school hard? There’s no denying that law school students have a lot on their plates. Reading cases, writing essays, practicing hypothetical exam questions, and organizing notes are just a few of the tasks law school students must complete as part of their program. Faced with this list of expectations, you might again wonder: is law school worth it? Being a law school student may be intimidating to some—but nobody expects you to be an expert right away. And at a school with a plethora of academic resources, you’ll likely be prepared to take on the challenge.
Prepare for Law School
Each law school has its own list of admissions requirements. But generally, one important component of many law school applications is your LSAT score. The range for LSAT scores is 120-180. According to Kaplan, one of the country’s leading test prep organizations, the average LSAT score is 151.
How you study for the LSAT and how long it takes you to do so is entirely dependent on you, but those who’ve gone through the process as well as test prep experts have some recommendations. Kaplan for example, argues that you’ll need at least three months of focused studying, though there are people who start preparing about a year in advance. You may have a competitive edge if your LSAT and GPA meet or exceed the median for each law school you apply to. If you’re worried about taking the LSAT, you can explore the numerous online resources that cover what you can expect and provide detailed prep tips, such as our LSAT study guide for aspiring law students.
Remember, your scores are not the only factor considered by admissions committees. Another element of the application is the letter of recommendation. Typically, a law school will ask for at least two letters of recommendation. Most applicants will ask professors or employers to draft the letters. Make time to cultivate meaningful relationships with potential recommenders.
Graduate From Law School
A standard law school requires you to take between 80-90 credits to graduate. During the first year, your schedule will be filled with mandatory foundational courses, such as Torts and Property. First-year students will often have at least two classes per weekday and study for three or more hours per week. While law school classes can be challenging, there are many ways to ensure you don’t fall behind (e.g. office hours, peer tutors, study groups).
How Long Is Law School?
Your mind’s made up to go to law school, but exactly how long is law school? Let’s get into it.
Before going to law school, you need to have completed your bachelor’s degree which typically takes four years. Law school itself is usually shorter than college. Law students may attend law school for three years. However, a few schools offer an “accelerated JD” option where students can earn their degree in two years.
After earning a JD, you can choose to advance your legal knowledge in a specific area with a Master of Laws (LL.M). An LL.M takes one year to complete and is not required to practice as a lawyer, but it may make you a more attractive candidate for your desired position. Online LL.M. programs are also available in the U.S.
What is Law School Like?
Law school is very different from college. In class, professors use the Socratic Method—meaning they randomly call on students to answer questions about assigned readings.
Law school students also engage in experiential learning via the following:
- Legal Internships: Legal internships are designed for law school students who have learned how to research and write like a lawyer. You may find yourself interning at a law firm, mid-size corporation, or other location, practicing your newly acquired skills.
- Legal Clinics: In legal clinics, students represent real-life clients facing real challenges. The idea is to get students to think critically through each scenario, applying their classroom knowledge, and to grow personal skills. Though they are responsible for all elements of the case, they work closely with clinical faculty.
- Mock Trials: As a law school student, you’ll learn how to read and write about law. But what about making an argument in the courtroom? Mock trials give you an idea of what that entails—they are competitive simulations of real trials. Law schools often host these competitions, and interested students form teams. There may be a fee involved so be sure to research the specifics of the competition you wish to participate in.
- Moot courts: Similar to mock trials, moot court gives students an opportunity to research and litigate hypothetical problems. They then receive feedback from faculty and peers.
In addition, some law school students may join a legal journal to refine their writing skills.
After graduating law school, you will need to pass the Bar Exam before you can practice. The Bar is typically offered twice a year, in February and July.
What Knowledge and Skills Can You Learn from Law Schools?
Law school can be a transformative experience for you. Beyond gaining a rich understanding of the law, what do you learn in law school? In short, you learn to think like a lawyer. This entails:
- Writing: All law school students take an intensive legal writing course in their first year. This class will sharpen your ability to write in a clear and concise fashion.
- Research: Whether by working as a research assistant for a professor or conducting independent research for an upper-division writing requirement, you will become an expert at navigating complex literature.
- Oration & Rhetoric. Some law school classes have speaking requirements, but you can also partake in mock trials or moot court sessions to refine your presentation skills.
What Resources Can You Get from Law Schools?
Regardless of what law school you wind up at, be sure to use any available resources. One way to ensure you’re doing so is by staying in contact with your law school’s career services office. They will often offer free resume and cover letter review, connect you with mentors, invite alumni to campus for networking events, host mock interviews, and provide useful information about job opportunities.
You should also get to know your school’s law librarians. They can provide you with helpful information and insights for your essay assignments and show you how to use the complimentary legal research tools, such as Westlaw and LexisNexis, that your law school may provide.
What Are the Expected Salaries and Careers Options for Law School Graduates?
Becoming a lawyer is a serious commitment, but it may offer you the chance to earn an above-average salary. It’s important to note that there are different types of lawyers and salaries may vary from role to role. While there are a number of other factors that affect pay, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the median annual wage for lawyers is $122,960. The highest 10% of lawyers earned median annual earnings of more than $208,000 in 2019.
Some law school graduates forgo serving as a lawyer in order to have more work-life balance. There are many jobs you can do with a law degree and legal-related roles where having a J.D. may be an asset. Whether you’re an arbitrator, law clerk, paralegal, banker, research fellow, or law librarian, there are multiple ways you can apply the skills you’ve gained in law school.
Is Law School Right For You?
If you’re determined to become a lawyer, there’s no debate over why law school is essential to you. Nonetheless, it’s common to question whether you are “right” for law school. In the end, the answer is simple: law school may be worth it if you feel eager to attend after learning what it truly entails.
Still, there are a number of good reasons to go to law school even if you don’t plan to use your J.D. in a typical way. Completing law school may help to sharpen your critical thinking skills, allow you to gain valuable connections, and give you legal expertise that can help you in other spheres (like finance and business). It may also prepare you to represent the vulnerable groups that you’ve always wanted to support or achieve other professional goals that you have.
If you’re worried about having to relocate closer to the school that offers your desired program, you may look into ABA-accredited law schools that provide an online J.D. degree program.
How Can You Choose the Right Law School?
Selecting a law school is a chance to put your analytical skills to the test. When considering a particular law school, you may choose to check its official U.S. News & World Report ranking. This list is updated annually and may help to give you an idea of how prestigious a law school is and how rigorous the program you’re considering is.
While prestige is one factor to consider, it is only a small portion of the overall picture. Law school scholarships, attrition rates, employment outcomes, Bar passage rates: all of these are factors to consider and can be found via the American Bar Association’s official information report generator (all accredited law schools are mandated to publish these reports every year). Digging deeper, you may notice that prestige does not always match up with the employment results you’d expect. To compare schools side by side, you may also check out Law School Transparency’s website.
This data might seem overwhelming, and you may again wonder: is law school worth it? Working through this question, take a moment to define your values. What makes a law school a good choice for you specifically? Maybe you want to work in a big law firm: look up the percentage of graduates who wind up there. If you are interested in public interest, you can target law schools with public interest scholarships. If the school’s culture is important to you, reach out to alumni to see if they speak fondly of their experience. Maybe you are set on living in a certain state: check how many graduates wind up working there.
Before settling on a school and program, conduct comprehensive research. Do not let a law school website or word-of-mouth make your ultimate decision.
What Can You Do to Make Law School Worth It?
Besides attaining a high GPA to stand out when you apply for jobs, you can make law school worth it by challenging yourself outside of the classroom. If the opportunity presents itself, try to get a position on the executive board of a legal journal. Network with an alumni over coffee. Go to events your school hosts. Make time to connect with your peers and support one another. Speak with career services to discuss average salaries of lawyers in different areas or industries. Just like college, law school is an opportunity to not only learn new material, but discover new life lessons. Only you can answer if it is worth going to law school. Attending law school is demanding academically and monetarily. But if after researching, you are still determined to attend law school: apply! For those who are interested in working in the legal field, but not necessarily practicing law, an online Master of Legal Studies is another option to consider.
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Information on this page was last retrieved in October 2020.