I’m Considering Law School

So, this may seem like a weird question, but I’m currently a college student considering going to law school, and have stumbled upon your site. Is this the general sentiment among all lawyers, or are there some who actually enjoy it? What type of person would make a good lawyer (and would enjoy it)? In short, would you suggest going into law?

Look, I can’t tell you whether or not to go to law school.  I’ve never met you.  I know nothing about you.  But I can give a few pieces of advice.

One, Bitter Lawyer is meant to be somewhat satirical.  It’s not a literal, exact description of practicing law.  But it does capture an honest, realistic emotion that I believe resonates with many lawyers—bitterness and frustration.  It’s just a plain ol’ fact that lots of lawyers are unhappy.  They just are.  But so are many doctors, bankers, television writers and ad executives.  Lawyers don’t have a monopoly on career misery.  There are lots of happy and content lawyers out there.  (Okay, not “lots,” but they exist.  I even know a few.)

Two, the practice of law is rigorous and unglamorous.  Don’t expect to be jet-setting around the globe, sipping cocktails with fashion models and rock stars.  Even if you’re an entertainment lawyer and you represent them, you won’t be kicking it poolside with them in Ibiza.  Lawyers spend most of their time researching, drafting, writing and analyzing.  That means they spend most of their time alone in their office with piles of documents on their desk.

Three, not all lawyers do the same thing.  There’s a big difference between working at a big, swanky New York firm, being a solo practitioner in Moline, Illinois, and serving as a Public Defender in Oakland.  There’s a big difference in salaries too.  A simple rule of thumb: The more miserable the job, the higher the compensation.  And the inverse, of course, is the cooler the job, the lower the salary.  Sorry.

But the most important nugget of wisdom I can impart is that you should only go to law school if you actually want to be a lawyer.  Sounds simple, I know, but it might save your life—or your career.  Don’t listen to random friends and uncles who say things like, “Law school is a great training ground for business,” or, “It’s a versatile degree, you can do anything you want with it.” The unassailable truth is that law school prepares you to be a lawyer.  Nothing else.  Of course, lots of lawyers end up leaving the law and move on to other, more exciting professions (read some of our ex-lawyer interviews).  But it’s not that easy to find those awesome, non-legal jobs.

Lastly, if you’re on the fence, take a year off and work as a paralegal at a Big Firm.  Seeing with your own eyes is more valuable than talking to friends and career counselors.  Going to law school is a significant time and financial investment, so make sure you’re committed to the profession before you commit 150 grand.  Got it?

Got a question for Ex-Bitter? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

40 Comments

  1. Al Dickman

    December 22, 2008 at 4:57 am

    Good luck to you, fella.  Unless the folks or a sugarmommy are going to be bankrolling you, you’d do well to listen to the blog poster here.  3 years is a long time to spend preparing to do something you are not clear you want to do.  Also, don’t expect the babes to melt when you come up to them and tell them you’re a law student (or a lawyer).  There are plenty of other jobs out there with more sex appearl, and shows like Boston Legal has done nothing major to enhance the image of the profession.  If I were you, just starting out, I’d get the best work experience I can now, maybe for a year or two.  If after that time you say I really got to be a lawyer, then you’ll have the maturity to make it through and do better in school.  Then, when you graduate, you’ll have a better job at competing for a good job.  Hopefully the economy will be better by then and we can all sit back at the pool, admiring the female scenery again.

  2. Pacific Reporter

    December 22, 2008 at 8:16 am

    This is sound advice. You should have added “Don’t go to law school unless you get into a tier-1 school.”

  3. Anonymous

    December 22, 2008 at 9:43 am

    I dsiagree with Pacific Reporter.  If you want to be a lawyer, go to the best school you get into.  If you want to work at top tier firm, then only go if you get into a great school.

  4. Stupid Stupid Stupid

    December 22, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Look, there are people in every field who are disgruntled. Don’t go into law because of the prestige or money. Go into law because you have a genuine love for it. That is where most mess up. They go into law because they expect to get rich, that rarely happens. Figure out what you want out of life and choose your career based off of that. Although Dickman is harsh sometimes, he does give rather good advice. Don’t get into law for dumb fantasies that you may have seen from Boston legal or the practice. Research the field and choose from that and that only. Get out and talk to actual lawyers face to face. Don’t settle for idiots who go to a web page day after day to complain about their miserable lives (although I come to get a laugh everyday). Grow up and research.

  5. Alex Hump

    December 22, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Go to law school, man, it’s a great babe magnet.  I got so much action in law school that I almost couldn’t study.  The undergrads at my school (a large Midwestern University) all wanted to go out with(in my book “screw”) a law student.  That way, when they came home, they could tell mommy and daddy they were “dating” (i.e. screwing) a law student.  If you want a great time, go to a big school with decent undergraduate women.  You will have to make sure you can handle the schoolwork amidst all of the sex.

  6. Alex Hump

    December 22, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Oh, and I forgot–do NOT look to the law school to provide you with suitable female companions.  You will simply NOT find legal women worth going out with.  Nearly all of women law students are very masculine, and quite argumentative. I expect this will get worse over time as the bottom of the barrel winds up going to law school looking to be the next Marisa Hartigay from Law and Order.

  7. Bitterer

    December 22, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Don’t go to law school unless you hate yourself.  Trying it out as a paralegal is bad advice, it’s a completely different job and DOES NOT give you any meaningful window into the actual experience of practicing law.  It gives you experience into being a paralegal, totally different.  I have seen many many paralegals eagerly moving on to the slaughterhouse of law school with visions of dollar signs prancing in their heads.  They fail at life and never listen.  DO ANYTHING ELSE.

  8. Bitterer

    December 22, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Having a law degree is like a scarlet letter in the non-legal job market.  You will do better telling employers that you didn’t have a job for those three years because you were in prison.

  9. whatever

    December 22, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    If you need to ask on this site, don’t go!

    Going to law school is a decision that you really must WANT to make.  If you aren’t into it from this point, and you need to ask questions of a community of disgruntled lawyers, you just don’t have the drive that it will take to be a decent lawyer.

    Go to law school because you want to be a lawyer.  No other reasons.  Otherwise you are better off spending the 200k on something much more fun.

  10. John

    December 22, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Go to law school.  You’ll have the respect of non-lawyers.  Your family will be proud.  You’ll make a decent living.  You’ll score a better spouse, drive a better car, live in a better neighborhood ……….. You can help people and feel good about yourself because you’re making a difference.  And, last, but not least, thanks to retards like the lawyers on this site who make up the bottom of the barrel in terms of legal ability, you’ll be one of the best lawyers around.  How are you going to be a good lawyer?  You’re going to love what you do and not be “bitter”.  Merry Christmas.

  11. confused

    December 22, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Hello, I have a question regarding choice:
    I am waiting on answers from about 15 more schools, but I have been accepted full scholarship to a LOW T3 and room and board.  I don’t want to go there per se, but its in the area I can see myself practicing in and according to people (not associated with the school) its “rising”.  I’m unsure of what to do, especially if I get into a better, T2 school and probably will have to pay full tuition.  I’m not necessarily after Big Law either, but I have experience in the justice system and am confident of my choice to pursue law school.  Any insights welcome.

  12. seymour butte

    December 22, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    first sober up, second get your letters of recomdendation, third take the lsat, fourth calculate your monthly student loan payment for the school your eyeing and then flip a coin..

  13. Alvin Arsewipe

    December 23, 2008 at 3:29 am

    Confused, go to the best law school you can.  No one is going to get poon tang 10 years down the road from a crappy school.  The tuitiion then will be forgotten, and when all you’ll be able to think of is:  Why can’t I get tail like that? —you’ll have your answer.  Top school = top tail.  Go for it, dude.

  14. EX-ASSOCIATE

    December 23, 2008 at 7:14 am

    I will give you the advice that I gave my sister when she was considering going to law school: Think about it long and hard and only go if you know that is what you want. It is challenging, time consuming and expensive.  That said, it is also very rewarding. A law degree can open a lot of doors, but it can also limit you if you find yourself forced to take a job you don’t like just to make enought to pay off your debts and bank role your new lifestyle…

  15. Bitterer

    December 23, 2008 at 7:53 am

    LOL @ the commenters below.  I’m the only one that tells the truth on this site.  Law school opens no doors except the door into a miserable life of meaningless paperpushing while you sit in your office filled with stacks of paper by yourself all day every day wishing you weren’t in 6 figure debt in the worst economy in a generation.  That’s if you’re lucky enough to get a job at all when every top firm is laying off or thinking about it, cutting bonuses and freezing salaries.  You will NOT I repeat NOT get the respect or admiration of society, you will be surrounded by shallow, status-seeking social retards and you will NOT have time to have a thriving social or family life.  Don’t believe the hype STAY AWAY AND DO ANYTHING ELSE.

  16. Anonymous

    December 23, 2008 at 9:21 am

    re Bitterer’s post:  word.  He speaks the truth.  Props.  You should’ve entered most bitter contest.

  17. Legally Brunette

    December 23, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    I don’t know what it’s like to actually practice yet, but being in law school is surprisingly fun.  You’ll get to read interesting cases, and hear amusing yet informative anecdotes from your professors.  Civ Pro may have been a snooze, but hearing stories about Supreme Court justices (one of whom was my professor’s reasearch asst. back in the day) was priceless.  Not to mention the experience of the terrifying (but also adrenalin-producing) Socratic method. Granted, exams aren’t fun but even spending hours in the library is not so bad, providing you are fortified w/ snacks and maybe a hot chocolate with whipped cream. 

    And while I disagree with his reasons, Alvin is correct about picking a high ranked school.  Reputation is critical, so pick the best-ranked school you get into, regardless of whether it puts you further in the hole.  Higher ranking = more job options for you down the road.

    Good luck!

  18. Experience Talks

    December 23, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    My advice, if you love the law become a lawyer.  If you love the money, become a bitter lawyer.  And if you’re not sure, become a plumber.

  19. kh

    December 23, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Only go if you get into a top law school.  If you don’t, do something else and (maybe) try to get into a better school in a few years.

  20. CorporateGrrl

    December 23, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    I have been a lawyer for only 2 1/2 years, so perhaps I am not bitter yet…but to me the most rewarding part of the job is that the lawyer is the person with all the answers.  People need help, knowledge and advice, and you (by virtue of your education and training) are the one who possesses these things. You have the power to solve other people’s problems (at least some of the time).
    Yes, you will push a lot of paper, but many other jobs also involve paper pushing.
    In my opinion, lots of different kinds of people can be successful lawyers. You don’t have to be an aggressive asshole to be good at transactional work, for example.
    Just PLEASE think about the student loan burden you will incur by going to law school. I could be driving an extremely fancy car for the loan payment I have to make every month.

  21. Law Dude

    December 23, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Confused,

    The difference between a T3 and T2 school is insignificant. Take the T3 with no debt over the T2 with debt.  Know that both options suck.  If you can’t get into T1, you probably shouldn’t bother going to law school.  But it you must go, do so while only suffering the opportunity cost of three years’ of real work.

  22. Bitterer

    December 23, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    I do this for the karma.  You kids out there, look up the new bankruptcy law changes.  You can no longer bankrupt out of your $150K+ loans, period.  You are stuck with that for life.  That’s a very, very, very big deal.  One of my friends has over $300K due to expensive undergrad, she dislike law school and hates practice and is now in despair.  I live in a rat hole and through blood sweat and tears have mine down to $60K after 5 years and after the novelty wears off in year 3 or 4 you will learn to hate it.  There is a strange breed of people that are good at law and enjoy it, they are nice enough but missing a screw or two in their head imho.  Bottom line, if you are smart and hardworking enough to get into a top 5 law school, which is absolutely your only decent option in this market, then you are more than smart enough to succeed at something else that is far more rewarding.  The only hard part is figuring out what that is and you have to do the very difficult introspection on your own.  Do it now or pay $150/hour to do it in your late 30s in therapy.  LEX DELENDA EST

  23. CorporateGrrl

    December 24, 2008 at 5:39 am

    I went to a T2 school, and I am doing fine. I had no trouble getting a job. No, I didn’t make $160K my first year out, but after reading this site I am very glad I did not go to work for a big firm.

  24. amanda

    December 24, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Great advice!  I wish I had it before I went.  I went to law school on a whim, and now I hate being a lawyer.  But I have no other skills (my religion major surprisingly didn’t help me find any business-type jobs), and I have no money to get a new degree and I’ll be paying student loans on law school till I’m 70.  Do PR for liquor or beer companies, that is a fun job.

  25. anon

    December 27, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    Go to law school if you get a scholarship… or enjoy enormous debt loads

  26. canadouche

    December 29, 2008 at 9:36 am

    i’m a lawyer at a big law firm and i love what i do.  i’m in litigation (so maybe i get some added stimulation that the corporate lawyers/solicitors don’t get) but its true.  that said, if i didnt love this job, it would be the worst job ever.  because its not a job, its a profession.  if you dont love what you do, don’t become a lawyer.  there are alot of easier ways to make money.  but if you love it….loving it and getting paid well….thats a nice combination.

  27. Bitterer

    December 29, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    I don’t know litigation it’s a totally different job than corporate, I do know plenty of people that hate litigation too.  Anyway you’re better off in a profession where people don’t refer to themselves as “CorporateGrrl” without any irony of the lameness of that or “Canadouches” or any kind of douches but instead have high self esteem and respect for themselves and others.  Most lawyers I know seem to suffer from fragile raging egos combined with low self esteem and OCD complex, the girls are unattractive label wh0res and the dudes are either flat out nerds or the “cool” ones make low rent locker room style jokes about the female associates.  Most lawyers seem to have OCD also, as jeff foxworthy might have said, if you can’t read a blog post without correcting the punctuation, you MIGHT be lawyer material.

  28. FooFooEsq

    December 30, 2008 at 6:20 am

    200K in the hole – graduated in ‘00! Hard to get jobs that pay 6 figures anymore (finally make a sixer and pay nearly 1/3 in taxes, FICA and healthcare) – unless you sell your sole to a firm and the firms are not stable right now. Love what I do (subject matter) but not the stress … and the loans $1800/month … 30 years … think about it … really hard!

  29. FooFooEsq

    December 30, 2008 at 6:23 am

    Opps … so stressed -didnt proofread … meant soul not sole … but hey your probably selling both since in a firm you also have to canvas the area for clients … gotta have that book o’ clients!

  30. wiggy wiggy wiggy

    December 30, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    It is an understatement to say law school is a significant financial commitment.  Call me in 20 years when I am done paying off the loans.

  31. Anonymous

    December 31, 2008 at 11:25 am

    run.  get your mba.

  32. WIncredulous

    January 1, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Being a lwayer for a big firm SUCKS the life out of you.  Don’t think it’s all fancy dinners and cool projects…they want your ass in a chair, 24/7 billing hours.  Screw your family, screw an outside life—mammon is the only freaking thing they care about.

  33. Anonymous

    January 1, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Don’t do it.

  34. Chainsaw

    January 2, 2009 at 6:28 am

    Ex-Bitter is spot on.  I skillfully talked myself into going to law school.  I thought those in my class who bailed when they figured out law wasn’t their bag were sad losers.  Oh, how I wish I’d had that much sense!  Trying to parlay law credentials into a non-law job is an uphill battle.  For every hiring manager who values the JD, there are ten who are convinced you’ll be far more trouble than you’re worth.

  35. Lex Capri Fellat

    January 2, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Accumulating the slightest bit of debt to go to law school is absolutely insane.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    January 6, 2009 at 1:06 am

    “The more miserable the job, the higher the compensation.  And the inverse, of course, is the cooler the job, the lower the salary.”
    Ah, you big firm lawyers who never heard of insurance defense.  Miserable job with low salary.
    The best advice about law school is probably this: if you are doing it because you love the law and want to make money at it, you must go to a top school.  The school you go to will be the decision about hiring you 90% of the time.  If your undergrad grades are from a decent school and over 3.5 GPA, then you have a shot.  Take an LSAT class and get a 90th percentile or higher mark and you can write your own check in 3 years.
    If you cannot go to a top 10 law school or the best regional school in the area you want to practice, then accept the fact that you will not make much money for a long time, if ever.
    The typical pattern is: your LSAT determines what school you get into.  Your school and 1L grades determine what job you get.  Your first job determines the course of your career.
    Don’t rely on the virtues of meritocracy… it really is this stupid.
    If you’re independently wealthy or plan on working on a PhD afterward anyway… go for it.  Most law schools give the most interested students a good education despite reputation.

  37. Hannah Palindrome

    January 7, 2009 at 12:01 am

    If you don’t know if you should go to law school…DON’T GO!!!

    Go to medical school & become a world class plastic surgeon. That’s where the money & plastic women are hanging out.

    Good Luck!

  38. Leonor Navarro

    January 8, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Practicing law is enjoyable only if you work for yourself. 

    Working under more senior attorneys is miserable.  My last employer took all the joy out of law and the only way to get the joy back was to go solo.  Since starting my practice I have learned to love the law again.  The experience has made me a better lawyer.

  39. Happy Solo

    January 24, 2009 at 9:26 am

    There’s another way besides BigLaw.  I became a Solo right after law school.  I started out doing court-appointed work and private work.  Now, almost all of my work is private.  I am very happy with what I do, and am making a good six figure salary (even after expenses and taxes). 
    As a happy solo, I am not bitter.  But, the life of a solo is not all milk and honey, either.  Quite frankly, a lot of solos are not as financially successful as I am.  I’m very fortunate. 
    Also, I had to drop doing cases I ended up not liking so as to do more of what I do like.  This transition took more than a year.  Prior to the transition, I was not all that happy with my career.  In an nutshell, I was doing too much criminal law (trials and appeals) day after day, and was getting burnt out from the clients and what comes with being in court all the time. 
    Luckily, as a Solo, I was the master of my own fate.  I recognized what was going on, came up with a plan to change my practice, and now things are much better.  As a Solo, I could do whatever I wanted to do.
    So, remember, there’s more to the law than being an employee.  You can be Self-Employed and be the Employer.  All in all, it rocks!

  40. MrPerson

    January 30, 2009 at 4:43 am

    Guys I have a similar sort of question.
    I’m going to be brutally honest. You might think insane. But Just honest.
    I’m a miserable lonely bastard and I enjoy life that way. I enjoy sitting alone in a dark room reading. I never read fiction. I love rules. I love consistency. I believe that the law, no matter what it does is the first step towards fairness the human race has ever taken.
    Girls don’t like me I fail at most things that I do. When I hear people say they do not want to go to law school or want to make it in the corporate world I think they must be very big people. I come to the realization I am a very small person. That small smidgen of respect one might gain from being a lawyer would put a spark of sunshine onto my life.
    Then there is money. I want money. I want to be a little bit powerful.
    I’m the type of guy you could have a couple of beers with an we’ll talk shit about cunts and assholes to the sun comes up but I’m no life of any party.. I need something to do.
    At the moment I have one of those perfect government jobs. I earn around the $65,000 per year. I am 25 years old.
    If I can’t be a lawyer I’d at least like to learn the law. I’ve looked into schools but they’re so damned expensive I can’t justify it with no guarantee of any sort of a job.
    What about working as a paralegal ? How would one get into that sort of job ? I am built like a linebacker but I’d only want to be a paralegal to become a lawyer.
    There is also the police. What about police prosecutors ? How would I go about that. How would I go about getting some sort of assistance to get law school paid for. My employer has a legal department but I am too shit scared to ask for fear of looking like a fool.
    Also I skated through college so I’d need to do some additional study to get admitted. But I’ve only got a three year degree (Business) anyway and it needs upgrading.
    The other option is that I just enjoy my above average salary.. and oodles of free time… Hhhmm not so bad.
    On the other hand 200k could buy a lot of hookers and a lot of booze. I’d also get to argue, be a petty prick and learn the law. I bet you guys understand how useful it is to learn the law.

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