Enrolling in law school comes with such a high financial and emotional cost that you should know what to do with your law degree before taking on such a big commitment.
Many students enter law school with big and unrealistic expectations fueled by a handful of surprisingly common misconceptions that could derail their careers or set them up for failure when reality collides with said expectations. Here are some of the top myths about studying law and the harsh reality behind them.
You’ll learn the actual law in law school.
One common misconception about studying law is that you’ll learn the actual law while in law school. Law schools only teach students how to think like a lawyer rather than giving them the tools to become one. After graduating, you’ll be able to sift through impressive amounts of legalese, analyze complex texts, draw conclusions, understand the rules, and apply those rules to real-world facts on a very basic level.
Actual law changes by the day, so you’ll have to re-learn and readjust once you land a legal job. Also, in order to become a successful legal practitioner, you’ll need to know how to reason. The ugly truth is that law school, unless the professors are stellar, will not teach you how to reason. It is more about memorizing things, networking, and spending time in the library.
Grades are all that matter.
The number one reason so many law students focus exclusively on their GPA is the common myth that only good grades matter when it comes to securing a high-paying position. Most law firms try to hire only the best and magna cum laude added next to your name on the bill can help reassure clients that they have made the right choice when they picked your employer to represent them.
But while grades do matter to land certain positions or being approved for certain interviews, there are other things that are equally important or even more important for a great legal career.
First, you need to also make time for self-exploration in order to find the legal niche that you truly like. Second, in law school, you should also spend time networking as the right people can open the doors wide to opportunities you didn’t even know existed. These two other factors are the mysterious reason law students with a modes t GPA are able to pursue a long and very rewarding career their GPA-obsessed counterparts could only dream of.
I’ll become a lawyer to protect the innocent.
Many law students suffer from the so-called Atticus Finch complex. Finch, the protagonist lawyer in the 1962 cult classic To Kill a Mockingbird, decided to defend a black man against a false charge of rape in a deeply racially segregated Depression-era South, when no other lawyer would have dared to even think of defending the man.
While what Finch did is admirable in an ideal world, it doesn’t always work in reality. It is humanly impossible to work pro bono when struggling with $200,000 in student loan debt when the average income of a law professional has plunged to $49,000 due to an oversaturation of the American market for lawyers.
Also, the poor and underserved in America either cannot afford to hire an attorney or are not aware that their problem could be fixed by an attorney. What is more, in the real world, many poor clients in criminal cases are guilty as charged, so there is little idealistic young defense attorneys can do about it.
Not even in civil cases, as this seasoned Pittsburg personal injury attorney can confirm, will you be protecting the innocent 24/7. Plus, a client may withhold (some parts of) the truth from their attorney for various reasons, so you are in for big surprises and a heap of disappointment if you start to practice with an Atticus Finch mindset.
I’ll know what to do with my life by the time I graduate.
For many people who don’t know what else to do, studying law is “the default choice.” They see law school as an opportunity to buy themselves extra time before making a final career decision while releasing some of the pressure that comes from a well-meaning family to pursue a high-paying career.
But enrolling in law school comes with such a high financial and emotional cost that you should know what to do with your law degree before taking on such a big commitment. Otherwise, you will end up stuck with $3,000+ in student loan payments per month for nearly your entire adult life and a worthless degree.
So, if you don’t know what to do with your life and degree, postpone enrolling in law school. As the saying goes, “When you don’t know what to do … do nothing,” until the answer comes.