“Should I go to law school?” is a good question to ask if you’re stuck on what to do after college. Being a lawyer is a prestigious and well-respected profession with a lot of earning potential, but it will take a lot of time, money and more than a little determination for you to get that far. Having a law degree can be a springboard into other fields and professions (politics, business, finance) but there are over a million lawyers in the US with the same degree. But even before you start dreaming of the millions you’ll earn as corporate in-house counsel or the righteous causes you’ll take up pro-bono, you need to cross the gauntlet that is law school. This article will tell you what you need to meet or exceed , but, more importantly, what skills and attributes you need to succeed at any of the best or the US.
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Getting into law school is the easy part; it’s what comes after that you need to prepare for. show that the median acceptance rate for most and is around 40%, which is quite competitive. But another statistic you should think about is the attrition rate for law students. In the US, the law school attrition rate is around 17%, meaning a majority of law students actually drop out of law school before graduating.
The reasons most people drop out of law school has to do with:
- Poor grades/performance
- Unpreparedness for the rigors of law school
- Reality did not meet expectations
- Unwillingness or inability to meet standards
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The average law school acceptance rate coupled with the relatively low attrition rate suggests many people think they can cut it based solely on the fact that they can get in. Of course, getting into law school in the first place is not a walk in the park, but there are ways, and you can take the entrance exam for law students – the LSAT – many times before you apply, which gives you a chance to increase your score to more competitive levels.
Aside from the need to meet , you also need to be prepared mentally for the demands of learning about the law, which, evidently, can be overwhelming for some. To survive and excel at law school, you’ll need to be:
If you don’t have any of these skills, you’ll either need to develop them during your undergrad or choose another career path. You can give yourself an even bigger challenge and develop them while you’re in law school, which is entirely possible, but it would be better for you to go into law school equipped with these qualities.
But you’ll also need more tangible attributes to succeed, such as:
- Analytical and communication skills
- Empathy/compassion, but also objectivity
- Ability to retain a lot of information
- Problem-solving skills
- Intellectual curiosity
- Passion for the law
These are things that you might have naturally or developed them during your undergrad, but they are key to getting you through the tireless hours in the library, mock trials, advocacy work, externships and internships and for your post-graduate life, which could diverge into several different directions. To fully prepare for law school, you should also have an idea of what the day-to-day grind of life as a law student looks like, which we’ll discuss later.
As with any professional pursuit (doctor, engineer, nurse) having a substantial reason or personal motivation will give you the fuel to power through all your lectures and classes, the endless hours of studying obscure legal texts and your internships or externships, which a lot of law students begin doing in their first year.
Having the proper motivation is important, because sailing into law school on lofty, unsubstantial dreams of riches and prestige will only take you so far. You’ll either find that the work is not worth the illusory reward or that there are easier ways to attain wealth and recognition. You’ll also need to have a clear idea of what you want to do after law school, and what you need to do to achieve those goals.
- Should you pursue a graduate degree or specialization?
- Should you go into the public or private sector?
- Do you want to set up your own practice or join a law firm?
Answering these questions before law school will help you map out your studies and give you an idea of what and experiences you need to pursue to achieve these goals. Of course, you may not have the answer to these questions yet, and it is perfectly normal to decide on a career path while in law school, but, if you want to stay in law, eventually, you should develop a career plan.
That’s the amount of time you need to get a JD degree in Canada and the US, although the intensity of the day-to-day work will make time move torturously slow. But getting your JD degree is only the first step, at least in Canada. Prospective lawyers in Canada have to pass through the Canadian legal profession’s version of residency for medical graduates, which is articling.
If you’re in the US, you don’t have to worry about this, and you can pretty much take the state bar exam right after law school, and, if you pass, get a job. But, in Canada you have to gain practical experience in the law through a ten- or twelve-month-long placement working under experienced, licensed attorneys. You can choose to work with a single lawyer, at a government posting, or with a large firm, if you are able. Articling is mandatory and it is also competitive, since as with medical residencies, you have to apply for, interview, and be accepted to a position.
Opinion is split on whether the articling process should still exist, but since it is still a requirement, you need to prepare for this inevitability if you want to be a lawyer in Canada. Some provinces have introduced alternatives to the articling requirement, but you need to check with the law society in your province about what the requirements are, and whether there are any alternatives (for example clerking for a judge or co-op programs). After you’ve completed the articling requirement in your province, then you can write the Barrister and Solicitor exams that you need to get your law license.
Preparing for a single class can require anywhere between reading 30-50 pages of dense legal texts, or more if the class is particularly difficult and you’re struggling to keep up. If you have up to five classes a week, which is the average for most first-year law students, that’s between 150-250 pages for every class.
But you also have to memorize all this information, because the way classes are structured in law school means you can’t simply hide and not participate. Law schools are upfront about how they teach, which is with the Socratic method.
What is the Socratic method?
Picture a professor roaming the aisles of a lecture hall giving their lecture but then randomly asking an unsuspecting student about tort or contract law in Victorian England. That unsuspecting student could be you, and if you haven’t done the reading for that class, you’ll probably come up empty. Obviously, you won’t have the answer all the time, but that’s the built-in motivator with the Socratic method; if you want to avoid the embarrassment of not having the answer, you’ll have to master memorization and recall to answer your professor’s questions during class.
Now, besides the hours and hours of reading and memorization, you’ll also have commitments outside the classroom. These are activities that you will need to perform either because they are required or because they broaden and enrich your legal education. These commitments will vary depending on your own personal preferences, but they can range from:
- Participating in clubs and associations for law students
- Doing internships or externships at non-profits or law firms
- Volunteering at a local legal clinic
- Writing, editing and reviewing for legal journals
- Sports, athletic competitions and other hobbies
The extracurriculars listed blur the lines between work and pleasure a little, but having interests and pursuits outside the law are crucial to give you the reprieve you need from all the work. As we talked about before, getting into law school, while challenging, is something you can do on the strength of your undergrad grades and achievements. You can even hire to guide and help you through the process.
But when you’re in law school, you’ll be the one responsible for managing your time and responsibilities. Even though you’ll have support from your faculty and fellow students, it’ll be on you to prioritize, set your routine and stick to it, give yourself free time and find pursuits or hobbies that interest you.
If you’ve answered “should I go to law school?” in the affirmative, then you have to start preparing your application. If you’ve already completed a bachelor’s degree in any field or program (arts, science, business), then you’ve already met one of the basic requirements. But there is more to getting into law school than just having a degree.
1. Good Grades
Law schools in Canada and the US often have minimum GPA requirements so you can only apply if you meet a certain threshold. This is not universal, so you shouldn’t be discouraged if you have a low GPA. You can take steps while you’re still at university to increase your GPA, such as taking summer courses or electives that you enjoy so you’re ready for law school. The GPA requirement varies between different law schools, but it ranges between 2.0 and 3.7 for the most elite programs. Of course, your GPA won’t be the only thing about you that admissions committee will assess, and there are other things that you need to focus on when you apply, but having a competitive GPA will definitely help.
2. LSAT Scores
The requirement is not universal, and there are many . But given that studying, reading, memorization and recall will be a regular part of being a law student, it’s a good idea to start sharpening all these skills by taking an and studying for the exam. If you apply to a school that requires the LSAT, it will be one of the first things they see on your application and based on your score, you may, or may not, get your application reviewed. The minimum LSAT score you should strive for is 150, but if you can get anything between 150 and 170, you’ll have a better chance of getting your application reviewed, and getting in.
3. Great Essays and Letters of Recommendation
Writing exceptional , such as “” or a will certainly help your application. The latter is usually required, so you need to be able to talk about your reasons for going to law school beyond just money and job security. You should be as honest as possible in your personal statement about why you want to study law and give concreate examples of what you’ve done to prepare for a career in law, from participating in debate tournaments to becoming a member of student government. are also vital. They will give admissions committees an objective account of who you are as a student and person, and whether you have any of the qualities we listed above, and more (leadership, conscientiousness, and passion).
Depending on the law school you apply to, you may have to interview as part of the admissions process. Some schools are up-front about the interview requirement, while others will only say that it is a possibility. But, unless your school is explicit about not requiring interviews, you should prepare for your interview by going over common and doing , preferably with a professional coach or tutor who can help you refine you answers and delivery.
Pros of Going to Law School
The Connections You’ll Make
Law is a fraternal profession, meaning lawyers usually help each other out, learn from each other and clue each other in on various professional opportunities. Hopefully, if you do make it into law school, you’ll begin making these key relationships with your peers immediately. You’ll all be swamped with the same workload and need each other to study and for support as well. Later, as you progress through law school, you’ll come to rely more on each other as the workload and stakes increase. Law school can also be competitive, but you’ll find that your fellow law students are more of a help than a hindrance. They’ll help you put things in perspective, give you motivation and inspiration, and be there for you when you need someone to talk to.
We mentioned briefly how having a law degree opens up a multitude of other career possibilities, and it’s true. Apart from having extensive knowledge of the law and various sub-specialties, you’ll also have an attractive skillset that can transfer easily to other fields; skills like analytical prowess, ability to interpret and internalize various types of information, and excellent communication skills. But there are so many other degrees you can pair a JD with, such as an MBA, a master’s in a specific area of law, or, yes, even a medical degree. Many universities offer joint JD degree programs.
In Canada, the average income for a practicing lawyer is $116,000 CAD, but the highest salaries are closer to $300,000 CAD. In the US, you’re looking at anywhere between $130,000 and $200,000 USD annually, the latter being for the highest earners. But remember that if you pursue a career in the public sector (government lawyer, prosecutor) or in another non-lucrative position (public defender), you could be earning a maximum of $60,000 in either country. However, if you are truly passionate about the law, it won’t be the earning potential that gets you through law school, but your desire to uphold the law and serve justice.
Cons of Going to Law School
Law school debt is as real a problem as any other type of student debt. Going to law school is not cheap and it's expected that unless you win the lottery or receive some other windfall, you’ll be graduating with an average between $83,000 (in Canada), and $100,000 (in the US) in debt payments. However, you will be able to find work quicker and spend less time in school than a medical student, who still has at least three years of residency to complete before earning a medical license. But those high salaries for lawyers take years to earn, so you won’t be able to pay down all your debts at once. You’ll need a few years before you even start to earn enough to pay it all back.
Uncertain Salary Prospects
Finding a job after law school is not hard. Most, if not all, law schools boast a high employment rate among their graduates. For example, the Faculty of Law at the has a 93% employment rate among their graduates. But the question is what type of position you’ll get (public, private) and how much you’ll be earning. You could get a job earning only the maximum for low-end earners ($50,000-$60,000) but given all the other costs and living expenses you need to factor in that may not be enough for you to both start paying off your loans and earning a living. Unfortunately, a higher salary is not something you command until you have more experience and have spent years in the profession.
In the end, the decision of whether you should go to law school or not should be carefully considered. It’s important to think about all the factors involved in not only applying to law school but pursuing a career in law. Law can be a rewarding, intriguing and dynamic profession, but the process of becoming a lawyer can be lengthy, expensive and demands a great deal of hard work.
If you’re still weighing your options and thinking about whether or not to jump in and apply to law school, take the time to ask yourself these important questions, do some research on law school and law school applications, and come to a solid decision.
1. Should I go to law school?
The answer depends on whether you are equipped to handle the rigors of law school. You need to be truly driven to pursue law so you have the energy and stick-to-itiveness to get through the amount of reading, writing, researching, reading, reading and more reading. You’ll also need to have the capacity to learn, grow and develop, as law school will challenge you unique, but satisfying ways.
2. Is it hard to get into law school?
We mentioned that law school acceptance rates are much higher than for other professional schools, including medical. So, you need to score high on the LSAT, have a competitive GPA and submit well-written essays and recommendation letters, which a lot of people can do, but it's what comes after that people struggle with. The hardest part about law school is finishing, not beginning.
3. What are some of the pros of going to law school?
Finishing law school is an achievement in itself, so if you get to that stage, you should be proud of yourself. But other pros of being a lawyer are all the skills you’ll learn, the diversity and variety of clients that you’ll work with depending on your career path, and the fact that you could potentially earn a six-figure salary or more albeit in a few years.
4. What are some of the cons of going to law school?
One of the biggest cons of going to law school is that it is extremely hard. Another is that you’ll graduate with an enormous amount of debt that will be difficult to pay off even if you start working full-time after you graduate or pass the bar exam. Another con is that you’ll have to wait a while before you can start earning a lot of money.
5. What are some of the ways I can prepare for law school?
You can prepare for law school by becoming disciplined, organized, focused and finding real passion. Law school will grind you down more than anything else and you need to have a stronger motivation than earning money to keep going. So if you are not that interested in the law and all the work that goes into serving your clients best interests, then you should consider another profession.
6. What are the concrete ways I can prepare for law school?
You can find work in a law-adjacent job such as a legal assistant, secretary, or paralegal (although the latter requires more schooling and also getting a license) before you decide on going to law school, but they are also good ways to prepare, since those jobs will give you a glimpse of what a career in the law is like. You can also join your school’s debate team or shadow a lawyer to learn valuable skills but also impress law school admission committees.
7. What kind of jobs can I get with a law degree?
A majority of law school graduates go into private practice, or join a law firm. The type of law they specialize in is up to them and their specific interests, but you could also find work in almost all other areas of business, education, administration, government and finance.
8. Is law school worth it?
The answer comes down to whether you want to be a lawyer more than anything else. If it has been a life-long pursuit for you, then you already know the answer. But if you’re on the fence, you either need to fully commit to the profession or find something else that will be more rewarding and stimulating, as only true believers in the law will have the fortitude to stick it out at law school.