What Law School Looks Like Today

by CherrellT on November 5, 2011

Interestingly enough law school is not like it was ten or twenty years ago. The face of law school is changing in response to the economic times. Eager students still enter the programs excited to get a degree, and look forward to the jobs that are waiting for them at the end of it all. However, most end up with difficulty finding a job and getting stuck with $150,000 or more in school loans. Some of the schools have responded by upping their interviewing times to give their students a jump on interning. Other programs are now subsidizing student’s internships and actually paying the firms to take them on. So what is the best way to navigate this system and make the most of your law degree?

Deciding Factors

Most people believe that going to law school is a stable and lucrative choice that will result in a successful lifetime career. They are right in some respects. However, you have to really weigh the options that you have available to you and truly understand what it takes to become a lawyer. It will take hard work and determination as it is nothing but strict analytical study for 3 years.

Assess early on if you have what it takes to stick it out through law school. Some of the skills required will be analytical and problem solving skills, critical reading ability, writing ability (extremely important) and general research skills…to name a few. You need to be both interested in and good at research, because it’s all you will doing for most of your school and interning timeframes.

Why The Law?

Are you looking to pursue a law career because you love the law, or is it a means to earn money and prestige? Many practicing attorneys appear to be the most satisfied when they work for non-profits or the government, as opposed to corporations, even though the salaries run between $90k-$150k. You feel as if you are working for a cause and the hours will actually let you have a life. However, competition is fierce for these types of legal positions, so make your decision early on and begin making connections.

If you are after the larger paychecks, then plan on working 60 to 90 hours a week for the 7-plus years that it takes to make partner. The most lucrative areas of law are currently criminal law, patent and real estate. You will have to be aggressive and it helps to go to ivy league schools like Harvard or Stanford when possible. If you keep up the pace and are successful on this path, you could be making in excess of $1 million annually if you make partner. It has to be worth the personal sacrifice though.

How do I pay for it?

Plan in advance to be in debt. Most law schools range from $30K to $50K per year. Over 80% of law school students rely on loans to get through. If you have the grades and the talent you may get qualify for scholarships as well. Most institutions are well stocked with available scholarships so be sure to do the homework on what they require in advance, whether they are based on need or merit. You can apply for a federal loan by filling out a Federal Aid or FAFSA form online. As with any extended credit, your personal history will determine the amount of the loan and the interest rate.

Law schools of today have definitely changed, with respect to both how they determine the student body makeup as well as their soaring tuitions. An interesting note is that some schools have recently made the decision to raise its grades for students “across the board.”  Though this tactic may appear to make those schools easier to finish, consider the adverse effects this could have on your prospects for recruitment! Most importantly look for factors like these in advance, and use your superior research skills to determine the best path for your personal law career.

Thomas Masterson is a career adviser and content contributor for thebestcolleges.org, a website providing a list of cheap online schools as well as college rankings for a multitude of specialty programs.

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