There’s a good conversation in a recent ABA Journal on making a decision about whether law school—and more, the practice of law—is right for you. The featured interviewees, Nicole Black and Heather Morse, talk about most of the relevant factors, which I’ve been talking about on this blog for years, and were motivators to open Advise-In Solutions—among them potential debt load, changes in the legal market, always having Plans B and C. The latter is important in pretty much any job in the contemporary economy, and a good law degree significantly increases your job flexibility and puts you in a much stronger position to have realistic contingency plans.
I won’t summarize what Ms. Morse and Ms. Black say—it’s worth reading independently. The one shortcoming in their presentation, though, was a strange one—I think they vastly underemphasize the importance of talking to as many lawyers as you can so that you know what you’re getting into. That’s less important for law school; most applicants have a reasonable analogy to that in their prior educational experience. Yes, law school is different but it’s still, well, school.
The practice of law is different. And it’s much different between practice areas and firms. I’m not talking about the distinction that Ms. Black and Ms. Morse emphasize the most—so-called “BigLaw” versus every other kind of law. I’ve never known exactly what that means—the cultural differences between large firms are as significant as those between medium-size, small and boutique firms. There are great large firms to work at, just as there are terrible ones (I was lucky in choosing my large firm, but I also did my due diligence to know that this place—and not some others—would be a great spot for me). Same is true of every other size firm. Size is not the issue, personality and compatibility is.
That’s why it’s important to talk to as many lawyers as you can—the more you talk with, the more you recognize the variety of legal practices and business environments. The reason prospective law students get so many different evaluations of the benefits and dangers of the actual practice of law is because it really is that varied. If you talk with lawyers (and they love to talk), you will be able to better decide if the practice of law in any form is what you want to do, and if it is, you’ll develop some criteria for evaluating potential employment opportunities after law school. Some lawyers are bitter, some are happy, some are resigned, some simply would never want to do anything else. If you talk with every type, you’ll start to figure out where you stand.
If you find the right place, the practice of law is rewarding and, as far as your colleagues and clients are concerned, pretty pleasant, despite the hours. If you don’t, and I know this because I did and do talk to a lot of lawyers both before law, it can seem like one of the circles of hell in Dante. So, as I’ve said on this blog before, know what you’re getting into—is law the right place for you or not–and be diligent about finding the right fit—is this place the right place to do what you want to do.