Back in May, the New York Times wrote an article slamming law school and the profession in general.
In part to contain the backlash and encourage students to go to law school, last week Stratus Prep and Vault.com co-hosted a panel discussion at NYU Law School to talk about law as a career, how to choose and be admitted to the law school or your choice, and what you can do with a law degree other than work for a big law firm. The panel was moderated by Vault. Since I counsel plenty of unhappy lawyers seeking alternative careers, I was interested. Here are some of the key points of discussion.
Law School is Not a Default Option
Law school is very intense and difficult not to mention expensive, and only those who are truly interested in the law should attend. Law school should not be considered a default option for those leaving undergrad who are unsure of what they want to do. (I would say this is also definitely the case with business school, which has traditionally been considered as a default option for many.)
Prospective students need a firm understanding of the meaning of student debt. For example, Stratus Prep’s founder, Shawn O’Connor, said that the only way to avoid paying off student loans is death, and that if your plan is to go into a low-paying side of law, like public service law, to thoroughly investigate loan forgiveness programs.
Law School Teaches Transferable Skills
Law school really teaches you how to think and how to argue your case—both excellent transferable skils.
Law school really helped O’Connor understand another’s perspective, to really stand in their shoes—another valuable transferable skill.
Ranking vs. Location
Ranking matters, but sometimes it’s trumped by location. According to Peter Samuels, Senior Partner at Proskauer, if you have “geographic and monetary flexibility”, you should attend the highest rated school you can get into. O’Connor added that if you can get into a Top 14 school you should go. But after that, other things should be considered, such as geography. For example, if you plan to practice in a specific city, the contacts by attending a law school in that city can be extremely helpful.
But perhaps most importantly, a law degree is known for its versatility. Lawyers go on to do all kinds of things, including public policy, journalism, academia and all areas of business. One thing I find with lawyer clients is that they worry about not using their legal credentials since being a lawyer is an important part of their identity. And having gone through the hard work of becoming a lawyer, it’s difficult to give up that recognition. I would love to hear from you lawyers out there who are not practicing and how you’ve made piece with your decision.