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So, You Want to Become a Lawyer

Required Reading for Anyone Considering Law School

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Woman reaching for book in library
Dougal Waters / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Below are ten factors that every prospective law student must consider before choosing to become a lawyer.

Are you prepared to assume the financial burden of law school?

The law school debt of the typical law student averages more than $72,000, according to the ABA Journal, and students at some schools rack up debt of $100,000 or more. Despite the rising price tag of a law degree, becoming a lawyer is no longer a sure-fire path to a life of social and economic privilege. Certainly, many lawyers earn a comfortable living and a J.D. has value in today’s marketplace. However, you must carefully weigh the cost of law school and three years of lost earnings against the potential returns of a law degree.

Are you prepared to dedicate three or more years to continuing your education?

Law school is a three year program (four years or more if you attend part-time) and you can only qualify for law school after completing your bachelor’s degree. Law school is a full-time proposition and class work, externships, law journals and other school-related activities make outside employment impossible for full-time law students.

Do you perform well on tests in high pressure environments?

In addition to the LSAT and the bar examination, law students take numerous tests throughout law school. In many courses, your grade is determined by only one test given at the end of a year-long course. Thus, performing well in law school is, in part, a measure of one’s test-taking ability.

Are you comfortable with public speaking?

To be a successful lawyer, you must be comfortable presenting information to large groups of people including clients, prospective clients, juries, judges and arbitrators, opposing counsel, witnesses, boards and colleagues. Trial lawyers must be comfortable advocating to a judge and being center stage in the courtroom; corporate lawyers must be equally at ease in the boardroom. In-house lawyers, too, are required to head committees, lead meetings and make presentations to staff, executives, clients, business units, the board of directors and others.

Do you like words?

Words are the lawyer’s tool of trade. Lawyers must be excellent communicators, adept at oral argument and strong writers. Trial lawyers must master the art of oral and written persuasion; they argue motions, try cases, take depositions and draft briefs, motions, legal memos, pleadings, discovery and other legal documents. Corporate lawyers must master the art of negotiation and be proficient at drafting transactional documents such as agreements, indentures, resolutions and other legal instruments. If English was not your favorite subject or you despise writing, you may want to explore other career opportunities.

Do you have an analytical mind?

Logical reasoning and critical thinking skills are essential to the practice of law. Analytical skills are necessary in every practice areas, whether you are structuring a multi-million dollar deal, analyzing complex case law, or developing a trial strategy. If you like logic puzzles, research and critical thinking, then you may enjoy the practice of law.

Can you be available 24/7?

Value-conscious clients today expect lawyers to be accessible around the clock. Technology such as smart phones, laptops and netbooks allow legal professionals to stay connected 24/7. Therefore, for many lawyers, the job does not end once they leave the office. If you are looking for a career that ends at 5:00

Are you prepared to develop clients and new business?

Most law firm attorneys are responsible for client development. Compensation, bonuses, draws and partnership opportunities are frequently based, in part, on an attorney’s ability to bring in business for the firm. Thus, in addition to the demands of practicing law, you must excel at marketing yourself and your organization to prospective clients. In today’s competitive industry, the best way to protect your future is to increase your personal book of business.

Can you sacrifice work-life balance?

The sad truth is that many successful lawyers do not work a 40-hour work week. Lawyers often work long hours, including nights and weekends. Travel is quite common; lawyers must visit out-of-town clients and attend distant depositions, hearings, trials, site inspections, board meetings, conferences and other events. Those lawyers that work a sane schedule – such as those in public interest venues and academia – often trade high salaries for a better work-life balance. If you value a short work week and plenty of downtime, a career as a lawyer might not be right for you.

Are you prepared to dress the part?

Unlike many other industries, casual dress for lawyers is not the norm. Despite the adoption of “casual Fridays” and other casual dress conventions, most lawyers wear suits and formal attire. Client meetings, court appearances, depositions, closings, board presentations and other events require business dress; formal attire helps lawyers command respect, inspire trust and convey a polished image.

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