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by Alison, The Girls Guide to Law School
Originally posted on October 12, 2011
Original source can be found here.
“A law degree is really flexible! It opens lots of doors.” Do not believe this statement. Hearing it makes me want to scream.
While it’s true that huge numbers of lawyers simply quit the profession entirely, it DOES NOT FOLLOW that the reason they’re no longer lawyers is because their law degree opened lots of other doors.
The reason they quit being lawyers is because working as a lawyer can be pretty miserable, and they decided to cut their losses and move on. Cause, meet effect.
In the interest of fairness, however, let’s try to figure out what good a law degree does you, if you don’t end up practicing.
What benefits can a law degree offer you?
First, it can give you credibility (personally, I think this is particularly true for women).
Having graduated from law school and passed the bar exam signals several things:
These are generally traits that businesses are looking for when they hire new employees.
Second, you might actually learn something.
There are many problems with the legal education process, but, at its best, it can encourage students to see all sides of an issue, make logical arguments, evaluate factual evidence, and parse large amounts of information to extract key principles. These are skills that can be applied outside of the legal profession.
Third, you might meet some useful people.
If you’re going to raise funding for your dream business, it’s helpful to know people with money to burn (or people who know those people). Likewise, when you start looking for a new job, it’s useful to have some high-powered, driven friends to call. Some of those people might be your law school classmates.
There’s a flip side to all of these benefits, however.
Maybe getting a law degree signals that you’re smart and hard working, but applying for a job that doesn’t require a law degree begs the question:
Why did you bother going to law school at all? Are you really so clueless about what you want to do with your life that you’d waste three years and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars getting an education you’re not even planning to use?
This may sound harsh, but it’s what every interviewer will be thinking.
Many will also question your commitment to your current course of action. What’s to say you won’t decide the job you’re interviewing for isn’t right either, and leave after a few months? You can overcome these objections, but they are valid. Why go to law school, if you don’t want to be a lawyer?
Similarly, there’s a downside to being trained to “think as a lawyer.”
Whereas business people tend to see the upside potential of an idea (yes, this will be the next big thing!), lawyers are trained to see the hole in the argument, the flaw in the logic. This can be paralyzing, and extremely annoying. Sure, there’s a 0.0001% chance that this new idea has the potential to destroy the world, but everyone else wants to be excited about it. When you’re the wet blanket, that’s no fun. And it means nothing gets done.
Consequently, people may be leery of hiring an ex-lawyer for their (hopefully) productive enterprise.
Finally, if you find yourself in the ex-lawyer camp, there’s a decent chance you couldn’t stand most of your law school classmates to begin with, making it unlikely they’re going to help you out when you come calling (assuming you even have anyone’s number).
Furthermore, once you stand up and say “this just isn’t really for me, I’m getting out,” you have to expect some degree of ostracization. A lot of people would like to get out of the legal profession, but they feel trapped. When you decide to leave, there may be some resentment.
Are there benefits to having gotten a law degree if you don’t end up practicing? Yes, probably. Are those benefits so great that you should go to law school if you don’t think you want to be a lawyer? I don’t think so, particularly if you’re paying to go.
Weigh the pros and cons for yourself, but, please, I beg you, don’t say that a law degree “opens lots of doors” in my presence! Thanks.
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