Should I go to law school if I have no interest in being a lawyer?
February 26, 2010 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Does it make sense to go to law school if I never intend on actually practicing law?

I have a bachelor's degree in Economics and work as a bureaucrat for the state level government in a policy analyst capacity. I am 26 and I will have excellent job prospects, based on my work history, contacts and references here. I am certain that I would climb the ladder quickly and end up in a senior bureaucratic position in due time.

My interest in bureaucracy, however, isn't a long-term career; I want the experience, the contacts and the understanding of how government bureaucracy works. I plan on sticking around for 3-4 years, working my way up until my girlfriend finishes her pharmacy degree and I can go back to school.

What I am really interested in is policy from a political level; I would eventually like to work on campaigning, on a political staff and managing a political career. I look to the background of the kinds of people I want to be an a lot of them were lawyers in a past life, or hold law degrees.

In deciding what further education to pursue, I see a few options; MA in Economics, MA in Public Administration (my minor), an MBA or a law degree. As I see it, the masters programs offer me the opportunity to advance my public service career but don't enable me to jump into the political world. An MBA, while useful, doesn't really help me in any way here. I see law school as a good choice, except for one thing; I don't really ever want to practice law.

So, this leads me to the question and the tl;dr part of my question:

Is it a sane idea to think about going to law school (including paying for it, although I'll have no debt going in) if I have absolutely zero interest in actually practicing law? Should I leave open the possibility of practicing for a few years as a necessary evil to my end goals? Is there another option for further education I haven't considered?

Thank you in advance for your consideration.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (51 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
No, it doesn't make sense. It's a waste of time and money. Though I would highly advise finding something you do want to do other than work in professional politics, where holding a job can be a fickle business. (Law is good for this because you can always return to private practice.) If politics is your area of interest, would communications as a backup career interest you? If politics is all you can see yourself doing, start applying for jobs, and hope that when your boss eventually loses or retires, someone else will value your experience enough to put you on staff.
posted by Dasein at 8:51 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you want to be a legislator, I think it makes sense to go for a law degree. Otherwise, not so much.
posted by Lobster Garden at 8:53 AM on February 26, 2010


No. I think law degrees are good for those who want to practice law. I don't think practicing law is a necessary evil to achieving your end goals, since I don't believe there is a strong connection between the two. I say this as a new lawyer with no interest in politics. I would say that the best people to answer this question would be those who are running political campaigns. I would be amazed if they would decline an invitation to explain what sort of experience and connections helped them get to where they are.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:56 AM on February 26, 2010


my attorney boyfriend has told me many times that Law School is a Trade School.
you learn how to practice law and read lots of case studies.

a good law school, heck even bad ones, are super pricey, and you would unable to work at all during your first year (ABA requirements).

i think that there are programs out there that focus on politics and the like which may be more suited to you.

check out things at Georgetown and American in DC. they have all kinds of wacky degrees in various public-service related stuff.

i think you'll find something that will meet your requirements that is not law school or an MPA/MBA.
posted by sio42 at 8:57 AM on February 26, 2010


Attorney here: If you have absolutely no interest in practicing law, you should not go to law school unless you can clearly define why it would benefit you. I've yet to hear a good reason to go to law school if one isn't going to practice. It's a three year program, it's expensive, it's typically not that pleasant, and, at least at most top tier law schools, you actually don't leave knowing how to practice law (instead, you've learned general concepts and how to think like a lawyer).

My guess is the folks you refer to who were lawyers in a past life thought they wanted to be lawyers when they went to law school. Why don't you ask one of them if they think law school would be of benefit to you?

Also, I wish this this question wasn't anonymous, I'm not sure I understand why it was posted as anonymous.
posted by seventyfour at 8:57 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


In short, no. I know a lot of people who went to law school because their parents told them that it wouldn't hurt, that it was a prestigious degree, that it might help them in some way, but everyone I know who never practiced law did not get much use out of the degree. (My brother is one of these people and I seriously think the only use he gets out of it is his (mistaken) sense that he can intimidate others with his degree in arguments over beers.) It's just not that useful if you know that you have no interest in practicing if you have no particular interest in the subject matter. Law school is hard work and a lot of money (which may waylay you from your goals because you'll have to take a fancy job to pay for your loans) and I'm not sure you'd get enough out of it to justify what you need to put into it. It weeds out people with more commitment to the study and practice than it seems you have. If what you really want is a career in politics, perhaps your time and money would be better spent making political contributions, working on campaigns, networking, and getting ahead in the party organization of your choice?
posted by *s at 8:59 AM on February 26, 2010


No, don't waste the money, it's not necessary.

my attorney boyfriend has told me many times that Law School is a Trade School.
you learn how to practice law


I have to disagree. You don't really learn much at all about actually practicing law in law school.
posted by amro at 8:59 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is your future interview.

"So, I see you have a J.D."
"Yes."
"But you're not practicing. Did you pass the bar?"
"No."
"So, you failed. That's OK, it happens..."
"No, I didn't fail. I never took the exam."
" ... "
"I went to law school, but I didn't want to be a lawyer."
"Oh, so you changed your mind part way through, but finished anyway? That's OK, it happens..."
"No, I didn't change my mind. I went into law school intending to never practice law."
" ... "
"So, what's your company's benefits package like?"
"Listen, I think we're done here..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:59 AM on February 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


sio42, I'm curious, where did your boyfriend go to law school? The most common complaint I hear about law school is that it's not trade-school-ey enough, and that, as seventyfour mentioned, it doesn't really teach you how to practice law as much as most people would imagine.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:59 AM on February 26, 2010


If you could get a full scholarship or something close, sure, although I thought law school was three years of boring classes and kind of meh people. The professors (those who weren't pompous windbags) were really smart and interesting people, though. Basically I figured out why people make so many jokes about lawyers.

If you're thinking about paying for it, you could leave law school with $180K-$200K in debt, not including the rapidly building interest that will accrue.

Should I leave open the possibility of practicing for a few years as a necessary evil to my end goals?

This isn't the magic solution it once was. The mountain of debt used to be less frightening because you could plan on scoring a high-paying firm job. You can no longer plan on this, seriously, even if you're at the top of your class at a top 5 or 10 school. The legal job market is in a tailspin right now.

Is there another option for further education I haven't considered?

What about MA in Public Policy?

I would eventually like to work on campaigning, on a political staff and managing a political career.

All the people I know who do this (successfully and otherwise) got into by doing it. Usually they started on lower levels on a campaign, or started working early on for a small potatoes candidate who eventually ran for a bigger office. Or they knew someone who knew someone who knew someone.
posted by sallybrown at 9:01 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I went to law school and passed the bar exam on the first try and got admitted in New York and meet my CLE requirements, but have never intended to and never have formally practiced law. Both decisions - going to law school and not practicing - have worked out pretty much as I hoped. That is, I have a great fallback degree and licensing, get great credibility because of it, make less money than my big-private-law-firm-working friends but have way more free time and reasonable work hours, have a lot of flexibility in my career, etc.

I work in a financial field that is law-related, so my law degree helps me better serve my financial clients by understanding the background of their situation and their options. Since many of my clients are the attorneys who represent plaintiffs or defendants in lawsuits, my law degree helps me gain credibility with them. Also, I have been and still am very young to serve in the capacity I do, so the credibility gains are/were desperately important to me. However, my job does not involve giving legal or tax advice and I do not give it. After graduating with my BA, I made a decision between a law degree and an MBA. I choose the law degree because law school seemed more interesting than an MBA. I do have a lot of debt, but I turned down a nearly full-scholarship from one school to go to a higher-ranked school. The decision to go to law school was great, though I sometimes wonder if I should have accepted the scholarship.

There are many people worldwide who have a legal background that is useful to them, but do not practice law in a law firm (including colleagues of mine who serve in various roles, for example as executives in insurance companies, as compliance regulators, as financial planners, and so forth). There are many legal careers that one would probably not define as "practicing law". As things go, having a law degree to fall back on is not so bad.
posted by bunnycup at 9:03 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


i'm sorry - that was bad translation.

i'm not a lawyer (obviously).

he went to Pitt for law and does patent work now.
he took some classes somewhere in Maine or someplace in the NE specifically for IP stuff.

but he often refers to it as Trade School, mostly i think because you only learn, as mentioned, "how to think like a lawyer". i translated that to "practice law".

sorry about that. it's been a while since he talked me out of law school. but i hear him bring out the Trade School thing when people wistfully contemplate going to "law school".

point is the same tho - only go to law school to be a lawyer. unless you have a lot of money you don't mind spending.
posted by sio42 at 9:07 AM on February 26, 2010


People seem to be interpreting sio42's "trade school" comment uncharitably.

I doubt her boyfriend meant: Law school does a perfect job at instructing you on exactly how to practice law. (Most people who have been to law school would disagree with that.)

He probably meant: The entire point of law school is to help you be a good lawyer. Now, it might do a less-than-ideal job at this because it's too theoretical or policy-oriented, or insufficiently practical and detailed. But the goal is to launch you into a legal-practice career; any other benefit is incidental. (Most of us would probably agree with that.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:07 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


You don't explicitly state if you have experience working on campaigns. But the way to get paid to manage political careers is to not get paid cutting your teeth on tiny local races. That is where you will learn what you need to know. Your resume wont list a degree, but a list of successful races.

The good news is, you are already in contact with a lot of people who are elected officials. That will provide you more opportunity than a JD.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:09 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to restate Cool Papa Bell's hypothetical interview in a way that is consistent with an amalgam of many of the discussions I've had throughout my professional career. I've italicized differences.

"So, I see you have a J.D."
"Yes."
"But you're not practicing. Did you pass the bar?"
"Yep."
"And you got admitted?..."
"Yep, in New York, because that's where my office is, although I work from my home in suburban PA."
"So why don't you practice?"
"Well, I never wanted to. I'm fascinated by law and the legal system, but the grind and long hours and competitiveness don't agree with my professional interests."
"So why would you bother with law school, why not get an MBA?"
"Well, I work in a law related field and it's been very helpful."

"Oh, so you changed your mind part way through, but finished anyway? That's OK, it happens..."
"No, I didn't change my mind. I went into law school intending to never practice law."
" ... "
"You must be really smart to go to law school basically for fun" (More or less direct quote)
"I don't know about that. It was interesting and I like a challenge. Definitely more interesting than an MBA would have been."
posted by bunnycup at 9:09 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know several lawyers working in government. They have jobs that can be considered public service. One has gotten to where he has a real impact on state and even national policy. It's still very much a lawyering job, but not adversarial or corporate. One is bored senseless in his deadend bureaucracy. 2 other friends hated lawyering and went on to other jobs. Not crazy at all.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on February 26, 2010




yes - Jaltcoh - thank you for saying what I meant. i should have done that the first time.
posted by sio42 at 9:32 AM on February 26, 2010


I think the prevailing opinion is driven more by the fact that law school is expensive and outside of being a lawyer there's no clear path to making enough money to justify law school.
posted by geoff. at 9:35 AM on February 26, 2010


Does it make sense to go to law school if I never intend on actually practicing law?

No. Even if you have unlimited money and time, and even if you want to be a legislator.
posted by The World Famous at 9:39 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do not go to law school; instead get an MPA or a MA in Econ. Are there funding opportunities for those degrees? You will definitely pay full fare to go to law school and it is not worth the cost if this is only marginally useful to your career (i.e., you already have no intent of being a lawyer - something that often takes law students years to figure out).
posted by rkent at 9:44 AM on February 26, 2010


Don't go unless you see a clear path of how that law degree is going to help you.

If you could get a full scholarship or something close, sure

I'm sure others may disagree (and my views here may be naiive or unrealistic) but I think it's ethically problematic for people who know that they don't want to practice law to take law scholarship funds from others who presumably do.

posted by applemeat at 9:51 AM on February 26, 2010


Hell, I tell most people not to go to law school even if they DO want to practice law.

I do know a couple of people who went to law school with no intention of practicing law. One was a millionaire. The other intended to become a banker and was getting his MBA at the same time.

I really don't think you should do this. Go get at two-year masters and full steam ahead. Law school is expensive, three years long, and, generally, filled with loathsome bastard people.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:09 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Applemeat, I disagree. The scholarship would be for the education, not for the practice of law.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:10 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am not a lawyer and did not attend law school. I have an MBA. If I could do it over, I would have gotten a law degree and still have gone into finance and trading. If you ever plan to run a business or go into politics, I would say it is a terrific education to have in your tool belt.

To me, law school is not a trade school where they teach you every law; there are simply too many laws and too many interpretations to do that. THe value in a law degree is learning to THINK like a lawyer.

Go to law school.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:16 AM on February 26, 2010


To me, law school is not a trade school where they teach you every law; there are simply too many laws and too many interpretations to do that. THe value in a law degree is learning to THINK like a lawyer.

But he doesn't want to be a lawyer.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:30 AM on February 26, 2010


(he or she)
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:30 AM on February 26, 2010


Right he does not want to be a lawyer so no need to learn every law. Having run several businesses, a law degree would have been a huge asset. More than my MBA. Thinking like a lawyer and interacting with lawyers was a good chunk of my time.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:39 AM on February 26, 2010


Hi, I'm you. I'm 26, working in a policy analyst position in DC while my fiancee finishes pharmacy school. I majored in politics and policy in college and went to a good law school right after graduation, not intending to practice law, but thinking that taking classes in things like constitutional law would be useful for doing policy work and giving me a fancy degree to improve my job prospects.

Wrong.

The school I went to had just lured a nationally renowned constitutional law scholar from a top ten law school, and I got assigned to his con law class as a 1L. He was, like many law professors, completely uninterested in actually teaching anything, and spent the semester demonstrating how smart he was. Not wanting to give up, I joined the con law journal, served on ed board, and got really, really good at proofreading. Didn't learn anything about law, politics, or policy, though. I took the legislative process class that was taught by a real live politician (and alum), who missed half the classes and taught us nothing I couldn't have learned from memorizing "I'm Just a Bill." The campaign finance class was slightly useful, probably because it was taught by an adjunct who actually worked in politics, but it was just a rehashing of upperclass-level poli sci courses. I also "externed" in the state legislature for a year, where I drank terrible coffee and logged the ramblings of insane constituents.

"What I am really interested in is policy from a political level; I would eventually like to work on campaigning, on a political staff and managing a political career." Nothing in law school will help you accomplish any of these goals. I availed myself of every politics-related opportunity at my law school and still learned less than I was an intern on Capitol Hill during college.

Also, I went to a public school in a rural area, had some scholarship money, and still graduated with $100,000 in student loans. Having majored in economics, you might have already lost some compassion for people in favor of cold rationality, but whatever remains will disappear as you read your first year casebooks. Law school eats your soul, is overpriced, and provides very little education. If you don't want to practice law, never go to law school.

If you want to work in politics, move to DC and get a job in the government or with a policy/advocacy group, or get a masters in public policy, administration, etc. from one of the universities here, which are very politically connected. If you still want to get a law degree, at least do it at the University of the District of Columbia, where it's practically free.

Feel free to message me if this wasn't a long enough rant.
posted by jalexc at 10:41 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Option 5-- Go to law school, but don't go to law school:

What about a Law & Society program? It's one of those wacky (not really) degrees at American that sio42 mentioned, although Berkley, NYU, and a host of other schools have it as well--it's more related to the study of the evolution of law from a sociological and policy standpoint than the content of the law itself. If you find a place that does a dual JD/ PhD program (like Berkley & NYU) and do your master's there, you can take law school classes, but you don't end up being a lawyer at the end of it. An assistantship is also more of a possibility in these sorts of programs, potentially saving you lots of money.

MeMail me if you want more information about these kinds of courses. My graduate program also does a Law & Society concentration as a part of a criminology degree, but the students here don't often take classes in the law school because they cost extra money out of pocket.

Alternately, there are a lot of professors in both criminology and law and society programs that study public opinion and policy. This might also be something that you would be interested in.
posted by _cave at 10:43 AM on February 26, 2010


My sister has her masters in law but never wrote the bar and doesn't practice. She does, however, use it to get jobs internationally (Peru, South Africa, Belgium, Vienna, etc), working on policy and social development, as well as international mediation. She even worked for the United Nations for a while. Again, she never wanted to be a lawyer, but she did (and still does) want to try to change the world, help people, try to be a part of the process that makes the world better. (You know... bleeding heart stuff.) It is a competitive field, but she has been quite successful.

I would bet there are more non-lawyer law degrees out there than you think. and fAr what it is worth, I have never heard her tell a tale where an interviewer found it strange that she had the degree but never intended to actually be a lawyer. (And she would mention it if they had, believe me.)
posted by gwenlister at 11:18 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also:

Contrary to popular opinion, law school absolutely does not teach you to "think like a lawyer," whatever that means. It teaches you to think like a law student and it teaches you some of the lingo - the "terms of art" - of the law.

It teaches you to think like a lawyer the same way that using the internet on a regular basis teaches you to think like a computer programmer.
posted by The World Famous at 11:35 AM on February 26, 2010


Please look more closely at Masters of Public Policy programs. I'm not just saying that because I have one. They are generally two year programs designed to teach you policy. Not a substitute for campaign work, which I agree is one of the better ways to learn about politics, but as a strong complement to it. The substance to go with the strategy.

Don't go to law school if it's just a substitute for what you really want.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:35 AM on February 26, 2010


I graduated from law school about a year ago. I'm going to join the chorus of people telling you not to go to law school, but for a different reason.

The legal profession is in the midst--one can only hope--of some fairly significant structural changes. Fifty years ago, lawyers, even the ones in "big" firms, were upper-middle class at best. No one was pulling down $2 million a year, like the partners at big firms do today. The law was a respectable, bourgeois thing to do, but it wasn't sexy.

About three decades ago, or thereabouts, law started becoming profitable business. This is right around the time that we saw the first real-estate bubble. Firms started to merge. What passed for a large firm in 1975 would barely pass for a mid-sized one come 1995, and today, the biggest firms in the world are multi-billion dollar companies with thousands of attorneys.

Okay, maybe this isn't terribly surprising. But look at this. Twenty years ago, the vast majority of new lawyers made less than $70,000 their first year. But ten years ago, the big firms started offering significantly higher first-year associate salaries than their peers, with a huge spike in the distibution. In 2007, the graph is even worse.

The result of this is that law suddenly became sexy. It was one of the only (legal) ways of earning more than six figures by the time you were twenty-five. Still is, actually. But starting in the 1980s, law school enrollments have surged, and dozens of new law schools have opened up across the country. And because graduates are making so much money, law schools could afford to raise tuition to boot. Today, even the least-prestigious, cheapest law schools cost tens of thousands of dollars per year.

"So what," you ask? Well, two things. First, those huge salaries were really only ever attainable by a small fraction of law graduates. Outside the top-25 schools you had about a 25% chance of getting a BigLaw job. Outside the top-50, you had less than a 10% chance. So most law students for the past decade have paid tuition predicated on the assumption that they'll be making an ungodly amount of money when they graduate. This was never true.

Second, recent events have demonstrated that paying a first year professional with no experience $160,000 is just nuts. And the big firms have laid of thousands of attorneys in the past two years. You could take all of those attorneys and make a single firm almost twice the size of the largest firm in the world. Hiring has frozen. Start dates are pushed off. Spend a little time here and you'll get a sense of the situation.

So why do you care? Because as I mentioned above, the legal profession is in the midst of some structural changes. The big firms are changing their hiring, compensation, and advancement practices, some fairly radically. There are now thousands of experienced attorneys--and thousands more inexperienced ones--currently looking for work. Law schools can't go on shafting their students like this forever, and they're going to have to start charging less. Which means that lots of them are probably going to close over the next ten years, because while there's no shortage of demand for good lawyers, we've got more than plenty mediocre ones.

You say you don't want to practice law? Fine. Law school can, in theory, be a good idea. But not right now. Where this thing ends up is totally up in the air, but for the foreseeable future, you'll have to pay like you want to work in BigLaw even though you're almost certain never to darken their doors. The profession is on an unsustainable trajectory, and anything that can't go on forever usually doesn't. We've hit a major road bump, the effects of which have not worked themselves out. I don't think now is the time you want to join my chosen profession.

I'll make an exception though. If you have a job that you like for which having a JD would be useful, see if they'll hold that position for you or, even better, pay for your degree. Think of it like any other advanced degree: nice to have, but unless it translates into a concrete improvement in your career trajectory, that's about all there is to it. So talk to your superiors. Talk to their superiors. Because you're in government, talk to some politicians. See if any of them think a law degree would be useful for you in your current career path.

Listen to them, not random strangers on the internet, even on a site as helpful as this one can be.
posted by valkyryn at 12:33 PM on February 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


I would eventually like to work on campaigning, on a political staff and managing a political career.


Seconding that you can only break into this business by actually doing it.

This is my roommate's ambition is well. She managed a state house candidate's campaign entirely on her own last year, working 70 hour weeks. She was 20. She hasn't even finished her undergrad degree yet.

She got the job by phone banking for the Kerry campaign at age 16, and meeting people who introduced her to people who got her the job.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:41 PM on February 26, 2010


Well, a lot of the "the kinds of people [you] want to be" actually practiced, too, at least for a while. I had an acquaintance from high school with very, very similar interests as yours. He had no intention of practicing law, but considered it as a possible necessary evil. Good thing he decided against it. He ended up doing his undergrad in political communication at a school in DC, and for now is helping to manage a policy publication in town.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that law school is versatile, opens doors, and so on. It's a horrible myth perpetuated by people who don't know what they're talking about. Admittedly, I'm loving law school, but I have no delusions about classroom knowledge translating into the real world and the "flexibility" of a law degree. I know that the degree, in some ways, is only a sort of a hazing process to qualify myself to actually practice -- not much else. And, most notably, I'm going to have to practice for a while to rid myself of this debt, whether I want to or not by the time I graduate. If you're dead-set on not practicing, law school might close more doors than it opens.
posted by SpringAquifer at 12:41 PM on February 26, 2010


Also: I knew several of people in law school who did not want to be lawyers.

All of them became commercial litigators. As far as I know, none of them are particularly happy about it.

And none of the people I knew who started off wanting to do public interest work ended up doing public interest work.
posted by The World Famous at 12:47 PM on February 26, 2010


I'm currently a second-year law student. If you don't want to be a lawyer, don't do it.
posted by ewiar at 1:13 PM on February 26, 2010


I think this thread is odd, because it seems to be broken down into laypeople, practicing lawyers and non-practicing lawyers.

It seems to me that most of the laypeople and practicing lawyers think going to law school without intending to practice is crazy, but that those of us who are non-practicing lawyers (and have the career history attesting to the value of our law degrees) have found the results to have met our hopes, expectations, etc. Unless I have missed it, I haven't seen anyone here say that they got a law degree when they never intended to practice and now regret it.

I recognize valkyryn's comments about the upheaval in the legal industry, currently, and I can add the data point that many (and perhaps as much as half) of my friends and colleagues who graduated within a year or so ahead or behind me and went into private law firms have had salary cuts, layoffs, etc. In my law-related-but-not-law-practicing job, we have had fairly good job security and I am considered to have above-average qualifications in part (but not wholly) due to my law degree. Every practicing lawyer has to have a law degree, so everyone has one. But in law-related fields, not everyone does and in my personal experience it is something that can (and for me, has) set you a step above your competition.
posted by bunnycup at 1:49 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jannw, I don't actually think a non-U.S. perspective is entirely helpful here. I had a number of friends at law school who were LLM students (i.e., foreign trained lawyers getting a U.S. degree), and they all seemed to find the two ways of teaching and learning exceedingly different, which is not surprising given that many of them came from civil law jurisdictions.

As someone noted above, private law school is really phenomenally expensive (I think I graduated with about $130,000 in debt or so). Even public law schools are expensive when you factor in all the costs. I really don't recommend it to anyone unless they either 1) go to an expensive top tier school and will work hard enough to get a Big Firm job or a pro bono fellowship or 2) are happy getting a cheap education and relatively cheap job. This is not a path to take if you get an expensive education and a cheap job.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:51 PM on February 26, 2010


I have a JD, and I am finally, as I always intended, ten years after graduation, working in policy and research. The JD was wholly unnecessary to get here; it was very expensive and not all that interesting to earn. Every career services everywhere will tell you that a JD is a great credential and that there are many many things you can do with a JD that is not practicing law. They will fail to tell you that your JD does not make you attractive to the people hiring for those positions. If you don't want to be an attorney, don't do it. Really. Your legal education will not be a transferable skill and outside of the profession no-one considers a JD an indicator of intelligence, skill, or schooling as they would a PhD or even an MA.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:54 PM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


@Admiral Haddock ... well ... I guess the mods agree as my comment got nixed, pretty quick too. However I still stand by the removed comment which, in a nutshell, was "good luck understanding legislation without the degree"
posted by jannw at 1:55 PM on February 26, 2010


Is it a sane idea to think about going to law school (including paying for it, although I'll have no debt going in) if I have absolutely zero interest in actually practicing law? Should I leave open the possibility of practicing for a few years as a necessary evil to my end goals? Is there another option for further education I haven't considered?

No, it is not sane. It is a terribly expensive degree and worthless if you aren't really practicing in my field. Political consultancy does not require the ability to understand legislation.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:21 PM on February 26, 2010


Law school is not necessary for what you want to do. I get the sense that you might want to go to graduate school, though, so perhaps look into a Masters in Public Policy (MPP). You could even look into a JD/MPP and start with the MPP portion. In the meantime, watching your peers in the J.D. program may cure you of your desire to go to law school.

More importantly, I'd start volunteering for campaigns and become indispensable in that way.
posted by odeon at 2:22 PM on February 26, 2010


Sort of on the other side of the coin, sure it makes sense to go to law school without an intention of practicing law. BUT, you STILL must pass the Bar Exam in your venue of choice. Without becoming an actual lawyer (even if you don't practice), I agree that it is not sane to go just for the degree, for the aforementioned reasons.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:47 PM on February 26, 2010


I skipped all the other answers. Don't go to law school. Life is too short.
posted by MrZero at 4:46 PM on February 26, 2010


Married to a non-practicing lawyer here, and a top-ten law degree's-worth of debt. He goes back and forth on whether he kind of regrets it or really regrets it. It's let my husband be a law librarian, but fifteen years out and in a great management role, and he still owes more than he makes in a year.

So there's that, and by "that" I mean gigantic student loan payments.

I think he's professionally fulfilled but I sometimes wonder if there might have been a cheaper route.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:02 PM on February 26, 2010


Just for the record, by "gigantic student loan payments" we generally mean "In excess of $1000/month, possibly $1500/month, for at least fifteen years."

So if you have a job that pays $40k a year now, you'd need a job that pays close to $60k to maintain your current lifestyle with student loan payments.

The math really does suck.
posted by valkyryn at 8:12 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I initially went to law school because I thought it would be a fun way to spend 3 years. I'm now a practicing lawyer, but I still stand by that - it really was a lot of fun!

It's also hugely expensive, though. But the big commonlaw secret is that you are unlikely to increase your earnings enough by practicing law to make up for the high cost of law school.

If you can afford it, and think you'll enjoy it, go for it. I had a great time at law school, and most of the best lawyers I know feel the same way! But think seriously about that mountain of debt - it looks a lot bigger once you have to start paying these monthly bills, I assure you.
posted by Eshkol at 8:27 AM on February 27, 2010


This here is someone who, nearly 30 years ago, did a law degree without intending to practise. I was working in private law at the time (in Australia, not the US--so I also had the advantage of a free university system). It still took me six years hard slog studying part-time. Even then I knew that there was only one thing in law I really wanted to do, and that was legislative drafting. Took me a while to get there but I made it. I would take it on again but only if I knew why I was doing it--and if the maths didn't suck.

I'd say first work out exactly what use it would be to have a law degree, and then decide if the maths make sense. And take into account that law is full of people that hate it. This appears to be true everywhere. You might be one of them.
posted by Logophiliac at 11:52 AM on March 1, 2010


Hi anonymous - you are a lot like me! I am a bureaucrat a few years into my career and just started studying law (JD) part time while working full time. I don't necessarily intend to practice, but I work on law and justice in a development context and a law degree is definitely seen as an asset by my employer - so much so that they're paying for it. I would recommend that if you're interested in the law and have the means to study, it can only help your career. And, as others have said, it's likely more interesting than an MBA (to my mind, anyway).

Law is about more than practising as a solicitor. It's about logic, discipline and communication.
posted by Lucie at 10:57 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


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