Go to law school or not?
July 20, 2010 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Hi all, im a 33 male and have been accepted into law school but just cant seem to decide whether I should go or not.

I will be starting in Jan (rolling admissions, and I will be 34 by then). I have tried everything in my attempt to come to a decision; talked to tons of lawyers, researched, soul searched. The thing is that by the time im licensed I will be about 38 (Im Canadian) and starting at the bottom of a career, paying student loans into my 40's. Right now I flip houses and do ok, and have other viable business ideas that im confident in.

I just feel that I've sqaundered so much of my life doing different careers and should just settle down and become a lawyer. I have no doubt in my ability to do well law school, but am not thrilled at the idea of sitting in class rooms in my mid thirties. But, being a lawyer could be worth it, I could be making very decent money (200,000) in a solo practice after 5 years or so and I would be self employed and be building my practice, but then the idea of the actual work sounds kinda shitty, and having to do it for 2+ decades. I dunno, I could go on and on.
posted by inlimbow to Work & Money (47 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How do you know you can make 200,000 per year 5 years after graduation? That seems rather aggressive.

You sound more interested in the promise of a large income. That's the wrong reason to go to law school.
posted by dfriedman at 2:16 PM on July 20, 2010 [11 favorites]

Listening (reading) your post I take away one thing: You don't want to be a lawyer. Nor do you want to go to law school.
posted by zia at 2:18 PM on July 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

but then the idea of the actual work sounds kinda shitty, and having to do it for 2+ decades.

Don't spend your money and time on law school if the thought of being a lawyer doesn't actually appeal to you.

I just feel that I've sqaundered so much of my life

Then don't squander your life working as a lawyer if you don't want to. I'm sure you have alternatives that you'll enjoy more.
posted by ssg at 2:18 PM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the reply, I dont know what is realistic in terms of income, I think things are a little better for lawyers in Canada. DUI, assaults, real estate transaction, just do alot of these cases, they pay the bills and there a alot of them.
posted by inlimbow at 2:20 PM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: *a lot
posted by inlimbow at 2:21 PM on July 20, 2010

One thing I know from having a father who spent 20 years as a lawyer and loathed it is that one's ability to do something is an awful indicator of one's enjoyment of actually doing that thing.

There is a shockingly large (based upon my father's anecdotal evidence) number of lawyers who hate practicing law. But, y'know, the golden handcuffs and everything. I think that it's a career that's great for a very specific type of person but lots of other really smart people get sucked into it because of the allure of money and status only to realize that they actually detest the work.

What's worse, 'squandering' your life doing what you've been doing or squandering it doing something you don't even sound like you want to do??
posted by fso at 2:22 PM on July 20, 2010

I know a lawyer who had once been something akin to a ship's captain until he was in his mid-40s and decided what he really wanted was to be a lawyer, and so he went to law school. He passed the bar. According to his peers he was one of the best legal minds in the town.

I mention this to point out that age is no reason to delay doing something you think you might love.

Having said all that - it doesn't sound like you want to be a lawyer.

So don't.
posted by komara at 2:22 PM on July 20, 2010

There is no way you should go to law school unless you are going for free. I wouldn't really reccomend it then. Read this recent post all the way through and all of the links therein. Then take a good look at this chart and this chart. To assume you will make 200k+ 5 years out is INSANE in this market. TONS of grads are making 20k, 30k, 40k, or zero, and downward pressure on legal salaries is really only just beginning. MeMail me if you want, but this has been covered extensively in recent weeks, read the other law school posts on here. I cannot stress how bad of an idea this is from the situation you've described.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:25 PM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Were you accepted to a Canadian law school? If you are considering going to a school outside Canada (and I think you must be if you are starting in January), make sure you research the obstacles to getting your NCA equivalency and finding articles, if you want to practice in Ontario.
posted by girlpublisher at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: Life seems really tough sometimes. I wonder how people ever get by, and many do work that is much less desirable than the law. Many smart people are stuck in corporations so becoming a lawyer might be not be so bad.
posted by inlimbow at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2010

Missed that you are in Canada. This is still a bad idea.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2010

My dad chanced jobs and became a lawyer in his 30s, but instead of enrolling to a full-time course, he took night courses. I don't know what the cost was, nor how his night schools placed him against other schools, but he's been employed as a lawyer for around 20 years now. They pay is definitely not in the $200,000 range, but he hasn't been in really aggressive firms, nor is he an aggressive lawyer.

If you're looking for a good representation of your opportunities, talk to lawyers who have been in the field for a year or two, or find recent grads and ask them about how it has been finding jobs, if you haven't already. Ask them about the hours worked, and the work atmosphere.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:27 PM on July 20, 2010

Do not go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer.

And it basically sounds like you don't want to be a lawyer, you want more money and a stable career. Figure out what you do enjoy doing and then work towards a stable career doing that.
posted by devinemissk at 2:30 PM on July 20, 2010

Also, check Statistics Canada: The average earnings for a lawyer in Canada (2005) where $90K. The median was $74K.
posted by ssg at 2:32 PM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

For pity's sake, don't go to law school.

There are already plenty of unhappy lawyers, don't add to their number.

Admittedly, these links talk about the American legal profession, rather than the Canadian one. If the situation in Canada is radically different to that in America, maybe they don't apply. But you should take a hard look at that 200,000 figure before you imagine that's what you'll be making in solo practice: that figure sounds remarkably high to me.

Lawyer, counsel thyself: I am a budding solo working hard to build the practice that I knew I wanted to have before I went to law school. It is remarkably hard and discouraging and frequently unremunerative work, and I say that despite knowing, with moral certainty, that this is what I want to do with my life. If you don't have that kind of clarity, don't spend the money or the time. There are a lot of things the world needs before it needs another unhappy lawyer.
posted by gauche at 2:32 PM on July 20, 2010

Right now I flip houses and do ok, and have other viable business ideas that im confident in.

Do any of these require you to be a lawyer, or have legal training?

That should nicely answer the question of whether you should go to law school.
posted by fireoyster at 2:33 PM on July 20, 2010

Do not go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer.

I would actually advise that you do not go to law school unless you are passionate about being a lawyer.
posted by amro at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

Let me summarize your line of thought:

You are good at drifting between careers, but feel you need some stability. You've said life seems difficult -- is this because you aren't finding happiness in your work and home life, or because you're having difficulty deciding on what to do? It sounds like you've picked law as a stable career because it has an air of respectability, but haven't told us why you picked it.

If you're 34 and have no particular compulsion to become a lawyer other than the idea that it's a stable, respectable career, then do not pursue it. There are many stable, respectable careers out there that don't require law degrees. There are also plenty of people out there with law degrees (or partially-finished law degrees) who are not lawyers or who are unsuccessful lawyers.

What do you really want from a career? Do you need financial stability, continuity of employment, or just a career that feels more like a "final" career and less of a transition? If it's the latter, then I recommend really rethinking this -- if you've drifted careers so far, there's no guarantee you'd want to remain a lawyer. If it's one of the former reasons, then ask yourself what you actually want to do, not what might work.
posted by mikeh at 2:44 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

And, I would normally not bring this up since it's a jerk move, but since this is in the context of further education: For the love of god, man, do some spelling and grammar checking. If school admission essays are written in the style you're using here and you're getting into those schools, then they are not places that are going to give you a reasonable degree.
posted by mikeh at 2:47 PM on July 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: My apologies, I just wanted to get the question out, but knew that someone would comment on the gramar ;)
posted by inlimbow at 2:51 PM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: Is it always about passion? what about working hard and trying to build something and trying to raise a family? Being a lawyer can't be half as bad as the 9-5 corporate thing that so many people do.
posted by inlimbow at 2:54 PM on July 20, 2010

Have you ever done the 9-5 corporate thing? To make a guess here, I'd say that you're seeing the aspects of what you like in your job -- doing freelance or solo work, being your own boss, making business decisions -- and seeing a higher-paying career that has some of those aspects and assuming it'd be a good fit. Why lawyer and not, say, accountant or other skilled field?
posted by mikeh at 2:57 PM on July 20, 2010

My husband loves law, investigates it for fun, talks about the salient points and implications of laws and court decisions of all kinds. He went to law school. He passed the bar easily. He's not a lawyer and plans to never work as one.

Law is a *difficult* field, and the longer he was in law school, the more he was convinced it wasn't worth it. If you're not absolutely positive that you *want* to be a lawyer, DON'T GO to law school. And maybe you shouldn't even if you do think that you want to be a lawyer...
posted by galadriel at 2:58 PM on July 20, 2010

There is no guarantee you will make that kind of money. And that seems to be your only motivation - I predict you will drop out shortly after starting, because guess what? Sitting in classes post-30 is a total bummer if you're not super into the subject matter. Keep flipping houses. You probably have way more freedom in your life than a 9-5er. That is very valuable.
posted by molecicco at 2:59 PM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: I can't entirely understand why law school/law career gets such a bad rap on the internet. It seems so one sided.
posted by inlimbow at 3:06 PM on July 20, 2010

I don't have any perspective on the Canadian legal market or the costs of a Canadian legal education. However, I can tell you that no matter where you are, the practice of law is not for the faint of heart. There is a huge glut of lawyers out there, most making far less than what you're envisioning. Many with much more experience than you.

It's rough out there, and it's hard work. Perhaps you could conclude that it's "no worse" than other corporate-type jobs, but, for the most part, those jobs do not require three years' schooling.

That said, I did something else for 5 years after college and finished law school at age 30, and several of my friends were older. There is no per se detriment to being older when you go to school (in fact, most of the top people at school did not go straight through to law school from college). But it's true--I have loans that will still be in repayment when I'm 60 years old.

But really, don't go to law school just because you think it might give you stability. Law is one of the most unstable careers right now; I've got the ulcers to prove it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:10 PM on July 20, 2010

I can't entirely understand why law school/law career gets such a bad rap on the internet. It seems so one sided.

Well, to some extent, this is an artifact of AskMe members' biases. A lot of people on Ask Metafilter have been inculcated with the notion that education is a good thing, only to witness the falsity of that notion in the real world. This is especially so for lawyers, and people who have thought about going to law school.
posted by dfriedman at 3:11 PM on July 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

With very, very few exceptions, lawyers are not 9-5ers - particularly the ones who make $200k 5 years out. They are 7-11ers.

And how. Just as a datapoint, I've worked seven days a week for the past three weeks (and that is far from a record in any lawyer's book); I was in the office for 13 hours last Saturday alone. What did you do last Saturday?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:13 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being a lawyer can't be half as bad as the 9-5 corporate thing that so many people do.

Those hours between 5pm and 9am? They're yours. As a lawyer? Not so much. Not to mention, most law firms are a corporation, so any of the stuff you don't like about corporations will be true about being a lawyer in one.

The 200k number you are quoting also isn't at all reality; there are too many lawyers, too many people being accepted into law school and there is a real push down on the 90k average quoted about from Statistics Canada. A lot of firms are laying off lawyers to pull in new bar members at much lower than normal salaries because, well, when there are 5 people competing for a job, one will take less.

You really sound like you haven't thought this through at all; you're speaking off the top of your head, which isn't something you want to be doing when staring a 60k+ (conservatively), 4 year plan in the face.
posted by Hiker at 3:13 PM on July 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

My husband is a lawyer. He loves what he does. He is passionate about what he does. He does very well and is admired by his peers.

He works long, hard hours. He travels a lot. His billable every month is not reflective of how much he works; his pay is not reflective of how much he works (which is far less than the 200K you speak of as he enters his 4th year of practice). Despite this, he probably wouldn't want to be anything else.

He had the good fortune to enter the law market in one the last great (American) years of law (2006). He got the job he wanted, and honestly, lucked out. Had he graduated a year or two later, he might still be an overeducated JD holder working at a coffee shop, or filling your glass of water at a restaurant, like many of my friends face.

Don't go. The market is inundated and unless you are in the top 5% of your graduating class, your chances of landing a job are small. That's a small rate of job acquisition for something that sounds like you are merely settling on and as others said, are not passionate about.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 3:16 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't entirely understand why law school/law career gets such a bad rap on the internet. It seems so one sided.

Have you considered the possibility that it gets a bad rap because it's a really bad career decision for many/most people who do it?
posted by bluejayk at 3:18 PM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think law gets a bad rap because the cost of law school is so very high, and many people enter into law school with the illusion that graduation from law school is a ticket to a $160,000 a year job with a large law firm. It's not. BigLaw associate positions are available to people who graduate from top-tier law schools (and maybe not even that). With layoffs from large firms, there is a vocal group of very unhappy new lawyers.

Lawyers also have a bad rap because by and large, there are a lot of unhappy lawyers. Many of us (myself included) went to law school because it was a "safe" option after undergrad. But the reality of a day-to-day lawyer's work is often not as interesting or fulfilling as some would hope for. In fact, day-to-day lawyer's work can be soul-crushingly boring.

The OP said upthread:
I think things are a little better for lawyers in Canada. DUI, assaults, real estate transaction, just do alot of these cases, they pay the bills and there a alot of them.

This is outside of my field of direct knowledge, but I know for a fact that there are many law grads here in the US, trying to do general practice (ie, criminal defense, etc.) who make nowhere NEAR your expected $200k per year. It is certainly possible to hit big with a contingency fee on a big personal injury case and make major bank, but my sense is that is really the exception and not the rule.

If you understand what it takes to build a solo practice, and are entrepreneurial enough to get the business (and you are able to handle the cases successfully), awesome for you! If you have good business skills, then you are already ahead of a lot of lawyers hanging a shingle. Like any entrepreneurial effort, though, this is most certainly not a 9-5 "phone it in" kind of job with stability.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 3:24 PM on July 20, 2010

"Being a lawyer can't be half as bad as the 9-5 corporate thing that so many people do."

Yes, it can. It can be much worse. For one thing, many many lawyers don't get to stop work at 5pm. Especially if you are seeking a high salary position.
posted by girlpublisher at 3:32 PM on July 20, 2010

Right now I flip houses and do ok, and have other viable business ideas that im confident in.

People I've known who went to law school (aside from those who were genuinely passionate about the law) generally went because they didn't really have any idea how to make money doing anything else. "I'm going to be a lawyer" was a really simple solution for those people. But if you already have the business sense to make money in a variety of ways, you probably don't need the very specific form of professional training that is law school.
posted by mullacc at 3:41 PM on July 20, 2010

Adding to the chorus here. I teach at a law school, have been a member of the bar for 17 years, and (usually) love the law. It's a great career if you have the right personality (among other things, a high tolerance for conflict and an ability to concentrate even on drudgery), but it's not for most people.

If you go to law school, you'll graduate with a basic knowledge, but certainly not a complete skill set. You'll be a shitty lawyer at the beginning, and you'll need good mentoring and huge reserves of motivation to become anything other than a shitty lawyer. Your question and comments suggest that you really don't have the necessary motivation. (Not your fault; it's just not you.)

In lots of other jobs, you can become competent even if you don't have reservoirs of self-motivation. In some other jobs, it may not matter much whether you are motivated or not. Law is different.

Again, I love my profession and I love competent lawyers of all types. But the shitty lawyers can do a lot of harm to their clients (and ultimately themselves).

Save your application money. Hire a career counselor.
posted by ferdydurke at 3:47 PM on July 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Law school gets a bad rap because it's extremely hard work for a very limited degree that you pretty much can't use for anything other than lawyering or politics (should you figure out after 3 years of expensive school that you don't like lawyering). If you go to law school without a burning desire to practice law, your odds of racking up enormous debt you can't pay off for a degree you won't use are high. That's why people say this on MeFi.

I have a friend in law school who clearly loves what she's doing. You don't sound like her to me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:49 PM on July 20, 2010

My mom did law school in her late 40s/early 50s, did the DUI/contracts/public defense stuff for a few years, is now a county prosecutor in a rural US area. She would love to make $200k - she makes about 15% more than I do in my entry-level college graduate job, as far as I can tell. I don't make $200k, not even in Canadian dollars using a 1993 exchange rate. I got a 170 on the LSAT and there's no way I'm going to law school at this point (instead, I'll get an MBA! Woohoo!)

If you:
- can go for free OR
- love proofreading, nitpicking, and paperwork,
- can both make an excellent on-the-spot argument AND pull a 20-hour fact-gathering marathon,
- and are OK with having a debt load between 2 and 4 times your annual salary (i.e. much worse than what any financial adviser will recommend,)

Then law school is a viable option. Oh, or if you're going to Yale and plan to teach and are brilliant and hardworking; that plan still seems to work pretty well.

Seriously? You can't do this halfway, you'll be miserable. You can't be unsure about it, you can't be like "oh, I don't know, I'll sort out how to earn money with it later," and the fact that you said that you don't even know what lawyers really ought to make indicates that you have neither the temperament nor the interest to pull this off.

In the next few years, the industries that will be growing the most in the US are:

* Advanced Manufacturing
* Automotive
* Biotechnology
* Construction
* Geospatial
* Health Care
* Hospitality
* Information Technology
* Retail

Go become a welder or a bricklayer or get a certificate in GIS or hospitality management. Learn to become a SCUBA instructor. Buy a boat and do tours around Prince Edward Island. Start an algae farm. You will avoid the soul-sucking, paper-pushing, prove-your-self-to-the-guy-in-charge, leave-your-life-at-the-door-and-forget-you-care office jobs you say you want to avoid yet don't seem to have realized make up the vast majority of legal work. You will have control over your destiny, and you will be able to look back and say "I was not the last guy to jump on board that sinking ship, go me!"

Also, and I hate to say this, but: the people who come to you for help with their DUIs and their screwed-up contracts and their abusive spouse with the shark divorce attorney? They are not easy or fun to work with. They don't pay well, if they pay at all - my mom's solo practitioner liability insurance included a condition that she refrain from suing people for nonpayment for a certain number of years after first taking out the policy. It's miserable; you start hoping for the really motivated divorcees because those people will pay up front. Oh, but then there's the fact that some of those people will come after you when they lose (her family law professor had someone try to take down his front door - that'd be his house, not the office.)

TL;DR: Stay away from law school. You are a bad fit and it's not a good place to be now.
posted by SMPA at 4:49 PM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am a lawyer in Canada about 2 years post-call, so I hope that when I say don't go to law school perhaps it will resonate? Some points to consider:

- The job market is still tough, even if Canada hasn't been as hard-hit as the U.S. I know of good, qualified people struggling to find a job up here.

- I really think your view of how much you could be making is unrealistic. Going solo at 5 years post-call is incredibly hard to the point of being potentially foolish - there is so much you don't know, and therefore can't provide to your clients. Similarly, how do you propose to attract and maintain and bill $200k per year worth of clients with only 5 years of experience and massive overhead? If you dig deeper I think you'll find the reality of the business aspects quite sobering.

- Law is not only much more demanding of your time than a 9 to 5 corporate gig, but more demanding of your energy: you are always "on" as a lawyer. Especially if you want to be making the big bucks: long, exhausting hours are a necessity.

- I know this will seem like a nitpick, but the fact that you don't see why things like proper grammar are important is telling. Lawyers always have to balance time constraints, and attention to detail cannot be sacrificed.

In sum, admission to law school is in no way an indicator of success as a lawyer; and a law degree is in no way a guarantee of a job or a particular income. I'd caution you to think very hard about what the other commenters have written - it does not seem to me like law school and a legal career will meet your expectations.
posted by AV at 5:39 PM on July 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

But, being a lawyer could be worth it, I could be making very decent money (200,000) in a solo practice after 5 years or so

Really? I am not trying to be rude but I am wondering where you got this idea? That amount of money after 5 years is not the rule.

Canadian Lawyer Magazine does a compensation survey periodically; the last one was in '05, the next one will be published September '10.

Here are some excerpts from the '05 survey ...

Times are getting tougher for solo practitioners and lawyers in small firms, according to our latest survey of lawyer and staff compensation. ... Family law and litigation are the most prosperous areas, on average, for small firms (one to four lawyers); criminal law and criminal legal aid work, real estate and wills were the least profitable.

On page 28 of the PDF they include a salary chart for very small firms/solo practitioners: for associates 5 years out of law school, mid-range salary is $50,000 - $ 63,470, low end is $35,000, high end is $160,000.

75% of all partners in their survey made less than $150,000. 9% made $150,000 to $200,000.

I do not think it is a good idea to rely on making the same salary 5 years out of law school as the top 16% of Canadian solo/small firm lawyers, which includes lawyers who have been practicing for 30 years, have hundreds/thousands of connections, and a huge client base already.

It sounds like to me like you really just want a high, stable salary. I don't think that's a bad thing to want. Just know what kind of salary will be realistic for you before you decide that this is what you want to do.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:44 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another datapoint: I work at a company that sells things to lawyers. We're in cost lock-down mode (and have been for a long time), because law firms are not buying our products, because they're in cost lock-down mode themselves and laying people off to boot.

I've also heard enough stories to scare me away from law school forever: tales of people going to law school thinking of 160k starting salaries, only to graduate and find that the only employment available to them is mind-numbing document review (with no benefits) and serving coffee at Starbucks. Working at Starbucks apparently counts as employed in many law schools salary/employment statistics.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 6:46 PM on July 20, 2010

Lawyers who make $200k/year work WAAAAY more than 8 hours/day (9-5 is actually only 7 if you include an hour lunch). If a newish lawyer is making that much, they are generally on call pretty much 24-7 on their Blackberrys/PDAs, and are expected to check and respond to emails and voicemails at any given time. Sometimes they have to cancel vacations that were planned months ahead of time.

This may sound harsh, but you don't seem to be thinking very critically about the decision to go to law school. Law school is all about critical thinking. Law school is also about seeing both sides (or more than two sides) to any question or argument, and seeing the consequences of different choices. Right now you seem blind to anything but your own ideas, and are not being very receptive in this thread to the realities and points of view people are trying to share with you. You're saying, "But I don't understand why everyone thinks that law school is a bad idea and that law is hard when I think it's really easy and a big immediate payoff to be a lawyer." Think really hard about why you think this. Have you thought about the possible consequences of your choice? Do you have enough information to back up your points of view? What are the sources of the evidence you're using to create this idea about law school? Anecdotes? A single salary chart that you appear to have misinterpreted (fair enough, but when someone points this out, it's good to think twice about your reading)? TV? Rumors about how rich lawyers are for easy work?

I never would normally tell someone to do this, but maybe you should read Above the Law to inject a little cynicism into your dreamy ideals about working 40-hours/week @200k/yr just a few years out of law school in this job market.
posted by elpea at 7:02 PM on July 20, 2010

We can talk all day about the ups and downs of being or becoming a lawyer (as you can see).

The real question, though, is why do YOU want to be a lawyer? We've made some guesses, and you've danced around it a little bit, but why did you pick law, specifically?

Are our guesses correct: you want the stability, money, and maybe some prestige? Are there any other reasons you picked law above everything else?

Now that you've thought about that: are those reasons worth the negatives for you? You already admit you don't think you'll like the work.

And are you being realistic (which this thread can help you identify): are the hours what you think they are (not just 9-5 5 days a week, but 7-11 6 days a week or beyond)? Is the pay? Is the demand, the stability?

The age issue is just a red herring, though.
posted by asciident at 7:19 PM on July 20, 2010

Let me be a bit of a devil's advocate.

Law school gets a bad rap because so, so, so many people go into it horribly, inexplicably, careless about the particulars of a legal career. They put less thinking into than they'd put into buying a used car.

For those who know what they are doing and chose intelligently to do it, law school can be a fine choice. I'd say I know hundreds of lawyers and ex-lawyers and, one or two unlucky ones aside, only those who were reckless from the very start actually regret having gone to law school.

Far too much is made of the debt in law school. For even the high-end debt load (say, $200,000) you only need to be making $20,000 a year more than you would otherwise make to have that investment generate a 10% return. That's a great return for a no-money down investment. No one who has the slightest aptitude at being a lawyer can't expect to make that 10% return.

Here are the particulars as I see them, by the way. Law is a trade; it has no more inherent character of honor, dignity or public service than being an honest car repairman. (Maybe less.) The vast majority of careers that pay a decent living are in facilitating business transactions and operations and resolving disputed business transactions; don't be a lawyer if you want to make a decent living and those forms of work don't appeal to you. Lawyering is not fundamentally dramatic or social (arguing, negotiating) -- it is fundamentally incremental and solitary (care, persistence, precision).
posted by MattD at 10:05 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll give you another secret, OP: people are more honest and critical about the legal profession on the internet because it is safer to be honest and critical here than in person.

If someone asks you about your profession in person, you may feel put on the spot. Is this a trick question? Why are they asking? Who do they know? How will they interpret what I say?

Lawyers are serious networkers - and good networking is based on positive relationships. If someone asks you about your profession because they may be interested in it, that person has just potentially become someone in your professional network even years before they may enter the profession. Now what is the shrewd thing to do: speak frankly and possibly dissuade them from entering the profession or give non-committal and vaguely positive answers trusting that they do their own homework later on and leaving your connection to them unblemished just in case they show up someday as a colleague?

Most people will hedge their bets, give you best case scenarios, hope for your sake that you avoid the pitfalls, and then hope for their sake that you can somehow scratch their back someday down the road.

We on the Internet don't know you and have no real reason to assume that you will ever cross our path again. We have no personal interest in the outcome of your story. So please understand that when you hear the chorus of "NO!" from us, we are only giving you our opinion based on experience.

You do not sound like a good candidate for the legal profession. That's the good news. Knowing that now can/will save you thousands of dollars and a lot of time (on the order of decades). Going to law school is a really shitty way to find out if you want to go to law school.

Trust me on this one.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:14 PM on July 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Two small points: It's more helpful to focus on what you want to DO than on what you want to BE.

It's just possible that you are simply an entrepreneurial person who does much better going from project to project and changing businesses and following your own ideas than you'll ever do in a particular discipline. If so, your flexibility is a great strength. Keep grazing and making things happen until you come upon something you really want to do for a while.

It's a lot better to learn to contain your spending so you can live on less and do interesting things than to pledge the rest of your life to pay for a degree you don't really crave to lock yourself into doing work that you might hate AND for far less money than lawyers used to make and that you might actually make in other ways, having a lot more interesting life.

As long as you're an ethical person, being interested and happy with what you're doing is more important than some imagined state of respectability.
posted by Anitanola at 10:22 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have no doubt in my ability to do well law school

I'm a law student in Toronto. AFAIK, all Canadian law schools use a grading curve - so you're in competition with your classmates.

Your classmates will, on average, be younger than you. They will also, by and large, be among the smartest people you've ever met. Do not underestimate them; getting in the top 25% of your class is very difficult, and the effort you put in is just one of several factors affecting your outcomes.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 7:13 AM on July 21, 2010

Response by poster: I also live in Toronto and I personally know about 6 solo practicing lawyers (all general practice). I can safetly assume that they all make well over $100,000 per yr. A couple of them did say that the first couple of years were difficult.
posted by inlimbow at 12:02 PM on July 21, 2010

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