Law school or nursing school?
April 1, 2013 5:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of getting my Bachelors and going to law school. I'm also thinking of going to nursing school. Is going to law school an absolutely dumb idea at this point?

I've always been interested in medicine. I grew up wanting to go into it, I was ore med in college but due to being young and stupid and not really ready I dropped out. That was years ago, and now I have a second chance to go back.

The problem is, since then I've developed an interest in law. I've taken a few paralegal courses, studied up on it, and I loved it. The legal jobs I've seen in my area as well as surrounding areas are very sparse, however.

My reasons for choosing law school over nursing:
1) higher interest than nursing, feels like my calling.
2) I'm gay, and being out in the legal field seems to be less of a deal than in nursing. I don't want to spend the rest of my career worrying about that, especially considering the nature of the work.
3) I worked as an STNA, and I didn't like how the residents could treat me any kind of way and say whatever. I didn't like feeling like a servant. I know that with law you'll run into bad apples, but it seems to be more acceptable to say if you talk to me like that, I'm out.

Nursing over law school:
1) there are more jobs. I'm worried that with law, I'll be unemployed or underemployed.
2) I worked as an STNA and loved it, so I have some idea that I'll like the work. I haven't done that with law.
3) nursing has a more linear oath for climbing the ladder, which I like.
4) I know I'll be working with people most of the time. With law, I'm worried ill spend a large amount of time doing paperwork, and I can't stand jobs without a high level of contact with other people.
posted by Autumn to Education (65 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you are getting a full-ride scholarship, going to a top 10 law school, or are independently wealthy, then getting a law degree is a fine idea. Otherwise, it seems to not be recommended. I've never met a lawyer who encouraged anyone to do it. Everybody I know who finished nursing school has a job, though.
posted by empath at 5:49 PM on April 1, 2013 [21 favorites]

Is going to law school an absolutely dumb idea at this point?

Yes. Just Google "law school" and "job market." You will find your answer there.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 5:52 PM on April 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

Anecdote is not data, I know - but I have friends and relatives who are both lawyers and nurses.

The friends who are nurses are happy, fulfilled with their work, and are barely unemployed.

The lawyers question every day why they went to Law School in the first place, and if they could do it over again, they would pursue a different career path.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:55 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't recommend law school unless you can get into a high ranked school with a good record of recent former students getting good jobs, and you have the money to pay for it without borrowing. Otherwise, I think nursing is the better bet. Especially true if you hate paperwork/crave human contact. The job market for lawyers in general is terrible right now, but the sort of law job you see that's like, the lawyers on TV arguing important and interesting cases in open court are really, really rare.

Also - I think being gay in nursing probably varies a lot in terms of how much of a problem it will be for you depending on the area you live. I live in the Bay Area, and I know plenty of queer folks who are nurses, elementary school teachers, pastors, etc. So, if this is a concern for you, maybe consider relocating if that is a possibility?
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:56 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've known a lot of nurses and a lot of lawyers.

I always loved the nurses.
posted by matty at 5:56 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do not go to law school unless, as empath noted, you're going on a full- or near-full ride. This holds whether or not you are going to a T14.

The job market is misery and the kind of job you have to get to pay down the mountains of debt you will accrue is a soulless, heart-eating time-suck of a job that you absolutely do not want to do. Go to nursing school.

I'm in my last semester of law school at a T14 and I would not do it again, even though by law-school standards I've been a successful student.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 5:58 PM on April 1, 2013

I know so many gay and lesbian nurses! I think it's a perfectly good field for queer folk.
posted by Wordwoman at 5:58 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

going to law school is a horrible idea and nursing is a booming and secure field if it is something you can handle the day-to-day experience of. in my opinion it is also more fulfilling than most law jobs or law-related jobs, but that's just my opinion.

the legal job market is totally fucked. don't go to law school unless you have cash on hand to pay all of your tuition or you get into one of the top five schools in the country. and even then, you will be able to find plenty of nurses making as much or more than grads from that law school, and most of them will have better work-life balance because they will be in unions or have overtime caps etc.
posted by zdravo at 6:01 PM on April 1, 2013

It may depend on where you are, but here in the Bay Area there are tons of queer nurses. Upside to nursing: You can go almost anywhere and get a job.
posted by rtha at 6:04 PM on April 1, 2013

If you are getting a full-ride scholarship, going to a top 10 law school, or are independently wealthy, then getting a law degree is a fine idea.

I was one of those. It still wasn't a good idea.

I didn't like feeling like a servant. I know that with law you'll run into bad apples, but it seems to be more acceptable to say if you talk to me like that, I'm out.

Ha! As an attorney, you are constantly taking shit from people. Partners, clients, judges, opposing counsel...the list goes on and on.
posted by murfed13 at 6:04 PM on April 1, 2013 [15 favorites]

I agree that if you can get a scholarship and go to law school for free, or you can get into one of the very top law school in the country, go for it. Otherwise, I think you will find six figures of debt is simply not worth it. Job market is way over-saturated and shrinking as routine legal work is outsourced. And contrary to popular belief, I think getting a law degree mostly means you are equipped to be a lawyer. A J.D. is not a degree to pivot into anything you feel like.

I seriously considered law school and decided against it. I could've undertaken a ton of debt to do three years of law school, or I could've gotten paid to get three more years of work experience, but both would leave me in the same salary range. I chose making money + work experience. In my case, I think I was looking at law school because I didn't know what else to do at the time and wanted a new challenge. You have another option, nursing, which I would seriously consider.

You said you had done some paralegal work and have been able to get a feel for law. Have you done the same for nursing? Maybe you should volunteer some time at a hospital or something and see what it's like. Some people try out nursing and hate it; others try and love it. Given the projected nursing shortage in this country, nursing seems safer to me, but if you don't like it, then it's not safe at all.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:06 PM on April 1, 2013

The lawyers question every day why they went to Law School in the first place, and if they could do it over again, they would pursue a different career path.

I'm a lawyer, and this is my experience, and that of my colleagues.

3) I worked as an STNA, and I didn't like how the residents could treat me any kind of way and say whatever. I didn't like feeling like a servant.

Lawyers are servants to their clients. Many clients will treat you as such. As will partners, judges...etc.

With law, I'm worried ill spend a large amount of time doing paperwork, and I can't stand jobs without a high level of contact with other people.

Law is all about the paperwork. I know some lawyers who don't step into a courtroom more than once a year. I don't go to court at all any more.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:07 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I know that with law you'll run into bad apples, but it seems to be more acceptable to say if you talk to me like that, I'm out.

I have to burst your bubble, then. Law firms can be, in my personal experience, a really hostile place to work. You would think that lawyers would know their rights and not stand for it. But lawyers also know that nothing makes you unemployable faster than suing your firm, and firms know that. So attorneys that I know, myself included, have been in the position of putting up with crappy treatment, because while it's bad, it's not so bad that a jury will give me enough money to not ever have to work again.

I would counsel anyone considering law school not to go if it involves either taking on debt or attending other than a top-tier law school. I know that's harsh. Sorry.
posted by ambrosia at 6:09 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you love people, go into nursing. All the nurses I know are great people. The lawyers, well...
posted by fifilaru at 6:17 PM on April 1, 2013

You don't say exactly how old you are, but you have given enough info that it's clear you would be a nontrad. Taking on law school debt at 22 is really dumb; taking it on when you're older is mind-bogglingly stupid, unless you are at a top school (and even then... meh). I have MANY friends who are paying less each month than their debt is accruing in interest; yes, that's right - 2+ years out of school, yet every month they owe more to Sallie Mae than they did the month before. Their only hope is to work for the government for ten years at a shit salary so that the debt will be discharged. Doable but stressful if you are looking at doing this from 25-35, but I can't imagine living that way as an older adult. I have a coworker who cries in my office a few times a year whenever she thinks too much about her debt load. Those with jobs that pay enough to actually cover student loans are generally miserable because the hours are so soul-crushing. Seriously, the only happy newish lawyers I know are the ones whose parents paid for their schooling.

My nurse friends? Great money, great hours, great home lives, and no debt.
posted by gatorae at 6:23 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

A few other points to consider:

- Healthcare has ridiculously good benefits - excellent vacation, bonus, retirement and insurance is the norm for healthcare companies (though not for solo practice docs).

- Nursing isn't a dead end. If you decide that you're bored as a ward nurse there's hospital administration, nursing ed, healthcare IT.

- Gay should not be an issue in healthcare If you exclude the faith based hospitals, you'll find that healthcare is pretty liberal leaning and inclusive.
posted by 26.2 at 6:24 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

"3) I worked as an STNA, and I didn't like how the residents could treat me any kind of way and say whatever. I didn't like feeling like a servant. I know that with law you'll run into bad apples, but it seems to be more acceptable to say if you talk to me like that, I'm out."

I know there are doctors who treat nurses like crap. And there are some really awesome, interesting lawyers out there who are great human beings. But law firms as a whole create a culture that protects total sociopaths and shields them from any consequences of their actions. Lots of lawyers work at a firm where one partner is awesome and the partner in the next office is a RAGING LUNATIC ASSHOLE who screams at people constantly and uses profanity in e-mails to clients and grabs secretarial ass and tells female associates to "show more boob" and asks interviewees intrusive questions about their sex lives and then SCREAMS MORE and then docks associates hours and blames others for his errors -- and the thing is, the "good" partner next door will act like this is normal and acceptable and tolerable and will support the sociopath partner against associates.

Hospitals have HR departments that police this kind of shit, and when nurses are afraid to report doctors' misconduct, PEOPLE DIE. Hospitals take it seriously. Law firms are often just run by a committee of partners and it is really, really rare for a law firm to rein in a sociopath who has made partner.

tl;dr: I have never met an associate who said, "Don't talk to me like that," who didn't immediately follow it with "I quit and I'm leaving the law." If you pursue the law, choose your place of employment carefully.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:38 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Do not go to law school unless, as empath noted, you're going on a full- or near-full ride. This holds whether or not you are going to a T14.

I don't agree with this. If you can get into a T14 and genuinely want to be a lawyer, you should consider law school even if you are not getting a full ride -- after you research exactly what "being a lawyer" means. Talk to as many T14 graduates as you can find. The most important things are "T14" (I really can't repeat that enough -- T14, T14, T14) and "knowing what you're getting into."

Law school -- even if you have to pay tuition -- is not a bad idea for everyone. Just most people.
posted by eugenen at 6:43 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

feels like my calling

You answered your own question right there.

I was a lawyer. It was not my calling. Now I am a teacher, and much happier. But I know a hell of a lot of lawyers -- including my wife -- who love what they do and don't regret their decision for a minute. And I don't regret law school or my brief legal career, either. Anyway, my point is, you're going to get a lot of answers from people who say they know lawyers who are unhappy. Just remember that those lawyers are not you.
posted by robcorr at 6:56 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

The anti-law school pile on is overly harsh.

1. You will take on debt with both law school and nursing school.

2. You will always be able to create income as a lawyer, literally after passing the Bar, without the need of an employer. You cannot do that as a nurse.

A law degree is among those particulary unique degrees that allow you to charge $ based on your legal qualifications (similar to an M.D.) This is no small thing.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:04 PM on April 1, 2013

All of the above is true, but keep in mind that the health care industry is about to undergo serious convulsions as the ACA gets implemented. Nursing five years from now may not be the same as nursing is now.

I would still choose nursing, myself, over law which is pretty much guaranteed to be a pit. Nursing may only maybe be a pit.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:18 PM on April 1, 2013

Something that I think hasn't been said yet: you can follow a number of different career paths with a law degree, eg in government, NGOs, and so on. It will usually give you a bit of extra respect, I feel, in business generally, ie a wide range of white collar work. The figure I was told when doing my degree was that around 50% of graduates never follow the path of being admitted as a barrister or solicitor, in Australia at least. You can try your hand at legal work for a while, and if it turns out not quite what you wanted, it's not so hard to jump into something else.

In contrast, I don't think a medical degree is nearly as flexible. I had a toss-up between law & medicine & don't regret the law degree at all, even if I ended up working in IT.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:28 PM on April 1, 2013

I know that with law you'll run into bad apples, but it seems to be more acceptable to say if you talk to me like that, I'm out.

Oh man... the practice of law itself attracts all kinds of assholes. I'm a lawyer myself, and have a variety of lawyer friends and law school alumni that I keep in touch with. A lot of legal folks are truly good eggs, but along the way you'll run into way more pretentious, egomaniacal, power-hungry, sociopathic, total fucking weirdos than anyone ever should. Not to mention that law is still very much an Old Boys' Club with all the conservatism that brings. Don't even get me started on the internal politics at law firms.

As for being able to walk out on people who treat you with disrespect? Not a chance - you're going to spend at least five years of your career as an underling taking orders from more senior associates and partners, with no say in the type of work that is passed your way or the clients you'll have to service. As a new associate paying your dues, you're going to get the most tedious, most boring, least rewarding, least glamorous files, the grunt work. And you'll be asked to deal with the most irritating, time-consuming clients that your superiors don't want to be bothered by. And you're expected to be grateful, because you have an insane billing target looming over your head and you'll need any work you can get to make your target. Unless you are experienced and connected enough to bring in your own clients, you'd have a death wish to piss off a partner's client and potentially lose revenue for the firm. Lastly, your time is not your own. You're billing it out in 6 minute increments, and you'll be expected to answer your Blackberry on evenings and weekends, and if there's urgent work to do, you'll be expected to be at the office now. You'll find yourself cancelling plans on friends and family routinely. Don't be surprised if not everyone is as understanding as you hope. You'll even be asked to cancel vacations at the last minute.

I'm not saying that kind, considerate people can't do well in law. They can, but they have to have an enormous passion for what they do, and have powerful coping skills so that all the bullshit doesn't pile up and smother the life out of them. The majority of my friends, even the ones who are very successful at their BigLaw jobs, are totally miserable and just biding the time until they have enough experience to go in-house. The ones who didn't make it into BigLaw, or thought small firm life would be a better fit, are no happier for the most part, and have financial woes to boot. Even the friends who enjoy it now have gone through pretty dark times. One friend used to wake up each morning and vomit from the anxiety of another day at work. Another friend had a coworker run into her office every day and cry because she was so terrified and unhappy. I know of a few classmates who never did find a law job and are desperately trying to stay afloat while every year, law schools churn out a new batch of grads for whom there will never be enough positions to fight over.

You can't count on government positions as much as you could before, with so many cutbacks ongoing. You could work for a nonprofit, but how is a nonprofit salary ever going to make a dent in your loans? As for law being a versatile degree that opens doors? Not as much as people like to say it is.

Soooo, I'm firmly in the law school = bad idea for 90% of people camp. I'll grudgingly admit that I'm finally in a position at an organization where I'm happy, but it took years of grinding it out, neglecting my family, friends, and physical and mental health. I've had anxiety, depression, nervous breakdowns and professional counseling. It's a really hard slog unless you truly love, love, love it.
posted by keep it under cover at 7:41 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

The anti-law school pile on is overly harsh.

I assure you it is not. If anything it is pulling punches.

If you are still considering law school, read this book: Don't Go To Law School (Unless). Fundamentally, there are four categories of people for whom law school makes some kind of sense:

(1) People who get into Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. Those three schools are still placing pretty much all of their students. Literally everyone else is starting to struggle or are struggling.

(2) People who get full scholarships to good schools. Outside of HYS, taking on debt to go to law school is a terrible idea unless you fall into the next category.

(3) People who are guaranteed a job (that can pay off their law school debt) through family connections or the like.

(4) People who are wealthy enough that they can pay cash without batting an eye.

All other reasons for going to law school are bad reasons. And people are starting to realize it.
posted by jedicus at 7:54 PM on April 1, 2013 [9 favorites]

The following is anecdata, and should be taken as such. As with all anecdata, YMMV.

I am a lawyer in a six-month old solo practice. By gatorae's assessment above, I am probably the stupidest person on earth. I did not go to a T14 school. I started law school when I was 40. I took out a lot of loans. And I graduated in the class of 2011, whose graduates show the worst employment numbers in 15 years.

Why did I do this? Because, like you, I had a calling. I wanted to help people, particularly people who couldn't afford traditional legal services, and I wanted to think for a living. I also had a near-20-year employment history in low-paying administrative sales work, and was just plain burned out on working with people who assumed that I was still an admin because I was too dumb to do anything else, or to be promoted. So I went to law school, graduated, passed the bar, and discovered -- rapidly -- that the jobs I wanted weren't available, and the jobs I could find made me want to run screaming from the room. Ultimately I chose to go solo. It's very, very satisfying, but it's also very, very tough, in the way that all startup businesses that aren't funded by big VC bucks are tough. I have to hustle for new business while still providing professional and dedicated service to my current clients. Some months are flush, but most of them are lean, and probably will be lean for at least the next two years. I am in a constant state of adaption and reevaluation, learning what I need to do and what I can't afford to do.

If all of the above sounds stressful, it is. But I live with the stress, and with the marketing and shmoozing craziness, and with the keeping of my own books, because I love being a lawyer. I love advocating for my clients. I particularly love the challenge of working in an adversarial system without being an asshole. It can be done! But I'm not making a whole lot of money doing it, and I might never make a whole lot of money doing it.

Bottom line: If the scenario I've described horrifies you, then law school is not for you. If it doesn't, then law school might be for you.
posted by bakerina at 7:55 PM on April 1, 2013 [8 favorites]

I am a third year law student at a T14 school, about to graduate, starting my dream job (I mean, I've had actual dreams about how awesome this job is) in the fall, with a plan to be debt free in 10 years. I am delighted that I went to law school (though, ask me again in a year!). But I am an anomaly. A lot of my classmates shouldn't have gone and are very unhappy.

You've gotten the standard "the profession of law is dying and most of the people are assholes and you work a million hours a day and the work is mostly boring paperwork and it costs $300k" (yes, $300k is a pretty standard amount to owe if you take out full tuition and cost of living in a major metro area and accrue interest throughout school.) It's all true. Take that advice seriously.

But I'd also ask you: you say you want to go into law, but you don't say anything specific about why it's your "passion." There are tons of different kinds of law and tons of ways to practice. I have friends who have never been to court, and friends who go every day. I have friends who make business deals and friends who do nothing other than sit in their offices all day going over the fine print in contracts with a literal magnifying glass. I have friends who are mediators. I have friends who are fearsome litigators who, if they ever cross examined you, you might wet your pants. I have friends who sue the government for hurting people, and I have friends who defend the government when other people come after it, and I have friends who use the power of the government to make other people do good things. I have friends who write the laws, and I have friends who teach their clients how to find the loopholes in the laws so that they can get around them. I have friends who have 10,000 fellow lawyers in 25 offices on 5 continents in their firms, and I have friends who are solo practitioners. I have a friend whose job is that whenever someone at their tech company comes across photos on their servers that the person thinks might be illegal kiddie porn, he has to go look at it and decide whether to report it to the FBI, because he's their criminal compliance lawyer.

So what kind of law do you envision practicing? Like, okay, 5 years from now, you're a lawyer. What does your life, in your fantasy world, look like at that point. When you walk into your office in the morning, you sit down at your desk and do what? And then what? What are the tasks you do? Who do you work with, and how often do you work alone vs. in groups? Do you go to court? How often, and for what purpose? How many hours do you work in the average day, and how many days in the average week? Because to me, it sounds as though you're choosing between "nursing" and "not-nursing," and you've slotted law into the spot for "not-nursing." Other than "feels like my calling," all of the points you've made in favor of law are things that are actually about "not-nursing." So I think you need to explore, either in this thread with us so that we can talk about them, or on your own with actual lawyers and your friends, what it is about law that "calls" to you, and whether the thing that calls you actually bears any resemblance to a job you'd likely get after completing your $300k education. So, what kind of lawyer were you thinking about being?

I think that you can only really answer your bigger question if you give us a sense of what you mean when you say "law," other than just "go to law school and then get a lawyer-y job."
posted by decathecting at 8:15 PM on April 1, 2013 [12 favorites]

But law firms as a whole create a culture that protects total sociopaths and shields them from any consequences of their actions. Lots of lawyers work at a firm where one partner is awesome and the partner in the next office is a RAGING LUNATIC ASSHOLE who screams at people constantly and uses profanity in e-mails to clients and grabs secretarial ass and tells female associates to "show more boob" and asks interviewees intrusive questions about their sex lives and then SCREAMS MORE and then docks associates hours and blames others for his errors -- and the thing is, the "good" partner next door will act like this is normal and acceptable and tolerable and will support the sociopath partner against associates.

This is, in my experience, primarily a BigLaw thing, but it's accurate.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:15 PM on April 1, 2013

I love being a lawyer. I loved being a law student, which ended shortly before my 40th birthday. I have tried a number of different careers, but this is The Right One for me. No question.

My husband is a doctor, so he works with a lot of nurses. Although the work they do is important, and they're educated and essential members of the team, when he and his colleagues talk about their work, it is clear that nurses are junior members of the team -- that's the whole deal. They aren't junior members until they have experience, or in certain circumstances, or anything. They slot in at the junior level, and with the exception of an extremely small number of nursing administrators, they never leave that level. Ever. I could never be that person, and I get the impression that you're like that, although you need to make that call yourself.

Lawyers fit in all along the spectrum, from the very bottom to the very top, and where they fit in depends on a dozen different things, including the lawyer him/herself. They do work that's totally social, totally anti-social, and everything in between. They do meaningful community based work, drudgery, power broking, negotiating, you name it. Although there is quite a bit of variety in nursing (ICU, nursing home, clinic, ER, pediatric hospital, psych ward) there is less variety, overall, than in law.

I, for example, work for a law firm located a thousand miles from me. I have never met my clients or my colleagues. I have incredible flexibility, do meaningful work, wear whatever I want, never go to court, and face zero legal malpractice liability. I don't get paid a huge amount, but I do bring in more than the nurses I know who work 50 hours a week, and I only work 20 hours a week. I cannot imagine a better circumstance for me. This would not work for many other people, but it's my job, not theirs. Other lawyers make what I make working 80 hours a week, and others make a hundred times what I make. In other words, it's really what you make of it. Nursing has a far narrower range of options, far narrower.

The job market is tough, no doubt. And a law degree from a T14 will make a difference, no doubt. But it's simply not the case that everyone going into law school will come out facing the same issues.

In summary, nursing offers middle-of-the-road stability. Fewer highs, fewer lows. Law is a much larger gamble, with bigger payoffs and bigger risks. In the end, it boils down to how much risk you can tolerate, how high you feel you can aim (and by high, I mean according to your goals, not some external definition of high), and which career offers you the most personal satisfaction.

Some have said that no lawyer recommends law to others, and that all lawyers want to do it over again and choose something else. Neither statement applies in the least to me. I absolutely love being a lawyer, and I'm more than happy to talk to you about the unconventional process I followed to get here. Memail me if you'd like.
posted by Capri at 8:21 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Please do not go to law school.

I come from a family of hero do-gooder lawyers, one of whom worked on a landmark housing discrimination case, and spent a bit of time in law school before leaving and being glad for it. From the old days there remains a powerful current in our society that associates law school with getting your act together and answering the call of duty. You still see it in movies all the time: "I've decided to do something with my life. I've signed up for the LSAT!" a woman says in The Source Code.

While there are still good and honorable pockets of law, a lot of this stuff is leftover mythology from way better economic times. (Check out this awesome show "The Young Lawyers" from 1970. It is not like this anymore.)

One of the other persistent myths is that entering law school is something you can do lightly, like just trying it out. I found it, on the contrary, to be one of the most hostile environments possible for the idealistic human spirit. One of the first things to go is the sense that you have undertaken a noble calling, as you will find yourself surrounded by kids obsessed with the supposed brass ring they believe will be awaiting them when they graduate into their high-flying law firm positions.

But these law firm jobs -- which many people were miserable in anyhow when they were still abundant, and which people are always leaving to become architects or whatever, to pursue their real dreams -- these were wiped out years ago by the economic bust and by the rapidly changing nature of an information society that has less and less market demand for a type of work strongly rooted in the 19th century and in a time when there was a shortage of legal info. And the debt load people take on for this stuff is just criminal.
posted by steinsaltz at 8:23 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, if you've made it this far into this thread, you have a wealth of contradictory advice. Do you believe the people who say that law school makes sense under some circumstances, or it makes sense under no circumstances?

For what it's worth, I firmly fall into the latter camp. There's a huge imbalance between the number of law grads being churned out each year and the number of available positions. What's more, almost all of those jobs suck.

I'll tell you this. My brother used to say to me (before I went to law school) that the only happy lawyers he knows are ex-lawyers. After practicing for five years, I became a writer, so I am finally a happy lawyer.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:25 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who is gay who is a lawyer, and another friend who is gay who is a nurse. Neither has ever seen that be an issue in the workplace.

So far as job satisfaction, I've been a paralegal (and was often mistaken for an actual lawyer, ha!) and I now work as a healthcare consultant (though admittedly not in a clinical setting). I like my current job so much better. Healthcare is complex and often frustrating but it feels worth it.

Have you considered becoming a PA? That takes lawyer brains and nursing compassion -- you get meaningful interactions with patients and a bit more respect. My PA has both and is worth her weight in gold.

You seem to ask a lot of questions about careers. Have you worked with a career counselor?
posted by mochapickle at 8:39 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

If I may provide a little different advice: If you've already dabbled in nursing through the STNA, why not take a paralegal program and see if you can get a job in a law firm and see what it's actually like to work in law? I mean, in the big picture, a few month course that costs a few grand (it's 5 months and about 5 grand at the big university by me) to see if you even like the work seems like a worthwhile investment and, indeed, small potatoes compared with the 3 years of your life and hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt you'd gain going to law school.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:45 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you noticed what decade we're in? It's the decade when the baby boomers start to turn 65.

When they start to get old. There's nothing ahead for the next 25 years but lots and lots of people getting older and needing medical care, home assistance, and all of the other things that old people require. It's going to be raining soup for anyone in the geriatric support trades, and nursing in general.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 9:18 PM on April 1, 2013

There's a reason much of the commentary here is about biglaw: because of bigdebt. Not many people go to big law firms because they want to. They go because they have to.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:20 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I graduated with a J.D. in 2012 and have not been able to find work (except for the seasonal retail jobs I picked up in order to pay bills and qualify for unemployment). I can only describe the job market for legal as toxic right now. Because many of my classmates have not found work in a firm, they've opened up their own solo practices which is extremely risky due to their inexperience and the likelihood of professional misconduct. I know a guy who graduated with a law degree in 2011 who drives a bus for Metro in LA. We have a mutual friend who graduated in the top 25% of his class and finally found a job as a public defender after 14 months of searching for a job. The list could go on . . .

I mistakenly assumed prior to law school that I would be able to find an alternative career that would provide me with enough income to pay for my loans and support my basic living expenses. Unfortunately, I'm either overqualified with the law degree or under qualified due to a lack of work experience. Please don't fail to recognize the fact three years in school is a missed opportunity for three years of work experience (sometimes pursuing neither option is the best choice).

posted by Jurbano at 9:27 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am going to shout at you in all caps: GOING TO LAW SCHOOL WAS ONE OF THE TOP 3 BIGGEST MISTAKES IN MY LIFE. Except unlike the other two, which I could fix, I will never be able to undo the law school mistake, because the debt will haunt me for ever and ever. I have tried working for the government, I have tried working in tech as a lawyer. It was either not remotely enough money to pay the loans, let enough buy food, or it was 80 hour weeks in soul crushing conditions. Please please, listen to us all.
posted by twiggy32 at 9:50 PM on April 1, 2013

Let me say something about this top 14 myth that seems to be propagating in this thread. Do not go to law school even if you can get into a top 14 school.

I went to a T14. I graduated in 2006, one of the last "good" years to graduate. I went to work for the biglaw firm I had summered at the year before. I worked hard and held up my end of the bargain. That didn't stop me from getting laid off in early 2009, back when everyone was getting laid off. I was lucky enough to find a job at a miserable small firm a few months later until I was able to leave the law a couple of years after that.

I still have six figures in debt, and I'm one of the lucky ones — I'm employed and doing well. You can graduate from a T14 and still do very poorly. Anyone who graduated in 2008 or 2009 certainly was in that boat. Obviously things are "better" now but far from good, even for T14 graduates. No one is immune to the shitty job market.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:02 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

... and nursing is very portable. Law is hardly at all.
posted by rhombus at 12:59 AM on April 2, 2013

One of the reasons your question is so interesting is that nursing and law are such different professions: nurses are angels while lawyers are mercenaries. Rather than opt for one or the other immediately I would maybe spend some time thinking about which general direction you want to jump - then look not just at nursing or law - but also the other careers which cluster with either of those types.
posted by rongorongo at 2:01 AM on April 2, 2013

There's a field within nursing called Legal Nursing. I'm far from the expert on this but I know a few who are Registered Nurses who are either certified in Legal Nursing or have a law degree and work as consultants in cases with nursing/medical issues or in ethics or risk management departments in hospitals.
posted by dog food sugar at 2:18 AM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

You really have to like law. my father in law is a lawyer. he converted from a teacher and graduated in 1994. he is a lawyer who defends doctors from lawsuits. He gets paid 70k as a base salary then a fee when he is on trial.

Its one of those jobs where he is either playing golf or so busy he doesn't eat all day. He said hates it now but is so close to retirement he will just stick it out.

You really have to like law to go to law school.

Keep in mind medical is the same. my sister works in a hospital emergency room and works 3 to 4 20 hour days a week due to understaffing . She is also constantly sick.

these are 2 fields you really have to like.

Some people stated lawyers are mercenaries. Not all of them. Like I said my father defends doctors from lawsuits. He has to study medical dictionaries and things so he knows the right way to do things. he knows mnore then most doctors do. \

Maybe if you like law a little more you can go into the medical law. defending doctors. Its not a hugely paying field but you will still make decent money.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:09 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

2. You will always be able to create income as a lawyer, literally after passing the Bar, without the need of an employer. You cannot do that as a nurse.

I laugh at this idea from painful experience. Do not assume that you can make money on your own with a law license. It is really, really hard to do this.
posted by gauche at 4:25 AM on April 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

Here's a suggestion that you read Outliers to give you an idea of the importance of choosing based on making the right decision at the right time, because there's a section where Gladwell talks about law and how lawyers born at a certain time faced an awful market and hard careers compared to lawyers born just 2 decades later. And I'm not saying that you have to pick a career based on doing something that's just the right choice at the optimal moment but rather the opposite-- don't make a choose that is the definite wrong choice right now.

Things exist on a bell curve-- certainly there are a few lawyers who are doing well, as a few posts here have attested to. Many are not. Most who went to law schools outside of the T14 and are graduating now definitely are not.

I am sure there are a few down-and-out nurses who can't find decent work for whatever reason, but most are doing well in a steady-well paying job pursuing their chosen vocation. So if you want to maximize your odds of being able to support yourself in a job you're satisfied with, given your two options, nursing would be the way to go. At the very least, you will have a job that allows you to pay the bills while you figure out what you want from the rest of your life.
posted by deanc at 5:58 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi! Nurse here. You don't like alot of paperwork? That's gonna be a huge problem in any healthcare job, but especially nursing. You have to write down every single thing you do all the time in excruciating detail and it will be noticed if you don't. You don't like feeling like a servant? Then you're not going to like asking is there anything else I can do for you?, being told no, and two minutes later being called back for an extra blanket. Sick people can be cranky because, well, they don't feel good.
If those things didn't bother you I would say Yes, Nursing is awesome!
But since they do bother you, I'm saying keep looking.
posted by SyraCarol at 6:34 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you like the law, get a Paralegal Certification and get to work in a law firm.

THEN, if you think you'll like it, you can move to California and Read The Law.

This will do two things. It will give you a chance to see how working in the law actually is (as opposed to how you think it might be) and you can do it without going into debt.

I'd also suggest becoming a nurse, through an inexpensive Community College. As a nurse/lawyer, you can then work on medical malpractice cases.

But I'm pragmatic like that.

Under NO circumstances, go into debt to become a lawyer.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:36 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

The anti-law school pile on is overly harsh.

2. You will always be able to create income as a lawyer, literally after passing the Bar, without the need of an employer. You cannot do that as a nurse.

No, it is not. Right now, American law schools are churning out two law graduates for every one legal job. Not good legal jobs, just legal jobs such as hourly document review and due diligence. The legal market hemorrhaged quite a few jobs during the last recession, and I do not believe it will ever bounce back to its previous levels. Google "law school scam" and you will never run out of reading material. I will not encourage my children to become a lawyer like Dad. (don't get me wrong - I am one of the blessed ones in a good job with a firm full of people I like. Most are not so blessed.)

And, a JD is not a sampo that churns out money. Lawyers need clients. The best type of clients are those who pay on time and are always in trouble. I am lucky to have some of those clients. No clients, no money.

And now, to a more general piece of career advice that I have stated here before. The current cultural idea is that the highest form of self-actualization is through one's job. I think this idea is terribly wrong. My job is not who I am; it is the unpleasant thing I do to provide for my family that takes me away from them. In very few cases will your job have a bearing on who you are. Please bear that in mind as you consider your options.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:55 AM on April 2, 2013 [14 favorites]

Tanizaki. your my job is a job and it gets me money but I hate it everybody should be that way thinking is wrong. if you go into a career that you do like doing then work will not be work.

People should do a job that is what they are. I love computers so I am a network admin. I love work and do not sit at home on weekends and complain on how I have to go into work on Monday.
posted by majortom1981 at 7:22 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

People should do a job that is what they are.

That's an option for some of us but not all of us. Maybe you're a lucky one who can put food on the table by doing "what you are." But there are hundreds of millions of people in this country, many of whom are doing pretty well for themselves, and I guarantee you that only a fraction of them are doing it because it's a "calling" simply because not enough of those full-time, reasonably-paying jobs exist to match up with everyone's calling. Not everyone gets to be an astronaut or a movie star or a tenured theoretical physicist.

Most jobs people do because they don't hate it, and it gets them out of the house and allows them to pay the bills. That's ok. People find their own meaning in life in lots of different ways, and there is lots of satisfaction to be had in self-support and self-care. In an age of non-dischargeable student loans, there's more to be gained by not being in debt (or being able to pay off debts quickly) then engaged in a futile attempt at pursuing a "calling" that doesn't have room for you and has few stable escape hatches if your gamble doesn't work out.
posted by deanc at 7:41 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Please limit your comments to answers and resist the temptation to turn this into a discussion. Thank you!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 7:47 AM on April 2, 2013

Fundamentally, there are four categories of people for whom law school makes some kind of sense:

For one definition of the word "sense", yes that's true. There are other definitions, however, that those four categories miss. Specifically, most of the anti-law pile-on seems to be focused strictly around dollars in vs. dollars out.

The most important thing here is to recognize how much debt you'd be taking on to go to the law school of your choice. Understand what your odds are of getting a job (and what the salary will likely be). Once you know those things, you'll be able to answer whether it is worth it or not.

Regardless of the financial pay-off, I think the people who should go to law school are those who desperately want to actually engage in the practice of law. If that's not you, do something else. There's no penalty for putting off law school one, five, or 10 years while you figure out how badly (if at all) you want to practice.

Conversely, even if you fall into one of the above four categories, if you don't want to practice law, don't waste your time.

The law school decision isn't (and shouldn't be) a math equation. The math is part of it, but there's more as well.

OP: All that said, the fact that you're not sure you want to go to law school basically puts you into category two. Wait it out or do something else with your time.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:25 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like the suggestion to become a P.A. Definitely an interesting way to split the difference in terms of risk, reward, prestige, personal value, and finances.
posted by Capri at 8:40 AM on April 2, 2013

Add me to the list of those who like the suggestion of becoming a patient advocate. If you feel that the law is a "calling" because of the service aspect -- particularly service to people who are daunted by a byzantine system -- then patient advocacy is a great way to fulfill that calling without committing to the high price tag and emotional grind of law school.

I say this, of course, as someone who is *not* a patient advocate, and who knows nothing about the education and training required. My only experience with P.A.s has been as the relative of a patient in hospital. The hospital was atrocious, but our P.A. was magnificent. She was the one bright spot in a very bleak time for my family, and I remain grateful to her to this day.
posted by bakerina at 9:10 AM on April 2, 2013

I think a NP would be better than a PA. I mean you said you liked nursing, not pathology.

*oops, read PA as Physicians Assistant not Patient Advocate.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:12 AM on April 2, 2013

I know nothing about law or law school, but I am a nurse. People are really, really underestimating the current climate of nursing.

First of all: the job market for new graduates of nursing school, even those with a BSN, is atrocious. It's not just "challenging" or "tight," it's non-existent. New grad training programs dried up during the recession and they are not back yet, so hospitals are not hiring nurses who need a lot of training to practice safely in an acute care environment. The only quote-unquote new grad training program I've heard of recently requires the unemployed new grad to pay the hospital a few thousand dollars for a three-month opportunity to be mentored on one of the floors, with no guarantee of a job when they finish.

I spend a lot of time at my job in San Francisco training student nurses, and NOT ONE of them found a job in a hospital locally when they graduated. They had to move to get a job in a hospital, and not just to a different town close by. They left their family and friends behind and moved to places like Cheyenne, Wyoming, which culturally speaking is basically another planet to someone who grew up in the Bay Area. They'll be there for at least a year, probably two, getting the bedside experience they need to get a similar job back home.

Some of my students found jobs as new grads in long-term care facilities like nursing homes, and others in places like plastic surgery offices. If you go to nursing school and are OK with making (much) less money to do non-hospital work when you graduate, great. But if you want an acute care hospital job, be prepared to relocate to the rural middle of the country for a couple of years before you'll find work in your chosen city.

The bottom line here is that unless nursing is really your passion--a career you couldn't possibly live without and the only thing with which you want to fill your working days--and unless you're willing to relocate to find your first job, now is not the time to be a new grad.

And I'll echo SyraCarol: if you don't like paperwork or being nice to people who are treating you poorly, dear God almighty you should not be a nurse.

Finally: any doctor who looks at a nurse as a "junior" partner in patient care is old-fashioned, behaving in a way that is actively detrimental to patient safety, and definitely forgetting the many, MANY times a nurse saved his or her ass as a resident. Uncool.
posted by jesourie at 12:05 PM on April 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

It appears that jesourie has over turned the apple cart for the OP. Both choices are a potentially very difficult - Therefore, perhaps best to open more options that better match one's skillset above all, since that will give you the edge one most certainly needs in competitive career environments.
posted by Kruger5 at 12:28 PM on April 2, 2013

Echoing the advice not to go to law school.

I am a lawyer. People ask me for advice all the time on where to go to law school.

I advise them not to go to law school.

They think I am joking. I am not joking.

People go, with the idea that they will be the exception for law grads, that they will be the one who has everything work out well. There is no such person.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:28 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Both choices are a potentially very difficult

It honestly sounds like nursing is a good deal from what jesourie describes-- very good shot at finding a well-paying job right away if you're willing to relocate and the ability to where you want to go once you have experience under you belt, giving you a leg up on the new grads. That makes the landscape a LOT better than the lawyer situation.

I moved away to college, moved for grad school, and moved for plenty of jobs. That's life. You go to where the opportunities are because that's better than not having any opportunities.

And no one likes being treated badly in the workplace and having to do paperwork, but a career will involve a lot of times when someone will treat you badly, and paperwork is a fact of life. Park of growing up is learning how to set your boundaries and also building a professional career where you have enough respect in the workplace where people don't pull that stuff on you.

No path is going to be easy-- not even the alternatives that you come up with outside of law and nursing. But you can pick a path where the opportunities are clearly better than other possible choices.
posted by deanc at 12:39 PM on April 2, 2013


Are you talking about UCSF grads? They can't find jobs nearby?

If that is the case then the legal market may actually be better for grads of top schools--Harvard and Yale law grads are all getting jobs.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:49 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

The new grad nursing field is, indeed, quite dismal, though it definitely varies by region. The advantage in my mind of nursing vs law is that it's entirely possible to get a degree and licensing as a nurse for sub 30k$ in many places, whereas with law (unless in the case of scholarships, etc), that is quite unlikely. It certainly depends on the field an the number of years worked, but I know MANY nurses making upwards of 100k a year, some with only two year degrees. The whole landscape is changing, for sure, with the ACA, so things are at kind of a tricky time to begin with, but still.

I've got a number of friends in law and I'm a nurse myself, so I think my perspective is that either way you're a public servant so it's kind of weird that you're giving the cons of each as if they are opposite fields when the cons for each are both somewhat similar. Cons: people boss you around in both fields and there may be some colleagues who think they're a level above you when really each person serves a purpose that can't be fulfilled by the other part of the team (like whoever it was above that said that nurses are junior caregivers. LOL. I can't even...). In law you have to claw your way to the top for the big bucks and the partnership. Same deal, just different types of servitude and different timelines as to growth and upward advancement. Also the same is that both entail lots of paperwork. Nursing is a lot of documentation of things that were and weren't done for care and you have to be really careful or it can actually overtake the stuff you actually have to do for the actual PATIENT. It's tough to be sure, but perhaps still a little more human contact than with some types of law. Finally, as far as sexual orientation? This is only a problem in so far as it's a problem in the area you live at large. I work tons of gay peeps and I don't know anyone who has ever batted an eye. I'm not sure why you feel that nursing would be a harsher environment than law in this regard, but that's mostly because it has been a non-issue in all the places I've ever worked here in the northeast.

For me, even though the job market is rough for nursing right now, as many have said it is REALLY for law schoolgrads as well and if this decision is seriously between just these two things, I'd take nursing school debt over law school and bar exam fees any day.
posted by takoukla at 12:52 PM on April 2, 2013

You will always be able to create income as a lawyer, literally after passing the Bar, without the need of an employer. You cannot do that as a nurse.

True, there is no such thing as a nurse solo practitioner. True, it is possible for a fresh new law grad to hang up their own shingle and practice solo, literally right after passing the bar. Is it advisable? Hell no!

The fact is, law school doesn't teach you how to practice law. Many law professors have never actually practiced law, or practiced it waaay back in the day when things were done very differently. If law professors aren't required to have recent practice experience or any practice experience at all, then obviously law school curricula aren't set up to prepare students to hit the ground running. This is why first year associate and articling (in Canada) positions dried right up during the recession. Law firms make a huge investment of time and money when they hire new grads, because new grads don't know a thing, are slow, and need a ton of handholding. When I graduated, experienced lawyers told me that it would take at least three years before I started to feel comfortable with my knowledge and abilities. Most in-house positions require at least five years of experience, because that's how long it takes to start feeling confident that you can run the show yourself.

Solo practice has many inherent dangers. For one, you are actually starting up your own business, which carries its own set of risks. It requires financial investment right off the bat, which most new law grads don't have. Unless you're very well connected you'll need to advertise and spend your own money to attend networking events, and it could be months or even years before you have enough of a client base to live off of. What new grad has that kind of financial resources? You'll need to pay your own bar association fees and practice insurance, which are higher for solo practitioners specifically because they're at a greater risk of fucking up and being sued. Since you're also running a business, the hours you can spend billing for actual legal work are reduced since you're also responsible for taking care of the accounting (and rules for trust accounting are not to be trifled with, unless you want your license pulled) and admin work. Again, you could hire staff but what new grad with a brand new solo practice has resources for that? Until you can afford to get picky about your clients, you're going to get a lot of really, really crappy clients with bad cases that no one else would take, and clients who can't or won't pay you.

And that doesn't even begin to touch the reality that is, new grads don't know anything! Outside of a law firm environment, where you'd be set up with mentors and supervision, as a solo don't have anyone to look over your work, as a solo lawyer you don't have anyone to ask for advice or clarification, you don't have precedents to work off of, you have no checks and balances, and no safety net if you mess up. Even my manager (in-house), who has many, many years of practice experience, often contacts an external firm for advice on topics he feels rusty on. He can do this because our company has the financial resources to pay for hourly advice from expert lawyers. Going solo is difficult even for experienced lawyers. Going solo right out of law school is colossally bad advice for any potential or actual law student, and it is NOT a way to get out of competing in the extremely crowded legal market. It would be like saying that racing in an Ironman triathlon would be a great way to get out of running your local 10K.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:53 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was a pre-law major, so when I was coming up on college graduation and trying to decide what to do, law school seemed like one of the most obvious possibilities.

Every single lawyer I spoke to about it — including my advisor (considered one of the toughest profs on campus but from whom I earned almost all As) and my uncle — gave me a variation of the advice that my mother (a director) used to give people who asked her if they should go into the theatre: "If there is anything else that you can imagine yourself doing and being happy at, DO THE OTHER THING. You should not go into this field as a career unless there is NOTHING else you can imagine yourself doing and being fulfilled at."
posted by Lexica at 6:42 PM on April 2, 2013

A relative of mine got a full-ride scholarship to a decent (but not top ten) law school. She hasn't been able to find a job for the last three years.

Don't go into law.
posted by deathpanels at 1:55 AM on April 3, 2013

MisantropicPainforest, UCSF's school of nursing grants only master's degrees, and their graduates sit for licensing exams to become advanced practice nurses (nurse practitioners and nurse midwives). These are not new RNs, and they don't compete for the same available new grad RN jobs.

I have limited experience about what the job market is like for them, but anecdotally it doesn't seem much better. I've known two recent UCSF grads who looked for work as CNMs, and neither found jobs in the immediate Bay Area after graduation. One commutes from South San Francisco to Sacramento for her job, and another moved to Napa. Hardly torture, sure, but both circumstances are not ideal and involve a lot of expense and frustration. Furthermore, both work per diem, meaning they fill in only as needed by the hospital and sometimes work as infrequently as one shift in a two week period, have no guaranteed hours, no benefits, and no job security.

keep it under cover, while you're correct that an RN's legal scope of practice precludes operating solo, master's prepared advanced practice nurses can and do go into private practice with some frequency. Nurse Practice Acts vary wildly from state to state so the specifics really depend on location, but in California it is completely legal for a certified nurse midwife to have a private home birth practice, or for a family nurse practitioner to see patients in private practice, and for both to bill insurance companies for their services.
posted by jesourie at 2:59 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something that I think hasn't been said yet: you can follow a number of different career paths with a law degree, eg in government, NGOs, and so on. It will usually give you a bit of extra respect, I feel, in business generally, ie a wide range of white collar work.

This is bullshit pushed by law school placement officers. If anything, having a law degree on your resume is an impediment to doing anything else but law. People wrongly assume that you can make tons of money as a lawyer so why would you want a job doing something else.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 10:16 PM on April 3, 2013

Response by poster: I've enrolled in an lpn program. Thank you for all the insight!
posted by Autumn at 3:23 PM on April 14, 2013

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