Oh, DON'T go to law school??
June 17, 2015 9:27 AM   Subscribe

I’m starting to panic about going to law school. I have no idea what else I would do. If you’re a lawyer who regrets going to law school, what do you wish you had done instead? What other careers would be a good fit for someone with a background in law, but no JD?

Law school has been the plan for the last five years or so. I have a BA in political science, three years of paralegal work experience (both for the District Attorney’s office and for a private real estate law firm), and another two years working as a courtroom clerk for the Circuit Court. I really enjoy being in the courtroom, but have always seen my clerk job as a stepping stone rather than a career. (I am making about $33k a year, and there is very little upward mobility. I would like to be making at least twice that.) I have a good GPA (3.94) and a high LSAT score (173). I think that my skills (good problem solver, articulate, good at thinking on my feet) would make me a good attorney.

With that being said, I’m having second (and third and fourth) thoughts. I’ve heard “Don’t go to law school!” from almost every attorney I’ve worked with. I figure that I should brainstorm my other options—but I can’t come up with any. I’m not at all science inclined, so I think anything in the realm of engineering or medicine would not be a good fit for me. I’m also not particularly good with my hands—I don’t think I would be well-suited for carpentry/electrical work/other trade jobs. I think that marketing/PR would be a good option, but am not sure how to break into that. I am also interested in publishing (and am a writer myself), but have the same issue. (Essentially, I don’t want to start over and be making minimum wage again.)

I know that experienced paralegals can make a good salary, but I don’t want to be working alone at a desk for the rest of my life – if I do go to law school, I will be looking for jobs primarily in criminal/juvenile law, which would hopefully involve a lot more person-to-person interaction.

What other career paths should I be looking at? I am 24, unmarried, no kids, and live in Portland, OR.
posted by frizzle to Work & Money (38 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, I should add-- I've paid off my undergrad debt, and currently have no other debt.
posted by frizzle at 9:31 AM on June 17, 2015

If you like marketing/PR and enjoy the courtroom, then you should probably take up Obamacare (I know, I know) and temp in an ad agency as an Asst. Account Executive, Marketing Coordinator, or Jr. Project Manager. Both of these positions present to clients and internally - if that's your thing - and are, dare I say, quite fun. YMMV, of course. Plus, the pay isn't too bad at all - just don't lowball yourself on your per hour rate.
posted by singmespanishtechno at 9:36 AM on June 17, 2015

Are you quantitatively oriented at all? Management and strategy consultants need the skills you've described, along with some basic quantitative skills (ability to become facile with Excel, understanding basic stats, mental math for gut checks, etc).

With the stats you've described you have a good shot at a top law school; attending one (lets say Y/H/S/C/C/N) is one of the only scenarios under which I would recommend going to law school, absent an overwhelming passion for the law to the exclusion of all other careers (which does seem to be absent here).
posted by telegraph at 9:44 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well ... I'm an attorney who hated law school and regretted it for a while, but am now really happy in my career and so glad I stuck it out. I'm also a criminal defense attorney, if that matters. (I do appeals.)

I would, however, look askance at anyone who suggests that you can do things with a law degree besides practicing law. I heard that a lot but I found that for most other career paths, a law degree was not helpful, and might even have been a hinderance. More importantly, law school is so expensive these days that there are not many other career tracks that will be worth the expense.

Are you having second thoughts because you actually think you don't want to practice law, or because people are telling you not to do it? There are many unhappy lawyers, but most of them went in without a plan or experience. It sounds like you have both.
posted by xeney at 9:45 AM on June 17, 2015 [14 favorites]

What about an MBA? Presumably your strong LSAT predicts a strong GMAT score too. Your work experience would be your weak point but well written essays can help balance that out. It doesn't seem like a stretch to get into a strong regional b-school.

Your skills (good problem solver, articulate, good at thinking on my feet) are a good fit for any sort of corporate job. Did you at all enjoy the work at the real estate law firm? Commercial real estate (say, in a leasing or finance role) seemed like an obvious path when I read your question.
posted by mullacc at 9:46 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

here are some ideas to explore:

work for a union. work for the FBI or another large law enforcement agency. get into local politics. work as an internal investigator in a law enforcement agency or a correctional system. work as an investigator for a criminal defense organization like legal aid or the federal defenders. become a probation or pretrial services officer (or assistant) for the feds (i would say you might be annoyed or bored doing probation at the state or city level, if you're coming from a DA's office). become an investigative journalist.

i am an attorney. i have no debt. still: don't go to law school. i am leaving law forever because i hate working at a desk all day every day. i get antsy even when i stand up at the desk! will be starting work with a federal probation office in three weeks in the realm of 60k entry level pay, where i have been promised fieldwork and interviewing lots of people and thinking on my feet, plus insanely good benefits, and opportunities for raises and advancement ...without having to do the hoop jumping and ass kissing and 90 hour weeks inherent to private law practice.
posted by zdravo at 9:46 AM on June 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

Consider that if you plan on primarily practicing criminal and juvenile law you might very well spend your entire career as a public employee and should check the salaries for those positions in the area you wish to live.
posted by greasy_skillet at 9:48 AM on June 17, 2015

I am a business person who regrets not going to law school. I would have liked to have had that background to use in my non law career. I did get my MBA at night while working full time. I suggest you consider doing that with a law degree. Life was hard and duller than I wanted at that age, but I think back on the night degree (from a top Chicago area school) and am quite happy I did it.
posted by AugustWest at 9:52 AM on June 17, 2015

I'm assuming you care about criminal law and juvenile justice, and don't want to just do some random career. With a law background and an interest in criminal law, you might look into legal policy non-profits. There are a lot of them. For example, Justice Policy Institute or Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Unfortunately, breaking in to those organizations may require some low paying gigs or internships, but it's nothing like law school debt.

Or, you might consider social work -- a lot of the more interesting criminal justice reforms these days are about getting social services involved and developing community courts for juvenile offenders with creative solutions rather than locking kids up. Again, not very high paying unless you get on the track for a director of a non-profit or other services organization, but it might be very rewarding for you.

Seriously, though, you seem like one of the few people I would say, "yes, law school and being a lawyer is likely a good idea for you": (1) you know enough about the profession to have a sense of whether you would actually like it, rather than just thinking it's Law and Order or The Good Wife or whatever; (2) you have an excellent GPA and LSAT, which means you can probably get in to a top program, which will make it much more likely that you can get the job you want; (3) you're not expecting the Big Firm bucks, just a living wage (although, frankly, you probably won't make much more than you currently make if you go in to juvenile justice); and (4) it sounds like you actually want to do it, but are second-guessing yourself. It's a big decision, and doubts are natural, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should throw away your dream. I almost decided not to go to law school about a month before classes started, but I'm so glad I went.
posted by alligatorpear at 9:56 AM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Go work for a Trust Bank administering Trusts. They often hire Trust and Estate lawyers, but just having some kind of a law background will be helpful. Once you're in, the company will pay for you to get a CTFA, which is a great designation to be a Trust Officer. It's a really good career, IMO. Reasonable hours, decent pay, low stress, etc.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:00 AM on June 17, 2015

My first thought was the same as a bunch of other responses above -- law school actually does seem like a good path for you. You've given it a lot of thought, you have experiences in legal settings, it seems like you understand what a legal career would be like for you. Also, the alternate career paths you said you might be interested in do not have good prospects for jobs or money, other than potentially marketing which you don't have a background in.

So to help you decide, I'd do the following:
(1) Calculate your return on investment. Figure out what salary you can realistically expect with the jobs you're targeting, figure out your law school investment/debt, see if it makes sense financially.
(2) Look at your school's employment statistics. Do some googling and asking around to see if those statistics are believable. What do grads of that school typically do? What jobs would be realistic for you right out of school?
(3) Talk to lawyers who are doing work you're interested in. Many are happy to have coffee and give advice. See if you can identify at least three different people who have jobs you'd like to have someday.

(Source: Happy lawyer; have advised many people not to go to law school.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:03 AM on June 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

"I have a good GPA (3.94) and a high LSAT score (173). "

With these numbers you can not only get a free ride almost anywhere, but excellent state schools will give you grants on top of it to cover at least some of your living expenses.

I don't regret the three years of time I spent going to law school, or the things I learned or the people I met; I regret the student loans.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:05 AM on June 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm a lawyer, and I graduated during the Dark Times (2009). I like my job. I won't repeat all of the "don't go to law school" advice because it sounds like you're pretty familiar with it. That's good, and I encourage you to keep reading reporting in that vein (it's a pet topic of Above The Law, if you're not reading that already). That said, you have a lot more exposure to lawyers than most law school candidates, and if it seems like it might be something you're suited for, I wouldn't cut it out altogether, particularly if you can get a full ride at a well-regarded school in your jurisdiction.

But it's worth working in the specific field of law that you think you might be interested in. If that's criminal law, work for either the government or a criminal defense firm in whatever capacity you can get a job, and pay a lot of attention to what the attorneys are doing, including their hours, their pay, their tasks, etc. Then ask if you'd trade places with them.

Also, don't write off paralegal work as sitting at a desk making binders all day. That can certainly be the experience, but other paralegals do a fair amount of tasks that involve person-to-person interaction, like doing intake work at a personal injury firm.

If you like being in the courtroom and working with people, also consider litigation services firms. They're generally hired by bigger law firms to put together presentations for big cases; they're the wizards that can pull up a relevant document in an instant. There aren't a ton of those firms, but it might be an option.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:12 AM on June 17, 2015

Nthing the idea that you are the rare person to whom I would say, "Go!" After five years, you have a sense of what a legal career can look like and seem to want to actually be a lawyer. That said, consider what you want your career to look like, long-term: attending a top-ranked school will open the most doors while graduating with no debt will make you feel the least chained to a particular job.

In my experience, those who offer blanket "don't go to law school!" advice are those who bought into the "you can do anything with a law degree!" myth and/or have a lot of debt and thus less career flexibility. Be thoughtful about where you go, for sure, but...Go! And good luck.
posted by trixie119 at 10:12 AM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I will be looking for jobs primarily in criminal/juvenile law, which would hopefully involve a lot more person-to-person interaction.

If you want to work with people, perhaps aim for an MSW. It sounds like your skills (good problem solver, articulate, good at thinking on feet) would serve you well in a variety of roles in and around the court system that don't require the J.D. For example, a forensic evaluation/expert witness practice might be a more stable and lucrative career than what you may find as an attorney, especially in criminal justice and juvenile law.

You mention "I am making about $33k a year, and there is very little upward mobility. I would like to be making at least twice that," so I suggest that you investigate things like the typical cost of a family forensic in your area, because that might help you better understand your non-J.D. career options. That being said, if you can get a full ride scholarship to law school, that would make the risk of law school more bearable, and after a free J.D., you could then get the MSW and likely become an even more expensive expert witness.
posted by Little Dawn at 10:16 AM on June 17, 2015

Oh, and as a (somewhat outdated) data point, I had a 3.9 GPA and a 172 LSAT, and my law school options included the following:

Michigan (no scholarship)
Notre Dame (significant scholarship)
University of Minnesota (significant scholarship)
USC (significant scholarship)
UCLA (significant scholarship)
Pepperdine (full ride)
Lewis & Clark (full ride)

I was waitlisted at Berkeley, and rejected from Harvard and Yale. I ended up attending Notre Dame, and I was happy with the decision.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:21 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I loved law school and I really loved many things about the practice of law, but the law requires an insane amount of time these days and doesn't pay nearly as well as any profession in which you are keyed into profits rather than hours (even at the partner level, profits are linked to associate hours). If you have friends who are entrepreneurs, consider that they may need in house counsel for their little company -- that looks like tons of fun and if the company takes off, yay!

If I weren't so mistrusting of the government, I would have considered working with the SEC. The corporation finance arm fascinates me and I had the background to fit, and the hours are fantastic and so what the pay sucks, it's a government job so you get government benefits.

Bear in mind when you are considering all of this that many many people dislike their jobs. I don't know a lot of data entry clerks who like their jobs. Or people like what they do but they can't support themselves on their pay. While you won't get rich being an attorney (you'll be in the top 2% of the nation, generally, but that also assumes you live in an expensive market), you can usually send your kids to private school or take some great vacations or whatever your vice is, as opposed to the guy who owns an antiquarian bookstore, loves books, loves book people, and doesn't have a dime in savings.

Also, a fuckton of people go straight from college to law school without working in between. You didn't. I didn't. I started law school at 30. But the kids who went straight through are doubly slammed a year into their real career. I see college grads one year out suddenly take this huge dip in motivation, and it's because for the first time in their life, they don't get a Fresh Start every September (more frequently after grammar school -- like 2 or 4 times a year). Now add in to that natural slump the fact that first year associates are worked to the bone, and an economy that causes partners to pull the ladder up after them, and you've got a perfect storm of circumstances to embitter another generation of lawyers.

The law is fantastic. If you're suited for it, it can be a great career. I still work in a law firm but what I do is unique and has grown up around my abilities and interests and experience (including 8 years in the securities industry and 8 years as a corporate securities lawyer). I know how lucky I am and to be honest, I wish there had been a way to get to where I am today without the expense of law school. But judge for yourself, don't let other people tell you not to do it just because *they* don't like it.
posted by janey47 at 10:32 AM on June 17, 2015

I was roughly in your position (similar stats, no undergrad debt) when I applied to law school in 2004. I was offered a full ride at a top 10 school and attended a top 5 school with modest financial assistance. I'll add another vote that you are probably one of the few people who maybe should actually apply to law school.

The problem underlying the "don't go to law school" advice is as follows. For at least the last 15 years, universities have had costs go up and funding go down. Law schools attached to universities were increasingly viewed as cash cows to fund the rest of the university, so they enrolled too many people and overcharged them. At the same time, the legal profession was bifurcating into a small elite who worked at large law firms, became AUSAs, etc., and a large majority who do ordinary "legal stuff" for ordinary people and, given their client base's stagnating incomes, also have their salaries stagnate. But everyone pays the same amount for law school; hence, economic problems for lots and lots of new lawyers (but not really the elite ones). The financial crisis sure made it worse but that was not the only issue.

To be blunt, you have a good chance of getting into that tiny elite minority if you want to, and so you will at least be able to not get financially screwed. In addition it sounds like you really know what being a lawyer is like from close range, so you will go in with eyes open. You should not even apply to schools outside the top 15, and you should not attend a school outside about the top 6 without substantial financial aid like unto a full ride. Given that you already have a goal that does not involve highly remunerative law firm work, it may be best to shoot for a full ride at a Penn-Berkeley-UVA-Michigan type school, though honestly going to H/Y/S/Chicago will probably open more doors for you albeit at a higher price in terms of loans. That is an OK problem to have as a law school applicant.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:35 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The people who say "don't go to law school" are probably people who don't truly love the law. For many, it's a relatively quick way to get a career without needing much else. This doesn't seem to be the case for you-- you seem to really care about the law and would like to actually practice it. This seems like the right fit for you.
posted by Flamingo at 10:41 AM on June 17, 2015

Given that you already have a goal that does not involve highly remunerative law firm work, it may be best to shoot for a full ride at a Penn-Berkeley-UVA-Michigan type school, though honestly going to H/Y/S/Chicago will probably open more doors for you albeit at a higher price in terms of loans. That is an OK problem to have as a law school applicant.

Seconding this. Assuming that your 3.94 is from a reasonable university, with your grades and experience, your basic choice will be whether you go to an elite law school that has more of a social service bent, or whether you go for the elitest-of-the-elitest maximum prestige because it theoretically gives you more options coming out.

On the other hand, you have a sense of how much lawyers work. Are you willing to work that hard? Do you want to work that much? For the the rest of your life? Crimlaw and particularly juvenile crimlaw can be really, really, really emotionally intense on top of being really, really, really demanding.

Also, you don't mention your family or relationship status. Law can be brutal on both, especially for people who are gunning for the top of the top. I went to one of the elite whatever law schools, and in my section, it was an 80% attrition rate for marriages, never mind engagements and serious relationships. Similarly, I'm at a law firm now. Out of the partners in my department, all but two have gotten divorced while lawyering.
posted by joyceanmachine at 10:49 AM on June 17, 2015

The people who say "don't go to law school" are the ones looking realistically at the debt load and job prospects for the vast, vast majority of law school graduates who are coming out of Tier 2 and 3 schools. I left law school after a year; it wasn't for me, and I was happy with the decision. But my friends from that year who graduated (Creighton Law '14) are looking at really rough employment statistics and debt numbers, and Creighton is a regionally well-regarded school in the biggest market in its state.

That said, you sound like a good candidate for a top-tier school and significant financial support, and that's a good combination. Go for it.
posted by protocoach at 10:57 AM on June 17, 2015

In recent news related to your career interests, the NYT has a gloomy opinion piece about legal aid and the legal field in general ("For the last four years, less than 60 percent of law-school graduates have found full-time jobs requiring a bar qualification"), and the Guardian has an opinion piece about public defenders ("This makes a mockery of the innocent-until-proven-guilty principle so sacred to our system of justice.")

The people who say "don't go to law school" are probably people who don't truly love the law.

Or, the problem with law school is that love doesn't pay the bills.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:23 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

You have good "stats" to get into a good school. If you can get into a top-tier law school, you should go. If you only get into fourth-tier, regional private schools; you're signing up for a lot of debt and worse job prospects, even if you finish in the top percentage of your class. It's a simple fact that a really good school with name-recognition opens more doors. It also shows that you've been through a rigorous winnowing process already. If it's always been in the plans to go to law school and you're still interested even after working for firms and on the periphery, you sound like you're cut out for it.
posted by resurrexit at 11:24 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

"If you only get into fourth-tier, regional private schools; you're signing up for a lot of debt and worse job prospects, even if you finish in the top percentage of your class." I'll temper this by saying you might only consider this track if you can get guaranteed scholarships from that school--that way you're getting the degree but not the debt load, which will make your job hunting so much less stressful and open you to something other than just whatever makes the most money.
posted by resurrexit at 11:26 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Given that you already have a goal that does not involve highly remunerative law firm work, it may be best to shoot for a full ride at a Penn-Berkeley-UVA-Michigan type school, though honestly going to H/Y/S/Chicago will probably open more doors for you albeit at a higher price in terms of loans. That is an OK problem to have as a law school applicant.

nthing the advice that you should go if you can get into a top tier law school.. I would look at law school selection as a sliding school - the higher the ranking, the lower your scholarship needs. If you graduate from Harvard with a boatload of debt, it isn't going to matter. You'll have your pick of jobs, even if big firm law isn't what you want to do, you can do it for a few years to pay off the debt, then do whatever you want. Just don't get sucked in by the golden shackles. The further down the rankings you go, the more you need to ratchet the scholarship money up. Don't go below the top 12 unless you're getting a full ride, and don't go below the top 25 in ANY case.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:38 AM on June 17, 2015

I'm not a lawyer, but I've known several. Only one of them wasn't desperate to get out of practicing law. And that one should have been because he had stared into the abyss long enough that the abyss had begun to stare back into him. Mostly, when they found out I was peripherally involved in the film industry, these attorneys would get excited as hell, because they all dreamed of quitting law and writing courtroom thrillers. More than one asked me to read their manuscripts. Every single one of them wanted to be John Grisham.

Now you seem someone who really wants to do law stuff. And I think a big part of what burned out the lawyers of my acquaintance was that going to law school had put them massively in debt. Thus they needed to make big money right off the bat, and so they had no choice but to throw themselves into the maw of the big law firms, where they would be worked to death and would have to desperately claw their way up through the ranks. It crushed them. To a man, except that one who, as I've already noted, you really don't want to be.

If you could avoid that trap, I suspect you'd find a path a lot less horrifying. Five states - Vermont, Washington, California, Virginia and Wyoming - will allow you to become a lawyer without actually having a law degree. It's not trivial, and my guess is it makes it pretty much impossible to get one of those big law entry positions, but I'm arguing you don't want one of those positions anyway. It might be something to consider, if you're interested in moving right into private practice on your own and keeping off the treadmill.
posted by Naberius at 11:46 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

As others have said, you might be one of the people who is OK at law school. You know what you're getting in to and have the stats to keep yourself from incurring a ton of debt. Especially given the current climate in law school/legal employment, you're going to have tons of full ride scholarships thrown at you from everyone outside the T-14 and some good offers from within. Plug your stats into Law School Numbers and look around at what people are being offered for similar stats this fall. (Also realize that you're probably not getting a scholarship in the sense that some old rich guy endowed a fund to pay for you to go to school. Your classmates are subsidizing your attendence with their $54k/year tuition. And pay attention to the requirements for any resulting scholarships. Do you need to maintain a certain GPA? Do they put all the scholarship kids in the same section to gaurantee a certain number of them miss the GPA marker? They're bastards.)

I'm one of the most anti-law school people you'd encounter. But I would tell you to throw out some applications and see what you get.

I did get my MBA at night while working full time. I suggest you consider doing that with a law degree.

Do not get a law degree this way unless you're going into a family firm or otherwise have a job lined up after graduation. In general, the kinds of jobs that make law school worth attending aren't hiring people out of night school/part time programs.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 12:07 PM on June 17, 2015

I have a friend who went to a top 3 law school. She didn't want to do corporate law, and lived in both DC and New York. She never found a job as any kind of lawyer. She's a bartender now. I have another friend who went to a top 20 school. He couldn't find anything lawyer-related at all, and took a mid-level business operations job, and is now a senior manager--but limited by not having an MBA. Go to law school if you can get mad scholarships, and be prepared to pitch yourself as a strategy/ops/writing/communications expert based on your experiences there to companies.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:56 PM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just so that you know, if you want to be a criminal litigator, in many places, you're going to be pretty much locked into being a prosecutor because you have worked for prosecutors in the past. Find out if that's true in the markets where you want to practice, but having that experience basically knocks you out of the running at many of the top public defenders' offices and juvenile defense organizations. You should talk to actual people who have the actual job you think you want about your job prospects.

(I'm a public defender. Message me if you want to chat.)
posted by decathecting at 1:39 PM on June 17, 2015

I'm a lawyer who graduated from a T6 school, has done big law, went back to get an MBA, worked in a bank, and am now going back to law again. I have advised many people not to go to law school. You would NOT be one of them, because:
1. You have years of experience working with lawyers, so you know what you're getting into, unlike most people who go to law school (including me).
2. Your stats will allow you to get into a top law school or a slightly lower ranked law school with no debt, making it actually a smart investment.

That said, if you're feeling like you want more options after you graduate, look into JD/MBAs. This would significantly expand the careers you'd be qualified for, with not much more incremental cost/time.
posted by banishedimmortal at 1:50 PM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The skills you listed would make for a good cop. Seattle PD starts at about 70K.
posted by InkaLomax at 3:49 PM on June 17, 2015

I've read this article and frankly, you don't sound like someone who would be a problem law student. If you really want to be a lawyer, which it sounds like you do and you have a good idea of what it'd be like, then go for it!
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:57 PM on June 17, 2015

the kinds of jobs that make law school worth attending aren't hiring people out of night school/part time programs

I got flak for saying this in another AskMe a few months ago, but I respectfully disagree (though we may have different definitions of jobs that make law school worth attending; I'm about as far from Big Law as you can get). I just graduated from a part-time program; I entered with three years as a paralegal. I now know a bunch of full-time grads who are underemployed or unemployed, many are once more sleeping in their childhood beds; I know only one part-time student who is having trouble finding steady employment as a lawyer, but he also lives in the middle of nowhere. You've got a solid background, and the folks I know who quit full-time gigs to go to law school did wind up getting jobs, but if you have a solid background and are smart, it is not at all a kiss of death. (Unless you're into Big Law, which no one in the part time program was, and it doesn't sound like you are either.)

So then you have to ask yourself (regardless of the part time/full time issue) what kind of job makes law school worth attending? When you write out your ideal job description, does any of that require a license to practice law or can people do it without a license to practice law? If school is paid for, almost anything can be worth it. If not, think of the job you want, the salary you'd likely get, run it through a student loan repayment calculator and see what you think of that number.

As for my experience: I entered with three years of paralegaling and a guaranteed job at the firm I was at once I graduated. First year, I found out my girlfriend of three years was cheating on me and having her boyfriend over while I was at class. So that ended. Second year, I was diagnosed with bipolar after a verrrryyyy very long hypomanic cycle. Third year, I was diagnosed with ADHD and finally had a relatively large breakdown wherein I realized I actually hated my job and probably didn't want to practice law (my lack of ability to spot details was causing some pretty bad career anxiety).

So then I quit, took a part-time load this year while I did some contract work and volunteered a ton, reached out to an alum I'd run into a few years before, and now I'm happily not practicing law at a thriving Fortune 100 making more than I would have made if I stayed at the firm and certainly having a lot more say in the direction that my career goes.

All this not to convince you one way or the other, but just to share my experience.
posted by good lorneing at 7:43 PM on June 17, 2015

Since nobody's mentioned it yet, if it's the idea of being able to find a job as a lawyer, talk to a military recruiter about the JAG corps.
posted by ctmf at 8:38 PM on June 17, 2015

I've known a few people who worked as paralegals and seemed to enjoy it. They seemed to be fairly compensated and not overworked. It's not a flashy job title but it pays the bills and you get to work in a legal profession.
posted by deathpanels at 8:38 PM on June 17, 2015

I remind my fellow commenters to read the question.

I would suggest looking into the following areas: public health, politics (many possible angles), local government (for me, city planning type stuff would be the most interesting, but maybe not for you), teaching, law enforcement (not a city cop necessarily, could work for the FBI), foreign service type stuff (State Department), nonprofit work (various charities, USAID, that kind of thing), advocacy (I'm thinking of Amnesty International, or things like the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which unfortunately I don't think hires very many people - but just to give you an idea of something that might be pretty cool). I don't know what the job market is like for those jobs, but they seem interesting and much more socially useful than practicing law. I'll note that a law degree might help with some of these things (for instance, a good grasp of land use law would probably help with city planning, and the degree itself might advance your career), but that is something to nail down before you pull the trigger (for instance, poke around on the internet, see if people in the field generally have law degrees, see what the requirements are for job postings, etc.).

Another kind of off-the-top-of-my-head suggestion is to go to edX and just scroll through and see what interests you, and then think about what careers might match those interests. (I'm not saying take the class, although I guess it couldn't hurt.) Also various government agencies post job openings, you can check them out and see if anything grabs you. (Here's the San Francisco Fed. The other Federal Reserve branches are great employers too, I've heard, I only mention this one in particular because you live in the San Francisco district.)

Generally I would cast a wide net. The reason you are getting so many warnings not to be a lawyer is that it is a career that doesn't suit very many people. (I was looking for a copy of the ee cummings poem "plato told him," and this is the best I could do - you have to scroll down.) It could be great for you, but definitely spend some serious time exploring your alternatives. Leave no stone unturned.

(And as a final note, I don't think many public sector/nonprofit legal jobs pay $66,000. My friend got a job for a big city earning about $50,000, and he clerked for the Third Circuit. But I admit it's not something I've looked into.)
posted by sudo intellectual at 8:49 PM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in one-on-one interaction with juveniles and criminals, HR/job development/job training might actually be good for you. Obviously those demographics face barriers to employment and have a hard time adjusting when they get there, and there are lots of organizations that train and develop at-risk people for jobs. Many private companies also have dynamic HR and training departments. It involves a fair amount of policy knowledge/research, one-on-one people time, and lots of variety and on-your-feet time. Advocate for them outside the system and help them stay out, you know?
posted by good lorneing at 9:25 PM on June 17, 2015

Hi, okay, go to law school. Seriously!! You seem so well-suited. The law is fascinating and yes you are at a desk. But you're also at court and meeting clients and networking and plenty of other things. I'm in the honeymoon phase of my summer law job right now, despite the fact that I literally worked from 6am to 11:30pm today (very atypical), and I'm so glad I went. I also have an undergrad (and MA) in politics, but none of your legal experience. I enjoy writing, and love doing research. Law is sweet. Feel free to sent me a message if you have any questions :)

Caveat: I go to a very good school in Canada, have a big city job lined up for articling, and am at times freakishly unworried about money in the face of mounting debt.
posted by hepta at 9:54 PM on June 17, 2015

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