Why shouldn't I go to law school?
October 28, 2006 10:44 PM   Subscribe

What are some legitimate reasons for attending law school?

I am a first-year in college, and I'm fairly convinced that I want to be a lawyer. I've thought through my reasons for this career choice, and I think they are pretty solid. But it seems as though every reason a person could possibly conceive of gets shot down repeatedly by unsatisfied, patronizing lawyers and ex-lawyers (for one of many examples see http://www.tuckermax.com/archives/entries/should_i_go_to_law_school_the_speech_text.phtml).

Here are some of the most common reasons and rebuttals:

1. I want to make the world a better place
-There are plenty of opportunities to do this in other professions, and more often than not, well-intentioned 1Ls end up working at morally suspect firms.
2. I want to make a lot of money
-People working at firms are often miserable. The seductive salaries at a select few corporate firms are apparently not a sufficient reason.
3. I like law, it interests me
-Lay individuals don't know enough about law - or about how it is studied in law school and practiced on a daily basis - to make an informed decision about this
4. I like to argue
-An argumentative disposition is (probably deservedly) criticized as a poor reason

Here are my reasons in no particular order:

1. I'm very materialistic. Money matters a lot to me, and I want to make a lot of money in an area that does not entail a lot of risk. The alternatives are medicine, consulting, finance, and entrepreneurial ventures. The last three seem too risky, and I despise medicine.
2. I've read a lot about the law, and I enjoy it. In addition to the wholly unrepresentative constitutional law sections taught as part of US History, I regularly read Supreme Court decisions, books on abstract legal theory (Law's Empire, The Common Law), and less theoretical books (by Posner, Sunstein, and Dershowitz)
3. I'm smart (enough), organized, and hardworking. I will be very disappointed if I'm not attending one of the following schools: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, U. Chicago. I'm taking a lot of precautions to help ensure this. I am currently attending an ivy-league institution. I've read a lot about law school admissions and I have a healthy and balanced selection of classes involving plenty of writing. In addition, I'm participating some, but not too many extra-curriculars, and I may end up interning for a legal services organization. I'm also seeking out internships that pertain to my eventual areas of interest (Libertarian public policy and entrepreneurship with China).
4. For what it's worth, I am a very critical person. I love thought-exercises that involve parsing phrases for meaning, and analogies for correlation. I debated with some success in high school and I generally like activities that involve applying sets of rules to diverse circumstances (e.g. mathematics, logic, economics)
5. I have a clear picture of where I would want to go with my degree. I would want to clerk for a year and then work as a corporate counsel or a corporate lawyer in a very big city. If a judgeship or faculty teaching position came along after a few dozen years I might take it.

Are any of these legitimate reasons? If not, why not? What are some legitimate reasons, pray tell?
posted by JamesJD to Work & Money (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What's wrong with just wanting to? Isn't that the whole point of studying a field...you WANT to do it as your career...
posted by jesirose at 10:47 PM on October 28, 2006

Those all sound like good reasons.

What is it that makes you doubt your reasons enough to post this question?
posted by vacapinta at 10:52 PM on October 28, 2006

I'm fairly convinced that I want to be a lawyer.... I'm very materialistic.... I would want to... work as a corporate counsel or a corporate lawyer in a very big city.

Law school is a good fit for you. I don't disagree with runningdogofcapitalism, but... law school is really designed for people with your attitude.

However, realize that the compensation does NOT necessarily make up for the shitty hours. If you really don't care, if it's really all about the money (at least for a few years), damn the torpedos and full speed ahead.

Oh, also, study your ass off and ace the LSAT. Regard this as your first assignment as a law student.
posted by rkent at 11:03 PM on October 28, 2006

Everything you've said makes you sound like lawyer material to me. I don't really know if "being materialistic" and "making the world a better place" are really very compatible with each other, but if you pick one or the other to focus on you should be able to do fine as a lawyer.
posted by Paris Hilton at 11:07 PM on October 28, 2006

If money is your primary objective, you'd be much better off working in finance, particularly ibanking or hedge funds (the latter involves more risk, it's true, but those people have more money than God.) I have ibanker friends and big firm lawyer friends and the latter are definitely more miserable and they work more. The ibankers mostly enjoy their jobs, actually. Neither group is doing anything good at work for anybody but themselves, but, hey, who needs a conscience when you've got a yacht?

Money-- sickening, serious, two-houses-in-the-Hamptons money-- is by no means guaranteed at big law firms. Not everyone gets a summer associate gig, and then not all of those get an offer, and then not all of those get promoted, and then a very select few of *those* make partner. It's a long, hard slog. I have ibanker friends whose annual bonuses are bigger than most first-year law firm associates' salaries.

I really, truly hope you grow out of your materialism. Please take a class on socioeconomic inequality. Better yet, spend a few afternoons a week volunteering, would you? Tell yourself that even if it does your soul no good, it'll still look good on law school applications. Ugh.
posted by chickletworks at 11:20 PM on October 28, 2006

Please go to law school, it sounds perfect for you. As a 1-L, btw, I'd hate to have you in my class because you sound like a self-obsessed overachiever who only cares about money. It also sounds, though, that you've put a lot of thought into practicing law and are taking the right steps to get there. From the limited amount I've read on Posner, plus my professors' opinions on the guy, it seems like his central emphasis on economics and money as reasons for everything would mesh well with your worldview.

Also, although it's a long way off, please remember to study vigorously for the LSAT. Good scores were the only reason I managed to sneak into the third-tier law school I'm at with a 2.75 undergrad GPA, and I'm sure hitting a 175 + will be paramount if you want in to one of the top 5, regardless of whether you pull a 4.0 and have lots of extracurricular stuff on your resume.
posted by Happydaz at 11:21 PM on October 28, 2006

Well, law is made for risk-averse people. So there's that.

I'd suggest you post this on the law board at AutoAdmit. There's a lot of law students and lawyers that post there, many of whom attended or are attending very good law schools. They'll give you more of a reality check (or maybe love and support, I don't know) than I can.
posted by anjamu at 11:45 PM on October 28, 2006

Surely Law is a serving profession. Lawyers help people, yes, actual people, deal with the legal complexities of society. This can include poor people about to be evicted (though you evince no interest in them); it can also include CEOs of MegaCorp who need help organizing a merger (more your ball of wax, it seems.)

In both cases, you are SERVING someone. Yes, you. A Lawyer actually is meant to help people. The law is an integral part of the social contract and hence lawyers need to be interested in people other than themselves. I'd suggest you search to see if thats in your mental constellation of motivations. If it isn't, then I'd suggest all your other reasons are secondary, and insufficient.

And thank heavens you find medicine icky
posted by Rumple at 11:56 PM on October 28, 2006

I really don't understand why you are asking this, other than to obtain affirmation from the hive that your reasons are legitimate. You appear to have thought this through thoroughly - so much so that you have the next ten years of your life planned out. I can't even tell you what I am going to be doing after I graduate in a year and a half, other than take the 2008 bar. Many of my peers have thought about law school much less than you and they are glad they are where they are, the opposite is also true. And I agree with Happydaz about how your question makes you sound. Please take the time in undergrad to ground yourself before you attend law school, or you will become one of "those people" that the law school prep books always talk about and your peers will hate.
posted by miss meg at 11:59 PM on October 28, 2006

There are a few things that trouble me about this question.

Exhibit A -
You are a first-year. At most, you've not finished a semester of college, so you don't really know what your finals are shaping up to be like, most of your midterms, or even what your intended department looks like. (You really shouldn't know whether or not you're happy with your undergrad choice at this point. Unless of course, you are, until you get your grades back.)
I mention the department because you could be really interested in Political Science, only to find out that you will never get an honors thesis because they can't agree on anything, including which students they like well enough to consider for honors. This means that any arguments you use from other paradigms in the field are likely to be shot down and hung out to dry by a different paradigm'd professor. Humiliating, to be sure.

Exhibit B-
Unless my memory escapes me (and it sadly does not, I am a senior graduating in May), you have four more years to get your Bachelor's degree in whatever field you would like. It's something of an extensive process. Law school doesn't accept just Political Science majors. Some Political Science majors get turned down.

Neither A or B mean that you cannot be a lawyer. It just means that you have not seen what school can do to you.
You also haven't told us what kind of a school you're going to. Small private liberal arts college? Large state university? Medium-to-small state university? Ivy League? Commuter college?
It does, in fact, make a difference.

That being said, settle yo' punk ass down and get to work. Law school only comes if you work hard as an undergrad. Working hard as a undergrad means knowing the material, being responsive to criticisms and being responsible for the work you do. Get to know your professors now. This will be the only time where your professors will hold office hours, not the cursory office half-hour of graduate school.
Those professors that you maintain a relationship with will be the ones that you want to write your references for job interviews and for good quality letters for that all-important law school.

This was longer than I wanted, but see this as an opportunity to talk to the career advising at your school.
posted by lilithim at 12:32 AM on October 29, 2006

Ah, my mistake on the type of school. It may make your task more difficult of getting to be a large fish in an even larger more-talented pond.
Still, career advising should be your next stop on Monday if you want to be very serious about this.
posted by lilithim at 12:36 AM on October 29, 2006

Response by poster: Incidentally, I really dislike political science.
posted by JamesJD at 12:56 AM on October 29, 2006

The only advice I have for you is that no matter how hard working, smart, and fit for law school you think you are, the first year at least will make you hate your life, doubt your intelligence, and wonder whether you made the right choice. I too enjoyed reading Supreme Court decisions and sociology of law books and such, and trust me, by the time you're reading your 8th case of the night, you're not appreciating the language, you're hating the son of a bitch who decided he needs to stick some philosophy in there instead of getting right to the meat of the subject.

And, as happydaz said, you sound like the people I hate in my classes, and I've recently discovered that they hate it as much as the rest of us.

I'm not giving you the don't go speech, I haven't dropped out, obviously I don't think its that heinous, but just don't think that any of the things you've listed about yourself mean that your 1L year won't be one of the hardest of your life (so far.)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 1:00 AM on October 29, 2006

God, I sound like such a bitter chick.

Basically, you CAN make the world a better place. But, very few people can make the world a better place and make a lot of money at the same time. That's why law schools have special loan programs for people who go into public interest work. I advise you to decide which is more important to you post haste.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 1:06 AM on October 29, 2006

The only thing I would shoot down is your sense of certainty. You've got 4 years of college to experiment and change your mind. Don't be afraid to let it happen. If law's really your thing, you'll come back around to it. Spend a year abroad, get involved in some non-law related activities, or take some drama classes or something. Working for a couple years after graduation will give you some perspective and, assuming you do well, improve your admission prospects. Don't rush to a decision and don't fret about the top 5. It's a great goal, but most people don't make it and almost all of them are OK with it. You don't want to be one of those guys who insist anything rated below Michigan is TTT.
posted by jaysus chris at 1:55 AM on October 29, 2006

A few thoughts...

Most lawyers don't make THAT much money. Yeah, if you get a law degree from a good school, you'll have a comfortable life. But, if you want to make lots of money, then your plan is indeed very risky. As chickletworks pointed out, very few people get to be partners at big firms. The chances of any one person (you) getting there are slim. If money is what you're after, I'd guess going into finance is actually a safer bet.

Whatever career you choose, you'll be doing that 40+ hours per week for years and years. How much money you're pulling in might mean very little if you hate what you're doing with most of your day or if you're so busy with work that you don't have much time to spend any of that money. So I would suggest really giving some thought to doing what you like rather than what you think might be the safest way to make some money.

I would wager that most successful lawyers didn't go to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, or Chicago. This is simply because relatively few people graduate from those particular six schools. So, going to one of those specific places, while definitely helpful, might not be nearly as vital to your eventual success as you might think.
posted by epimorph at 1:04 AM on October 29, 2006

I'll second the comments about not doing anything too brash in your first year of college. I left school and got a good job doing the thing I entered college to do, so I'm not coming from a "omg you'll change completely" perspective, just a "there's a lot to learn" perspective.

It sounds like you're thinking about this well enough in advance, which is a great thing. If this is your first year in college, I would recommend that you continue to study for the LSAT (it's fun anyway), pick an undergrad degree which will help you get in to law school, but also do these things while leaving yourself a good path to something that isn't law school.

Having done that, re-evaluate in a year. If your thoughts line up with where they are now and you're doing well on practice LSATs, then really commit to the plan. It sounds like a long time from now, but one year of evaluation is a good investment for not ending up in a career you'll hate for the next 15 years.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:40 AM on October 29, 2006

I will be very disappointed if I'm not attending one of the following schools: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, U. Chicago. I'm taking a lot of precautions to help ensure this.

While this fits with the rest of your self-described persona, I would be remiss if I did not point out that this is a pretty overblown criterion. The best lawyers that I know graduated from programs other than these.

Although it has to be recognized that the track into large and well-heeled law firms and into clerkships for Federal judges (very helpful if you have political goals) pretty much requires graduation at the top of the class from these schools. As others have said, the candidates are a rare group.
posted by yclipse at 2:39 AM on October 29, 2006

I don't think the OP said anything about him wanting to both make the world a better place and make a lot of money. I think the initial list was reasons other people want to be lawyers. He seems to want to be a lawyer for the reasons in the second list.

You sound like the kind of people I knew in law school who have achieved a lot during and after law school, in terms of financial and academic success. I wouldn't trade places with those people, and I was always conscious of not becoming those people, but if that's what you want, I think you're definitely that guy.

As for the money - you probably know all about this, since you seem quite informed, but yeah, law isn't usually for making tons of money, even if you achieve your current goals (those schools, a fed clerkship). Your firm also has to like you enough to want you to be a partner. And the partner candidates will also have similarly succeeded.
posted by Amizu at 5:14 AM on October 29, 2006

You sound bright, but sadly for you, you're just too young to really know what the hell you want/ought to be. I attended a top notch undergrad univ., applied to top law schools and received scholarships to a couple. Turned them all down after taking stock of who I really wanted to be when I grew up.

Materialism isn't a good reason to become a lawyer. You'll grow out of that if you're half as bright as you think you are.

Do yourself a favor and use the time you're fortunate enough to have as an undergraduate to expand your horizons with real-world experience. Let your passion find you.

Lawyers are glorified clerks...
posted by pallen123 at 5:25 AM on October 29, 2006

A few thoughts from a first year associate in Boston:

Your quest for money would suit you better in a field like i-banking or bond trading. Law school is not by any means a get rich quick scheme. Even if you do grab the 6-figure ring - easier but by no means conclusive at a top school (what, Virginia and Michigan aren't good enough for ya?) - your loan balance could well be equal to your first year's salary. And I'm not sure what "area that does not entail a lot of risk" means. Lawyers are laid off and downsized like people in any other white-collar industry. If you want job security, you'd have to go work for the government - and take a 50% pay cut.

This will not be advice you will take, but: take a few years off between college and law school. I did, and I went from a wayward, aimless B student to the top of my law school class. It was the real world perspective and four years of added maturity that did it for me. You might benefit from that. Any post college job will do, the more random the better - law school admissions officers are more likely to take seriously a professional hang-glider than a paralegal.

You're a college freshman, and you have already planned out your clerkship? You say you will be extremely disappointed if you don't get into the top 6 of the US News rankings? A bad day on the LSAT will wipe out four years of dreaming and scheming in about 3 hours. (Expect to score 5 points below your practice; I did.) Take the punches as they come. Take classes in college because you are interested in them. You have the ambition and critical thinking skills to become a lawyer, but you lack the open mind that, in the end, is the real key to success.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 5:53 AM on October 29, 2006

I've concluded, as others apparently have, that law school is overrated for ensuring a huge income. If you want to get really rich, it's better to be a successful entrepreneur or business owner.

However, I think that law school is unmatched in virtually assuring a certain level of prosperity, with little risk. If you go into business hoping to get rich, you could easily crash and burn and be a failure for a long time. There's a huge risk of that in business. Law school, especially a top law school like you aspire to go to, ensures that you can be living in a McMansion relatively soon. You will have plenty of money. You can be making $200,000 not long after graduation --- not a huge salary, but comfortable.

From your explanation of your own motives, interests, and abilities, I think you've got a refreshingly clear-eyed view of the reality of law practice.
posted by jayder at 6:24 AM on October 29, 2006

Don't do medicine, med school sucks (first year) and there's not money in it like most think (plus admissions will turn you down if you say that); you're arrogant, law school will do you right.
posted by uncballzer at 6:31 AM on October 29, 2006

From someone with some time out in the field (four years' practice and working in the federal courts).

Law schools create too many lawyers. The supply far outstrips the demand, and a lot of lawyers either make small moneys or depart the profession.

If you're just finishing law school, there's two ways to get the big moneys. Either graduate from one of the marquee law schools or get very good grades. Those first-year grades count a helluva lot more than you'd think. If you're not going to a marquee school and you don't graduate at least in the top quarter of your class, then the likelihood of big moneys is a lot less.

A lot of people burn out of the profession in a couple of years. You will not make big moneys and, at the same time, make the world a better place. You will make the world a more litigious place, so you'd better feel okay about that before going to work for some large firm.

And I want to dispel one great myth: A talent or willingness to argue does not a great lawyer make. Sure, sometimes you have to argue a position, either in a motion or at trial. But the ability to negotiate and cooperate, both with co-counsel and opposing counsel, is a huge part of the job. Reputation is a coin you can only spend once, and aside from a small number of hotshot lawyers, bad behavior tends to come around. And sometimes it destroys careers.
posted by Scooter at 6:54 AM on October 29, 2006

My brother's a laywer and he claims to love it. However, every time I see him he looks EXHAUSTED and his eyes are red from lack of sleep. Plus, I think he works fewer hours than he could because he has a family.

My friend is also an attorney, but she followed a different path than my brother and she had a very rough time at it. It seems to me that making good money as a lawyer counts on following a pretty specific path...getting into a top school, graduating at the top of your class, getting a good clerkship (is that what it's called?) after you graduate, getting great scores on the bar, making great contacts to help you get a job, etc. My friend didn't go to a top school, didn't graduate at the top of her class and failed the bar a few times. Consequently, she had a very tough time finding a job and the pay for her first few years was abysmal, truly abysmal. Only just recently has she started to make decent money, and in fact she's not practicing as an attorney (although I'm sure her law degree helped her get the job she has)! Keep in mind though, she works crazy hours, weekends, etc., answers email every night from home. If this sort of thing is okay with you law might be a good match, but I know I'd hate it.
posted by mintchip at 7:13 AM on October 29, 2006

This question is asinine and this kid is a veritable douchebag. Yet somehow, the question has elicited a cornucopia of delightful (and not-so-delightful) answers. And as ridiculous and boorish as this question is, I shall respond nonetheless:

First of all, in response to all those folks out there telling you to work hard, I tell you it doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. I was high for the entire four years of my undergrad career and still graduated with grades good enough to get me into a Tier 1 law school. Also, I didn’t study for the LSAT. See, I actually had a job back then and didn’t have the time to study, so I took two practice tests and off I went. And I can tell you that for me, the LSAT was the worse experience ever. Worst. Ever. Worse, even, than the bar. But I digress…

At the end of the day, kid, you’re a self-aggrandizing, narcissistic prick. I don’t think that volunteering would help you much, sadly, because you don’t seem to be the type who can even begin to relate to anyone else but your own species of materialistic megalomaniacs.

If you want to make money, don’t go to law school. Lawyers actually have a responsibility to the community they serve. There are cannons of ethics and other rules to ensure that not everything you do is driven by money. Finance, on the other hand…. Well, in finance, you’re expected to be a materialistic buffoon. In fact, I implore you now not to go into law. You are the type of person who gives all lawyers a bad name.
posted by ScaryNakedMan at 7:18 AM on October 29, 2006 [2 favorites]

I graduated from an Ivy League school with a degree in history, and had my sights set on law school for a while. One of the main reasons I changed was because I realized that (a) the life of a lawyer rarely has anything to do with actually thinking about law, and (b) law school is filled with self-important, materialistic douchebags like you.

Fortunately, you're still in your first year, so there's hope for you. I agree with the others here that it's way to early to be making this kind of decision. Have a few drinks, take a few drugs, and get laid while you can. Spend some time with people who can help you remove the figurative pole from your ass. You'll thank them for it later.

(BTW, I earn more than most lawyers, don't kowtow any corporate line, and love my job. These things are possible.)
posted by mkultra at 7:41 AM on October 29, 2006

I'd like to second what Saucy Intruder said.

I'm not going to judge your goals, wanting to make a bunch of money is fine.

But note that getting a clerkship and a job at a big firm is incredibly difficult. I'd say less than 5% of all law students can reasonably attain that goal.
posted by falconred at 8:02 AM on October 29, 2006

As a practical matter, it is an irony of law school admissions that they are very much based on two data points--LSAT and grades--while the more quantitiative MBA programs are more willing to consider other factors. Why don't you get some grades and repost the question?

But since you asked:
1)You might thrive at law school.
2)For you to go straight to law school would be a disaster.

You might thrive, but the successful practice of law requires skills tempered with judgment, compassion, and mercy--all of which are greatly enhanced by other life experience. I know a lot of people that fit your self-description--those that have managed to force some perspective upon themselves are better lawyers and more successful people. Your question reflects a drive that is respectable, within limits--and a tone-deafness that is a possible liability to your career. (By which I mean, inter alia, "change your damned username, you pretentious frosh.")

Based on long experience, unless someone wants to be a vet, I don't' place too much stock in what they claim they want to do going into college. If your career is mapped out at age 18, then you'te likely headed for a) an entirely different career or b) a massive midlife crisis. There's also a bit of grandiosity in your message that is fine for a college kid (e.g., "very big city" and brand-name law school list), but if you haven't outgrown it in four years, go get a job instead, preferably manual labor.

Mefites have a lot to say about this. As do I. I look forward to hearing about how your thoughts change.

On preview, mkultra's reaction is what you can expect--and might even deserve--if you fail to become a more rounded person.
posted by Phred182 at 8:15 AM on October 29, 2006

"Libertarian public policy and entrepreneurship with China"

When I was a freshman, I just wanted a cold beer and a girl who wore her bikini top as a shirt.

There is nothing wrong with being a geek. The embrace of inner geekiness is an empowering turning point. If you are too focused on others' opinions, however, you are not a geek. You are as mkultra says, a douchebag.

Fine line, that. I wish someone had told me when I was 18.

You're welcome.
posted by Phred182 at 8:22 AM on October 29, 2006

I speak as a person who spent sixteen years working not as a lawyer, but working for attorneys and with people who wanted to become attorneys.

First, while you may or may not really know what you want to do with your life, having a goal at this early point is a very good thing. Your perspective may change, or it may not. The point is that you have something to work toward, and that's good.

Second, attorneys are just people. Often they are driven, type-A people, but people nontheless. I've known attorneys who were fun to be around, played keyboards in a rock band (in their 50s!) and treated their subordinates like real people to be respected and listened to. I've known attorneys who were driven solely by their own bottom line and treated everyone around them like dirt. They were assholes.

Third, don't be an asshole. Not just in reference to point two above, but in your whole life. If you do end up making tons of money, do good with some of it. Do good with your time. There's nothing wrong with making tons of money, but don't make it the sole purpose of your life.

Fourth, ditch the law school snobbery. I worked in two medium-sized firms in Seattle, but I know very successful attorneys whose diplomas read Gonzaga, Washington, Detroit, Florida. I knew a young, ambitious woman who worked for our firm as a paralegal while putting herself through law school at night through Seattle U. Contrary to the whole history of the firm, she got promoted from paralegal to associate when she passed the bar. When it comes to hiring, it appears the firm I worked for was less interested in the school than in personality, eagerness to be of service to the community in general as well as to the firm, and overall demonstated and potential ability, no matter what law school was on the diploma (criteria not necessarily in the order stated).

Fifth, try to find work in a law firm between college and law school. All law firms need clerical help, and almost every office services grunt I knew was planning on going to law school. We tended to grab these people. I'm not aware that any of them ever came to work for us after law school, but that's okay. We showed them what it was like to work in the support end of the legal profession...surely a good thing for someone who wants to work in the practicing end.

Good luck. Keep yourself open to possibilities. Be a good person.
posted by lhauser at 9:07 AM on October 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I am not a lawyer, but I have been a first-year advisor at an Ivy League college. First of all, you forgot to list the #1 reason people in your position end up in law school: "I am graduating from a prestigious college with good grades and don't particularly know what I want to do with my life, but want to have a career with reasonably high status and pay."

And you know what? That's a perfectly legitimate reason; and lots of people like that end up being successful, happy lawyers. So I want to unask your question, if that's all right. You don't need a legitimate reason to want to go to law school, because no decision before you right now depends on whether you want to go to law school or not. Either way, you're going to work hard, get good grades, take interesting courses, maybe do a semester in China, be the kind of student your professors will write letters for... and a couple of years from now you can start deciding whether to take that preparation and apply it to the law, or business, or graduate study, or whatever. And if you're still not sure, you can Ask Metafilter again!

P.S. to ScaryNakedMan: Really? You paid five dollars just to call an 18-year-old you don't even know a douchebag and a prick? Aren't there some douchebags where you live that you could insult for free? Give the kid a break; he sounds exactly like a thousand other college freshmen who don't have total control over the tone of their writing.
posted by escabeche at 10:09 AM on October 29, 2006

If you want to go to law school, work towards that goal. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be a lawyer, just like there's nothing wrong with wanting to be a wildlife biologist.
In addition to choosing and excelling at your major, spend the next three years learning as much as you can about whatever interests you.

Your undergraduate years will be a great time for you to discover your interests, talents, and limitations. If you still want to be a lawyer when it comes time for the LSAT, take a course and do all the work they give you and get as high a score as possible.

For any job or profession, there are lots of reasons not to do it. But most people have to choose something.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 10:50 AM on October 29, 2006

JamesJD, I picked political science fairly arbitrarily, instead of pre-law.
What are you going to major in? It only makes a difference for the next few years as an interest and the kind of people you end up around, not necessarily a career.
See if you can find time to play a sport. This might be the only time in your life where you can discover if you like rowing, or lacrosse, and if you can juggle a busy life with a busy sport, you'll be that much more prepared. Plus, a four-year sport where you can articulate the time commitment and still hold straight As looks great.

(My freshman year, I found the best friends in my life from the crew team. Wouldn't give that experience up for millions. )
posted by lilithim at 11:08 AM on October 29, 2006

Although the "kid" who wrote this question said he was materialistic and wants to make a lot of money, I've spent enough time around people who claim to be idealists and not be materialistic (but who nonetheless are "self-aggrandizing, narcissistic pricks"), that I am not going to assume the questioner is a bad kid. In my experience, materialistic people can actually be kinder than supposed idealists, who are often neurotic, holier-than-thou, pretentious, and condescending (in fact, kind of like ScaryNakedMan!).

The fact that the questioner thinks he wants to do corporate law now tells us very little about what he will actually end up doing if he goes to law school. I have knew smart people whom you would have expected to end up as corporate attorneys, who instead became public interest attorneys and public defenders. I have known mediocre people who couldn't write a coherent sentence, who are now well-paid attorneys at white-shoe "BigLaw" firms.

(Why is anyone assuming he is a kid, anyway? He said nothing about his age, just that he is a first-year in college, and there are lots of people who start college in their twenties or thirties.)
posted by jayder at 12:18 PM on October 29, 2006

Whoops ... "I have known."
posted by jayder at 12:19 PM on October 29, 2006

As far as I'm concerned, there is only one good reason to go to law school: you want to do the work the lawyers do. So, do what most law students (including me, when I was one) haven't done: spend some serious time figuring out exactly what you would be doing if you became a lawyer. Then do some *serious* soul searching and decide if that's what you want to do with your life. This final question cannot be answered by anyone except you.
posted by gregoryc at 12:23 PM on October 29, 2006

Best answer: If money is your goal, and you have any quantitative skills, finance is a better option. If you end up being an M&A lawyer, you're really going to be unhappy reporting to i-bankers dumber than you.

That said, if you're good enough to get into a top-six law school, and you have a minimum of social skills, and you're willing to work long hours, you can readily make $150k to $250k for ten years after law school: $2M over ten years (plus whatever inflation takes place over the next six years) it's a good risk-averse option. After that, it's a crap shoot (law firms are up-or-out partnerships, and don't have a lot of room for people who don't make partner, and it's going to be difficult to make partner in 2020), but you should be able to find work afterwards paying a minimum of $100k.

But this is true only if you really do enjoy legal work. It sounds like you would. You'd have to power through the first few years of being a junior associate, which, at many firms, has very little to do with the type of education you got; a lot of people don't like the grunt-work and burn out (and then write books about it). It leads to misleading public perceptions, because the people who like legal work and are good at it tend not to write tell-all books and blogs.

A couple of important points no one else has covered:

1) The experience of a top-six-law-school graduate is much different than graduates of other law schools. If you're planning to be in the former category, beware of advice from the latter, and vice versa. While the most successful lawyers often come from schools beneath the top six, they do so from skills other than practicing law, and it doesn't sound like your desired career path is to become a plaintiffs'-bar-lawyer-with-his-own-Gulfstream-because-he-struck-it-rich-in-an-early-jackpot-justice-case. The average graduate of a top-six law school is simply going to be better situated and have a different experience finding work than the average graduate of the tiers below that. (NB: you'd be very unhappy at NYU Law, where there are next to no libertarians: you'd be much better off at Harvard or Chicago.)

2) Faculty positions don't just "come around". If you spend too much time as a practitioner, you will have trouble finding desireable academic jobs, no matter your academic qualifications. Law professors are disturbingly divorced from the realities of practice. If you want to be a legal academic, you have to start thinking about that as a 1L.

3) If you're interested in libertarian public policy, there are several places one can go for internships: Cato Institute, AEI, Manhattan Institute, Institute for Justice, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Pacific Legal Foundation, even Heritage to some extent. Many of them have legal scholars who would love to have interns interested in what they're doing, and perhaps you can get a sense of whether you're interested in legal academia. Look up which scholars are doing legal policy work with a libertarian bent and if one's writings touches your fancy, drop them a line. Read the libertarian legal blogs: Volokh, Point of Law, Ideoblog, Positive Liberty, Posner/Becker.
posted by commander_cool at 1:09 PM on October 29, 2006 [2 favorites]

Those are all legitimate reasons. I know a lot of people who went the way you're intending to go for exactly the same reasons, and most of them got there. Some of them are quite happy with it, and a few of them are miserable but stick it out anyway because they like the money and know they're not really qualified to do anything else.

Tucker Max is a great comedian - I love him, I think he's hilarious - but bear in mind that his goal is entertainment, not education.

I've read a lot about the law, and I enjoy it. In addition to the wholly unrepresentative constitutional law sections taught as part of US History, I regularly read Supreme Court decisions, books on abstract legal theory (Law's Empire, The Common Law), and less theoretical books (by Posner, Sunstein, and Dershowitz)

I think this is very telling. If you honestly get a kick out of this kind of thing - if you take spare time out of your busy day to indulge - good Lord, ignore the haters and go for it. You can't lose. You will be like me (I'm a neurologist): you will have a job that makes it feels like fun to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. That makes everything else in your life so much better.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:18 PM on October 29, 2006

Wow, I just read that Tucker Max essay, and it is quite possibly the stupidest thing I've seen on the internets in a while. And I visit Fark daily.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:59 AM on October 30, 2006

A lot of intelligent answers here, but so what? You're in year one and have few choices about what you can do for the coming few years no matter what. Your options are pretty much "get good grades or don't." Core level stuff in year one and two of a BA/BS is all about the same. Trying to come up with good reasons for going to law school at this point is as productive as trying to decide where you'll want to have dinner in 2010 - even if you can be sure your tastes will be consistent after that much time there's a world of water that needs to flow under the bridge before there's any action to take.

The best thing you can do is more generic: get good grades so you have more options and try to coordinate your classes and prerequisites such that you have the most flexibility down the road.
posted by phearlez at 10:32 AM on October 30, 2006

phearlez, that's completely untrue.
JamesJD says in his post that he attends an Ivy League school, so there's a 1 in 8 chance that he attends Brown, where there are NO REQUIREMENTS other than (1) take 30 courses and (2) declare and pursue a major before the end of sophomore year. There is an option for undergrads to create their own independent major, so even #2 doesn't create much restriction.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 11:26 AM on November 1, 2006

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