Thinking about becoming a lawyer? It is definitely a good career choice. Successful lawyers make an enormous amount of money, command a lot of respect in civil society, and provide a distinct sense of gratification that would be difficult to achieve in any other career. In fact, most high school students in America dream of becoming a lawyer someday. But is everything really hunky-dory in the legal profession? Surely, like all other professions, there must be some drawbacks to it? It does, and here in this article, we shall take a detailed and comprehensive look at some of the aspects of the legal profession that anybody wanting to be a lawyer should know and understand before setting off on the path of legal studies and getting themselves enrolled in a law school. We hope this will greatly help you decide whether you actually want to continue with your dream and if this will really make you happy as a person.
One would be seriously hard-pressed to find someone who does not like “Law & Order” and “Suits,” two terrific shows on the legal profession. Honestly, we’ve all imagined ourselves in the shoes of Harvey Specter at least once, and we would all love to know how it feels to confidently pace the courtroom floor, unapologetically argue our case in front of the jury, and convince them to rule in our favor at the end of the day. Plus, the fat paycheck that comes at the end of the month is surely an important reason to pursue law. A career as a lawyer comes with respect, prestige, and an impressive salary. It seems like a career you can always count on, as people will always be breaking laws and will need lawyers to help them out of trouble. But then, you probably also have heard a lot of people say that being a lawyer isn’t always such a bed of roses, and there are quite a few downsides to it as well. Before you seriously consider becoming a lawyer, you will need to know every aspect of the job to ensure that you make an informed decision about your career and not bring something upon yourself that you regret later in your life. Truth be told, job satisfaction in the legal profession is on the decline all across the country, with the law being called ‘America’s unhappiest job.’ you don’t want o to end up unhappy with your career. The following is a comprehensive list of factors that you must know about the legal profession before you consider becoming a lawyer. Let’s take a look:
- The long and difficult years at law school. We have all heard about how hard it is to get through law school. True, law school is hard to get through, and quite hard to get in as well. But how hard exactly? It takes about seven years to become a fully qualified lawyer, which includes four years for a Bachelor’s degree and three years of law school. Law schools, as we know, have a steep rate of competition while gaining acceptance, and students will have to pass the daunting LSAT to prove their worth before they are selected. It can take a year or more to prepare well for the LSAT, which means that it actually takes about eight years of full-time post-secondary education to become a lawyer. Assuming that you do get accepted into law school with a year’s preparation, those three years are spent in digesting a heavy curriculum through rigorous full-time schooling, along with on-the-job training programs such as internships or clerkships with law firms and practicing attorneys. This can, and usually does, include multiple trips to the courts to observe and understand the ways of the profession, along with considerable professional work at the firm to garner the necessary experience by the time you graduate, leaving little free time for leisure activities. Add to that the fact that by the time graduation arrives, you won’t be getting much time to celebrate as you would be spending your days and your nights with your books in order to study and pass the Bar exam in your state. Needless to say, the years at law school won’t be a lot of fun and most of your time will be spent divided between your books, lectures, assignments, and your training. It is not for the faint-hearted, and only the very serious student will come out with flying colors.
- The enormous cost of education. Everyone knows that college education in America is expensive. But aspiring lawyers often tend to ignore the possible costs of their education as they imagine that it will be easy for them to recover it or pay back whatever debt they may incur during their time in college and law school as they will be making a lot of money as a lawyer once they get a job. While that sounds like a fine prospect, it is important to take a look at the numbers before jumping to any conclusions. On average, the typical undergraduate student racks up a little more than $37,000 in student debt by the time they graduate. Apart from that, lawyers will have to spend around $34,000 a year on law school. So, by the time the average lawyer has graduated from law school, they will have an approximate debt of $139,000. Having that sort of debt over your head even before you have landed a job and got your first paycheck can be quite a dizzy experience. You might think that is no big deal, because once you pass the Bar exam, you will get a plush job and can easily pay off your loan in time, maybe even before time if you’re smart with your money, but it is not as easy as that. Having any kind of debt on one’s shoulders is a very stressful experience, and it greatly adds to the stress of being a lawyer. This will seriously affect your mental health if you’re not good at managing stress. Furthermore, that first job might not come as easily as you think, as the market for lawyers is very competitive, with reputable firms only wanting to hire the best of the best.
- The possibly unreliable job prospects. We mentioned that the market for lawyers is very competitive. But how competitive exactly? If you think that all your troubles will be over once you graduate from law school and pass the Bar exam in your state, well, think again. It is not so easy to find a job as a lawyer, no matter how lucrative the career might seem from the outside. According to the BLS, growth in employment for lawyers is expected to continue at six percent through 2024. While that may seem like a good number, it falls far short of the number of required jobs for all the lawyers who will graduate every year from law school. To put it simply, not everyone who becomes a lawyer will get a good job, and they will have to fight hard to find employment once they graduate from law school. If the past is anything to go by, just about 59.2% of students who graduated law school in 2015 secured and held full-time, long-term jobs as lawyers for 10 months or more after their graduation, according to the American Bar Association (ABA). Now, what does that mean for those who didn’t get a proper job as a lawyer after they left law school? Of course, they had their student debts as well. Imagine being in the shoes of the young lawyer who has such tremendous debt on their shoulders and is unemployed. You definitely do not want to be that person. Even if you do manage to land a well-paying job, you will be forced to carry on with it because you have such heavy loans to pay, even if you may not like the job, as you know that you probably won’t get another if you quit this one due to the cut-throat competition in the market. This will in turn lead to lower job satisfaction for you and additional stress and possible depression.
- The stressful nature of work. A job that pays well will obviously be challenging. Most lawyers who have slogged through law school can handle a little bit of difficulty at their work. Then why is this a big deal? It is because working at a law firm involves work that goes beyond the regular list of payable duties. Attorneys in corporate firms are often expected to handle responsibilities that extend beyond the typical duties that can be included in a 40-hour workweek, a unique practice that is possible due to the concept of billable hours prevalent in the legal profession. According to Yale Law School, ‘billable hours’ are job duties that a lawyer can charge a client for, and bill them directly for. These include work such as preparing for a case and time spent in court. However, there are other parts of the job which are considered to be its ‘non-billable aspects, such as checking and reading e-mail, attending meetings, and participating in ongoing simultaneous education. When everything is taken into account, it is often seen that the average lawyer spends about 50 hours every week at the workplace, but gets paid for only 40 of them. That’s about ten hours of unpaid work. In that sense, you may say that lawyers working at corporate firms are actually underpaid. Lawyers generally have demanding schedules and heavy workloads, which automatically contribute to high stress levels. If you thought that your days of working hard with little recreation would be behind you once you landed a job at a firm, sorry, but you were wrong. Lawyers in the early stages of their career have to work very hard in order to keep their job and have little time for fun with friends or family. A monotonous and unpleasant lifestyle like this with little job satisfaction eventually can increase the risk of heart disease, anxiety, and depression in young lawyers.
- A generally pessimistic mindset. The law is a weird profession. In order to be successful as a lawyer, one has to work with a perpetually pessimistic state of mind. Unlike doctors or teachers, who deal with making things better for people in their lives by treating patients or teaching students, lawyers have to deal with possible criminals and morally guilty people all the time. Assuming the worst in people is, therefore, an expedient way to be good at their job. believing in a rosy outlook may be good as a personality trait, but will not get you far as a lawyer. As a lawyer, you will have to work on a case while assuming that anything that could possibly go wrong with it will probably do and that you will need to be prepared to deal with any such eventuality. Although lawyers are expected to be quick on their feet, you definitely do not want to find out that your client has not been completely honest with you in court on the day of the hearing. You need to assume that your client is probably not totally innocent and that you need to have their defense ready in case there are any damning details about them that you know of. That is the only way to build an airtight case against your opposition. Unfortunately, a pessimistic outlook can be quite dangerous in the long run. Studies have shown that pessimists are more likely to be vulnerable to a series of health risks such as depression, anxiety, diabetes, obesity, etc., compared to optimists. Pessimists are also more likely to pick up unhealthy habits such as smoking, alcoholism, binge-eating, etc. the truth is, your career as a lawyer will probably affect your personal life and your health too. It will be difficult for you to socialize as a pessimist as well.
So, what’s the verdict? Is it really worth being a lawyer? Some other minor aspects of the profession make it even more difficult, such as a declining reputation of attorneys and a growing economic trend of outsourcing legal jobs to labor-surplus countries. Attorneys already are subject to a lot of low public perception for their reputation as people who overcharge for everything and encourage frivolous lawsuits to swindle their clients. However, if you are really determined in your ambition to be a lawyer, we recommend that you go for it. If you can take the stress and the possibility of an initially monotonous job, it is still a respectable profession to be in. You might be able to become the lawyer you’ve always imagined you wanted to be.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Should I consider becoming a lawyer if I can get into an Ivy League Law School? Getting into an Ivy League school shows that you definitely have talent. You should try out law school to see if you like it.
- Do people take more than one attempt to pass the LSAT? It is not uncommon for people to attempt the LSAT more than once. While people take at least a year to prepare for it, it is okay to need more than one attempt to pass it.