Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will have been paying attention to the conversations, screaming matches, and litigation about law school tuition and the value of the law degree which has been in the blogosphere and twitterverse for the past few months. If not, Google “Law School Tuition Controversy” and law school class action lawsuits and read up for 12 hours.
As you approach the law school decision time, using those threads as one perspective, you will need to consider two equally important questions at the same time.
1. Might three years, $150K tuition, and lost opportunity be worth it for me over the long arc of my life?
2. How can I know if law is the right path for me to take?
Time, tuition & opportunity: lawyers are not alone
TRUTH. The landscape for legal employment has changed from what it was five and certainly 10 years ago. Financial expectations need to be a consideration when applying to law school just as they would be were you applying for a MFA in Puppetry (yes, there are two programs now, and one more will open soon.) Tuition and fees per year for UConn’s three-year MFA in Puppetry are $ 31,956 (in state); $ 49,264 (out of state); and $40,156 (New England). Potential puppeteers may have the same debt load as lawyers.
If you seek moral certainty, you will be disappointed. Without a crystal ball to predict changes in law practice, the business of law, new legal questions, practices, and procedures, no one can know what law practice for you will be like. Although this question is compelling, it is ultimately unanswerable between now and the time you might show up to class in the fall. If you are taking the law school leap-of-faith, you need to take time to understand what the debt might mean to you and to begin to make a plan for managing it for many years. Whether you treat your debt like another child or like a mortgage, you will need to face it squarely and plan for it.
Law career: right path or wrong road?
If you are willing to undertake a structured and serious career exploration project as outlined in these two posts (Tips for Test Driving Legal Careers #1 and Tips for Test Driving Legal Careers #2) you have a decent chance to answer this question. Pay no attention to the people who tell you to go to law school because you are good at arguing. They mean well but they are hopelessly uninformed about the characteristics of a good lawyer. If you are committed to a career in public policy, making connections to the people who do the work may help you find many avenues to achieving your goals.
The overarching challenge for a prospective law student is to consider these two questions at the same time, and to make an informed decision. You must do the research and the heavy and serious thinking. You cannot outsource this.