How to Decide Whether to Go to Law School

How to Decide Whether to Go to Law SchoolLadies, how did you decide whether to go to law school? How did you finance law school — and how old were you when you started law school? For those of you who decided NOT to go to law school, are you happy with your decision? Did anyone get to law school and drop out, or finish law school and decide not to practice law? For those of you who went to law school when you were older, was it a big decision to go back to school? Reader S, in her late 20s, is trying to decide whether to go to law school:

I’m in my late 20s and seriously considering law school. It’s something I’ve had on my radar since for about 10 years now, but finances always got in the way/thinking I was in some way not smart enough for law school because of a lower uni GPA. A master’s in hand and experience working as a paralegal/risk assessment for international programs in universities, and I finally feel ready. Any advice from Corporette readers who went to law school later in life, especially related to finances?

Wow, great question, Reader S — I can’t wait to hear what the readers say. I expect there will be a barrage of DON’T GO TO LAW SCHOOL responses, and might I add my own voice to those to say : Make sure you are going to law school because you like to argue, negotiate, and represent clients — NOT because you like to write or research. Note that a lot of legal work is drudgery, and that there are huge tranches of people with law degrees who a) cannot get work as lawyers and/or b) can barely make enough as a lawyer to pay their bills, including hefty student loans. (For those of you struggling with big debt from school loans, you may want to check out our post about how to pay off big student loans.) Be very sure you want to go to law school for the right reasons.

With that said, here’s my advice on how to decide whether to go to law school:

  • On going to law school as an older student: Good for you! While too many people go “straight through,” some of my best friends in law school were women in their (gasp!) early 30s who’d had significant careers before coming to law school. As you consider different schools, look for “older law student” associations — at Georgetown it was called Older Wiser Law Students (OWLS) — as they may have resources for you. (I was 24 when I went to law school, and I remember reading that it was the average age for students.)
  • Look into 529 plans for yourself, or your parents, or your grandparents. You can get state income tax deductions for what you donate to 529 plans (amounts vary by state; in NY you can deduct $10K per year if you’re filing jointly), and you can change the beneficiary — so you can use it yourself or switch it to your child.
  • Cut your living expenses by as much as possible so you can borrow as little as possible; this older guest post on how to financially prepare for grad school may be of help. Downsize your apartment, get a roommate(s), get acquainted with affordable foods, etc. Be ruthless.
  • One thing to consider, especially since you’ve been a paralegal, is whether your current employer’s benefits include tuition reimbursement. One of my good friends in law school worked as a patent clerk and used her firm’s tuition reimbursement program that, if memory served, paid 25% of her first year’s tuition, 50% of her second year, and 75% of her third year. She had to work a set number of hours at the firm during law school, which made for a difficult balancing act, and she may have had to stay at the firm for a few years after graduation — but if that kind of deal is available to you, strongly consider it.

Readers, how did you decide whether to go to law school? For those of you who decided NOT to go to law school, do you feel like you dodged a bullet? For those of you who decided to go to law school, did you finish? Do you practice now? What are your best tips for mitigating law school loans and cutting living expenses to get used to school again? 

Further Reading:

Image: Pixabay.How to decide whether to go to law school - professional women share tips and tricks (image of books and legal pads)

Trying to decide whether to go to law school? Corporette® readers share how they decided whether to go to law school (or not go), as well as how to swing law school financially.

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