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Deciding on Law School

There are several things you can and should do to help you decide if you want to go to law school and be a lawyer.

Don't go to law school by default! Bill Swinford, a pre-law advisor at the University of Richmond, says: “Ultimately, you should go to law school ONLY if you have carefully evaluated your desires and goals and made a conscious, well-informed decision that you want to obtain a law degree. You should NOT go to law school simply by default, because law school is far too difficult, far too expensive, far too time consuming, and far too emotionally draining to do simply because you can’t decide on anything better to do. There are few experiences in life more miserable than going to law school or being an attorney if your heart is not in it.” This is true! Thoroughly investigate the practice of law BEFORE you go to law school.

Understand lawyering. Be aware of what the practice (not just the study) of law is like—the two are totally different! Talk to both practicing attorneys and people with law degrees who don’t practice.  Find out what these people do, why they do it, and how they like it. Intern, work part-time, or volunteer at a local law firm if at all possible, or even ask a local attorney if you can shadow them for a few hours or days to observe their routine. Also read as much as possible about the practice of law—for example, check out the Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on legal careers. Check out the books "What Can You Do With a Law Degree? (5th Edition) by Deborah Arron (Seattle, WA: Niche Press, 2004) and "The Official Guide to Legal Specialties" by Lisa Abrama (Chicago, IL: Harcourt Legal, 2000).  There is more information about the practice law at the Law School Admission Council website or the website of the American Bar Association, the professional organization of lawyers in the United States.

Learn legal reasoning. Take at least one law-related undergraduate class in which at least part of the course requires you to engage in legal reasoning and analysis involving the actual law (e.g. communication law, business law, constitutional law, civil liberties, etc.). The more such classes you can take, the better. Most students find that after taking one or more of such courses, they discover either that they like it and can do it, or they lack either the interest or the capability to engage in the particular type of analytic thinking that legal reasoning requires. Beware, however, that most undergraduate law-related courses involve more popular and interesting topics than do many law school classes.

Visit law schools. Visit the law schools you’re considering applying to and besides seeing the admissions director, ask as many students as you can find who are hanging out at the law school what their school is like. They are likely to give you a less biased appraisal of their law school experience than would an admissions director or student tour guide picked by the admissions director. Whilre you're there, be sure you also sit in and on some non-exciting law classes at a law school—Uniform Commercial Code classes for example, and not civil liberties, to observe and get a more accurate feel for what a typical law school class is like.  Also check out the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools, available from the Law School Admission Council at or  from the American Bar Association at for extensive information on individual law schools.

Read "One-L." Author Scott Turow’s wrote an autobiographical book titled “One-L” which describes his first-year experience as a law student. It’s an amazingly accurate description of a typical first-year experience at law school, even though he attended an elite law school (Harvard).

Wait. Take a year or two off of school, and work at professional employment if you’re unsure about law school—this might actually improve your admission chances: First, it adds professional experience to your resume; second, it will show that you made a careful, serious decision to go to law school rather than simply going to law school by default directly after college to avoid the “real world.”  

Law schools don't want to lose tuition dollars from students dropping out, and younger students fresh out of college are more likely to drop out of law school than older, more disciplined and mature students with experience of success at professional responsibilities. So, waiting a few years until you're more emotionally certain about law school and intellectually ready for it will only help your chances of admission.  It will also let you take a break from school before resuming intensive academic studies, and perhaps let you save up money for law school if you're frugal. In fact, only a minority of law school applicants are college seniors, and the average age of new law school students is around 30. However, beware that LSAT scores generally expire after five years, so if you wait longer than that, you’ll need to take the LSAT again.  Also, you might lose some of your reading, writing, and analytic skills if you’re not careful to maintain them in your professional career. Finally, many law schools will allow you to defer admission for a year if you’ve been admitted but remain unsure about going. However, if you’re still not relatively certain that law school is for you, don’t go. Law school is financially and emotionally costly, and there are high attrition rates for law students whose heart is not in lawyering. 


If you're unsure about a career in general, read the book “How to Find the Work You Love” by Laurence G. Boldt.  Also visit UL Career Services for career testing to help you find a career that matches your particular interests, skills, and values.