Paper Chase Quiz
I want to go to law school because...
Surveys reveal that a very sizable fraction of attorneys in this country regret having gone into the field of law. Indeed, the "regret factor" is greater for recipients of the J.D. than for any other advanced degree.
The reason so many law school graduates regret the choice they made is that they didn't know what they were getting into when they applied to law school. Many pre-law students do not have a clear idea of what lawyers actually do for a living. They may also not appreciate how the high cost of law school can constrain their options when they have to start paying back their loans.
To see if you have a good reason to go to law school and become an attorney, take our Paper Chase Quiz. Select the answers below that best match your reasons for going to law school. Be honest -- you are under oath!
Add up your points. A score of 10 or better means you are ready to apply to law school. If your score is lower than 10, you need to do more now to reduce the chance of making a $100,000 mistake.
I want to go to law school because...
- I want to help people.
- The intellectual challenge of law school appeals to me.
- I've investigated legal and non-legal careers and I think the law is right for me.
- Everybody says I would make a good lawyer.
- My family wants me to get a law degree.
- I've worked in a legal organization and I enjoyed the work.
- You can do anything with a law degree.
- I did well in college and I want to continue my education.
- I've talked with a lot of lawyers and I think I would enjoy what they do.
- Lawyers make a lot of money.
- I don't want to be a doctor or an engineer, so law seems like the obvious choice.
- I attended some law school classes and I liked what I saw.
1 point. The sentiment is nice, but this isn't the best reason to get a law degree. There are many ways to help people, and most don't require you to assume $100,000 in debt before you get to work. Half of all law-school applicants say that they want to specialize in public-interest law, but only about 5% of attorneys work in this field. Public-interest jobs usually don't pay very well, especially if you have a lot of debt to repay. The burn-out rate is also high in this line of work. It's great that you want to do good with your education, but you should have a better reason than this to head off to law school. (go back)
0 points. If you want an intellectual challenge, go for a Ph.D. in philosophy. Or save your money and study the law on your own. The J.D. is a professional degree -- it is the gateway to a practical career. A legal education is not an end in itself; it is the means to an end. Law school is not a continuation of your liberal arts education and its courses may not always be intellectually exciting. Some might even be downright dull and tedious. So don't apply to law school just because you are good at school or want to continue your education. You need a more concrete and practical reason to undertake a grueling professional education. (go back)
5 points. Good answer. You've done some homework and explored your options. It isn't enough to learn only about legal careers. You have to consider the alternatives, which might be a better fit for your skills and interests. (go back)
0 points. People may say you will make a good lawyer, but do they know what they're talking about? Judgments like this are based on stereotypes about what lawyers are like, but stereotypes are frequently wrong or incomplete. All different kinds of people can become attorneys, but not all of them will be happy doing this type of work. To discover whether you will make a good lawyer you must investigate for yourself what lawyers do, not listen to the uninformed judgments of others. (go back)
0 points. You might even lose points for this answer. The important thing is what you want, not what your parents want. They might not have a clear idea about what a legal career involves, and they won't have to endure the grind of law school or passing the bar exam. Lots of students are pressured by their families into pursuing a legal career because it is thought to be prestigious or financially lucrative. But if you hate the work, the prestige and money probably won't be sufficient compensation. You have to find your own path in life, so make sure that law school is the right path for you before you head down that road. (go back)
7 points. This is the best answer. You've seen first-hand what lawyers do and you like what you've seen. Now you don't have to guess about whether you will enjoy this line of work. Because you know what you're getting into, you will be more motivated and more focused in law school. Doing an internship or getting a job at a law firm during college or afterwards is the best pre-law preparation you can do. (go back)
0 points. There are indeed many different kinds of legal jobs, but a law school education does not prepare you for every type of career. If this is your reason for going to law school it sounds like you haven't done enough thinking about what you intend to do with a J.D. In law school you will have to specialize in some area of the law, and it makes more sense to identify that specialization before you go. After all, no law school is strong in every field. You could be wasting your time if you go to a law school that doesn't match your interests. So figure out what your interests are first and then go searching for the right law program. (go back)
0 points. This is an especially bad reason to go on to law school. It sounds like you are drifting or going with the flow. A liberal arts education can be fun, but the professional education you receive in law school may not be. Law students report higher levels of stress than medical students, and med students are under a lot of stress. You should view law school in utilitarian terms: it is a means to an end. It isn't a way to postpone thinking about what you will do with the rest of your life. And don't think that a high score on the LSAT is a good reason by itself to move on to law school. Your LSAT score predicts how well you will do during your first year in law school, but it can't predict how well you will like being an attorney. It is doubtful that there is a correlation between these two things. (go back)
4 points. This is a good answer. You've gathered information from primary sources -- people who know the real deal. Presumably your informants didn't sugar-coat the truth. They talked about the pluses and minuses of a legal career and what they said didn't scare you off. Seek out as many attorneys as you can and pepper them with questions. As you move forward perhaps you will be able to profit from the mistakes they might have made along the way. (go back)
0 points. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with wanting to make a lot of money, especially if you intend to use it to do good in the world. But not all lawyers make a lot of money. The average starting salary for new attorneys these days is roughly $60,000. That is a good wage, but for every J.D. who earns a six-figure income there are several more who make considerably less than the average salary. A legal career is no guarantee of affluence, and the top-paying jobs can exact a heavy price. You may have hefty loans to repay and you may have to work very long days to meet your quota of billable hours. So the glitter of money should not be the principal reason that draws you to law school. (go back)
0 points. Indeed, maybe you should deduct a few points for a failure of imagination. The economy is full of interesting jobs, but many are hidden pearls. You have to go exploring for them, but the treasure will be real when you find it. Too many young people join the mad rush for a law degree because that's where the crowds flock. They don't take the time to discover what all of their options are before they start the race. As a result, all too many cross the finish line and realize that the prize they sought was fool's gold. Hardly anyone drops out of law school, but that isn't because every law student learns to love the law. Many are drawn further down a road they come to loathe because they assumed so much debt in going to law school that they need a high-paying job to meet their obligations. It is much wiser to figure out whether that path is right before you take it, and the way you figure that out is by learning about the lesser known paths you might take instead. (go back)
5 points. Good for you. You didn't rely only on the glossy law-school view books or old episodes of "Law & Order." You went and looked for yourself and liked what you saw. As should be clear by now, you get points in this quiz for doing your homework and taking the initiative to discover what law school and a career in law are all about. Don't bumble into law school on a set of illusions and weak excuses. Avoid "lawyer's regret" by getting a taste of what this career entails before you apply to law school. (go back)