Many people consider going to law school because they think they have no other career options after college. For most of these people, their GPA wasn’t great, and they have an average or even bad LSAT score. So they resign themselves to going to an average law school with plans to do really well in their first year and then transfer to a top school.
We warn the noobs that going to law school on a whim is a bad idea. We tell them about the many law students who don’t make it to the top of the class and are unable to get a job after graduation. So they are back to square one. But our warning does not address a fundamental problem: what alternatives do these people really have?
While that is ultimately not our problem, I want to talk about some alternatives to law school that an applicant should consider:
Explore future prospects at your current career. If you currently have a job and give it up to go to law school full-time, you will incur opportunity costs, in addition to external costs like tuition and living expenses. This means that you are giving up work experience, raises and promotions at your current job, and opportunities to work for other companies in the same field.
Since law school is typically a three-year endeavor, think about where you see yourself in three years on your current career path. In three years, you may be a manager, vice president, sales director, or some other mid-level position. You may be making an equal or greater salary than a first-year non-Biglaw lawyer. And with lower or no student loans.
For some people, this may be a simple decision because they hate their boss, assignments, or co-workers. In that case, consider working for a different company with a better work environment.
Take one last shot at med school. Whenever I look at a pre-law student’s undergrad transcript, I almost always see the C (or worse) grade in her freshman organic chemistry or physics class. This means that at one time, she was a pre-med student but decided to drop out. Four years later, she obtains her liberal arts degree and may even have a solid GPA. But medical school was her first choice.
If you have the time and determination, give med school one last shot. Take the required science classes and study for the MCAT. To minimize costs, take these classes at a community college. I should warn you that some community colleges do not grade their science courses on a curve so it is very possible you will get an F in the class which can screw up your law school GPA. Your saving grace will most likely be your MCAT score, so do whatever it takes to do well on that crucial exam. Also, do some health-care-related work and volunteer projects because med schools like that stuff.
If you think this is going to be too hard, you could be right. But $30,000 of undergrad student loan debt has a funny way of motivating someone to remember the periodic table and all of the carbon compounds in organic chemistry.
This may take a minimum of two years to accomplish, so I highly recommend seeing a pre-med counselor before attempting this.
Work a sales job. If you want to make serious money, you have to know how to sell. Sales is the lifeblood of business as it provides paychecks to the employees and keeps the machines running. As such, top salespeople are indispensable, and businesses give higher commissions and bonuses in order to keep them from jumping ship. You do not need a prestigious education or top grades to be a good salesman. You basically need to know the product you are selling, how to find potential customers, how to keep existing customers happy, and how to deal with the competition.
For those who have a likeable, extroverted personality, a sales job has the potential to be very lucrative and fun. They will have a good time at networking events and easily make memorable connections. But for those who are social shut-ins, you may need to brush up on basic etiquette and social skills. Like having a decent conversation, dressing appropriately for the occasion, and not acting like creeps or divas.
Depending on your personality and the product you are selling, it is possible for you to be a top salesman with little to moderate training. Probably the best way to do well in a sales position is to sell a product that you enjoy using and learning about. Not only will you display your knowledge when you speak with potential customers, you will display confidence, which will reassure them.
Finally, I want to talk to the person who really might have no other options. You’re working at a dead-end job with no promotional opportunities and for a boss whom you do not respect. You have no desire to go to med school or otherwise further your education. And you don’t want to get a sales job because, well… you hate people. You just want to do what you are told, work no longer than you have to, and then go home and spend time with family and friends or the Playstation. And you’re hoping that a being a lawyer will help you accomplish these goals. At one time, I was you. I wanted a steady desk job, time to spend with my family, and enough money left over for a vacation once in a while. But those days are over. Somebody ruined the fun.
But before you decide to go to law school because you think you have nothing else going for you, I highly recommend reading Casey Berman’s Leave Law Behind. The premise of this website suggests that there are a number of people who are unhappy being lawyers. But the good career advice this blog gives to disillusioned attorneys can equally apply to disillusioned college graduates or to people seeking to change careers.
The path to success in the legal profession is changing, and no one knows for sure how to get there. And those who made it probably won’t share their secret.
Shannon Achimalbe was a former solo practitioner for five years before deciding to sell out and get back on the corporate ladder. Shannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.