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8 Simple Ways to Test If Law School is Right for You

Brooke Law School
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Law school in Hawaii?

Sounds like a joke, right? What do they do, skim through text books on the beach sipping from a coconut and take periodic dips in the Pacific Ocean?

Not quite.

Brooke Hunter, a first year law student at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law, tells us what it’s really like studying in paradise and what she thinks you should know before applying.

Here are eight simple questions to ask when trying to decide if law school is right for you.

1. Why do you want to go to law school?

Brooke sort of always knew she would go to law school. Her father was a practicing lawyer in Hawaii and she had grown up with exposure to the law, attorneys, and the work they did.

She was also interested in getting an advanced degree and knew her math skills were not going to get her anywhere close to med school. She has this in common with a lot of her classmates but, she warns, do not just go because you want the degree.

If you’re not interested in the material, the sheer volume of the work is going to defeat you. You’ll be reading hundreds of pages a night. It’s three years, but it’s an intense three years. Not to mention the fact that law school is not cheap and you don’t want to put yourself into debt just to realize that you don’t want a career in law after all.

2. What is your undergraduate major?

Unlike med school, there’s no specific undergraduate program for those who are looking to go to law school.

Choose a major that will help you on your way by nurturing critical thinking and allowing you to take a closer look at the philosophy behind the way our world works.

Brooke majored in International Relations at Boston University because it allowed her to dissect different societies and take a closer look at different government policies.

3. Are you planning to take time off between college and law school?

Brooke did not go immediately into law school after graduating from BU. Instead, she worked for a web developing company in Boston for a few years.

She appreciated this time off from school because it really allowed her to get some perspective.

Law school is expensive and a big decision. Her time out of school allowed her to see what life would be like if she did not pursue the advanced degree and if she could be satisfied without it.

At the end of the day, she still wanted that law degree but is happy that she weighed her options first and was certain of her choice before she committed. She has classmates who are no longer sure of their decision and she would hate to feel that way.

Author Gretchen Rubin often talks about how she went to law school just because it seemed like the next step rather than what she really wanted to do. Take this quiz to make sure you’re moving toward something you actually want and not just “drifting.”

4. Where do you want to go/what do you want to do after you finish law school?

Pay attention here!

This may be one of the biggest decisions you make when applying for law school. Where you go to school will dictate where and what you practice.

Take the time to get to know your school. Do they specialize in certain areas of the law? What is the class size? How much does it cost?

Law school is expensive and you’re most likely going to be in debt at the end of your three years, so you have to weigh the economic outcomes. Is it possible to get in-state tuition? Will you be able to do what you set out to do when you graduate?

“It’s not just about the prestige of the school. It’s about what it can specifically offer you,” Brooke informs me.

She thought carefully about her choice of schools and chose to apply to the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law. Not only does this allow her to pay the in-state tuition and live at home (which saves a LOT of money), but it is also where she wants to work after she graduates and passes the bar.

Brooke also looked into the class size and saw that the school significantly cut down on the number of students per class which allows for a more intimate learning environment.

These are all factors to research before applying to a school.

5. What sort of schedule do you want?

When it comes to classes, Brooke may not call the shots. Her school day starts at 10am and ends at a different time depending on which professor she has that day. Many of the professors work 9 to 5 jobs, so some classes take place later in the day. But, though her class times differ Monday through Friday, they are the same week-to-week.

That is where the routine ends.

When it comes to law school, “it is what you make it.” Unlike in high school or even college, you’re not studying to get in somewhere else. Your success is based solely on your final exam grade and whether or not you can pass the bar. No one is keeping track of your day-to-day performance or your extracurriculars.

It’s up to you how involved you want to be. For those who are older and have families and other jobs, you may not have time for clubs and organizations outside of class.

A common saying among law students who already have families is that “your children can’t miss you if they’re sleeping.” Many students will go home and spend time with their children, eat dinner as a family, and opt for studying into the night while their children are asleep.

For those who aren’t juggling families or other full-time commitments (like jobs), Brooke recommends getting involved in the community.

Yep. Sorry folks. That means that even if you go to school in Hawaii, you’re probably not going to be seeing all that much of the beach.

Even during your breaks between classes, there are TA sessions to attend to help drive the material home and an “insanely large number” of societies and organizations that you can be involved in.

6. Should you join an organization or society?

Brooke is involved in two organizations. The first is a society that takes an in depth look at how the British legal system works. It is basically a mock trial drawn out over an extended period time.

The second is Students for Public Outreach and Civil Education (SPOCE), an organization that goes into public schools and teaches the basics of the law. This means that Brooke spends some of her mornings teaching at public schools.

Though this adds to an already filled day, Brooke chose to be a part of this organization because it would not only add to her résumé but also allow her to do something for her community. She plans on practicing law in Hawaii so this involvement is important to her.

These are things to think about when choosing an organization or society to be involved in. Is what they do important to you? What will you learn from being a part of this group? How will it affect your résumé?

Since starting law school, Brooke was shocked about how little she actually knew about the way our country was run.

“I went to two phenomenal schools and yet did not learn the basic tenets of democracy. It just wasn’t part of my academic experience like math or English were.”

Through SPOCE, she works to introduce concepts of the law that are probably very unfamiliar to these kids like first amendment rights (freedom of speech / the internet / bullying), Parental Liability Law, and Tort Liability Law (product liability / consumer rights).

“I basically teach kids about what the law is, how to know your rights, your responsibilities, and that the law is a place for them—not against them. Since the schools we target are in low income or underperforming areas, many of these kids have been raised to think the law is working against them and their families.”

It can be hard to see the immediate rewards of what she’s doing for these kids, but she was reassured by a professor who told her, “It’s not so much about them actually taking away what you said, but rather them understanding that this information is accessible to them and not as daunting as it may seem.”

7. Are you okay with the lifestyle?

Many of Brooke’s nights involve meeting up with classmates and going over the material that was covered in class as well as the reading that was assigned. It can be extremely helpful to go over the material to solidify it in your mind. Having little dinners with classmates can also help you keep your sanity.

“You can always go home right after class,” Brooke says, “but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

She also suggests trying to fit a workout in there. Make sure you’re eating right and getting as much sleep as possible (though you come to realize you can survive on a lot less than you thought). You have to stay as healthy as you can. Getting sick means falling behind.

What about going out?

Brooke still goes out on the occasion, but the days of getting wasted at bars until closing are long gone. Not only is she aware that she is living in the city where she wants to practice and that her actions will define her, but that they can also affect whether or not she can take the bar.

“Basically, you can’t take the bar unless you’re invited. You don’t want to risk going out, getting really drunk, and doing something that will invalidate you in any way.”

This doesn’t just mean that you shouldn’t get really drunk and cause a scene. This also means that you should make a conscious effort to be nice to everyone. These are the people you’re going to be working with once you graduate and you don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.

You’ve always gotta be aware of that “coconut wireless” (even if you’re not living in Hawaii).

8. Can you manage yourself?

Procrastination is going to be even more dangerous than it was in high school or college.

Why?

Because in law school, there are no homework assignments, quizzes, or periodic tests to hold you accountable for completing your work.

Your grade is based on your final exam.

And, just to pile the pressure on a bit more, your grades and performance during your first year in law school (that one exam grade) have a huge effect on what opportunities are available to you the following summer. During that second summer, you start to define yourself in the law community, so it’s important to find a position that will lead you to the career you desire.

This means you have to take charge of your studies and seek out extra help when you need it. Teachers are willing to help you if you’re willing to help yourself. So be sure to seek out help or guidance if something’s unclear.

Law school is definitely not an “escape from the real world.” It’s another step in your career development and should be taken seriously. Sure, you should still be having fun; Brooke went to “Art After Dark” right after this interview, but you have to be aware and conscious of all of your decisions and the effects they will have.

Like Brooke says, “It is what you make it.”

Be sure you’re making it something that will enhance your future.

Homework time! Wondering if law school is right for you? Take some classes that will introduce you to some of the material: philosophy classes, government classes, international studies. Interested? Conduct some informational interviews with some local attorneys or law school students. Then start thinking about locations where you’d feel comfortable joining or starting a practice, look into schools in those places, and weigh the economics.

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5 Responses to “8 Simple Ways to Test If Law School is Right for You”

  1. Git yer JDs! Git em while they're hot!

    Also, research thoroughly the debt and job statistics from a prospective law school. Jobs at firms with less than 20 lawyers do not pay high enough to justify taking more than $30-50k out in debt. Most law grads only make about $30-50k. Only about 10-20% of law grads get those six-figure jobs that law schools want you to believe are so common. Everyone else makes pretty low and very normal salaries. But when you have $100-250k (very common) in debt from law school, earning $30-50k is not enough to get by on.

    Many people have had their lives significantly altered in a negative way by taking out too much law school debt. Google “law school scam” or “law school debt.” There are a LOT of unhappy law school grads out there. The job market is very poor for law school grads.

    Let the buyer beware. Law schools are selling a product (law degrees) and you are the customer. Law schools have been sued over the job statistics they publish so don’t believe everything you read.

    Also, be sure to work as a legal assistant or paralegal for at least one to two years before going to law school. Many people who end up in law school end up finding out they hate the practice of law. Don’t be that person.

    Reply
    • Melissa Suzuno

      Thanks for all that great advice—especially trying out work as a legal assistant or paralegal to make sure you actually enjoy the work.

      And those statistics about typical debt and starting salaries are further evidence that going to law school should not be taken lightly and is not a good way to just bide your time until you figure out what you want to do with your life!

      Reply

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