Should You Go To Law School?
The following blog has been transcribed from our podcast Around the Gavel: Episode 1. Look up “Around the Gavel” on Spotify, Soundcloud, Google Play, and iTunes to listen in.
SARAH: Hi, welcome to Morris Law Center’s podcast. I’m Sarah Morris, and today we’re talking with my partner, Brian Morris, and Sydney Soder, who is a paralegal at our firm. She’s actually the managing paralegal. So the big question today is: Do I want to go to law school?
SYDNEY: [laughs] Yes, so a lot of people consider going to law school. A lot of people think it’s something they should do but don’t necessarily know why they should do it. I think the big question is, why did you both choose to go to law school?
BRIAN: Well, my story is probably not one I would want others to emulate. My undergraduate degree is in business, specifically information technology. During my final year during undergrad, I took real estate law one and two. The professor was a lawyer. I got to know him and went to his office hours. We talked about it. I decided it sounded like a good idea, so I applied. I went for it, which in retrospect was not very well thought out [laughs]. I really did not have a solid understanding of what it meant to be an attorney until well after graduating from law school.
SARAH: Yeah, it’s funny because I have a sort of similar story in that it’s not necessarily the way to do it at all [laughs]. I went for my undergraduate degree, and I had a double major in classical history and art history, which I love both of those subjects dearly. However, there wasn’t much to do with those. When you have a degree in those subjects, you either keep moving for a PhD, go to a Master’s program and get a PhD, or you do something totally random and unrelated. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went to law school, not really thinking it through at all. I thought, Okay, I’ll take the LSAT. If I do well, I have really good grades, and if I get into enough law schools and one that I like, then I’ll go. So that’s what I did.
However, I had no idea what it was about. I’d never worked in a law firm. My grandfather was an attorney, but I didn’t even know him because he passed away before I was born. So there really was no knowledge going into it [laughs]. So I would not necessarily recommend it, although it is a nice foundation to have in general. I value the law education, whether you’re a lawyer or not, just to be able to understand the system and how it operates.
SYDNEY: So would you guys say that you enjoyed law school?
SARAH: I think I could have enjoyed it more. I was so determined because I went straight from undergrad to law school. I did not take a break at all. I went through undergrad in three and a half years, and I went through law school in two and a half because I did summers. I just tried to race through it and get it over with. I didn’t necessarily enjoy it, but I got through it, like it was a job basically. In retrospect, I would have definitely tried to take my time more. I would have taken the full three years and really tried to enjoy it as much as you can enjoy law school.
BRIAN: For my own experience, I certainly had some good times with my friends in law school as far as making friends, getting to know people, and things like that. As far as law school itself though, I did not like it at all. The reality is that it’s taught by law professors, not by attorneys. It’s taught by academics. It’s an intense academic setting, and they make, in my view, very little attempt to apply the theories in a practical way that is useful to what you’re going to be doing after law school.
SARAH: Yeah, I would echo that because I did not learn anything there about being a real attorney. It was all academic, which is great except that you get out there and you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s like learning it all over because the practice of law is very different from going to law school. It’s a great foundation to have to be a lawyer, but it doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer. So there’s that big distinction.
BRIAN: I want to mention law school full time is three years. The usual process is to spend the entire summer after law school studying for the bar exam. You would then take the bar exam at the end of the summer. I spent the first two weeks of bar study getting myself rather upset about the fact that we would have a year long class on constitutional law. Then in the bar review, they did a four hour course, told you everything you needed to know, all the practical pieces of constitutional law, what you needed for the bar exam- done [laughs]. So the difference of spending an entire year talking about obscure academic theories that aren’t even on the bar and don’t end up being useful in any way- it actually shocked me how the bar review course was able to condense years at a time into a couple hours.
SARAH: Yeah, I agree completely because there were even things- I’m sure you’ve had the same experience- that weren’t taught in law school but you were expected to know for the bar. These things probably weren’t taught because there wasn’t enough time since we were talking about all the obscure stuff. Again, not to say that this stuff isn’t important and that it doesn’t contribute to society as a whole and that people don’t need to know all this stuff, but the reality is that law school doesn’t teach you how to how to actually be a lawyer. It just gives you that foundational basis. I think it also weeds out a lot of people, which is important as well. We don’t want to have an over abundance of lawyers. We already have that, but we got to limit it somewhere [laughs].
BRIAN: There were certainly people that really enjoyed the academic exercises. Normally they would be sitting in the front row, and you would call them gunners because they would shoot their hand up before the professor even asked the question [laughs]. You know, they would want to talk about what they think about it and whether they think it’s fair or not. So there are people that really enjoy the theory and the academics of it. I just think that the two of us are much more practical.
SARAH: Yeah, and to be fair, the two of us are practicing attorneys. The people that are more interested in the academics are usually the ones that go on to be professors, but the people that actually want to be lawyers, I think they just try to get through it, and they then hopefully go on to be successful attorneys. They always say when you go to law school, and I think it’s really true, that the- I forget what the A and B students are. They’ve got to be, like, professors. But the B minus, the C plus, and the C students are all the actual attorneys [laughs].
BRIAN: I think the joke was that A students are professors or work at really big firms, while the people that are actually practicing on average are not those academics.
SARAH: Right, so I don’t think, you know, if you get B’s and C’s in law school, you’re not going to be successful. That’s crazy. You actually might be really successful. You might be more successful than the A’s and B’s.
SYDNEY: So focusing less on the theory and more on the overall practicality.
SYDNEY: So if you had to name it, what do you think the purpose of the obscurity of the education is? Why do you think it focuses on the obscure theory versus the practical application of law?
SARAH: I think to weed people out, so there’s less people that become attorneys, which thank you, that’s fine with me [laughs]. I mean, it’s already hard enough. There’s already enough attorneys. I really do think it’s probably to weed people out, so it’s not over abundant.
BRIAN: I guess what that raises for me is that there’s a certain desire by the law school system as a whole to maintain appearances. What I mean by that is a law degree is a juris doctorate, so we’re sort of pretending to be doctors, like medical doctors. Like, I technically have a doctorate. So I’ve heard there’s been a lot of debate- well, I don’t think there’s been a lot of debate, but I have heard the debate about whether the third year of law school is necessary at all. In mine and Sarah’s opinions, it is not necessary. I’m assuming in Sarah’s opinion; it’s not necessary in my opinion. You’re not really learning. The sort of curve of diminishing returns has probably flattened out by the end of the second year. However, the dean of the law school wants to make sure that everybody knows that a law degree is more of a big deal than a Master’s degree in biology or something like that.
We’re actually jumping from an undergrad degree supposedly to a doctorate. So they spread it out over three years. It’s super academic, which requires them to go in depth into obscure things that really aren’t practical and that you won’t ever use. However, that could be remedied to some extent if there were changes made in law school to where it was practical to practicing. There could be classes in the third year about how to run a firm, how to bill, how to actually practice. There really just aren’t practical classes in law school.
SYDNEY: Something else I wanted to talk about- Brian, you mentioned this before, and you sort of touched on it earlier when you were talking about how you learned more in your bar prep course than you did in certain classes in law school. Would you recommend taking a bar prep course before going to law school?
BRIAN: Yeah, I’m not going to say I would recommend it to the extent that I think it’s necessary, but certainly I think that it’s a good idea. I would have liked to have taken it because you end up with, you know, you have that bar study book, and it has the outline of every class with everything you basically need to know already in it. You can be prepped on the classes and kind of be ahead of everybody there, trying to study more for the bar as you go. When I actually ended up finishing law school and googling articles and blogs about bar study, I really didn’t use my outlines from law school. I didn’t use anything from law school. I completely started over with bar study and did my outlines in a completely different way, which would have been nice to think about ahead of time.
SARAH: Yeah, I don’t know the answer because I don’t remember. It’s been 16 years, which is longer than Brian, so I don’t know. All I know is I spent eight hours a day for three or four months and treated it like a job, studying for the bar. So I suppose it might be helpful. I guess I’m sort of not in the same boat as him. I agree it might be helpful, but at the same time I would wait until you take the courses [laughs].
SYDNEY: I just have one last question. If you weren’t practicing, what would you use your legal education for?
SARAH: That’s a tough question [laughs]. Well, I don’t know. Yes, you’re right- it can be used as a basis for other things if you’re starting out. Since I run the firm, it’s a really good basis for running a business. It’s not necessary, of course. There are plenty of successful people that run businesses that don’t even have a college education, but it does help in running a business.
BRIAN: As far as the question is seeking, a specific response of a position that is not as a lawyer-
SARAH: Now you’re sounding like a lawyer [laughs]. Go ahead.
BRIAN: Maybe running a marketing firm for lawyers or something like that. I think I could do really well in high end residential real estate or commercial real estate because those types of transactions would normally need an attorney. That would be something where I would be able to read the contracts and handle them myself. In almost any position, you’re going to need an attorney. Even here at this law firm, we reach out to other attorneys outside of our practice area to ask questions about running our business on a regular basis. You’re going to use your experience from practicing. I don’t know if you’re going to use the academics of law school.
Sarah, if someone came to you and said, I’m considering going to law school. What should I do?
SARAH: I would tell them not to do it [laughs] unless they really had a passion and if I saw that passion, like I do in Sydney. To be clear, I see passion.
BRIAN: But I’m talking about somebody off the street.
SARAH: I would tell them no way. No. The reality of the situation is most attorneys are miserable. They hate practicing law. It’s true. Check the stats and do your Google research, but most people are miserable doing it. It’s a hard career path to take. People think lawyers make a lot of money, and that’s not true at all. There are plenty of lawyers that don’t make a lot of money. If you want to make money, go into business. Don’t be a lawyer. There’s only the top few that actually make the big bucks, so don’t do it for money. That’s not the reason to go to law school. However, if you have a passion for the law and you’re genuinely interested, then it’s worth it. Otherwise, I would say absolutely not. Go find something else.
SYDNEY: What about you, Brian?
BRIAN: I guess my initial response would be to gain some experience with the legal field. Not everyone has the opportunity to be the managing paralegal at an award winning law firm like Morris Law Center, but there’s no excuse. Just call up a law firm and ask them to let you come in and work for free. Go volunteer at the district attorney at the public defender, the criminal side of the law, or volunteer at a real estate law firm. You’ve got to actually go and see what it’s going to be like.
The other major factor, which is more on the economics, you have to give up at least three years of your life- maybe four if it’s part time, which is also possible. You can do law school part time for four years. You have to give up three years of your life, three years of income, and take on debt. The UNLV law school, I think, is $30,000 a year right now. Even if you were able to earn $30,000 a year during that time and you give that up, plus you go $30,000 a year into debt, you’re giving up three years of your life and $200,000 worth of opportunity costs because not only are you not working, but you’re paying tuition. So does that really pay off in order to go work at the legal aid center? [Laughs] Maybe you’re going to end up with a ton of debt.
SARHA: Yeah, I think the real question is why do you want to go to law school? You know, that’s the kicker. Like, okay, should I go to law school? Why do you want to go? It’s all about why you want to go. As long as it’s not that you want to go because you want to make money, then we might continue the conversation. If it’s because you want to make money or you just want the status of being a lawyer, don’t do it. It’s not going to work for you.
BRIAN: The other thing to mention, which I’ve said to Sydney before, is if your passion really ends up there, there is no excuse for not going to law school. There is a way to make it happen. It’s little known. I didn’t know this until I was finishing law school, but it’s much easier to transfer into a school than apply there directly. So maybe you can’t get into Harvard, but if you go to a lower rank school the first year, they’ll probably let you transfer in the second year because they want your money and you’re not on the statistics. It comes down to how bad you want it, not whether it’s possible. You can go live in an apartment in Arizona for a year or some other place that has a lot of schools.
SARAH: Michigan has a lot of law schools you can get into, by the way. Thomas Cooley- everybody can get into Thomas Cooley [laughs].
BRIAN: Michigan has, I think, the lowest ranked law school. So anybody can go to law school in Michigan [laughs]. But what are you willing to give up to go to law school? If this is what you’re committed to, then move to Michigan [laughs], get an apartment, go to the first year of law school, and then transfer to UNLV the second year. But there is no ‘can’t’ about it. It’s either you want to do it or not. What are you willing to give up to do it?
SARAH: Agreed. I think that’s a great note to end on- a very positive, upbeat note because that’s totally true. If it’s something you want to do, there’s a way to do it. So thank you guys! Thank you for tuning in, you guys that are listening. Be sure to leave any comments.
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SARAH: Let us know if you have any topics that you would like discussed.