Think before you leap into law school

Everything you’ve ever want-ed to know about law school but were afraid to ask.

Tis the season during which thousands of prospective law students send in their applications and hope for the best. Of course, 99 percent of them have little to no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Several years ago, I was in that throng, and because I’m filling my final year with extraneous activities like this, I thought I’d give out some advice:

Don’t go! Run away now while you’re still young and have a life ahead of you.

Choosing a law school will commit you to fundamental personal changes that will change the way you think forever and might or might not turn you into a complete (expletive deleted). Don’t believe me? I’ll break it down:

From the very beginning, you’ll know something’s up. The application process will be very humbling. All those tests, classes and/or semesters you blew off will come back to haunt you. Conversely, all of your hard work can get neutered by a bad Law School Admission Test score. Even the applicants who think they’re shoo-ins are often surprised when their shoes don’t fit.

More than marriage, more than kids; once in law school, reality as you knew it will cease to be. Your connections to your old life will start to fray. Law school will envelop you. Professors will drill you on a regular basis, actually assuming you’ve read for that day. Have no doubt that you will read more in your first semester than you ever thought humanly possible.

Adding to your stress will be the ever-present specter of a forced curve. After 16 weeks, your entire semester’s work will be reduced to one exam and then shoehorned into a quartile within your class. Being smart becomes a completely relative issue tied to such X-factors as, “how fast can you type” and “Did I feel sick that day?”

Do you have a significant other, fiance or spouse? The mortality rate for your relationship will be at an all-time high. The law’s not only a jealous mistress; it drains away the fun and joy that made you pleasant to begin with. Stress does terrible things to relationships.

Sure, you might rebel and retain your humanity in defiance of the soul-crushing machine, but if you want a job, you’re going to start playing the game.

Probably the biggest surprise in law school is how difficult it is to actually get a job afterward. Now, don’t misunderstand me, if you pass law school and pass the bar, you will be a lawyer. But unless you’re planning to be a solo practitioner in some South Dakota backwater, you’re going to want to do well. The big, lucrative, private firms tend to get their picks of the top applicants, to the point where even getting high grades is not a guarantee of success. The stress from the job hunt will dominate 80 percent of your time at law school.

Once you’ve made it as an attorney, life doesn’t exactly turn into a bed of flowers. More than any other professional field (other than maybe the National Basketball Association), lawyers succumb to booze, drugs and adultery. You will work crazy hours: the higher the salary, the more hours you’ll put in. That sweet $150,000 gig in Manhattan? Sounds great until you realize you’ll be working so much that your after-tax, dollar-per-hour rate will be less than a decent bartender.

Public and nonprofit fields don’t have it that much easier. They offer more reasonable hours for less pay, but they’re often far more frustrating. The law often benefits those with the most money, and the progress made is usually very slow.

So, in conclusion, if you can look past the above, law school’s a blast, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Bobak Ha’Eri is a third-year law student and welcomes comments at [email protected]