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Why You Definitely Shouldn't Go To Law School

The author, upon being called to the bar in 2014.

The author, upon being called to the bar in 2014.

Some bullet points if you're short on time:

  • You are smart enough to figure out what you really want to do and be successful at it
  • There are better ways to spend three years of your life and $60,000+
  • There are not enough articling positions for all of the law students graduating every year
  • Most lawyers leave the profession within the first five years of practice
  • Being a lawyer comes with serious mental health risks

I'm smart. I always have been. I graduated high school with a 90%+ average without studying too much (mom likes to say I never opened a book). I got mostly A's during my undergrad years when I majored in English and French. So, when it came time to decide on a career, I had to do something to put those smarts to work.

I knew I liked reading, and I was a confident speaker. My grandfather quit his job at the pulp and paper mill at age fifty to become a judge. Law school seemed like a good option for me, and I really didn't know what else to do.

I think a lot of smart kids come out of undergraduate or masters programs faced with the same dilemma. They have the brains to do big things, but they haven't had the life experiences yet to figure out what those things are. So they go to law school.

Orientation week was great: a bunch of Type A personalities drinking and partying, completely unaware of the shit storm of case law, moot trials, and major papers headed their way. A lot of people kissed that week, and some of them are even married now. Oh, love.

Then it got hard. Really hard.

I thought about dropping out after mid-term exams in first year. I went from straight A's in my undergrad years to C's and D's on my law school mid-terms. I talked to my parents about quitting, who suggested I talk to the Dean, who suggested I wait it out and see how I felt in second year.

In retrospect, would she really have told me to drop out? Even with the limited number of articling positions and jobs available for students after they graduate. Even though I was obviously miserable. It was like going to Ronald McDonald and asking for weight loss advice because you've put on too many pounds ordering late-night McNuggets on Uber Eats: he isn't going to tell you to give up fast food. The man has a business to run.

I suffered through the rest of first year and brought my grades up. I finished law school a "B" student. Very average, in a pool of very bright fish.

I was lucky enough to get an articling job back home when I graduated. A lot of people did not get articling positions, which you need in order to be called to the bar. It's not something they tell you on your way in, but if you're not a top student, there's a chance you may not find an articling job after school. You could spend three years of your life in a professional program and never get to practice that profession.

I finished my articling year and passed the bar exams. I moved away for an associate lawyer position at a boutique firm in a bigger city. I think I was getting paid something like $45,000/year when I started. At that pay rate, it would take someone with average student debt about 5-10 years to pay off their debt.

My brother took a two year college course and came out making $60,000+/year. Don't go to law school because you think it's a fast track to big money. It isn't.

I quit my first real lawyer job about six months in after having a panic attack. I thought I was having a heart attack, but it turns out it was just the stress and pressure of my work erupting in a brief moment of anxiety and fear.

It only felt like I was dying. 

I started my own artist management company after I quit. It's been almost three years, and I'm on track to gross $100,000+ this year. I just launched a record label, and I've been nominated for multiple awards for my work. Most importantly, I'm happier and healthier.

I would spend three years and $60,000+ differently now. If you're not absolutely certain about going to law school, don't go. Chances are you will not stay in the profession long enough after school to make the investment worthwhile. Half of all lawyers leave the profession within the first five years of practice.

It's taken me less than three years to build a company that allows me to make a living working for myself and doing something I love. I've learned real-world skills: web design, social media, marketing and advertising, networking, negotiation, and on, and on. You don't get that kind of an education in school. At least I didn't.

In three years you could try and fail at any number of things you might want to do, and chances are it will cost you less than law school, and you will learn more in the process.

Most people have at least one thing they love to do and could make a living at, if not more. A lot of people choose to go to school as the "safe bet" because they are afraid to pursue the thing they really want. I chose school because it felt safe. I suffered through a program I didn't enjoy, to work a job that pushed me in to the emergency room. Don't make my same mistake.

You're smart. Law school wouldn't be an option for you if you weren't. Being smart doesn't mean you have to be a doctor/lawyer/engineer/MBA. Being smart doesn't mean you have to go to school at all. There are an infinite number of other jobs or business opportunities waiting for you, and just as many ways to get started at them. School is but one of the many options available to you.

If you are still thinking about going to law school, please:

Don't do it for the money.

Don't do it because your parents want you to.

Don't do it because you haven't figured out what you really want out of life yet.

Take your three years and your line of credit and make some fucking mistakes. Try really hard at something that actually matters to you. If that doesn't work out, there will always be a college or university willing to take your time and money in exchange for a diploma and a handshake on the way out the door.

Feel free to call me if you're on the fence about school, or if you just want to chat: +1-902-266-8048. Or add me on Skype: npjenkins07.