Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Truth about Studying Law

Becoming a lawyer is one of the most aspired in the world.  Ask a child what he or she wants to be when he or she grows up, and “to be a doctor” or “to be a lawyer” would be two of the more prevalent responses.

Mass media has helped shape the image of the high-profile lawyer: sharp and intelligent, champion of the masses, rich and powerful.  Some are even ruthless, despite being incisive.  Further, we have seen lawyers branch out into other high-profile positions of power.  A prime example of this is the current crop of politicians.  A majority of those holding electoral positions today is or were lawyers.

Most people think that most law graduates get into high-profile law firms and start practicing law like they do in John Grisham novels and law-oriented television programs and movies.  The truth is, while practicing law as an attorney is the most obvious career path for law school graduates, it is not the only career option.  And this is a good thing because there are basically more law graduates than law-related jobs.  A quick check at job search sites like Monster.com would reveal that law jobs are one of the most scant listings in whatever city you go to.

The jobs available for law graduates are also very limited.  According to Cornell University, most law graduates get into private law firms, around a quarter get into government service (i.e. government agencies, public interest firms, judicial clerkships).  Only a tenth of all graduates is able to secure a law-related job in private companies and businesses, an indicator that law-related jobs outside of law practice are really hard to come by.  A more telling statistic is that Cornell also found that almost a third of all respondents was employed in positions that did not require someone who passed the bar.

The other truth is that law school and practicing law afterwards is not all prestige and glamour.  For one, it is a well-known fact that not everyone who enters law school survives it.  The stress and difficulty, not to mention the financial considerations of law school, all come into the equation against the law student.  In fact, every year, almost a third of all law school enrollees stopped schooling.

Moreover, if you make it past school and get into a job, a typical workweek  would be more than 12 hours per day every day of the week.  Law practices are well-known for their long hours and the high degree of stress, even with the huge paybacks.

Huge paybacks, however, do not equate to pay.  Paybacks or huge favorable verdicts come seldom in a lawyer's life and some wait their entire lifetimes without seeing any.  These huge rewards are often the result of very stressful litigation, and more often than not, these verdicts are contested, further prolonging the process.  Pay, however, is not that great for someone who is just out of law school.

Cornell University reveals that a survey involving its law graduates in 2002 holds that:

* A fifth of their 35,295 respondents held jobs that paid less than $40,000 a year.

* The average salary for starting lawyers was a little more than $70,000.

* Most respondents got a far lesser annual salary at $60,000.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that this does not really change over time.  The BLS reports that in 2006, salaried lawyers (those who do not have their own law practice) had a median salary of around $100,000, while salaries ranged from around $70,000 to $145,000.

With the high level of stress, the intense competition, the low pay and the long hours, it would sound like a legal career just might not be a good career choice.  However, at the heart of the discussion is the person’s own interests and dreams.  If you think that you are born to become a lawyer, do not make these factors hinder you from pursuing your dream.  You should know these things, though, in order to level your expectations and be informed with your decisions.  Entering law is a lifelong commitment, and could very well dictate your future; make sure you know just what exactly you are getting into.

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