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Notre Dame Home Page The Legal Profession
The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers. Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2 (1592)

Despite the centuries-old disrepute that surrounds the practice of law, students are entering the profession in record numbers. The law offers many attractions: prestige, power, a professional lifestyle, a range of salaries from decent to excessive, and a chance, perhaps, to "change the world," if not on a large scale, at least on a small, local or individual scale. But the profession also suffers a poor public image, fewer jobs for recent graduates of law school, and a high burnout rate among those who work as lawyers. Add to this the overwhelming expense--both economic and emotional--of law school, and it is clear applying to law school is not a decision to be made lightly.Whatever your motivation for entering the profession, be well-informed. Study your motivations for entering law school, so as to avoid making a major life decision on a whim; learn as much as you can about the profession before you invest your life in it.

 

As burnout expert Deborah Arron writes, "The most appropriate reason to enroll in law school is to study and/or practice law."1 She goes on to suggest the following oft-cited justifications for choosing law school are self-evidently problematic:

I didn't have the right background for an M.B.A. or M.D.
I didn't know what else to do with my life.
I didn't like the sight of blood.
I failed all my science classes.
I figured other people would think I was trained to do or be anything.
I thought accounting would be boring.
I wanted a profession with prestige, respect and status.
I wanted intellectual challenge in my work.
I wanted to change the world.
I wanted to earn a lot of money.
I wanted to help others.
I wanted to right societal wrongs.

Many who went to law school for these reasons find themselves dissatisfied with the profession.You need to think carefully and realistically about your motivations for pursuing a law degree, especially in light of the amount of time and money involved. Arron has developed a list of traits shared by contented lawyers that may help you determine your potential satisfaction with the profession.

Display a love of learning
Pay attention to details
Respect the rules
Possess strong analytical abilities
Achievement oriented
Competitive
Steady and stable
Patient and persistent
More realistic than idealistic
More conventional than innovative
More dispassionate than emotional
Thick-skinned

She supplements this list with a very useful Personality Preference Quiz that will begin to help you determine if the law is for you.

1. Do you like to get emotionally involved with your work?

2. Do you dislike or attempt to avoid conflict?

3. In resolving conflict, do you prefer deciding what's fair based on the circumstances of each situation?

4. Do you like to create or start projects and let others finish or maintain them?

5. Do you dislike paying attention to details?

6. Do you prefer short-term projects?

7. Do you value efficiency?

8. Do you like to do things your own way, on your own schedule, and in order of your own priorities?

9. Do you get more satisfaction being part of a team than being a solo act?

10. Do you want to change the world?

A yes answer to any of these questions ought to raise serious questions about the wisdom of using a law degree to practice law, and should push you toward a more thorough self-assessment and consideration of alternative career paths.

Those who have earned law degrees are not restricted in career choices. A Juris Doctorate can serve as a ticket of admission to careers in business, communications, politics, academia, not to mention non-practitioner jobs within the profession, including the extensive legal products and services industry.

Other ways to determine whether law school is right for you: talk to lawyers, both practicing and non-practicing; here at Notre Dame, go to the Notre Dame Law Admissions Office (Suite 2180 Eck Hall of Law) and ask to visit a law class; volunteer in a legal services program; do a legislative internship, or a legally related internship; read about law school and the legal profession in professional journals and books devoted to the subject. Many of the publications on the Suggested Reading List provide practical information for making a decision about a career in law.

 


1 Deborah Arron, What Can You Do With A Law Degree? (Seattle: Niche Press, 1994), p. 30. The following material borrowed from Arron is also from this book. While it is intended as a guide for lawyers suffering from burnout in the profession, it is a good idea for those considering the profession to read through it to avoid making the mistakes that produce lawyers unhappy with their career choice.