Should You Go To Law School? | Book Excerpt

The following excerpt about deciding whether to go to law school is from Law School Undercover: A Veteran Law Professor Tells The Truth About Admissions, Classes, Cases, Exams, Law Review, Jobs, and More.

Should I Apply?

In my role as a law professor I get asked many questions by students. Most have to do, of course, with class information or career advice. But when it comes to questions from those other than current students, few care about the big-picture issues that interest me, such as developments in my field or the current state of legal education.

Overwhelmingly, what prelaw students want to know is this: “Should I go to law school, and if so, where?”

“How can I get in?”

And, really, can I help them get in, either at my law school…or somewhere “better”?

They want to go to the best law school possible. When I ask them what they mean by the best, of course they have no clue other than a vague reference to the U.S. News magazine rankings or the like. I do know how to increase their chances of gaining admission to the top schools, but I seldom share those with them. (I will share them with you, later.)

Instead I prefer to ask them politely why they feel the need to attend the highest-ranked school that will admit them. What do they see in that school or want from that school that they feel they will not obtain elsewhere? The answer they give me, typically, is that they want the best legal education their money and undergraduate credentials can get them.

If that is their criterion, then their answer is wrong. If they want the best legal education they can get, then they should be indifferent about the ranking of that law school. Their focus should be redirected to what it is they hope to gain by graduating from the particular law schools to which they apply.


Sometimes the wrong people pick law. The part of legal education that has filtered down to high schools and colleges is, in many ways, widely misleading. I’m referring to the various debate competitions or moot court classes or events, such as a trial or appellate advocacy competition or other “play-lawyer” student experiences that are offered as special elective courses for those young students who may have an interest in a legal career. These play-lawyer activities can be fun at all levels, including law school. But it is important to note that they are not a part of the core law school curriculum. Nor is the activity, courtroom advocacy, they supposedly reflect (in a most unsophisticated way) part of the daily practice of most lawyers.

Fewer than twenty percent of all lawyers ever see the inside of a courtroom at any time in their entire careers! Even for those who do, the “moot court” event is but a pale reflection of the genuine complexity of trial advocacy. Part of what trial lawyers do is called “argument,” but this is not to be confused with the “arguing” in the more everyday sense that sums up the moot court experience. For a practicing litigator, an argument is more in the nature of a puzzle, as the lawyer tries to characterize both the law and the client’s (or another’s) conduct, and to fit them together into a story that produces an optimal result.

This is diametrically opposite to the rapid “arguing” a moot court setting usually rewards. This is not to disparage the moot court experience: Courtroom lawyers do have to be quick on their feet and their practice does involve a measure of argument in this colloquial sense. But this style of argument is a sideshow, and a small one at that, to the real work of the lawyer, be that lawyer a courtroom advocate or (more commonly) a business planner. The real work of the lawyer is methodical and purposely circumspect.

A career in law is not necessarily the place for the high school debaters or the college trial team. It is not an extension of the clever interrogations or stunning closing arguments that are the staple of lawyer dramas on television. In the real world of the lawyer, a typical billable hour will be spent researching the law—involving an extremely close reading of statutes and judicial opinions—to discern applicable legal standards while simultaneously trying to re-characterize, usually in writing, a client’s past or intended conduct to fit within the boundaries of those legal standards. That’s it.

Reading and thinking and writing and fact-checking and proofreading and still more proofreading—that’s the lawyer’s work life. Day in and day out, for usually far more than a “normal” 40-hour workweek. No “argument,” no shouting, no drama, no tears, no guilty confessions, no nailing witnesses to the wall or dramatically revealing the real killer. Now do you still want to be a lawyer?


Further Reading: Deciding Whether To Go To Law School

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