In TV shows and movies, lawyers are often depicted as astute, intellectual, and powerful people who use their skills to defend the little guy. It’s no wonder that many people want to go to law school and pursue this career path. But before you change your life plans based on a few episodes of Law & Order—or even well-researched admiration of legal heroes like the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg—here are six factors to consider that will paint a better picture of what it’s like to pursue a career in law.
- Law School Admission Is Competitive
According to the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal, 62,427 people had applied for the 2019-2020 law school admission cycle as of July 31. Naturally, the top 14 law schools, commonly referred to as T14 schools, have incredibly competitive vetting processes. Yale Law School, which currently holds the number-one ranking, had a 7.3 percent acceptance rate for 2023 J.D. applicants. Accepted students had a median GPA of 3.94 and a median LSAT score of 173.
To better gauge the spectrum of law school acceptance rates, compare Yale’s numbers to statistics for the same year from Hofstra University, currently tied for a ranking of 102. The accepted students had a median GPA of 3.39 and a median LSAT score of 154.
What do these numbers mean for law-school hopefuls? It’s not enough to have a high GPA or a high LSAT score; you need both to get into a top-ranking program. In your junior year of undergrad, you should research the best LSAT prep books, courses, tutors, and other resources and start your preparations to take the exam. Remember to give yourself enough time to take the exam more than once if need be.
- Law School Will Push You to Your Limits
This may sound obvious, but it bears repeating. Law school is grueling, even for high-performing academics.
The workload at law school is immense, and you won’t get away with last-minute cramming if you did in undergrad. Intelligence isn’t enough to succeed in law school; you must also be willing to grind out hours and hours of book work.
Schools that offer admission on lower LSAT scores have higher first-year dropout rates than those with high LSAT requirements. Some of the best law schools can have no dropouts in a year. Students drop out of law school due to a lack of finance for tuition, the stressful environment, or the lack of well-paying job prospects after graduation.
- You’re Not Done with Studying After You Graduate
Even after finishing undergrad, studying for the LSAT, and going through law school, you’re still not done studying for exams—you need to pass the state bar exam to practice law. Furthermore, you’ll have to retake the bar if you decide to practice in a different state.
Each state’s bar exam is different in difficulty from the next. The bar’s passage rate in each state reflects both the exam’s difficulty and the caliber of candidates in that state. For example, California has the lowest pass rate, and its exam is regarded as one of the most challenging, so candidates who pass and work in California will be highly sought out and paid as such.
- You’re Not Guaranteed a Fat Paycheck
Considering all the hard work law school requires and the high cost of tuition, you need to consider salary statistics before you make the final decision to attend. In 2018, U.S. lawyers earned a median salary of $120,910 in wages, with the highest-paid 25 percent earning $182,490 and lowest-paid 25 percent earning $79,160.
One of the key determinants of a lawyer’s salary is their location. According to U.S. News & World Report, the cities that currently have the highest-paid lawyers are:
- San Jose, California, with a median salary of $207,950
- San Francisco, California, with a median salary of $183,070
- Washington, District of Columbia, with a median salary of $179,980
- Los Angeles, California, with a median salary of $176,020
- Houston, Texas, with a median salary of $175,380
Another key factor that determines a lawyer’s salary is discipline. Within the field of law, the following specializations pay the most:
- Trial lawyers
- Intellectual property lawyers
- Tax attorneys
- Employment and labor attorneys
- Real estate attorneys
Public defenders, legal aid attorneys, and immigration attorneys tend to have salaries on the lower end of the spectrum.
- You’ll Work Long Hours (And Spend Most of Them Reading)
Being a lawyer is arduous work with extended hours. Many lawyers work well over 40 hours a week, and it isn’t uncommon for a lawyer at a big firm to work even 70 to 80 hours a week.
It’s also important to note that while waw dramas and movies are great entertainment, they are just that—entertainment. In reality, lawyers spend most of their time reading or writing pleadings, memos, and letters about what the law means and how it applies.
A Grueling But Fulfilling Career
If you’ve considered these five factors and the evidence provided and still want to career a career in law, then, by all means, move full-speed ahead. Yes, practicing law is grueling work—but it’s also very fulfilling for those who have the drive and work ethic to do it.