I feel like I’m breaking a code when I discuss the negative aspects about law school. Above all, I do not want to dissuade anyone from achieving their higher Ed goals. And the reality is that we need more Latinas in the law, for real, but I also want to give practical information and be as real as possible.
And the reality is that the job market still sucks—especially for those interested in public interest/government jobs. There just hasn’t been a bounce back like we’ve seen in the private sector. This, on top of the crazy amount of student debt so many of us have to take on if we want to achieve this goal–it ends up putting many of us in a crappy situation.
Because of these risks, I see articles and practicing attorneys strenuously cautioning/beseeching people to not attend law school because the risks aren’t worth the reward. And to be fair, yes, the cons of law school are pretty negative:
You can bury yourself in financial debt (that has far-reaching consequences); you can end up feeling limited in your career (i.e. you keep working a job you hate because you need the salary to pay off your loans); and/or you end up taking a job you’re not interested in just to pay the bills. These are all common scenarios law grads may find after graduation. It sucks.
So knowing what’s at risk how can you determine if you should really go to law school?
First, be honest with yourself as to why you really want to be an attorney. For many Latinas, we have seen or experienced some type of injustice against our family, friends, or community that we wish to change. If you want to earn a J.D. to attack these issues and create change in your community or on a national/global level, then you owe it to yourself to really work on earning your degree. I encourage all those that view this career as a calling or vocation to really strive to make it happen because we need more of you in the profession.
Second, a career in the law will likely improve your economic station in life. Yes, you’ll have debts, which you’ll need to learn how to manage, but the vast majority of us come from homes where our parents were not professionals; some of us may have even lived in poverty as children/young adults. By joining this profession, we are positioning ourselves to have a more comfortable life with stable finances. Ideally, we will be able to save for retirement, invest, donate, and create opportunities for our own children. Options that many in our families couldn’t/can’t do–and that is the power of higher Ed, it can provide a path to a more stable life (financially speaking).
Regarding this point, we hear a lot of discouragement about attending law school by mainstream groups arguing that it will be a financial detriment for people–if by “people” they mean most white people, then yes, they’re correct because a white student from a middle-class family will not get the same benefits we will experience as they have already reaped the rewards of a middle-class life. But we, as a group, are not there yet and a degree in higher Ed will lead us to more opportunities down the line– so don’t let other people discourage you from your goals.
Instead, if you are committed to becoming an attorney, what can you do to ensure that you’re making the smartest choice in the law school you attend? Your overall goal should be to limit your financial liability. Unless and until the government decides to make education free, this means favoring in-state schools, public over private, applying for scholarships, understanding the loan system, working side-jobs, practicing frugality, planning ahead and working the hell out of your law school to get the most out of your three years. None of that is easy and it requires a lot of dedication–but if you can earn your J.D. with as little financial consequence as possible you will have placed yourself in a really favorable position as you begin your career.