Don’t Go to Law School If It’s Not Free? Ignore This Bad Advice
If you’re starting to look into law school there is one thing you’ll see that’s highlighted over and over again and that is how expensive law school can be–it’s like, ridiculous. Grad school and other professional degrees are really pricy and can be enough to scare you from applying. The other thing you may notice as you’re doing your research are well-meaning (maybe) folks that say if you’re not going to a T14 law school, you should only go if it’s free. And do that I say, “yikes, your classism is showing.”
To the first point, a T14 school is the top tier law schools that are highly ranked and their reputation, along with curriculum, can provide you with a great foundation to begin your career (think the Ivies). They are also highly competitive and difficult to get into–partially because of their program and admission standards and also because they receive a lot of applicants. They are obviously good schools, but the idea that we should limit ourselves to only these storied institutions is silly. It’s part of the legal profession’s obsession with exclusivity, which in turn, contributes to this profession’s diversity problem. If anyone tells you that law school is only worth going to if you’re going to a T14, roll your eyes and walk away. I’m not dissuading anyone from applying to a top school–go for it! But don’t believe the hype that a law degree is only worth it if it comes from those institutions because that is very much not the case.
But what about debt? Should you only go to a school if they’re giving you a full ride? Look, of course it’s good advice to discourage folks from getting into debt. And yes, if you can get a great financial aid package or scholarship that will likely be the way to go. But law school is different than other grad programs, you’re not being recruited by schools to do research or to teach undergrads–it’s a professional degree where you’re learning the nuts and bolts of this profession. You pay them for the instruction, not the other way around.
But the reason I want to highlight this piece of advice its to remind you that general advice about law school is often aimed at people who already make up the majority of the profession. And the social/economic barriers many Latinas face are not taken into account as they dole out this advice. Not to say it’s bad advice, but rather that you should stop to assess whether it really applies to you. Because for me, and many other lawtinas, the debt is worth it because it allows us to work in a profession that changes our family’s economic trajectory– that type of financial stability is not always easy to achieve.
I also am weary of this type of advice it adds to the exclusivity of this profession at a time where we should be doing everything to expand and diversify who is able to join these ranks. Telling people who are navigating higher Ed on their own to only go if they receive a golden ticket (a full ride that likely has conditions that may alter the amount after a semester) is disingenuous advice. It also, frankly, keeps law school classes majority white and rich because this type of advice dissuades most people of color or people from low-economic backgrounds from applying, which should not be our goal.
Does that mean you have to go into deep debt to go to law school? No, obviously we should avoid as much debt as possible. This means considering a public school option, part-time programs, applying for scholarships, etc. But it’s likely you will have some debt because law school is out of control pricy. But the debt is manageable for most –I mean, it’s not pleasant, but you can work on ways to mitigate it.
Ultimately, the financial aspect of law school is a major point of consideration. But your professional goals, where you want to practice, all of that matters too. Don’t let “good intentions” that don’t take your reality and experience into consideration scare you from applying to law school. If being a lawyer feels like a calling, you owe it to yourself to seriously consider it and to research all your best options. You cannot let a classist system spook you from working towards your goals.