As with any vocation, if you don’t love the work, success will not come easily, if at all. If you think you have a passion for law and want to make this your career, there are some things to consider before enrolling in law school.
First of all, most law firms will expect you to bill a minimum of 50+ hours weekly which equates to long days, weekends and a sacrificed personal life. The once typical expectation of 1,900 hours a year has nudged north to 2,000-2,100. Typical associate chargeable hours in the larger firms are 2,000-2,100 per year. However, the typical associate who is “in the hunt” for partnership are likely to bill 2,300-2,400 hours per year. Earning $160,000-300,000 annually from your 1st through your 7th year out of school is decent compensation but it comes at the price of freedom. However, it helps pay off law school debt that averages $91,000 in the U.S.
The next question to ponder is whether there will be job openings upon graduation? The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) reported in August 2016 that 86.7% of 2015 graduates founds jobs within 10 months of May graduation. Of employed graduates, 76.8% obtained jobs for which bar passage was required and 16.7% had JD advantage (law-related) positions. Of employed graduates from the Class of 2015, only 51.3% found jobs in private practice – this compares with 56.2% for the Class of 2008. The public sector continues to be a solid source of jobs for law school graduates, with jobs in government, as judicial clerks, in public interest organizations, and with the military all serving as steady sources of work. Collectively these employment sectors account for just under 30% of the graduates who obtained jobs . (The NALP is an association of over 2,500 legal career professionals who advise law students, lawyers, law offices, and law schools in North America and beyond).
Law schools may paint a rosier picture of the profession because of a financial incentive to maintain or increase enrollment. In May 2014, the American Bar Association (A.B.A.) reported that 25 percent of law schools obtain at least 88 percent of their total revenues from tuition. The average revenue for all law schools is 69 percent from tuition. The campaign to lure students is evident in the figure of 281 lawyers per 100,000 population in the U.S.; the number 2 spot goes to Britain with 94 per 100,000. If you intend on adding to a law school’s revenue, then we encourage you to read our choices for top 25 law schools.
Though employment opportunities are challenging post-law school, there are areas in need. The prospects are brighter if you’re willing to entertain the possibility of opening shop in a rural location. Nearly 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but the New York Times (2014) stated that just 2 percent of small law practices are in less populated regions. Those still practicing law in small towns are often nearing retirement age, without anyone to take over their practices. And without an attorney nearby, rural residents may have to drive a 100 miles or more to take care of routine matters like child custody, estate planning, divorce, and taxes. For people of limited means, this creates a logistical and costly hardship. A small town practice could be a golden opportunity to help those in dire need of the services of a lawyer.
One last consideration is that with your law degree, working in a law firm is not your only option. There are several professions where you can to apply your legal acumen and skills. We invite you to read our article on 20 non-law firm jobs with a law degree. This sampling of twenty occupations may broaden your realization of the diversity of this degree.