Deciding to take the LSAT and apply to law school will dictate your life for at least the next four years. You have to be honest with yourself about your chances of getting accepted and how you’ll pay for another three years of school. As with any significant life decision, you should take time to weigh this choice carefully and gather the facts before making a final decision.
1. Preparing for the LSAT is a Serious Commitment
There’s no hard and fast rule for how long law school applicants need to prepare for the LSAT. However, many test-takers follow the 20 to 25 hours per week study plan for three months.
To get into the right mindset and prioritize preparation, it may help to think of studying as a part-time job or an additional university course. If you conceptualize test prep as a long-term commitment but set short-term goals and benchmarks, you can create a study plan that fully prepares you for the exam but doesn’t add unnecessary stress. The LSAT test dates for 2020 and the beginning of 2021 are already posted online, meaning you can project far in advance when to kick off your study schedule.
2. You Don’t Need to Know Your Specialization Now
If you don’t have a concrete idea of what type of law to pursue, don’t let that keep you from applying to law school. L1 (the first year of law school) covers the fundamentals of law that all attorneys, regardless of their specialization, need to know. Typically, L1 students take courses in contracts, torts, civil procedures, criminal law, property law, and constitutional law.
When do students have to narrow their focus on a certain area of law? You don’t—you can complete law school and go on to a successful career without specializing or concentrating on a specific type of law. However, many law students want to have a clear career path in mind by the time they can choose their coursework (usually L2) or start applying for internships.
3. School Reputation Matters
In some industries, a degree is a degree, and it doesn’t matter to many employers where that degree came from. Law, however, is not one of these industries. When searching for your first job after passing the bar exam, the reputation of your school typically plays a significant role in your success. If you hope to land a competitive position at a top law firm, you’ll need a J.D. from a prestigious school.
The most competitive employers look for graduates of the top 14 (also known as “T14”) law schools. The unofficial T14 grouping refers to the 14 law schools that typically take the top spots of the U.S. News & World Report law school ranking system. Although the exact rankings change from year to year, the list of schools that occupies the top 14 positions generally remains consistent. The 2021 law school rankings are as follows:
- 1. Yale University
- 2. Stanford University
- 3. Harvard University
- 4. Columbia University
- 4. University of Chicago
- 6. New York University
- 7. University of Pennsylvania (Carey)
- 8. University of Virginia
- 9. Northwestern University (Pritzker)
- 9. University of California, Berkeley
- 9. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
- 12. Duke University
- 13. Cornell University
- 14. Georgetown University
4. Becoming a Lawyer Is a Long (But Often Worthwhile) Process
Anyone interested in a law career needs to take the entire process of becoming a lawyer into consideration. After four years of undergraduate studies, you take the LSAT. Then, after three years of law school, you can sit for the bar exam. The American Bar Association recently reported that 79.64 percent of first-time test takers passed their state’s bar exam in 2019, and 89.5 percent of test-takers passed the bar within two years of graduating law school.
After sitting for the bar exam, you have to wait a couple of months to receive your score. If you pass, you’ll still have to wait a few months to be admitted into the bar association, which requires a character review and full background check. Only then can you officially call yourself a lawyer.
While this process is long and arduous, it can be well worth your while. According to the U.S. News & World Report, lawyers make a median salary of $120,910 and have less than a one percent unemployment rate.
Tipping the Scales
Hopefully, these facts and stats make your decision to apply for law school a bit easier. At the end of the day, you know yourself best, and only you can gauge if you’re cut out for the competition and if you’ll find job satisfaction as a lawyer. One of the best ways to inform your decision is to have open and honest conversations with current law school students and to spend time shadowing an attorney you admire.