This week I finished my first year of law school, my last exam on Thursday. While I won't have my grades back for several weeks, I am pretty comfortable with how I did and I'm sure I passed all of my classes, which means that after this term I will have earned 33 of the 90 credits for my degree. I have spent the last few days contemplating my experience so far, and looking forward to the next set of classes and beyond. I have to start thinking about my future now, but I think it's useful to reflect on this past year. Here are some of my observations.
First, law school isn't that bad. Now that sounds strange, but there is a prevailing opinion that law school exists somewhere in the lower rungs of Dante's inferno; that the law school experience is painful, and results in a degree that many find worthless. It's odd, but many point to the fact that there are more law students than practicing attorneys as evidence of the futility of attending law school to begin with.
I don't look at it that way, at least not after my first year. I find the method and the madness enjoyable and stimulating, and I know that I have accomplished more (academically) this past year than ever before in my life. I am not worried about work after school because I am confident in my own abilities. But that's besides the point. The bottom line is, law school isn't nearly as hard or as torturous as people say. Yes it's difficult, but it's not impossible. Yes teachers can be hard on you, but they can also be supportive. The law student who works hard will typically do pretty well, I really believe that.
I do know that there are plenty of people who can't handle school. I started in a very small class - 16 people (keeping in mind that I started a small branch campus that's now growing... my actual class size, including all campuses, is closer to 300). Of those 16, 8 are still in school, with a 9th currently on leave (we're all pretty sure she'll be back though). 5 dropped after the first term, the other three after 2nd term. The attrition rate at my school is over 50 percent (by the end of the first year), and I think nationally it's somewhere in the 40% range. Keep in mind that some people drop because they discover they don't want to be in law school, not because they can't hack it. I know that's the case for 3 people who dropped out of my class (they got perfectly fine grades). Others drop because they flunk out. Law school isn't for everyone, that's for sure.
Second, law school culture is, pretty much, exactly what people say it is. It's funny, but there are really only three kinds of people in law school: the student in it for the money, the student in it because he or she "loves the law", and the student who is in law school because they're unsure what else to do (IE "a law degree is useful, right?").
The first kind of student quickly comes to the realization that law school is work, and that the 'money' may or may not actually be there in the end. It is this student who quickly becomes disillusioned by school, often pointing out how much hell they have to go through just to pass their classes. They never realized that the reward they were seeking does not match the work they put in. This student either drops out or ends up in corporate or tax law, hating life. Not to disparage that kind of law, but it takes a special kind of person to be a tax or corporate attorney - someone who genuinely loves that kind of law.
The second kind of student tends to do pretty well in law school. This person is in law school because the law is what he or she wants to study. Much like the person who becomes a teacher because they want to, this person isn't motivated by money or status, but instead by an idealism that has driven him or her to law school. This student can become disillusioned, after all it's a lot of work, but this student can just as easily thrive. I would place myself in this category, and thankfully I haven't lost any of my own idealism (despite having to trudge through contracts).
The third kind of student is probably the most common, and in many ways the most perplexing. This is the person who did well in undergrad, but isn't sure what they want to do. Maybe parents pressured them into law school. Maybe they 'planned' on law school all along, but aren't sure why. Maybe they just didn't want to get a job after college yet, but didn't want to go to business school either. At any rate, this person can succeed or fail but it all depends on motivation. Some of these students are rock stars - that is, fantastic students who have a flawless work ethic (not to mention the brains). These students do very well, even if they aren't sure what they want to do. Often they find themselves somewhere along the way - that is, they find what they're good at and dive in. More often, however, this student goes through the motions, passing their classes but not standing out, and it is this student who graduates and has a really hard time finding a job. This is the person who ends up cynical and will characterize law school as a complete waste of time. Usually they end up working somewhere other than in the law.
Finally, I'm actually enjoying myself more now than I have in a very long time. I'll close this post here, but to all of those who think law school is a waste of time I have a message: don't go to law school. It's as simple as that. To all the rest, my message is also simple: do what moves you. It has taken me 15 years or so to take my own advice, and now I'm finally reaping the rewards.