University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Political Science


I'm thinking about going to law school...should I?

Depends. As a general rule of thumb, you should ONLY go to law school if you can correctly answer the following two questions:

Regarding Question (1) …

you need to know that American law schools are strictly in the business of training future lawyers. Period. That's it. They are not about teaching "the law", or exploring questions about law and public policy. They are about equipping potential attorneys with the tools they will use in law practice – how to think compartmentally, how to write a good legal argument. Think of them as trade schools for lawyers.

Perhaps you think you want to go to law school because you want to study law …. or because you have always been fascinated by constitutional issues … or because “you can do a lot of things with a law degree” … or because your parents want you to go … or because you really like watching LAW AND ORDER or BOSTON LEGAL.

Reconsider. Now.

These are not good reasons to invest three years of your life – and upwards of $100,000 of your money – in law school. If you are thinking about going to law school so that you can think about law, but have determined that there is no way you want to be a practicing attorney, don't bother. Go for a graduate degree instead (in political science, history, sociology, etc.).

This is a very simple equation. You go to law school to train to become a lawyer. If you are dead set against becoming a lawyer, you do not go to law school.

(There is one – but only one – exception to this rule. If you have determined which profession you wish to enter, and someone in that profession has advised you that you really need to have a law degree on your résumé (students who wish to become lobbyists hear this often), then you should go to law school. Especially if this someone has assured you that a job will be waiting for you when you graduate. And even more especially if this someone is offering to help underwrite your legal education.)

As for Question (2) … well, that's how you answer Question (1).

You may think you want to be a practicing attorney, but how do you really know? Watching Sam Waterston's character will not exactly give you the insight you really need. Finding a job or an internship in a law office, on the other hand, will. So will talking to practicing attorneys about what their job is like and what their life is like.

And that's where the Political Science department's pre-law advising comes in. We are not only going to help you decide whether law school is an appropriate destination, we are going to try and put you in contact with other people – active professionals – who can contribute to this process for you. What you're really doing here is embarking on a kind of a research project. Your question is whether or not to go to law school. In order to answer that question, you need to gather data … data on what law school is like, what being an attorney is like. We can help you gather this data, but you have to be committed to the research project. If you do a half-baked job of finding and considering this data, you could end making a careless and uninformed decision to go to law school … which could cost you a lot of money, time, and happiness.

Last modified November 15 2010 04:31 PM