If you've followed my blog this summer, you know that I am in the process of applying to law schools for September 2014. I recently wrote the LSAT in June and scored in the 71st percentile. Although this is a respectable score, considering I essentially winged it, I need a score closer to the 90s to get into the schools I am hoping to be admitted to. After just starting an intensive 2-month LSAT prep course, I am focused on achieving my goal at the October writing of the LSAT. But the decision to push forward with this goal has not been a simple one. Many people will have differing opinions on whether or not to attend law school, the pain and self-doubt that occurs during the process, and the actual benefits that can be obtained from completing a law degree.
This sounds like discouraging information for a future law student. But what exactly is entailed in law school that makes it such a painful and unpleasant journey for some students?
This quote from a law school student, "Finals Week: There is no such thing as 'friends.' There are those who won't jack up the curve and are allowed to live, and those who might wake up confused and alone in Nicaragua come exam time", accurately sums up the cut-throat, competitive nature of many law schools. Since law schools mark on a curve, it may be possible to get 90% on an exam, and still end up with a C as your mark. This essentially pits students not only against the exam, but also against themselves, as many realize they will have better marks if those around them fail. This has resulted in many reported acts of sabotage, including withholding notes, ripping pages out of textbooks, giving misleading information and not passing on messages regarding important dates to fellow students. With this level of competition present once students have been admitted into law school and are on their journey towards graduation, it's not surprising that to be admitted into these schools in the first place is also incredibly competitive.
This chart displays the average GPA and LSAT score for successful applicants to each of the law schools in Canada. It also shows stats relating total applicants to the number accepted and enrolled each year, a success rate typically less than 10%.
Also interesting to note is the dramatic increase in both applicants and enrolled students in law schools in Canada, both of which have seen a rise of about 25-40% over the last 15 years. This may have been caused by a number of factors. First, the educational requirements for most jobs have increased over the years. A bachelors degree doesn't get you very far nowadays; upper management jobs typically go to those with MBAs, and many legal careers (such as certification in the NFL as a sports agent) now require a graduate degree. Additionally, an indecisive and unmotivated generation has resulted in many students extending their educational careers in hopes of figuring out what they want to do with their lives. Many students end up in graduate school to stall time, simply because they haven't decided what specific career path to take. Also, the financial recession of 2008 has resulted in a weakened job market with very few openings and opportunities. Common advice has been to stay in school and obtain further education as opposed to venturing out into a world which offers bleak opportunities for new workers.
Unfortunately, this growth in the number of aspiring graduates has over-saturated the market even further. Degrees that once guaranteed a successful career like those obtained at law school (or medical school or teacher's college), no longer set job candidates apart from the pack. Law school graduates who were without article positions was recently at 15%, up from 5.8% as recently as 2008.
To make matters worse, law school is very expensive. The above video suggests law school graduates may leave school with upwards of $150,000 in debt, from law school alone! While these figures are likely slightly lower for Canadian graduates, the number is still close to $100,000, and the bleak opportunities for employment are consistent all across North America.
So why go to law school? It seems like a lot of money to spend, to do a lot of work, in an unfriendly environment, to graduate to an industry that doesn't offer many job opportunities. And even if one does find a job, many lawyers find their work unpleasant, tedious and unrewarding. But perhaps a law degree offers greater opportunities to a graduate than simply working as a lawyer?...
Studying law provides a student with many benefits and valuable skills that will be useful in all careers and walks of life. The ability to think, write, and communicate logically is a tremendous asset to have. In addition, being able to formulate a legal contract, as well as read, interpret and understand it are essential skills in all fields of business. It is also pretty easy to see how the knowledge and understanding of the laws that effect a business, are crucial to successfully operating that business. Because of this, it's no wonder that many law students have gone on to have successful careers in areas other than law. Brian Burke, formerly the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, graduated from Harvard Law School. I'm sure his experience writing and analyzing legal contracts was helpful in his career. President Obama also attended Harvard Law, where he honed communication and analytical skills that no doubt serve him well while spearheading the most important country in the world.
It also may be valuable to consider law school, just like all graduate schools, for the other benefits in can provide to life. The intellectual challenges and new experiences derived from further education have tremendous value. In addition, studying abroad may also be a suitable option for many prospective law students, providing benefits in areas such as building independence, expanding a networking of contacts, conquering unfamiliar experiences and challenges and learning a better understanding of yourself, your skills and your personality. It also doesn't hurt that foreign schools are very competitive. The University of Melbourne was ranked as having the 5th best law school in the world, compared to University of Toronto at 21st, McGill 27th, and UBC 40th. Despite its superior ranking, Melbourne is far less competitive and is considerably easier to get into than even the middle-tier Canadian schools. While the validity of the QS rankings are a matter of controversy, there's no doubt that Australian universities provide a world-class education, and a suitable alternative for graduate studies. Either way, law school is an arduous task that may not be right for everyone, and should not be a decision that is taken lightly. However it's clear that the potential benefits of a law degree far outweigh the risks for a person like myself, who is intelligent, driven and confident in their abilities.