Is the Cost of Law School Worth It?

The cost of going to law school depends in large part on whether or not you go to a public law school or a private law school. Private law school cost can easily cost more than double the price of a public law school. According to the latest data reported by the American Bar Association, the average cost of earning a law degree at a public law school was $25,333 per year. This is approximately $76,000 for the three year program. On the other hand, the average cost of earning a law degree at a private law school was $41,666 per year. This is approximately $125,000 for the three year program. This does not include miscellaneous costs. Most law students pay for their tuition with loans so they graduate with a great deal of debt.

Is it worth it? It depends on your perspective. From a purely financial perspective, paying back those law school loans can be relatively easy if you land a job at a large law firm or you work as a staff attorney for a large corporation. However, most lawyers fresh out of law school do not land these types of jobs nor do all young lawyers want to work in these environments. Some lawyers want to work for the government or become public defenders.

Others dream of opening their own law firm in their home town or a desirable geographical location. In these cases, their starting salary can be less than $60,000 per year. Even after ten years on the job, it is not uncommon for government lawyers to only make $60,000 – $70,000. Should the lawyer want to get married, buy a house, and have kids, this salary is not going to make life as financially easy as most outsiders perceive lawyers to live. Obviously, they will be doing better than many others, but given the cost of their loans, it can take a decade or two to catch up.

Some law students become attorneys because they have a passion for something. For example, some become personal injury attorneys because they have a passion for helping “the little guy” who is being kicked around by insurance companies and big corporations. Others have a passion to work in environmental law. In these cases, they usually end up working for a non-profit or start a private practice where they are hired by various non-profits.

Some law students have in mind to work in a certain industry some as helping coal miners. In all of these cases, becoming a lawyer gives them the power to help people and/or causes in ways they would not be able to help without a law degree. In these cases, even if the salary is not substantial as a lawyer working for a large corporation, it is worth it because they are following their passion.

Read More

The Good Lawyers

What comes to mind when you think of a lawyer?  Is it a man in an expensive suit, carrying himself with a sense of confidence that power and money can only afford.  We see these images on TV and in movies of the fast talking, super intelligent, powerful people fighting against what seems to be impossible odds, like saving someone from death row, getting an innocent man out of jail, or even prosecuting criminals for their crimes.  Is this real life?  Is this what we expect to see when we walk into a law firm?

The truth is there are thousands of lawyers who went into law for other reasons than to make money or to run for political office.  Everyday there are lawyers who are fighting for their clients either in a family matter, civil suit, employment issue, immigration, and even business matters.  They go into their careers to help people and to defend the rights given to us by the US Constitution.  Many of these good lawyers are never seen in the papers or on TV getting recognition for their hard work.

Motivation for Lawyers

The cost of law school is extremely prohibitive for many who would like to attend, but can’t.  Those who do attend usually come out with a large amount of debt hanging over their heads.  Many of the first years in practice, lawyers are just trying to get their heads above water financially.  Some areas of law are not rewarded with high paying jobs, the amount of pay expected for a first year graduate of law school varies depending on the area of law chosen.  If a lawyer chooses to work in the public sector the amount of salary decreases significantly and even more so if the jurisdiction is small.  For those that choose to go into the private sector such as Family law, Personal Injury, Criminal law and even Corporate Law can make larger amounts depending on the size of the firm in which they are hired.

For example, smaller jurisdictions in the public sector can have starting salaries in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.  Where as in the private sector like Corporate law, starting salaries can be anywhere from $70,000 to $130,000.

Money is not the number one determining factor in deciding to go to law school, in fact the market is flooded with lawyers and the job market is very competitive.  One of the biggest motivators for those who choose law as a career is a strong sense of community service.  They want to use their skills and intelligence to benefit society, help those who are being treated unjustly.  They want to uphold the rights of the US Constitution and everything it stands for.  They believe in the justice system and are proud to be a part of it.  This feeling of pride in the judicial process and community service is a tradition that goes back for centuries in the legal profession.  A lawyer by definition is one who stands between the people and the government to try to help those who have been falsely accused or need an advocate to be treated fairly.

The Bar Association of America

The Bar Association of America is the governing body making sure that all legal professionals are held to a high standard of public responsibility and accountability.  As a member of the bar is it the responsibility of each member to use their  talents and abilities in their service to the community.  As a part of their commitment to the Bar, they are required to dedicate a certain amount of hours to the community for free legal assistance to those who cannot afford a lawyer.

An average of 50 hours a year is required for a lawyer to continue to be a member of the Bar in good standing, this number does vary on a state by state basis.  This is called “Pro Bono Publico” work (usually shorted to Pro Bono) which is Latin for “in the public good”.  But rather than see that as something negative, this reflects the values of the Bar Association and it sends a message to anyone who wants to hang out their shingle as a lawyer that being in service to the community is important and encouraged from the highest levels of the legal profession.

 

Read More

Top Factors to Consider When Picking the Right Law School

Choosing a law school will have a great impact on your future career as an attorney. The right college will open professional doors, while attending the wrong school can hinder your job search. Deciding on a law school requires analyzing various factors and should be based on your personal and professional preferences. Below are factors to consider when choosing a law school.

1. Programs

Some students come to law school with a strong idea of the field in which they wish to practice in the future. If you know you want to work in personal injury, environmental law, family law or any other specialization, then you definitely need to give more thought to schools that have strong programs in the area you choose. Explore what the school is offering in each area of focus, look beyond the school’s description of the programs. Get in touch with current students or recent graduates, to see whether the opportunities promoted by the school actually exist.

2. Reputation

Many students choose to attend what they consider to be the “best” school. This decision is certainly understandable for numerous reasons. One reason is the expectation that one’s job prospects will be enhanced by being a graduate of such schools. In some cases the best school might not be an option for you, not eligible for enrollment or financially out of the question.  Just because the “BEST” school is not an option for you doesn’t mean that there isn’t a “BEST” fit school for you and your situation.  Before choosing your any school, weigh the options.  What is the school’s prestige and reputation?  What is the ranking?  How are the graduates of a certain school perceived in the legal community?  How much does it cost?  Are there other schools that have just a high a ranking and may be a better fit?  There are many options out there, make sure you research all of them before making that final decision.

3. Location

The location of your law school is a very important factor. Unless you want to join the elite schools, your law school will have a stronger reputation in its home area than other parts of the country. Apart from this, through part time jobs, internships, volunteer activities and other school events, you will be likely to meet and interact with a number of alumni in the area.  What is the cost of living around the campus?  Would you be happy living in that area for four years?

4. Cost

Graduating with a huge debt load is not a good idea, and can even affect your choices for your future. Choose a school that you can afford. If you are offered a scholarship, then, pay attention to the details. Make sure you clearly understand all the terms; under what circumstances will you retain or lose the scholarship?  Research financial aid or other funding options.  Grants and loans are extremely helpful as long as they don’t put too much burden on you right out of school to pay them back.

5. Atmosphere

You will be spending a lot of time at the law school you choose. You will probably start new relationships that may last a lifetime. Therefore, choose a school where you think you will be comfortable. Studying law is hard and if you don’t like your school, then things will be worse. Visit the campus and learn more about the school’s culture and community. Talk to students and find out more. Check the housing facilities and other extracurricular activities.

6. Opportunities

Research the academic and professional opportunities offered outside classroom. Such activities can include journals, externships and clinics that you can complete during your time in the law school.

Making the right choices now will affect your future. Do your homework and weigh all of the options before making the final leap.

 

Read More

American Society of Criminology

The American Society of Criminology

“is an international organization whose members pursue scholarly, scientific, and professional knowledge concerning the measurement, etiology, consequences, prevention, control, and treatment of crime and delinquency.”

If you are entering into the world of law, check out the American Society of Criminology.  They hold annual meetings to bring together leaders, academics and legal minded professionals to discuss legal issues and effects of crime.  It is a great place to share your opinions and views, network and share ideas with like minded people of your profession.

Anytime there are networking opportunities there are always employment opportunities for those just starting out or just wanting to move up on the ladder.    At http://www.asc41.com you can even search their job boards.

If you are just graduating from college and have an interest or degree in Criminology, visit their site for information on jobs, availability of jobs and networking opportunities.

Members receive the journals Criminology, and Criminology & Public Policy, and a newsletter, The Criminologist. The Society has specialized divisions such as Corrections and Sentencing, Critical Criminology, Women and Crime, International Criminology, and People of Color and Crime, that also distribute newsletters, journals, and announcements on a regular basis.   The reading materials are helpful for all interested parties because they transmit the information that is changing and being expanded on in the legal and criminology arenas, and will often feature segments on various countries around the world. 

There are some specialized regiments within the Society which offer the opportunity for specific interests to be pursued for students looking to break into a specific niche after graduating.  One of the main functions of the Society is to educate people and investigate the many ways in which crime, the criminal element and society are related and dependent upon one another in various manners.  They are open to all willing individuals and encourage interested parties to join or investigate their organization at any point in time.

They also recognize superior academic and professional achievement with awards in both Society members and non-members on an annual basis.  This society is actively involved with professional societies of criminology worldwide. This interchange has served to not only enrich the professional experiences of the individual ASC members who are so involved, but has also served to enhance the professional interests of the Society, and the field of criminology/criminal justice as a whole.

Read More

Criminal Justice Degree Online Leads To Success

There are many options open to someone with a criminal justice degree.  It’s not just for lawyers – Law enforcement, court clerks, bailiffs, probation officers, paralegals, detectives, drug enforcement agents and many other positions in the public service arena.

Technology has changed the playing field.  Many of the professionals have earned their degrees online.  As time passes the availability of online programs increases, you can find programs for an associate’s to even a Master’s.

Earning a degree in Criminal Justice opens many doors for your future.  Better opportunities are always available to those with a degree,  especially in the fields of law enforcement, lawyers, forensic work and even security guards find a higher degree of professionalism and pay when they hold a degree.

In the New York City police department their application states “Earning an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree will set you apart from other candidates.” Their policy also makes it clear that when considering officers for promotions, “…holding a degree will set an officer apart in the testing for promotional positions.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there will be a 29% rise in demand by the year 2010 for police officers, FBI agents, detectives, and other related positions. The only possible remedy is to keep staffing trained individuals in both the private and public sectors.   It’s a simple case of supply and demand.  As our needs as a society increase so does the pay rate of law enforcement professionals.

What’s more, many employers will provide tuition assistance or even full reimbursement for a criminal justice degree.  The opportunity to study online will help those returning to school pursue  their dream won’t take time away from work or family.

An unfortunate fact is that the number of lawyers graduating each year far exceeds the number of open positions in the job market.  This has been the case for several years now.  Many law school graduates are finding themselves looking for another type of job or a part time job until something comes available.  By earning a criminal justice degree you can always use it to do part time work in the public sector, gain experience in the legal arena while waiting for that right job to come along.

The bottom line is this:  a criminal justice degree online makes the most sense for anyone looking to make the world a better place.  And that’s whether they are already employed in the industry, and looking to climb up the ladder, or whether they are just setting out to pursue a job in the field.

Read More

How Do You Choose An Area of Law to Focus?

You have decided to go to law school, but which area of law do you want to focus?  How do you decide?  What are your goals?  Where do you see yourself in ten years?  These questions and so many more are important in deciding what area of law to focus and which one is the best fit for you and your future.

After talking with many lawyers who have been practicing for over 10 years, there seems to be one consensus – get a business degree first.  Every lawyer either working for a large firm or running their own firm will tell you they don’t teach enough about business in law school.  Any amount of time and money spent in getting your business degree will never be wasted.  Having a business degree will avail you many opportunities later in your career to either leave to open your own practice or even run a large practice.

Putting the business aside, let’s talk about how to choose a focus for your career.  Before making any decisions on a practice area, take inventory of your goals, wants, needs, personality type, and motivators.  It is hard to resist the temptation to choose a career based on the earning potential and high end lifestyle we see of those in the profession.  The key to choosing the right practice area for your career is to really evaluate yourself.  There are many pros and cons to each choice you make.

Two key points you should always keep in mind:

Choose the area of work that interests you most.  “Do what you love and the money will follow!” 

Research has shown that those who work at jobs they love, lead a happier and more fulfilling life.  If you love your work, you are more motivated and interested in learning all there is to know about that area.  You will feel more at ease with some of the long hours and sacrifices you might make to pursue your career/passion.

One of the most memorable quotes I heard from a car accident lawyer in Fort Myers, “Never lose your sense of humor!  You win some and you lose some, but at the end of the day you will have always learned something new.”  This advice will help you get through every part of the decision making in your career choice and career.  No one has a perfect career or life, we all lose some now and then.  It is what we do with what we learned that is the most important part.

School is the time to investigate

Take classes in all aspects of law.  Play around and find out what interests you most.  Discover what classes just come easily and the law makes sense to you.  If you find yourself struggling in the class, you might find you will struggle in that area of work.  Do you enjoy preparing for trials?  Do you like mock trials?  Do you find yourself enjoying doing the research and preparing a case?  What type of school work is more fun, group projects or solo projects?  Do you like to shine as an individual or are you most happy being a part of the winning team?  These things will tell you a lot about what to expect in your career in a practice area.

Research the lifestyle of a successful lawyer in the practice area of choice

Interview lawyers in the field you would find most interesting.  Look at their lives, where they live, their families, hobbies etc.  Do they work all of the time and don’t have time for hobbies?  Does their area of practice require them to live in large cities?  Do they have a family?  Are they on call?  Do they have a standard 9 to 5 schedule?  How long have they been practicing?  Do they own their own firm or work for a large firm?  What are they clients like?  What do the client expect from them?

Take a personal inventory

When you are evaluating your choices, take all of the information about a successful lawyers lifestyle and apply it to your goals and personality type.  What makes you happy?  Do you like helping others?  Where do you want to live?  Professionally, do you want to own your own firm or be a partner?  Would you be best suited to be an in-house counsel for a corporation?  Do you have political aspirations?

All of these decisions are going to be subjective and different for every person, but they are crucial to choosing the right practice area for a successful future.  The best advice is to do your homework.  Research all of the possibilities and what it will take to gain personal success.  Don’t let money or fame make the decision.  If you aren’t a good fit for the practice area, you won’t find either of these waiting for you at the peak of your career.

For more specific advice on what personality traits or goals are a best fit for each area of law read “Picking the Right Law Firm and Practice Area for You” on Above the Law.

 

Read More