Ms. Moneybags: So You Want To Go Into Law

Welcome to Ms. Moneybags, Lady Clever’s column on finances, careers, and the headaches that come from thinking about that kind of stuff.

From left to right:  Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, (Ret.), Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg & Justice Elena Kagan in the Justices’ Conference Room prior to Justice Kagan’s Investiture.

squad goals.

ALRIGHT. AFTER MUCH DELIBERATION, you’ve decided you’d like to go to law school. Maybe you want to be the person who will lead the charge to repair America’s broken legal system and go down in history books. Maybe you want to work towards better financial opportunities to provide for your loved ones. Maybe ADA Kasey Novak from Law And Order: Special Victims Unit is secretly all you’ve ever wanted to be. No matter the reason, you’ve made a great choice: a career in law can be a personally-rewarding, financially-lucrative, challenging experience. But, despite how easy Elle Woods made it look, choosing and getting into a good law program isn’t as simple as filming a fun admissions essay and skipping out on a few mixers to study for the LSAT… especially if you don’t have an ex also on his way to the law school of his choice to conveniently chase across the country.

Figure Out The Field of Law You Want To Specialize In

This is an important step, because while any law program worth its salt will give you the tools to practice law successfully in a number of different fields, many of those programs will specialize in specific fields themselves, like CUNY School of Law, which focuses on public service and public-interest law. You’ll give yourself an advantage by making connections and familiarizing yourself with your chosen specialization from the outset of your career.

Consider If You Want To Pursue Another Degree Concurrently

Many law schools now allow students to pursue a graduate degree at the same time they’re working towards their law degrees. If you’re interested in a degree in business administration, the Three-Year JD/MBA program from Columbia University School of Law could be of interest to you, especially if you want to specialize in corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, or the like. On the other hand, if the subject of gender studies is a passion of yours, why not should consider applying for the JD/MA Women’s Studies program at George Washington University? You’re already there, after all. [For a comprehensive list of joint degree programs in law and women’s/gender studies, check out this resource from Smith College.]

Crunch the Numbers for Tuition and Expenses

Law school isn’t cheap. In fact, “according to the American Bar Association, the average debt taken on by a law school graduate was $84,000 if you attend public schools and $122,158 if you attend private school” in 2012, writes Robert Farrington over at Forbes. You have to take a good, long look at your finances to figure out how you’ll pay for your law program. Will you take out federal and private loans? Pay out-of-pocket? Opt for a part-time program so that you can work during your studies? While the figures might seem off-putting, law school isn’t automatically un-affordable; many programs offer significantly lower tuition rates to in-state students, and some programs, such as those found in rural or non-metropolitan areas, have affordable out-of-state tuition rates. And the housing market in those areas are significantly cheaper, to boot.

Start Practicing How to Say “No” To Plans

Don’t forget to include the time you’ll need to build a competitive application into your calculations of just how much of your life law school will take over. Preparing for the LSAT, reaching out to potential contacts for letters of recommendation, working with lenders to finance loans, crafting compelling personal essays, visiting your schools of choice, reaching out to lawyers who practice in the areas you’re interested in – all of these take significant amounts of time that you can’t just pull out of thin air in the eleventh hour. Not if you want to get into a decent law program, that is. Making sure you give yourself enough time to adequately prepare for the LSAT is especially important, since LSAT scores are still one of the – if not the actual – most important factors in determining admissions to law schools. So, tell Sarah you’re super-sorry, but you’re gonna have to bail on a few of her weekly Friday-night benders.

Conduct More Research

If you’re serious about law, you’re going to need a lot more information than this post, or even ten more posts, will be able to provide you. Admission criteria for specific schools, reviews of LSAT prep courses, stats on graduation employment rates, school rankings – it’s a lot to take in and keep straight. Sites like Noodle can definitely help you get started. An education website designed to bring you information and resources based on what’s relevant to your search and not based on which companies are paying the most to show up on your screen, Noodle has informative, unbiased articles and content on everything from paying to law school to picking the program best-suited for your professional goals. What’s especially cool about Noodle is that you can input your GPA and (projected) LSAT score, along with a host of other criteria like the city you want to practice in or the specialization you’re interested in, and it’ll narrow down programs that might be of interest you. You can even create an account to save the searches and articles you come across for future reference. Law school is going to feel daunting enough; don’t make getting into law school feel that way, too. P.S. If law isn’t your thing, Noodle also has great resources and materials on nursing programs, business schools, and a number of other graduate programs.

Since I won’t be able to attend each and every one of your law school graduations, I’ll just get the congratulations out of the way now, Class of 2020. Go ahead, pat yourselves on the back: