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Summary: Is your current career not working out like you thought it would? If you are thinking about becoming a lawyer you should read this article first.
Have you decided that your existing career is not working out and think law might be a better choice? What can you expect from going back to law school after pursuing another career first? What steps should you take to turn your new ambition into a reality?
According to the American Bar Association, in 2015 there were 113,900 full-time and part-time students enrolled in the 204 ABA-approved law schools. Of these students, 37,058 matriculated in 2015. Will you be among the future attorneys to start law school in the near future?
Reasons to Pursue Law
People turn to law as a second career for a variety of reasons. Some are inspired by the platform a law degree provides to help make social change and achieve justice for individuals and causes. Others are drawn in by the financial rewards earned by attorneys working at the top of the profession. The starting salaries of first-year attorneys at the best firms can reach as much as $180,000 per year. Successful partners at such firms can earn over a million dollars a year in partnership profits.
Another reason people pursue law is because of the respect a law degree commands throughout the world. These people seek the legitimacy that comes from being part of the esteemed legal profession.
Whatever your particular reasons are for becoming a lawyer as a second career, make sure you do your homework to see if the reality matches your vision. Talk to people who are working in the area of law you intend to pursue to get a sense of their experiences and to assess whether those experiences match your expectations. Are the attorneys who practice social justice making the kind of difference you seek to make?
How many law firm associates and partners made it into the firms with high salaries and profits? If they did make it, what kinds of working conditions have they encountered and do they recommend that lifestyle for you?
In addition to personal and professional contacts you already have, good places to conduct research are local law schools and bar associations. You can also contact alumni associations from your college or university.
Two of the biggest hurdles to overcome in pursuing a law degree are time and cost. The process of becoming a lawyer can take years – including the year or more you spend taking the Law School Admissions Test and applying to law schools, the three years or more you spend in law school (full-time or part-time), and the year or more you spend taking and passing the bar exam and securing a job.
Given that you are looking at a time commitment of at least five years, you need to be sure it is worth it in the end.
Moreover, law school is far from cheap. There is a considerable cost component to making law your second career. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average cost of full-time law tuition and fees for 2015-2016 law students was $45,467 for private law schools, $25,890 for in-state students at public schools, and $38,885 for out-of-state students at public schools. The law school with the highest price tag was Columbia University, in New York City, with annual fees and tuition of $62,700.
As if spending tens of thousands of dollars a year on tuition was not enough, there are other costs and expenses associated with becoming a lawyer. These include living expenses (which can range from moderate to very expensive, depending on the city where you attend law school), and a host of extra costs such as fees for prep courses for the Law School Admission Test and bar exam, and all the law books and commercial outlines you will purchase during law school.
If you have a job now, you will need to decide if you can somehow keep the job and still attend law school (for example, at night), or whether you will have to leave the job. If you have to leave the job, you will need to consider how you will “pay the rent” during the time it takes you to get your law degree and a new job.
Some options to explore when dealing with the financial side of law school are law school loans, financial aid packages, and family assistance. In rare cases, someone might be able to convince a current employer that a law degree will enhance an employee’s value to a company to such a degree that the employer might be willing to pay a portion of the law school tuition (as well as accommodate a moderated work schedule).
According to the National Association of Legal Professionals, 86.7% of law students graduating in 2015 had jobs. This is the same percentage as 2014, up from 2011, 2012, and 2013, but down from 2008, 2009, and 2010. Of the 2015 graduates with jobs, 17,168 went into law firms of various sizes (including sole practices), 646 went into academia, and 2,359 went into public interest positions.
For the latest law school employment information go here:
Where do you see your legal career fitting in with these numbers? Assuming you do well in law school, what will give you the “edge” you need to get the kind of job you seek after graduation?
In some cases, a person’s first career might help that person get a job in his or her second career as an attorney. For example, if you are an engineer or scientist, you might have an advantage getting a job as a patent attorney. Similarly, if you are a health care professional, you might be able to use that to get a law job in the health care legal field. If you are a journalist or have a career that involves research and persuasive writing, that might be helpful in getting a job in litigation or appellate work.
Whatever you current job is, analyze how it could help you add special value to a legal team.
Becoming an attorney as a second career is no easy feat—it involves time, cost, dedication, and uncertainty. But it is certainly possible for those determined to overcome hurdles. The considerations in this article will help you get there!
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