Prelaws: 10 Things to Do While You Wait

WaitingCongratulations! All of your law school applications are in, and you’re chilling out, waiting for the acceptances to roll in. Naturally you should take some time off, relax, and catch up on all the things that fell by the wayside while you were stressing over your applications.

But, what else? Committing to a law school is a big deal. Here are 10 things you can do right now, while you wait, to ensure you’re making a wise choice:

  1. Talk to lawyers, and ex-lawyers. This is the single best way to find out if you’re going to like being a lawyer. Yes, it can be intimidating to ask people you hardly know to talk with you, but that’s something you’ll have to do all the time as a lawyer. Get used to it. I’ve even provided a detailed, four-part guide to conducting great informational interviews to get you started. Do not delay!
  2. Think long and hard about your motivations. Lots of people go to law school every year for the wrong reasons. Most of these people end up miserable. Don’t be that person! Before you commit to law school, understand why you’re doing it.
  3. Get real about the financials. Newsflash, most lawyers don’t make $160K right out of law school. And most of them have mountains of debt. This is the time to really sit down and think about how much you’re willing to spend to go to law school, and how any debt you’ll acquire is going to impact your life going forward. Sitting down with a financial planner and mapping out various scenarios would be an excellent idea. If that’s not feasible, do it on your own. But do it!
  4. Get real about your job prospects. Hopefully I’m not the first person to tell you this, since I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you can’t trust law school employment numbers. If you don’t believe me, check out the Law School Transparency project. Before you commit to a school, talk to recent graduates. Listen to what they tell you. Do not assume your outcome will be different. It’s ugly out there for a lot of law grads (I know because they send me tales of woe). Buyer beware!
  5. Say “I’m not going to law school” and mean it. Decide for at least a few days that you’re not going to go to law school, even if you get in. How does this feel? You might be a little panicked (what will your parents say?), but do you also feel excited? Do lots of new ideas about what you could do instead suddenly pop into your head? Take these ideas seriously. Law school will always be there, but other opportunities might not be.
  6. Pretend that you’re going to defer for a year. Maybe it’s too much to just decide you’re not going to law school. Fine. Decide that you’re going to defer for a year. Make a detailed plan for what you’ll do in that year. Where will you live? What type of job will you get? What kind of hobbies will you develop? Who will you hang out with? Will you travel? Make your plan nice and juicy and real. Now think about whether you might actually want to defer for a year, even if you get in.
  7. Spend an afternoon reading a law school casebook. Personally, I’d suggest a Con Law casebook, but it doesn’t really matter. Go to the library and find a first-year law school casebook. Open it to page one, and start reading. Stop three hours later. Did you enjoy that? Was it interesting? Or did it make you want to claw your eyes out? This is going to be you reading load, at a minimum, every day in law school.
  8. Educate yourself about the downsides of the profession. There’s some remarkable data floating around, which far too few prelaws know about, showing the rapid onset of serious mental health problems among previously “normal” law students. You need to know about this, so you can prevent it from happening to you. At a minimum, read The Role of Legal Education in Producing Psychological Distress Among Law Students and Lawyers, and then read On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession. There are a lot of miserable lawyers in the world, and many of them weren’t miserable before they went to law school. This is serious business, and it’s critical to be informed about the risks, before you show up to Orientation.
  9. Shadow a lawyer for the day. If you can find a lawyer who’ll let you shadow them for the day, do that. If not, go sit in court for a few hours. If you’re not absolutely convinced you’d enjoy doing what the lawyers you’re watching are doing, go back and try it again. Repeat, until you identify a job you’d actually like to have, or until you’re convinced this isn’t the profession for you.
  10. Read Will’s book. If you have any interest in BigLaw, read Way Worse Than Being a Dentist, the fantastic new book by Will Meyerhofer, better known as The People’s Therapist. Take his stories seriously — he is not making this stuff up. I’ve been there, and I know. If you decide to go into BigLaw, do it with your eyes open. But think really seriously about whether it’s worth the tradeoffs, because there are a lot.

So, there you go!

This is the last time you’ll be able to change your mind without major repercussions. Use this time wisely, and don’t commit unless you’re sure you want to be a lawyer.

And, in case you’re wondering whether I think you should go to law school, my default answer is “No.”

Good luck!

Read on:

Still undecided? Check out these additional strategies.

Or return to Should I Go?.

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  1. Also, here’s a really interesting reflection from someone who took a year off, then decided not to go: Second Thoughts.

    I’d read it, if I were you.

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