Mounting Education Costs Kneecap Would-Be Attorneys
The choice to pursue a career in law is an important decision in the life of a young person. Some are beckoned by tradition—following in the footsteps of the paralegals, lawyers, judges, and prosecutors who came before them. Others may inadvertently stumble upon the subject, discovering an acute aptitude for legal scholarship. Yet, for a select few, the opportunity to uphold virtues like equality, liberty, and justice represents not just a career path—but a calling.
Before someone dives headlong into the legal field, however, he or she should carefully consider the personal and financial implications of a career in law .
The Price of Admission
One of the biggest obstacles to pursuing a career in law is the sheer cost of obtaining a proper legal education. Prospective attorneys are required to possess a bachelor’s degree before entering law school, at the end of which they will have spent a combined seven years on coursework. Then comes the bar exam—expensive to both prepare for and take. The costs for prep courses and exam fees grow each year, but it is safe to assume a newly minted law school graduate will have either spent or borrowed upwards of six figures on education and certification.
While it used to be possible to “pay your way” through law school, that is no longer the case. Because the law continues to grow at a seemingly exponential rate, budding attorneys are expected to cover more and more course material in order to be adequately prepared to represent legal clients. In other words, law school is a full-time commitment , and then some.
Students who do not qualify for scholarships or financial aid, or more generally lack the means to earn a J.D., may consider first pursuing a position as a paralegal. In any case, prospective law students must be prepared to make significant time and financial commitments.
Another consideration is the probability that law school and bar certification will lead to gainful employment. Third-year law students are advised to schedule several interviews prior to graduation. Because a lawyer’s success depends on a steadily-increasing client base, it is also advisable to seek employment with an established, reputable law firm. A good law firm should provide resources that cushion a new lawyer from the burdens of self-employment. Federal, state, and local governments also serve as great proving grounds for new attorneys.
However, there is presently an overabundance of law graduates in the United States, which means that the competition for well-paying jobs is fierce. Oftentimes, this will force attorneys to consider new practice areas and geographic areas. The next generation of attorneys will need the flexibility to move about the country in pursuit of the best jobs.
Unless a new graduate has a guaranteed position awaiting them post-graduation, he or she would also be wise to research the current density of lawyers throughout the country. Cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York are saturated with attorneys. Without a robust network of colleagues, it may be difficult to break into these markets. However, there are large swathes of the Midwest and South where the need for legal personnel still outpaces the supply. Those willing to start in less-desirable areas might have an easier time paying down the substantial debt accrued throughout their education.
Continued Learning in the Age of the Internet
Due to the emergence of e-discovery rules, established lawyers are urged to hone their internet skills and develop their computer literacy in order to stay competitive. The day is fast-approaching when information obtained on social media will become completely admissible in a court of law.
Plus, experts estimate that most law firms are soon to perform up to 90 percent of their advertising online. So, being computer-savvy isn’t just an asset, it’s an imperative for attorneys hoping to survive in the age of the internet. Those who remain unconvinced of this fact would do well to note the meteoric rise of virtual law firms, which have no brick-and-mortar locations and almost never physically interact with their clients. Instead, attorneys and clients communicate via telephone or video conference, and share documents over the internet.
Finally, this brings about the issue of cybersecurity—a burgeoning legal field and potential landmine for attorneys who retain large dossiers of confidential client information on virtual servers. Attorneys who fail to be vigilant about maintaining strict cybersecurity protocols may find their clients taking their business elsewhere, lest they fall victim to hacking, phishing, and identity theft. For this reason, many firms are now turning to blockchain solutions for confidential file storage.
With many attorneys now finding clients in the digital space, interacting with them online, and storing sensitive client information in the cloud, the legal profession is beginning to sound like a job best suited for an MIT graduate. And with law programs churning out more diplomas than there are jobs, prospective attorneys must find creative ways to stand apart from the crowd. As Sun Tsu once said, “Knowing the enemy is half the battle.” For would-be attorneys, this means being agile enough to learn the skills necessary to survive, and adaptable enough to thrive in an ever-changing legal environment. Competition is stiff, margins are thin, and yet the need for competent legal representation persists.