Factors to Consider if You Want to Become a Lawyer

Style Guides for Lawyers beyond the Bluebook
Robert Daly/Caiaimage/Getty Images.
Text reads: "So you want to become a lawyer? Get ready for three or more years of law school at a steep tuition; formal work attire; long work hours; regular public speaking; a lot of writing and analysis"
© The Balance 2019

Becoming an attorney is an exciting and noble goal. The profession generally pays well, and you get to put that cool "esquire" after your name. You can choose from a variety of specialties, including corporate law, tax law, entertainment law, and criminal law. Should you be a lawyer? Here are several factors to consider.

The Cost of Law School

The average student loan debt for lawyers was $142,900 as of the 2015-2016 school year, the most recent year statistics are available. Private law schools cost an average of $49,548 per academic year. Public schools cost significantly less, with an average cost of $21,300 per year.

While your salary after law school may help to make up for that, it all depends on where you work. The median compensation for a first-year lawyer working in the private sector was $75,000 as of 2018. The median compensation for all attorneys was $122,960 per year as of 2019, so your salary will improve as time goes on, making it easier to repay your student loans.

Weigh the cost of law school and three years of lost earnings against the potential returns of a law degree.

The employment of attorneys should grow by about 6% in the decade from 2018 through 2028, which is an average pace.

Law School Timeline

Law school is a three-year program if you attend full time. You can only qualify for law school after you've received your bachelor’s degree, which typically takes at least four years if you're attending school full time. But you do have additional options.

Some schools offer accelerated law school programs, so you might be able to get through in two years. On the other hand, you might want to slow things down. You can attend school part-time if it isn't possible for you to take three years off from work. Many law schools understand this reality and offer part-time programs that meet in the evenings or on weekends so working professionals can attend. 

Frequent Testing

You'll need to score well on several tests on your way to becoming a lawyer. Many law programs require you to take the LSAT to be admitted. The LSAT has a multiple-choice portion and a written portion.

During law school, you'll be tested regularly on course materials. Once you have your law degree, you'll need to pass your state's bar exam. If you want to practice in multiple states, you'll need to pass the bar in each state.

Public Speaking

As an attorney, public speaking is a part of your day-to-day life. You'll present information to clients, juries, judges, arbitrators, opposing counsel, witnesses, boards, and colleagues.

Trial lawyers present information in the courtroom. Corporate attorneys must be at ease in the boardroom. Regardless of your position, you'll be required to head committees and lead meetings.

Constant Writing

Words are a lawyer’s tool of the trade. Attorneys are expected to be good writers as well as excellent speakers. Trial attorneys will need to master oral and written persuasion as they argue motions, try cases, take depositions, and draft various legal pleadings. Corporate lawyers must master the art of negotiation and be proficient at drafting documents. From drafting emails to writing briefs, writing is an inescapable part of life as an attorney.

Logical Reasoning and Analysis

Logical reasoning and critical-thinking skills are essential to the practice of law. Analytical skills are necessary for all practice areas, whether you're structuring a multi-million-dollar deal or developing a trial strategy. You might enjoy being an attorney if you like logic puzzles, research, and critical thinking.

If logical reasoning doesn't come naturally, you can still develop those skills over time. You might take classes in logic or pick up logic puzzles to hone your skills.

Long Work Hours

This isn't a requirement for all lawyers, but some value-conscious clients might expect you to be accessible around the clock. Most lawyers work full time, and many work more than 40 hours per week. Lawyers who work in public interest venues and academia might have more forgiving schedules, but they often trade high salaries for a better work-life balance.

Client Development

Most law firm attorneys are responsible for client development. Compensation, bonuses, draws, and partnership opportunities are frequently based on an attorney’s ability to bring in business for the firm, at least in part.

If you choose to work for a law firm, you must excel at marketing yourself and your organization to prospective clients. You'll face similar challenges if you go into private practice. Other types of law may not require as much marketing, but you'll still need to put your best foot forward with clients and supervisors.

Professional Dress

Most lawyers spend their workdays in suits and business attire. Casual dress is not the norm. This helps attorneys command respect, inspire trust, and convey a polished image. If the thought of spending all day in dress shoes makes you want to scream, avoid working as a trial lawyer. Other lawyers may have more latitude depending on where they're employed.