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What to Consider Before You Attend Law School

Before you plunge into law school with both feet, there are some important factors to consider: funding, geography, test scores, and lifestyle. 

By
JJ Watt, Partner
4-minute read

If you've decided to attend law school, congratulations! The law has long been a prestigious career path, rich in opportunity. But before you plunge into law school with both feet, there are some important factors to consider. Putting in some extra consideration now will help you get the most out of your law school experience. 

Funding

The first question on most every incoming law student's mind is always "How am I going to pay for this?" Law school can be expensive, and if you plan to attend as a full-time student, you may not have the opportunity to earn income while you study. In those cases, you will probably need to take out a loan. Using a private lender will allow you to shop around rates and terms to get the best loan scenario possible. Of course, law school student loans will need to be paid off after graduation. But fortunately, law degrees are correlated with high salary potential, so you may be able to pay off your law school loans more quickly than is customary with undergrad loans.

Commit yourself to understanding the terms of your student loans before you sign for them. You should make sure to understand the interest rates, variability, grace period terms, and cosigner options. A solid understanding of these terms will decrease the shock when your first bill arrives after graduation. And be sure to remind yourself that you'll need to pay the money back. You can use the looming invoices as motivation to do well in school so you can find a high-paying job after you graduate. Practicing responsible thinking now will set you up nicely to be able to make healthy budgetary choices once the repayment period begins.

You'll also want to think about return on investment. While you should not pick your area of law specifically based on the salary you can expect to earn, in most circumstances it will be one of the factors to consider. Researching the salary trends of various law specializations can help you to determine the right law school for you. Law school student loans are very expensive and you need to feel confident in your ability to pay them back. Understanding projected earnings will help you to think objectively about how much debt you are willing to take on.

Geography

The city in which you study law can greatly influence the city in which you will eventually practice. Yes, the reputation of the specific institution is a significant factor, but the geographic location of the school is a close second. This is the area where you will be living while you start to build your network of legal professionals. Historically law schools have strong alumni networks and recruiting relationships with firms in particular cities. If you know you wish to practice law in a certain area, it may make sense to study there. If you have a dream firm in mind, perhaps you should consider a law school that commonly sends graduates to that employer.

The type of law you plan to study and eventually practice can be tied to location as well. Different industries are concentrated in different geographical areas, so that should factor into your school search as well. For example, if you are passionate about social causes and aspire to join a national advocacy group, you may want to look at schools in Washington, DC. If that's the case, then you should research which schools feed into that city so you can establish connections before you even take the bar.

Beyond your future career, you should also consider the geography of the school because that is where you will be calling home. Consider the climate, local social life, proximity to your hometown and cost of living in the area of each school you consider. Be sure to consider how small details can have a significant impact on your lifestyle. For example, some cities have more reliable public transportation than others. Knowing in advance that you probably will or will not need your own personal vehicle can greatly impact your budget and how easy it is to get where you need to go.

Test Scores

Law school admissions are competitive, and your undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores will determine the law schools that are available to you. While there may not be much you can do about your GPA at this point, you do have control over your LSAT scores. Look at the average LSAT scores held by students at the schools you are considering and see how your own scores compare. If you are too far away from the average scores at your school of choice, you may want to wait to apply until you can boost your LSAT score. Otherwise, you may want to consider schools where your chances of acceptance are higher.  

Lifestyle

Make sure to think about how law school will fit into your life. If you have children or a spouse to consider, that can impact your selection process greatly. Understand the time commitment that law school requires and determine whether you are able and prepared to make the sacrifices associated with it. While you can't predict what your future will look like, before you start school, you should make sure that the relationship between your lifestyle and your educational goals is a comfortable one. This will lead to better emotional health and a more manageable workload as you embark on your law school education.