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Exploring the Motivations and Realities of Going to Law School

Why Go to Law School? Law school can be a daunting and expensive venture.

With competition as fierce as it is in the legal industry, its important to understand the various reasons why people decide to become lawyers. From making good money, to the versatility of a law degree, to the default option of recent graduates, to a passion for the law, to making a difference in the community, there are many different motives for going to law school.

Lets dive into each of these individual reasons to explore what may be driving aspiring lawyers.

Making Money as a Lawyer

One of the biggest motivators for going to law school is the potential to make decent money. These individuals may be drawn to big law firms or other high paying industries where an impressive salary is on the table.

However, while big law firms can offer a very high salary, it is not a guarantee that lawyers will earn six-figure salaries right away. Many lawyers may have to pay their dues and earn their stripes before being able to command a high salary.

Additionally, high salary aspirations need to be balanced with the high cost of law school and the resulting student loan debt that most law students accumulate. Many law students find themselves in a position where they are making just enough to pay off their student loans, while still working incredibly long hours.

Versatility of a Law Degree

The broad range of a law degree makes it a versatile tool in multiple professional settings. Law graduates with their J.D.s (Juris Doctorates) can go on to pursue careers in compliance, contract law, human resources, and even in the healthcare industry.

Additionally, lawyers have the opportunity to explore other graduate degrees to further enhance their professional credentials. Law school is a great networking opportunity as well, as many lawyers have a vast network of contacts and are able to connect with people in various industries.

Default Option

For many students who finish their undergraduate degrees but feel undecided about their career paths, law school can seem like the default option. Often, these individuals may have majored in a specific field, but lost interest in that career path, leaving them unsure of what to do next.

For these individuals, law school seems like the next logical step, as it offers many career options and the opportunity to gain professional experience.

Passion for Law

Some students have a passion for the law and want to use their talents to make a difference in the world. For these individuals, getting a law degree may be the key to working in a specific area of law that they are passionate about.

They may have specific career aspirations, such as becoming a public defender or a judge, which require a law degree. However, students with a passion for the law need to understand that the job market for lawyers can be tough, as competition is fierce and job opportunities can be limited.

Making a Difference

Finally, some law school applicants may be motivated by the desire to give back and make a difference in their communities. Many schools offer loan repayment assistance programs to students who pursue public interest jobs.

These lawyers may choose to specialize in fields like civil rights, environmental law, or fighting against human trafficking. Although these fields can be emotionally taxing, helping those who otherwise would go unnoticed is rewarding in the long run.

High Salary Expectations

While many law school hopefuls have high hopes for their future earnings, the reality of the legal industry may not match those expectations. The starting salaries for lawyers can range greatly; while some may make over $100,000 a year, others may have to settle for much less.

For example, the average starting salary for public interest lawyers is around $45,000, while the average starting salary at a big law firm is closer to $190,000. This means that students should temper their salary expectations and keep in mind the high cost of law school when making decisions about their legal careers.

When it comes to landing high paying jobs, grades are incredibly important in law school. In most law schools, the median grade is a B; students who want to make the top of their class must aim for As. However, not all law schools grade on a curve and not all law school classes are graded based on exams.

Class participation, group work, and papers can all play a major role in a students grade. Additionally, students should not rely on straight As from their undergraduate degree as a guarantee of success in law school.

Finally, prospective law students need to be aware of the cost of law school. Law school can be a huge financial burden, with tuition, books, and living expenses adding up quickly.

The average student loan debt for law school graduates is around $145,000, and it can take years to pay it off. Law schools usually offer some form of financial aid, but students should be aware that loans may come with high interest rates that result in long-term debt.


Although the reasons for going to law school can vary greatly, it is important to have a clear understanding of the possible motivations driving ambitious students. Understanding the reasons for going to law school and the realities of the legal industry can help potential law students make informed decisions about their future careers.

Regardless of each individuals personal motivations, cultivating strong study habits, networking regularly, and always being up-to-date on the latest trends in the legal industry are key to a successful law career.

Versatility of a Law Degree

Law degrees are highly versatile and can open doors to numerous career paths. In addition to pursuing careers in law, law school graduates are able to apply their legal training and analytical skills to a wide range of fields.

This versatility is a major reason why many people choose to attend law school. In this section, we will explore the different ways in which a law degree can be applied beyond traditional legal practice.

JDs in Other Fields

One of the benefits of a law degree is that it can prepare students for other graduate programs and careers. Law students may decide to pursue additional graduate degrees such as MBAs, human resources, or public policy degrees.

These additional degrees can complement their legal education and enhance their skill sets, making them more attractive candidates for specific career fields. Law students should be encouraged to look into potential career paths and explore what specialized degrees may be required.


Law students or recent graduates who are considering a career outside of traditional law practice can benefit from expanding their network connections. Attending professional networking events and joining professional associations can expose students to other professionals who may be working in their field of interest.

These connections can help students learn more about specific professions and career opportunities with employers. Having a wider network makes it easier for law school graduates to explore different career paths and to get a job or internship with a specific employer.


Law schools offer a wide variety of courses that cater to different fields and professions. Students who are interested in specific areas of law can pursue a specialized degree in order to gain a deeper understanding of those topics.

These specialized degrees can be shorter and less expensive than a traditional law degree, giving students a more targeted education for specific career fields. For example, programs offer specialized courses in dispute resolution, environmental law, or intellectual property law.

These courses can prepare students to succeed in fields that require specialized knowledge in those areas.

Default Option

Going to law school may seem like a default option for those who are unsure of their career direction. While attending law school can be a rewarding option for many students, they should also consider other alternatives.

It is important for students to explore and gain professional experience in their areas of interest before committing to a graduate program. Exploring other career fields or working in a job related to their major provides opportunities for professional development and a deeper understanding of other career choices.

Consider Other Options

Before enrolling in law school, students should use their undergraduate experiences to determine whether law is the right career path for them. Many fields overlap with legal skills such as research, analysis, and communication.

Consider pursuing internships or jobs in related fields. This experience can be used as a way to confirm law school is the right choice or show students which career paths they want to follow.

Advantages of Professional Experience

One major advantage of gaining professional experience before attending law school is that students may pick up sought-after practical skills demanded by employers. Employers are keenly interested in candidate skills such as professional writing and communication, which can provide a competitive edge in any profession.

This additional work experience can also enhance a student’s academic success. Starting law school with practical work experience allows students to apply knowledge gained from their work experience to their coursework, making the material more relevant and easier to understand.


Understanding the versatility of a law degree is essential to make the most of your legal education. While many students choose to enter traditional law practice, having an array of career options available is a major asset when pursuing careers related to particular interests.

Law students who take the time to gain practical experience and explore other career fields will be better equipped to make informed decisions about the best career paths for themselves. It is important to remember that law school is just one of many options available to aspiring professionals, and careful consideration of other career possibilities can lead to a successful and fulfilling career.

Passion for Law

For many law school students, their passion for the law is what drives them towards a career in this field. Some students may have a specific area of interest, while others may be motivated by the possibility of making a difference in their communities.

In this section, we will explore the different career options available to law graduates with a passion for the law and the challenges they may face.

Career Options based on Interests

The legal field offers a wide range of career options for individuals who have a passion for the law. Law students with an interest in criminal law may decide to become public defenders or prosecutors in a district attorney’s office.

Alternatively, they may choose to work in the area of constitutional law as a scholar or professor. Other students may be interested in business litigation, working for law firms that handle high-stakes disputes on behalf of large corporations.

Regardless of their specific interests, law students have ample opportunities to find a rewarding career within the legal field.

Limited Job Market

While the legal field offers a wide variety of career options, the job market can be limited for those seeking positions in certain fields. For individuals seeking to make a difference in their communities by working for legal aid organizations, for instance, the job market may be limited.

These organizations often operate on a shoestring budget and may have limited resources for hiring additional attorneys. Similarly, public defenders and prosecutors may be limited by government budgets and may have a heavy caseload.

Those working in these positions may experience an emotional toll due to the challenging circumstances of the cases they handle and may find themselves struggling with the low pay. This may result in difficulty with managing personal finances, especially if student loans accrued during law school are substantial.

Social Change

Despite the limited job opportunities, many law students are still drawn to the field because of the potential to effect social change. Public interest organizations may not be able to offer high salaries, but they offer law graduates the chance to work in a meaningful way for the betterment of society.

The importance of social causes is a major motivator for many law students, and these students should explore positions that support their interests. With a law degree, graduates can advocate for social change in various ways, including fighting on behalf of marginalized communities, advocating for the environment, addressing systemic injustice, and much more.

While the job market may be limited in these particular fields, many public interest organizations offer loan repayment programs and other benefits that make public service work a viable option.

Emotional Toll

Working in certain positions within the legal field can take an emotional toll on individuals. Public defenders and prosecutors may find themselves working on cases that involve gruesome crimes or tragic circumstances.

These circumstances can cause a significant amount of emotional stress and may lead to burnout or other psychological issues. Individuals working in public interest organizations may feel discouraged by the slow pace of progress and struggle to find fulfillment in their work.

The emotional toll of these jobs can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety, leading some law graduates to consider changing career paths.

Low Pay

Lawyers who work for public service organizations may have lower salaries than those working in other areas of law. While these positions can be rewarding, the low pay may pose a significant challenge for graduates with significant student loan debt or other financial obligations.

Low pay also makes it difficult to find affordable housing and cover other daily expenses. While public interest organizations offer loan repayment programs, it can still be challenging to make ends meet with a lower salary.


Passion for the law is what motivates many law students to attend law school. While the legal field offers a range of career options, some may face challenges such as a limited job market, emotional toll, and low pay.

Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for law graduates to effect social change and work in fields related to their interests. Graduates interested in public service work should consider loan repayment programs and other benefits offered by public interest organizations to help alleviate the financial burdens.

It is important for law students to research their options and consider the rewards and challenges associated with different career paths. By anticipating these challenges, law students can make informed decisions about their future careers within the legal field.

In conclusion, the decision to go to law school is influenced by various motives, including the desire to make money, the versatility of a law degree, default options, passion for the law, and the goal of making a difference. However, it is crucial to understand the high salary expectations and the importance of grades in achieving them, as well as the high cost of law school and the potential financial burden it can impose.

Moreover, the versatility of a law degree can be harnessed by pursuing other graduate degrees, networking extensively, and exploring specialized curricula. Additionally, while law school may serve as a default option for some, it is essential to consider and gain professional experience in other fields before committing to this career path.

Lastly, for those driven by a passion for the law, it is important to recognize the limited job market in certain areas and the potential emotional toll and low pay associated with such roles. Despite the challenges, pursuing a career in law offers the opportunity to effect social change and make a meaningful impact in various fields.

The key takeaway is for prospective law students to carefully evaluate their motivations and consider the rewards and challenges within the legal field, ensuring they make informed decisions that align with their goals and values.

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