Applying to law school in 2020? Five things to consider

By Christopher P. Chapman, president and chief executive officer, AccessLex Institute

A legal education is second to none if you are looking for a rigorous program that develops skills and abilities that are among the most useful and portable available to you in graduate study.

However, before investing the substantial time, money and psychological resources required to earn a law degree and pass the bar, there are five factors every aspiring law student must consider.

First, ask yourself why you want to go to law school. There are countless reasons to do so, but you must make sure a legal education will further an important objective in your life. Using law school as time to determine your objective is both expensive and inefficient. 

Next — and this can be a very difficult thing — you need to objectively determine whether you are up to this challenge at this time in your life. All law schools are academically demanding, and no bar exam is easy, so you need to candidly assess if you are intellectually capable and psychologically strong enough to thrive in an intense and competitive academic environment. This reckoning may result in some hard truths but being honest with yourself is essential to your ultimate success in law school and beyond. 

Once you’ve determined you are capable, contemplate whether you have the emotional maturity and discipline to prosper even if, perhaps for the first time, you are not be the best and brightest academically in your class. In every law school, someone finishes first and someone finishes last — and yes, a full one-half of each class is below average.

You must be ready to absorb potential hits to your ego, be able to remain true to yourself and remember that law school graduates from across the spectrum succeed in passing the bar and establishing an accomplished career. You may have to hustle to make your way, but for the most part, lawyersdo make their way. 

Then you need to decide if now is the right time for you to start this journey. Are you willing and able to afford the opportunity cost of three years (or more) of being effectively out of the workforce, the total dollar cost of attendance, and the social cost of living a law student lifestyle?

If the answer to all of the above is “yes,” it’s time to find right law school for you. 

As best as you can, conduct a dynamic, multi-variable analysis that takes into account your goals, needs and preferences. This breakdown will inevitably be entirely individual to you – and it should be! Consider key factors like: where your credentials will place you in your class, the school’s bar passage rates, job placement rates, starting salaries, scholarship opportunities, specialized program opportunities and environment factors, such as the school’s location, size and diversity.

Fit is critical. You do not want your decision to be reduced to a single test score or school ranking.

Though some of these considerations may be difficult to confront, aspiring law students who put the time and effort into making sure pursuing a legal education is right for them by asking themselves these hard questions will ultimately make the best choices for their future. Pursuing a legal education is an exciting and rewarding journey to embark on, and I wish everyone who accepts the challenge the very best of luck.

About AccessLex Institute: Since 1983, AccessLex Institute has continually evolved to meet the ever-changing challenges and needs of the law students and institutions that we serve. We are steadfast in our commitment to inform students of the economic realities of law school without limiting their aspirations. As a nonprofit organization underpinned by nearly 200 American Bar Association-approved nonprofit and state-affiliated law schools, we are intently dedicated to the betterment of legal education.