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Determine if Law School Is Not the Right Move

Think hard about your career aspirations and work style in order to narrow your options – law school might not be the best.

A young businessman looking at a document while on the phone

Consider pursuing a legal internship before deciding whether to continue or cut ties with a law school program.

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Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q-and-A, a monthly feature of Law Admissions Lowdown that provides advice to readers who send in questions and law school admissions profiles.

If you have a question, email me for a chance to be featured next month. This week, I address how to make a legal education work for your career goals, and know if a legal education is not right for you.

[Get tips and advice on applying to law school.]

Dear Shawn: I am currently enrolled in law school but lately have questioned whether I should finish. My grades are competitive, but I believe that I am more of a “work to live” rather than a “live to work” kind of person. 

I love my downtime and dislike stressful, busy work environments. Is it possible that even after being admitted into law school and being successful in class I am not suited for a legal career? -Halfway There

Dear Halfway There: It is not uncommon for law students to realize that they do not want to be lawyers after all! Some realize this during law school, some after graduating and some once they get a job in their industry. 

Since you have likely already invested a large sum of money in tuition (unless you have a full scholarship), in addition to your valuable time studying, I recommend that you take a legal internship before deciding to leave law school. This will give you a feel for the hours required and the work environment.

You can also get advice from the lawyers with whom you work. If you dislike the internship, then you may be correct in thinking that the legal field is not for you. Keep in mind, however, that there are many career paths to take in the legal field, and that disliking one internship may not mean you would be unhappy in any law career. 

[Follow three steps to choose a law school specialization.]

Since you have already begun your legal education, I would also encourage you to consider if there is another career in which you could apply your law degree. A law degree is applicable in so many fields that you may benefit from completing your studies. 

In the end, if you determine that you do not wish to pursue a legal career and cannot think of a use for a law degree, then you should cut your losses and withdraw from the program. There is no use in spending more time and money on a degree you do not plan to use. -Shawn

Dear Shawn: I'm a nontraditional student in my forties, and I have often wished I were a lawyer so I can help others. I am particularly interested in working on Social Security disability cases. I've been told that this is a branch of law that doesn't require a legal degree, but I don't really know where to start to prepare for such a career.

As you recommended in a previous article, I am meeting with a family friend who is a lawyer to learn more about the day-to-day life. In addition, I'm looking into a paralegal certificate and associate degree. Can you recommend a type of program for someone in my situation? -Feeling out the Options

Dear Feeling out the Options: There are many degrees that provide entry into the legal field, so it can be difficult to decide which is right for you. 

What you plan to do with the degree determines which path you should pursue. If you wish to practice as a lawyer, you must have a traditional law degree. With this degree, you could seek work in Social Security disability law. 

If you are seeking a legal support role, then a paralegal certificate or associate degree may be a better option. Tuition will be lower and the program will be shorter than a J.D. A certificate or associate degree is not a strict requirement to land a job as a paralegal, but they can help boost your resume and demonstrate your interest in the legal field. 

[Learn to advance a law career without passing the bar.]

Aside from chatting with your lawyer friend, you may want to check out local job listings for paralegals or legal assistants. You could even apply to those that pique your interest and see what you hear back.

Reach out to firms that specialize in your area of interest to schedule some informational interviews. Ask paralegals what level of education they obtained before getting their jobs. This can help you understand if further education is necessary to pursue your new career and also establish some great connections within law firms who can let you know if they hear of job openings.