Commenters on this blog, as well as others, have expressed their amazement that anybody would choose to attend law school in this economic downturn. Some have gone so far as to say that anybody incurring debt in this economy is a “damned fool”. One thing is for sure: attending law school today is a riskier proposition than ever before.
Even in a stable economy, deciding whether to attend law school is difficult. One cannot possibly choose to subject themselves to three years of rigorous study, and the debt that comes with it, without serious contemplation. It has been two years since I chose to apply, and, although I am as pleased as ever with my choice, it goes without saying that the legal market has been dramatically altered since I sent in my applications.
Unlike others, I don't think anyone who truly wishes to study law should be swayed away from doing so based on the state of the economy. Sure, there is currently much uncertainty in the legal market, but this "uncertainty" pervades almost all professions. Spending the next three years of your life growing intellectually, while building your resume, is definitely not a bad route to take.
The major question, however, shifts to which law school a prospective student should attend. I received contradictory advice while I pondered which school was right for me. Some adamantly told me to attend the highest ranked school possible. Others, with equal vigor, explained that I should ignore the rankings altogether and consider only the schools that provided the most significant scholarships.
Although the prestige-scholarship dichotomy was difficult for those who, like myself, entered law school in a (seemingly) more secure economic environment, the choice looms larger than ever for future 1Ls. Is it more important that they receive their JD from the most prestigious institution possible, no matter how much debt they may incur? As the competition for jobs increases, prospective law students and future attorneys would be wise to get whatever advantage possible. The name of one’s school, unfortunately, may play the decisive role in determining future employment.
However, with the questionable future of the legal market, it may be wise to avoid debt at all costs. Apparently, even Harvard Law students were struggling to lock down a summer associate position this year due to the economy. No matter how prestigious your law school is, future employment in the legal profession is, by no means, a guarantee. Should a law student risk amassing debt when they may be struggling to secure employment after graduation?
I don't propose to have the answer. The fact of the matter is that future law students have difficult decisions to make. The question is no longer whether to get the fillet mignon or lobster as a summer associate—the age of entitlement is, and must be, dead. Thus, the decision for pre-law students about whether to stay out of debt at the expense of prestige is more pressing than ever before. My advice? I say forget the prestige, accept your scholarships, and work hard to prove to employers that you deserve a chance. Don't be afraid of a challenge.