Author Topic: Should I go to law school in my thirties?  (Read 4127 times)

sfpoor

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Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« on: January 31, 2020, 01:09:35 PM »
I'm a 33 year old woman, living with my partner. No dependents. We rent in SF. I've been accepted and given a full ride to several law schools for Sept. 2020 entrance. This means I would finish school and take the bar exam around July 2023, when I'll be nearly 37. I want to avoid debt as much as possible but expect to take out perhaps $40,000 in loans to cover living expenses while in school (if I go). Does it make sense for me to go to law school? Should I suck it up and stay the course?

Gross Salary/Wages: Approx. $65,000.
(I work as a paralegal making $35 an hour plus benefits and around $7000 annually in discretionary bonuses. My hours are flexible and vary a lot.)
401(k) - 10% pretax. No match.
Health insurance - $73.62 pretax per paycheck, so ~$1770 / yr.
Dental -. $11.75 pretax per paycheck ($282/yr)

Adjusted Gross Income: Approx. $55,500? (2019 was $48,700. 2018 was $22,678.)
Taxes: In 2019 I paid $4,189 in federal taxes and $1,365 for state (CA).

Current expenses:
Rent - $625 / month (This is my share only. My partner and I rent a bedroom and small office/study in a single family home that we share with roommates.)
Food and restaurants - $480 / mo. in 2019. Let's say $180 / month in groceries, $300 / mo. in booze / eating out / coffeeshops. I know.
Cash spending  - $160 /month in 2019. This is additional food, small donations, walking-around money.
Utilities - Avg $50 / month for internet, electric, gas, water, trash (my share only). This also covers stuff that my roommates buy like toilet paper and dish soap.
Phone - $35 / month for my share of a Verizon family plan with data.
Auto & transport - $80 / month avg. This includes: $500 last year on bike maintenance (I got some parts stolen), local bus / train, and a couple tanks of gas when others give me rides. I commute by bike 90% of the time. I don't drive; my partner has a car that he pays for.
Gym - $55 / month for the YMCA. I lift weights and take classes 1-3x a week. I have tried cutting this many times but I do not work out without it.
Entertainment - $28 / month. This is magazine subscriptions, museum/park entry, movies, Netflix and Hulu (I switch back and forth and sometimes have neither).
Personal care - $25 / month (skincare, makeup, random shit at Walgreen's, a massage once a year or so).

Annual / variable expenses:
Travel - $1646 annual in 2019.
Education - $1700 annual in 2019. I paid for law school applications and a $900 prep class.
Gifts - $700 annual in 2019. My family is big on gifts; this is a bit higher than it needs to be.
Charity - $500 annual in 2019. 
"Shopping" was $2,000. This is higher than normal.

Totals - In 2019 I spent $25,000 plus health insurance.
For context, my 2018 spend was $19,000; my 2017 spend was $22,000; my 2016 spend was $20,500.

Assets:
Trad IRA - $34,820
Roth IRA - $2,430
401(k) - approx. $6,600
HSA - $4600
Total pretax retirement - $48,450
Brokerage - $17,600 (after tax savings for law school expenses)
Total assets including cash - $66,000

Other assets: $7,000 put into a family members house - might get back eventually.

Liabilities: None

OKAY here's my real question! It feels crazy to voluntarily give up income and take on debt for the next 3+ years to go to law school. However, it also seems like the safest bet for me to increase my income in a real way. I am very smart, competent, and a very good employee, but I am also pretty lazy and averse to working full time for other people. I am not talented at getting jobs. But I'm good at saving money and have saved close to 50% for the last several years (except for periods of unemployment which obviously kill me).

My current job is very, very cushy and pretty interesting. They adore me and will do whatever it takes to keep me there. However, it's still a paralegal job, and I feel I've topped off my salary. Also, I still have to do the grunt work of a paralegal, plus a lot of the grunt work of an associate attorney (drafting motions, complaints, discovery). Non-lawyer staff in litigation is effectively there as excess capacity, and I feel I will always be a bit underutilized and frustrated as a non-lawyer in the industry. I think that lawyer work will keep me more engaged and give me greater flexibility in the longterm. I also am interested in running my own business or being a partner.

This is an industry I fell into because I was tired of waitressing and nobody else would hire me, but it's a good fit for a lot of my skills. I can see being a plaintiff's side lawyer doing civil litigation on my own or at a small firm for ~7 years and then going part-time or switching industries in my mid-forties.

The Bay Area is a grind but I don't think I could match my current income anywhere else. Part of the appeal of law school is I feel it will give me more flexibility to move to a smaller city eventually. My partner is rooted here due to having started his firm here but may be ready to move elsewhere in ~5 years.

Another wrinkle is that my partner is a lawyer, graduated law school 8 years ago, and still has $250,000 in debt at age 35. This is a huge stressor when I think about our shared financial future. 

**Edited to expunge off-topic / unnecessary information and to add questions:

QUESTIONS:
Any ideas for other career moves that might get me to the same place (higher salary, more flexibility in jobs/region) as law school?
Is it crazy to go to law school if it means effectively starting a career with debt at age 37?
I foresee cutting spending to $18,000 or so a year while in school. Any ideas on further cuts?
My hope is to make six figures pretty soon after passing the bar, while keeping spending similar to current levels. Thoughts?
« Last Edit: January 31, 2020, 05:20:49 PM by sfpoor »

Clean Shaven

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2020, 01:17:50 PM »
Don't go to any law school that is not ABA accredited.

sfpoor

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2020, 01:22:16 PM »
Don't go to any law school that is not ABA accredited.

Thanks! I have full rides from 2 local ABA accredited law schools.

A "better" local school gave me $45k a year in scholarship, which means I would be paying $5k - $10k each year in tuition and fees. I am leaning toward going to the "worse" law school for free. Advice on that is welcome.

Clean Shaven

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2020, 01:28:38 PM »
You're in SF, so which local schools have offered you full rides?  Stanford, Berkeley/Boalt, Hastings, USF, Santa Clara, Golden Gate?  Obviously some of those schools have a much stronger reputation than others.

You've been exposed to law practice reality enough (through work and through your partner) to have a decent idea of whether you'd like to practice as a lawyer, so I'll leave that aspect of the decision alone.


sfpoor

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2020, 01:38:00 PM »
You're in SF, so which local schools have offered you full rides?  Stanford, Berkeley/Boalt, Hastings, USF, Santa Clara, Golden Gate?  Obviously some of those schools have a much stronger reputation than others.

You've been exposed to law practice reality enough (through work and through your partner) to have a decent idea of whether you'd like to practice as a lawyer, so I'll leave that aspect of the decision alone.



GG and McGovern. USF gave me less than a full ride; I would pay $5 - $10k a year in tuition if I went there. I am not interested in biglaw or prestige nonprofit work so didn't apply to Stanford/Berkeley as they don't tend to give money away, anyway.

zinnie

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2020, 01:53:04 PM »
Money isn't everything and not everything should be a financial calculation. If it's what you want to do, and it makes sense given your goals, do it! Three years will go fast and it's not like you are taking on hundreds of thousands in debt. You sound like you know what you're getting into since you already work in the field.

Dee18

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2020, 04:18:44 PM »
Do you mean McGeorge?  It has a much higher employment rate following law school than GG or SF (both at 65%), so I would go there, although that might require living in Sacramento during the week.   And even at McGeorge the rate is 77%, compared to 97% at Berkeley. 

ZMonet

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2020, 04:39:20 PM »
It sounds like you have a good connection with your current boss?  Have you discussed your current plan with him?  Has he offered to hire you on as an attorney if all goes well and, if so, is that something you'd consider?

The conventional wisdom used to be that you should pay up to go to a Tier 1 law school but after that you should just make sure it is ABA-accredited.  If your goal is Big Law, and it doesn't sound like it is, I think that might be hard considering your age and the law school.  Not impossible, just made more difficult by those two things.

Intellectually my bet is that you will enjoy the challenge of law school if you're able to get into it.  Would you go nights?

MrThatsDifferent

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2020, 06:43:31 PM »
Normally I wouldnít encourage this, but in your case I will, hereís why:
óyouíre getting a nice full ride, take it
óyou work as a paralegal, youíre leaps and bounds ahead of most other 1Lís, and you should do well
óyouíre older and wonít be distracted by youth. Get yourself to the top 5% of the class, get on the top journal, become editor in Chief if you can.
óyour current firm most likely will want to employ you as a lawyer, but if not, if you get to the top, youíll have job offers
óyouíre still relatively young, this is recoverable and knowledge of the law is always helpful,and thereís many things you can do with it

Stay focused and youíll be fine. First year is a grind, second easier and third a breeze. Always get past exams, always visit professors in their office hours (often theyíll hint whatís on the exams), always be engaged. When you write, always consider both sides but defend your final position by nothing the weaknesses of the other sideís position. All the best.

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2020, 06:52:31 PM »
I'm a 33 year old woman, living with my partner. No dependents. We rent in SF. I've been accepted and given a full ride to several law schools for Sept. 2020 entrance. This means I would finish school and take the bar exam around July 2023, when I'll be nearly 37. I want to avoid debt as much as possible but expect to take out perhaps $40,000 in loans to cover living expenses while in school (if I go). Does it make sense for me to go to law school? Should I suck it up and stay the course?

Gross Salary/Wages: Approx. $65,000.
(I work as a paralegal making $35 an hour plus benefits and around $7000 annually in discretionary bonuses. My hours are flexible and vary a lot.)
401(k) - 10% pretax. No match.
Health insurance - $73.62 pretax per paycheck, so ~$1770 / yr.
Dental -. $11.75 pretax per paycheck ($282/yr)

Adjusted Gross Income: Approx. $55,500? (2019 was $48,700. 2018 was $22,678.)
Taxes: In 2019 I paid $4,189 in federal taxes and $1,365 for state (CA).

Current expenses:
Rent - $625 / month (This is my share only. My partner and I rent a bedroom and small office/study in a single family home that we share with roommates.)
Food and restaurants - $480 / mo. in 2019. Let's say $180 / month in groceries, $300 / mo. in booze / eating out / coffeeshops. I know.
Cash spending  - $160 /month in 2019. This is additional food, small donations, walking-around money.
Utilities - Avg $50 / month for internet, electric, gas, water, trash (my share only). This also covers stuff that my roommates buy like toilet paper and dish soap.
Phone - $35 / month for my share of a Verizon family plan with data.
Auto & transport - $80 / month avg. This includes: $500 last year on bike maintenance (I got some parts stolen), local bus / train, and a couple tanks of gas when others give me rides. I commute by bike 90% of the time. I don't drive; my partner has a car that he pays for.
Gym - $55 / month for the YMCA. I lift weights and take classes 1-3x a week. I have tried cutting this many times but I do not work out without it.
Entertainment - $28 / month. This is magazine subscriptions, museum/park entry, movies, Netflix and Hulu (I switch back and forth and sometimes have neither).
Personal care - $25 / month (skincare, makeup, random shit at Walgreen's, a massage once a year or so).

Annual / variable expenses:
Travel - $1646 annual in 2019.
Education - $1700 annual in 2019. I paid for law school applications and a $900 prep class.
Gifts - $700 annual in 2019. My family is big on gifts; this is a bit higher than it needs to be.
Charity - $500 annual in 2019. 
"Shopping" was $2,000. This is higher than normal.

Totals - In 2019 I spent $25,000 plus health insurance.
For context, my 2018 spend was $19,000; my 2017 spend was $22,000; my 2016 spend was $20,500.

Assets:
Trad IRA - $34,820
Roth IRA - $2,430
401(k) - approx. $6,600
HSA - $4600
Total pretax retirement - $48,450
Brokerage - $17,600 (after tax savings for law school expenses)
Total assets including cash - $66,000

Other assets: $7,000 put into a family members house - might get back eventually.

Liabilities: None

OKAY here's my real question! It feels crazy to voluntarily give up income and take on debt for the next 3+ years to go to law school. However, it also seems like the safest bet for me to increase my income in a real way. I am very smart, competent, and a very good employee, but I am also pretty lazy and averse to working full time for other people. I am not talented at getting jobs. But I'm good at saving money and have saved close to 50% for the last several years (except for periods of unemployment which obviously kill me).

My current job is very, very cushy and pretty interesting. They adore me and will do whatever it takes to keep me there. However, it's still a paralegal job, and I feel I've topped off my salary. Also, I still have to do the grunt work of a paralegal, plus a lot of the grunt work of an associate attorney (drafting motions, complaints, discovery). Non-lawyer staff in litigation is effectively there as excess capacity, and I feel I will always be a bit underutilized and frustrated as a non-lawyer in the industry. I think that lawyer work will keep me more engaged and give me greater flexibility in the longterm. I also am interested in running my own business or being a partner.

This is an industry I fell into because I was tired of waitressing and nobody else would hire me, but it's a good fit for a lot of my skills. I can see being a plaintiff's side lawyer doing civil litigation on my own or at a small firm for ~7 years and then going part-time or switching industries in my mid-forties.

The Bay Area is a grind but I don't think I could match my current income anywhere else. Part of the appeal of law school is I feel it will give me more flexibility to move to a smaller city eventually. My partner is rooted here due to having started his firm here but may be ready to move elsewhere in ~5 years.

Another wrinkle is that my partner is a lawyer, graduated law school 8 years ago, and still has $250,000 in debt at age 35. This is a huge stressor when I think about our shared financial future. 

**Edited to expunge off-topic / unnecessary information and to add questions:

QUESTIONS:
Any ideas for other career moves that might get me to the same place (higher salary, more flexibility in jobs/region) as law school?
Is it crazy to go to law school if it means effectively starting a career with debt at age 37?
I foresee cutting spending to $18,000 or so a year while in school. Any ideas on further cuts?
My hope is to make six figures pretty soon after passing the bar, while keeping spending similar to current levels. Thoughts?

OP, I think you should go to law school.

1.You have experience working at a law  firm so you have adequate understanding of what practicing law is about.


"but it's a good fit for a lot of my skills. I can see being a plaintiff's side lawyer doing civil litigation on my own or at a small firm for ~7 years and then going part-time or switching industries in my mid-forties."

^

2. More importantly, I think you will enjoy  being a lawyer. Methinks  a lawyer who enjoys their work will be a better one  than one who doesn't.

3. When I was in law school some of my older classmates were former teachers in their 30s so I don't think you're too old to start now.


May you happily succeed.

Keep us apprised of your decision and progress.
« Last Edit: January 31, 2020, 06:56:28 PM by John Galt incarnate! »

YttriumNitrate

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #10 on: January 31, 2020, 07:16:43 PM »
GG and McGovern. USF gave me less than a full ride; I would pay $5 - $10k a year in tuition if I went there. I am not interested in biglaw or prestige nonprofit work so didn't apply to Stanford/Berkeley as they don't tend to give money away, anyway.

My hope is to make six figures pretty soon after passing the bar, while keeping spending similar to current levels. Thoughts?

How confident are you that you'll be making six figures soon after passing the bar? With biglaw out of picture, those two big bumps on the right hand side of the salary distribution go away.


Lucky13

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #11 on: January 31, 2020, 07:31:00 PM »
However, it's still a paralegal job, and I feel I've topped off my salary. Also, I still have to do the grunt work of a paralegal, plus a lot of the grunt work of an associate attorney (drafting motions, complaints, discovery). Non-lawyer staff in litigation is effectively there as excess capacity, and I feel I will always be a bit underutilized and frustrated as a non-lawyer in the industry. I think that lawyer work will keep me more engaged and give me greater flexibility in the longterm. I also am interested in running my own business or being a partner.
If you said it was always your dream to become lawyer (which I don't think Ive heard anyone say but who knows) that would be one thing, but it sounds like it's not so much about being a lawyer but feeling trapped as a paralegal. And wanting the more money and status. That's fine, but be careful as that's a game that never ends. When you do finish law school, you'll start out "at the bottom" and get all the cases no one else wants. Will you feel frustrated again and want more money and status, and feel you need to put in the extra hours to get promoted to higher levels of the firm?  You'll go from being an experienced paralegal to a novice lawyer, which I suspect also involves some "grunt work" (like any job, especially when you're new to a field). Just something to think about, in addition to the financial considerations.

ysette9

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2020, 08:09:53 PM »
How is the job market now for new law school grads ? Has the glut from the recession moved on through the pipeline?

I had an acquaintance who got out of law school maybe 5 or so years ago and was super pissed to find that no one was hiring, or if they were, it was for peanuts. It was definitely not the story he had been sold when he started school.

FIFoFum

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2020, 09:27:23 PM »
This is my (pre-FIRE) professional field. I tell most people NOT to go to law school unless they are given significant aid/free ride at a well-rated regional school (or school with a reputation where they are actually planning to seek employment). Law school is a poor financial decision for most. It's also a poor quality of life decision for most.

I don't know you, OP. I think you must have a more realistic sense of what legal practice is than most people looking to go to law school, so that's a plus. I think it's good that you're asking if a free or almost free ride to a law school with poor bar passage and poor employment statistics is worth the opportunity cost. 

I disagree that law school would be a safe, low risk way for you to increase your salary in a significant way, UNLESS your current employer is interested in keeping you on as an attorney at a higher salary. And if that's your game plan to begin with, then there is no reason to stop working while you are in law school. Many students work part or full time while in law school (typically completing it in 4 years instead of 3). It's very hard to work and be a law student, but if your job loves you and is flexible, you are in an ideal situation to tackle this.

I think your projections of how this will improve your earning potential is way off. Students who land jobs and pass the bar from either of those law schools do not typically earn six figure salaries (and you can see the statistics on how many don't even pass the bar or find employment as a lawyer after graduating). Even the 75th percentile of students from those schools are earning maybe $20K more than you already do. And law school jobs in that region are crazy competitive. If you don't have a lot of confidence in your ability to land better paying jobs now, I don't see how that's going to change by throwing yourself into a cut-throat job market, like Bay Area lawyering!

Just as I think you're overestimating how you can improve your earnings in 3 years time, I think you might be underestimating how you can improve your potential to save without going to law school. While I haven't done a cross comparison, my understanding is that as a paralegal, you could gain on salary to COL through geographic arbitrage. This is similar and related - though not identical - to the legal market more generally. Many cities match or come close to matching one another on salaries, yet have very different cost of living. Leaving the bay area, you could make the same (or even a fair bit more - especially factoring in taxes) as a paralegal while reducing your cost of living.
 
As a smart, competent person who is well-regarded by your employer, I can't help wondering if there is other work you can do to get a nice 20% raise. Surely you would be eligible for jobs working for a government or private entity doing some form of office work based on your current experience.

I would also look into whether the scholarships you are being offered are contingent on maintaining a specific GPA as a law student. Usually, they are. The good news is that the schools are likely offering you the money because you would be a stronger student - and likely to help them boost their bar passage and employment rates! The bad news is that law schools can offer lots of incoming 1Ls money knowing that law school grading is on a mandatory curve. There are even law schools that have given scholarship money to more 1Ls than can possibly meet the required GPA to keep that money, based on the curve. Please look into what the deal is and research if this has happened to students at these schools.

Are you willing to drop out if that happens to you or will you just take on more debt? Are you going to be able to drop out if your 1L performance identifies you as someone who is likely going to struggle to pass the bar and/or find employment as a lawyer? I think it's relatively low risk to try out law school, but only if you're prepared to walk away after 6 months or 1 year. Some people go in with this mindset. Many others find it very difficult to deal with the sunk cost or the identity hit of dropping out.

On the flip side, if you do exceptionally well as a law student, are you interested in transferring to a school that might give you less aid but also a better shot at a much higher paying job when you graduate? There are pros and cons with this route.

On the non-financial side of things, some weirdos actually find law school enjoyable (I'm one of them). Most...do not. Some people like being lawyers. Most lawyers...do not. If there is anything else you think you'd be happy doing, I'd strongly encourage you to pass. And if you do go to law school, I'd recommend that you go in with the plan that you'll bail within a year if things aren't all looking great.

Bloop Bloop

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2020, 01:17:03 AM »
"I am also pretty lazy and averse to working full time for other people. I am not talented at getting jobs. "

I am surprised that no one has picked up on this line, which to me stood out.

If you are lazy and averse to working full-time, you are going to struggle with the volume of work at law school, and you are going to struggle too with the pressure of working as a full-time junior lawyer. Likewise, if you are not talented at getting jobs, you might struggle to be able to retain clients/find work which is the only way you are going to get promoted at a medium-sized law firm or larger.

It may well be that you are capable of and willing to improve those skills. You would have to invest the effort, if you wanted a financial pay off. Law is not an easy ticket to earnings. The profession has some high earners but also a lot of folks at the base of the pyramid who are barely paid more than paralegals. It takes a lot of grit, gumption and ability to get through hell in order to get into the six figure range, unless you're willing to take a very very long time to do it.

And my experience of law school itself was that it was an arduous and unpleasant and conflict-ridden experience. My experience of legal practice in the first 3-4 years was that it was arduous and conflict-ridden and hard, but not unpleasant. Point is  though, it's anything but a smooth ride.

My advice would be, if you want to earn decent but not lavish money (say $60k - $120k) you can do so with much less effort in almost any other profession. Studying to be a lawyer only works if you either desperately want to be a lawyer, or if you're willing to put in the hard yards to creep towards the upper end of the distribution ($150k+) in which case you will need to be an elite student and/or elite worker.

Dee18

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #15 on: February 01, 2020, 06:30:56 AM »
Another thing to consider is that artificial intelligence is taking over many entry level law jobs.  For now the largest area is discovery, an area where many beginning lawyers used to earn their keep.  But I believe that wills, trusts, and basic contracts are also going to be primarily done by AI in the next decade, further cutting the need for lawyers.

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #16 on: February 01, 2020, 08:47:28 AM »

On the non-financial side of things, some weirdos actually find law school enjoyable (I'm one of them).

We're 2 peas in a pod. For me, law school was most enjoyable too, especially
 constitutional law. Nothing in my life has exceeded the satisfaction I felt when I graduated.


Most...do not. Some people like being lawyers. Most lawyers...do not.

I did not go to  law school with a burning desire to practice. When I matriculated I thought I might practice but by the end of my first year I realized I wouldn't like lawyering so after I graduated I never took the bar exam.


bridget

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #17 on: February 01, 2020, 12:44:27 PM »
I usually tell people not to go to law school unless at least two of three conditions apply: 1) you go to a top 5 law school, 2) you go for free, 3) you actually understand the grunt work of being a lawyer day to day and are excited about it.

You might fit this test, I'm not sure. If you consider opportunity cost of lost income plus cost of living loans, you aren't going for free, unless you find a part-time program and continue working. You are unusually familiar with the day-to-day grunt work (being a junior associate is not hugely different than being a paralegal at many firms), but I can't really tell if you like it and are excited for it? It kind of doesn't sound like it. You also don't seem to be considering the pressure to find business, cater to unreasonable clients, etc. - as a lawyer you are going to be more governed by other people's whims, not less.

I also think you should run your calculations on an assumption that you will not make six figures, or won't for several years after graduating law school. Tons of lawyers in California make barely more than you do now; the ones who make more are often the ones with a lot of hustle/workaholism, not ones who self-identify as lazy :) If you end up only getting a $20k increase based on going to law school, how long will it take you to break even and make the opportunity cost/loans worth it? And then, how much longer after that will it take for you to build your retirement savings up? Do you want to retire early, or are you planning on practicing until 65?

ysette9

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #18 on: February 01, 2020, 01:53:21 PM »
As an side, as an engineer I find it surprising to learn that people with professional degrees are earning that little. A bachelorís in Engineering will get quite a bit more than what you are saying lawyers will get out of law school, probably close to six figures now.

Bloop Bloop

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #19 on: February 01, 2020, 04:55:29 PM »
As an side, as an engineer I find it surprising to learn that people with professional degrees are earning that little. A bachelorís in Engineering will get quite a bit more than what you are saying lawyers will get out of law school, probably close to six figures now.

American law starting salaries feature a high peak at $180k+ (the absolute elite at BigLaw) but most are well, well under $100k. This is because there's so much supply of graduates - everyone wants to be the next <<insert TV lawyer here>> - so market forces push down the pay.

Even here in Australia, graduate salaries in law are abysmal - about $70-$80k AUD even at large firms. You could earn that much as a junior public servant or as a senior paralegal for that matter.

From a financial point, practising as a lawyer makes no sense unless you are willing to go down the partner track or otherwise find yourself in the top 20-25% of your cohort. Otherwise you are just one of the guys at the bottom of the pyramid.

Other professions have a much flatter income distribution, but also make it harder for you to make big bucks from normal progression.

seattlecyclone

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #20 on: February 01, 2020, 05:06:07 PM »
Are you aware that California lets you take the bar exam after studying for four years in a law office? Have you asked your employer whether they might be willing to mentor you in that way? If they're willing to do "whatever it takes to keep you there," it could be worth looking into. You'd keep your job, maybe reducing your duties a bit to account for time studying the law, and after four years you could become a full-fledged lawyer.

Simpli-Fi

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #21 on: February 01, 2020, 05:33:47 PM »
As an side, as an engineer I find it surprising to learn that people with professional degrees are earning that little. A bachelorís in Engineering will get quite a bit more than what you are saying lawyers will get out of law school, probably close to six figures now.
As a professionally licensed engineer, I was thinking the same thing...but didn't wanted to suggest going to engineering school in your 30's...unless you have "the Knack" and just haven't been diagnosed yet.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=g8vHhgh6oM0

ETA: I do love the logic side of the LSAT study material
« Last Edit: February 01, 2020, 05:38:33 PM by Simpli-Fi »

John Galt incarnate!

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #22 on: February 02, 2020, 09:19:59 AM »
Are you aware that California lets you take the bar exam after studying for four years in a law office? Have you asked your employer whether they might be willing to mentor you in that way? If they're willing to do "whatever it takes to keep you there," it could be worth looking into. You'd keep your job, maybe reducing your duties a bit to account for time studying the law, and after four years you could become a full-fledged lawyer.


Somewhere there's a thread about about this approach to becoming a lawyer.


A new  member  asked about it.

I told him that  I knew of only 1 person who passed the bar exam by dint of their individualized study and work  at a law firm.

IIRC, that person  worked in a law firm  located in the far north of California.
« Last Edit: February 02, 2020, 09:25:03 AM by John Galt incarnate! »

seattlecyclone

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #23 on: February 02, 2020, 10:20:26 AM »
Are you aware that California lets you take the bar exam after studying for four years in a law office? Have you asked your employer whether they might be willing to mentor you in that way? If they're willing to do "whatever it takes to keep you there," it could be worth looking into. You'd keep your job, maybe reducing your duties a bit to account for time studying the law, and after four years you could become a full-fledged lawyer.


Somewhere there's a thread about about this approach to becoming a lawyer.


A new  member  asked about it.

I told him that  I knew of only 1 person who passed the bar exam by dint of their individualized study and work  at a law firm.

IIRC, that person  worked in a law firm  located in the far north of California.

How many do you know who put in the full four years of study and then failed? Just because something is an uncommon option doesn't necessarily make it unworthy of consideration..

Personally I'd feel much better hiring a brand new lawyer with several years of paralegal experience than one who has never worked in the field outside of a classroom. If the bar exam favors the latter group over the former, perhaps it's not a good indicator of who should be practicing law.

FIFoFum

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #24 on: February 02, 2020, 11:07:08 AM »
Quote
Personally I'd feel much better hiring a brand new lawyer with several years of paralegal experience than one who has never worked in the field outside of a classroom. If the bar exam favors the latter group over the former, perhaps it's not a good indicator of who should be practicing law.

Taking the bar without getting a JD would be a big mistake, because: (1) most employers won't hire you anyway even if you do pass the bar; and (2) the odds of passing the California bar - known for its difficulty - without going to law school are poor.

These odds are especially poor for someone who isn't an excellent standardized test taker (like the OP must be, or they'd be talking about going to a higher rated law school).

This is a complete tangent for the OP who is more knowledgeable about this profession and asking for advice from others in the field. The bar exam is a terrible indicator of what makes a person a good lawyer. This isn't disputed in the legal profession. The bar exam rewards broad, shallow knowledge and memorization/regurgitation skills. In actual practice, it would be MALPRACTICE to answer questions the way you do on the bar exam - cold, closed book (rather than looking things up), and in a perfunctory way. Working as a lawyer - let alone working as a paralegal - would be terrible preparation to pass the bar.

MrThatsDifferent

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #25 on: February 02, 2020, 11:49:41 AM »
Quote
Personally I'd feel much better hiring a brand new lawyer with several years of paralegal experience than one who has never worked in the field outside of a classroom. If the bar exam favors the latter group over the former, perhaps it's not a good indicator of who should be practicing law.

Taking the bar without getting a JD would be a big mistake, because: (1) most employers won't hire you anyway even if you do pass the bar; and (2) the odds of passing the California bar - known for its difficulty - without going to law school are poor.

These odds are especially poor for someone who isn't an excellent standardized test taker (like the OP must be, or they'd be talking about going to a higher rated law school).

This is a complete tangent for the OP who is more knowledgeable about this profession and asking for advice from others in the field. The bar exam is a terrible indicator of what makes a person a good lawyer. This isn't disputed in the legal profession. The bar exam rewards broad, shallow knowledge and memorization/regurgitation skills. In actual practice, it would be MALPRACTICE to answer questions the way you do on the bar exam - cold, closed book (rather than looking things up), and in a perfunctory way. Working as a lawyer - let alone working as a paralegal - would be terrible preparation to pass the bar.

Thatís what the Bar prep courses are for, and they would go a long way to learning how to pass that test. Law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer, not all the law. I actually think if you ordered the same text books as the subjects in most first year programs, read them , googled answers you had, read that and then talked to experienced lawyers, you could self-learn as much as some in school. Combine that with your practical experience, and a Bar prep course and it could be done if youíre industrious enough. I wouldnít necessarily recommend this path, you need everything clicking but itís possible. Law school is a racket, it should only be 1.5 years of study, with a year of practical experience working with heavy mentoring and feedback.

seattlecyclone

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #26 on: February 02, 2020, 12:12:04 PM »
Quote
Personally I'd feel much better hiring a brand new lawyer with several years of paralegal experience than one who has never worked in the field outside of a classroom. If the bar exam favors the latter group over the former, perhaps it's not a good indicator of who should be practicing law.

Taking the bar without getting a JD would be a big mistake, because: (1) most employers won't hire you anyway even if you do pass the bar; and (2) the odds of passing the California bar - known for its difficulty - without going to law school are poor.

These odds are especially poor for someone who isn't an excellent standardized test taker (like the OP must be, or they'd be talking about going to a higher rated law school).

I would argue that (1) is less of a consideration for the OP. She not only already has a job at a law firm where they really seem to value her work, but she stated above that she would plan to practice on her own after becoming a lawyer or look to join a small firm. I get that the big guys will throw away your resume if it doesn't have a top law school on it, but there are lots of small firms out there. Surely there are a few whose owners will read the whole page and invite someone with a nontraditional background in for an interview.

As for (2), I wouldn't necessarily assume poor test-taking skills on the part of the OP. She was offered full scholarships at two different law schools and a large scholarship at a third, indicating she was one of the very top applicants at each. She also mentioned not even applying to the top-ranked schools in the area because they tend not to offer the same level of scholarships. We have no information to suggest she would not have been accepted if she had applied.

Quote
This is a complete tangent for the OP who is more knowledgeable about this profession and asking for advice from others in the field. The bar exam is a terrible indicator of what makes a person a good lawyer. This isn't disputed in the legal profession. The bar exam rewards broad, shallow knowledge and memorization/regurgitation skills. In actual practice, it would be MALPRACTICE to answer questions the way you do on the bar exam - cold, closed book (rather than looking things up), and in a perfunctory way. Working as a lawyer - let alone working as a paralegal - would be terrible preparation to pass the bar.

As a citizen, I am hugely concerned by this statement. Qualified legal representation is extremely important. I support licensure in this and other fields where customers often don't have a good way to tell a qualified practitioner from an unqualified one. That said, part of this system needs to be that the requirements for licensure actually reflect qualifications for the job. There's a reason we make doctors go through residency and don't let them just go out and start their own practice immediately after their classroom training. The "studying in a law firm" route to the bar exam seems more akin to a medical residency, and I would expect that a sane licensure system would give that more weight than classes at a school. Who is leading the charge for reform in this area? Is anyone? Or is it more of a "I had to go to law school and then take this irrelevant test, so I'm going to make everyone else go through the hazing ritual too" sort of deal?

Sorry for the tangent. I'll shut up now.

John Galt incarnate!

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #27 on: February 02, 2020, 01:20:19 PM »


because something is an uncommon option doesn't necessarily make it unworthy of consideration..



I agree.

Moreover, it seems to me that passing the bar exam after 4 years of self-study and work at a law firm is more difficult and a greater feat than passing it after graduating from law school.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2020, 10:44:27 AM by John Galt incarnate! »

Laura33

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #28 on: February 03, 2020, 06:49:11 AM »
There are really only two questions here:

Do you want to go to law school?

If so,

How old will you be in three years if you don't go?

One caveat:  don't think you'll avoid "working for the man."  Because even when you're on your own, you're still working for someone else:  your clients.   

MrFire22

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #29 on: February 03, 2020, 08:28:37 AM »
Just some brief background so you know where my perspective is coming from: I went to law school when I was 20 years old at a Tier 1 school in NYC. Graduated and worked 1 year in Big Law and then a mid size firm and now a small boutique. I graduated with an enormous amount of debt and it took me 8 years to pay off. I had scholarships from Tier 2 schools and looking back, maybe I should have taken them. But at that time, my goal was big law.

I love/hate my job. Sometimes I love it, other times I can't stand it. Most lawyers I know hate their job all the time. The fact that you are getting a full ride helps a lot with your decision. But getting clients on your own (solo practice) or applying to a firm is still highly competitive. Your grades and law school tier will be evaluated for your first job.

In sum, I  would pursue only if you're truly passionate about the law. No point in putting in 3 years of your life for something you're not passionate about.

OliveFI

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #30 on: February 05, 2020, 09:25:18 AM »
"I am also pretty lazy and averse to working full time for other people. I am not talented at getting jobs. "

I am surprised that no one has picked up on this line, which to me stood out.

If you are lazy and averse to working full-time, you are going to struggle with the volume of work at law school, and you are going to struggle too with the pressure of working as a full-time junior lawyer. Likewise, if you are not talented at getting jobs, you might struggle to be able to retain clients/find work which is the only way you are going to get promoted at a medium-sized law firm or larger.

It may well be that you are capable of and willing to improve those skills. You would have to invest the effort, if you wanted a financial pay off. Law is not an easy ticket to earnings. The profession has some high earners but also a lot of folks at the base of the pyramid who are barely paid more than paralegals. It takes a lot of grit, gumption and ability to get through hell in order to get into the six figure range, unless you're willing to take a very very long time to do it.

And my experience of law school itself was that it was an arduous and unpleasant and conflict-ridden experience. My experience of legal practice in the first 3-4 years was that it was arduous and conflict-ridden and hard, but not unpleasant. Point is  though, it's anything but a smooth ride.

My advice would be, if you want to earn decent but not lavish money (say $60k - $120k) you can do so with much less effort in almost any other profession. Studying to be a lawyer only works if you either desperately want to be a lawyer, or if you're willing to put in the hard yards to creep towards the upper end of the distribution ($150k+) in which case you will need to be an elite student and/or elite worker.

I agree - the "I am also pretty lazy and adverse to working for other people."

You say your SO has his own firm, so you know this, but you really cannot be lazy if you work for yourself. You also can't really be lazy and expect to do well in law school or a law firm. If you are able to get a job at your current firm, you may have some more freedom to be lazy because you already have a reputation built up there.

I went to law school on a full ride. It was NOT a top tier law school. But for one year after undergrad and law school I worked for the general counsel of a large company. He said he'd hire me after law school. So I did not incur any substantial debt during law school due to my scholarship. I worked VERY hard and was the top of my class. I "interned" at the same company all throughout law school and often took other internships as well, just to hedge my bets. As promised, I got a job in the legal department I had worked out before law school. So for me, law school wasn't as big of a financial gamble as it is for others. You could be in a similar position. But be sure you are ready for the work and that you actually like legal work. Law school is not just an easy way to make 6 figures anymore. Also, I am in the NY metro area, so similar-ish job markets. A lot of my classmates struggled to get jobs because we are up against NYU and Columbia law students for the same roles - even non-big law.

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #31 on: February 05, 2020, 10:31:49 AM »
What grades do you need at the schools you got into to be competitive in the job market? I'm guessing something like top 10% would make you competitive for a decent number of jobs.

I might consider going and then dropping out if you're not in the top 25% (or whatever you need to be competitive) after 1L. Also, as an aside, if you were something like top 5%, you might be able to transfer to a Berkeley or Stanford. Obviously, that would raise your tuition but probably allow you to snag a high paying job for at least a few years to make up for it.

Also, I worked during law school. Not during 1L, but I worked 20 hours a week during 3L and should have done the same during 2L. I bet you will find law school easier than most 1Ls given your past experience, thereby making it easier to work and study at the same time.

If you go, I would see if you can keep your current job (maybe in a highly reduced role during 1L when grades matter most, at least for bigger firms) and then seriously consider dropping out if your grades aren't good after your first year. But, I think you need to take a really close look at what you want to do after law school and how the employment prospects for your prospective schools line up with that.

John Galt incarnate!

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #32 on: February 07, 2020, 10:48:03 AM »



Thanks! I have full rides from 2 local ABA accredited law schools.

A "better" local school gave me $45k a year in scholarship, which means I would be paying $5k - $10k each year in tuition and fees. I am leaning toward going to the "worse" law school for free. Advice on that is welcome.

$5k-$10k more per year to go to the "better" school isn't that much more when the total cost and increased future earnings are taken into account.

What concerns me more than $ is if you decide not to avail yourself of the scholarship someday you may regret it which will decrease your happiness.

Think about this for the sake of your future happiness and contentment.

 





« Last Edit: February 07, 2020, 10:50:21 AM by John Galt incarnate! »

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #33 on: February 18, 2020, 09:39:13 PM »
Iím late to this discussion, but itís in my wheelhouse, so Iíll weigh in.

First, on the selection of schools, USF has a much better reputation than Golden Gate or McGovern.  Youíll be much more employable in SF with a USF degree.  Does USF still offer the four year night school program?  If so, maybe you could work part time at your firm and do the four year degree to avoid taking on much debt and maintain your connections at the firm for a job post graduation.  I donít really see how you could commute to McGovern from SF for school.  Most people who get jobs coming from these schools, which are more regional (rather than national) schools, do a lot of networking or part time work while in school, and that leads to a job after graduation.  You need to be doing that in the city where you go to school and plan to practice, so you need to move to Sac to make McGovern worthwhile.

Second, I found plaintiffs work totally incompatible with being a mom.  I hung in for four years, but if my husband were also a litigator, I would have left sooner.  It may have worked better if I had been a partner, rather than senior associate when I had kids.  Just putting that out there in case kids are a consideration since youíll hit your late 30s as a jr associate.

Third, if you donít go to school, have you contacted recruiters about paralegal positions at big firms?  I think you could be making more, but the environment may be a trade off.

Finally, I donít think youíll regret going as long as you donít take on a ton of debt and especially if you can keep your current job or keep it part time.  Law school is interesting and your current career path has a hard ceiling.  Worst case scenario is you donít pass the bar and continue as a paralegal with some years of savings lost, and thatís not so bad.


emilypsf

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #34 on: February 18, 2020, 10:13:36 PM »
Sorry, McGeorge, not McGovern.  Oops!!

Malkynn

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Re: Should I go to law school in my thirties?
« Reply #35 on: February 19, 2020, 05:40:33 AM »
Literally nowhere have I seen the statement "I really want to be a lawyer", so that alone is deeply concerning.

More importantly, there's a HUGE difference between being highly valued in a cushy paralegal job and working as a new lawyer. Chances are, per hour, your wage may actually drop along with your sense of value to your firm.

I work in a field in the medical world where there's a HUGE over supply of the professionals and a dangerous under supply of support staff. Our support staff make about as much as you do, and we treat them like solid gold.

My most valued support staff member is brilliant and knowledgeable, but if she went back to school to upgrade to being a professional, we wouldn't give a shit about her and would not hire her because we only hire professionals with extensive experience and extremely high end training above and beyond professional school, and we push our professionals HARD.

This is something I coach a lot of young people on: the subject matter content of a career is actually much less important for future happiness than the structure of a career, as in, what the day to day job is actually like, what the main stressors are.

Being a lawyer means completely different things depending on what the demand is like for lawyers. Exactly the same job turns into a wildly different career depending on the market.

Demand is pretty much the largest career/business factor there is, so if there's high demand for quality paralegals and low demand for entry level lawyers, then you are looking at two fundamentally different career experiences, despite the intellectual and task overlap.

Also, as someone who went to professional school older, I cannot overstate how intolerable it was to go from being a highly respected form of support staff myself to being treated the way that I was in that school. It was a very long 4 years of resenting how I was spoken to and I pissed off a lot of faculty with my expectation of basic adult respect.

I'm not saying NOT to go to law school, but I am saying that I'm seeing nothing in your posts that makes it sound like you really want to be A LAWYER.

If the goal is just to make more money, then I think there are much wiser solutions out there for someone who doesn't sound like they want to throw themselves into very very hard work with everything they've got.