*Note: The majority of the content is for JD prospects, with a splash of MBA content towards the end. But the audience is undergraduates collectively.
Listen kids, the pressure is a figment of your imagination! Well, the external pressure is. I’m characterizing pressure as compulsion to decide what you want to do by 21/22 years of age—which ultimately is what the pursuit of a professional degree is. You overachieving types are the ultimate stewards of imposing that pressure on yourself (No shade, just keeping it real). And truthfully, I can’t be too mad at that. Sometimes, pressure is a great accountability tool. On the other hand, pressure without real consideration or career planning could be a one-way trip to unhappiness. And isn’t pressure, at least in the high blood variety, already a health impediment to our community anyway? And once again, my flare for hyperbole is coming to light. Because you’ll probably still end with stacks on top of stocks, but you won’t have that “excitement to go to work” people rave about if we’re pursuing jobs and degrees solely to “check the box”. Let’s deal with the legal “aspirants” since I do believe that’s where a lot of the career ambivalent undergrads end up.
Ok English majors, Political Science majors, History majors, Sociology majors, and those bougie hybrids like Philosophy/ Ethics, Politics, and Economics majors. Now I believe you end up in a LSAT-prep class between Junior year Spring and Senior year Fall for a myriad of reasons, but mainly they are:
- You realize you don’t have a career plan and see your peers getting ready to apply to law school so you convince yourself it’s a good look.
- You came to college with a deep interest in the preconceived notions of law and thus are following a high school plan.
- You have an interest in pursuing policy and impacting meaningful legislation and believe the JD can get you there.
Nothing wrong with either, and I don’t advocate for much on this site, but I will always endorse getting a standardized exam under your belt prior to completing undergrad. For me, it’s all about preparing for the future and positioning yourself to always put the best reflection of your candidacy forward. I think getting a test done ASAP is smart, but I digress, because that’s not our issue of contention today.
But, you know by now, I’m all about being an informed consumer of education. Black economic empowerment right? Well unfortunately, unlike other professions (banking, consulting), undergraduates don’t really have an opportunity to get a snapshot in the life of legal practice before investing $300K in law school. Even curriculum wise, there’s no undergraduate coursework that is exposing you to the tools of the profession like medicine or engineering where having a fundamental undergrad knowledge will carry you through to your careers. And that trickles down into the dearth of a pre law major. Remember, making that declaration is simply an interest in going to law school. I can become pre law right now. “I’m pre law!” See? Easy. And unfortunately, we don’t always have family or family friends we can call on for advice because it’s likely we don’t have lawyers in our circles. So what’s your recourse in determining personal fit with a legal career?
Well, you can wait to enroll and get some work experience first? But as always, I’m not advocating for one vs. the other (going straight vs. waiting), I just want us to take some time to go through the pros and cons of waiting to enroll vs. enrolling immediately after undergrad. Also peep the diction. Notice I’m using the word enrolling vs. applying because you can apply to law school, be offered admission, and decide to defer, which is a great option as well (and I would still characterize that as waiting). And of course you can apply, be offered admission, and decide not to go completely. But let’s try to avoid those cost and time-inefficient scenarios by going through some pros and cons.
The pros of enrolling immediately:
- At minimum, the next three years of your life are planned and you get to start caking (“urban” colloquialism for earning a handsome income) at 25.
- You never depart from your academic mind frame, so you may be mentally prepared to handle the rigors of 1L more than your peers.
- You allow yourself some bandwidth to pivot into a more family-sensitive career, which is beneficial for family/life planning. So focusing your 20s in the field getting some dirt on your jersey so to speak and leaving your 30s for marriage and ish.
Ok some cons, and I won’t be mentioning the obvious which is negating the pros listed above.
- Well where’s your coin? It’s going to a tuition check. Again!
- You forfeit allowing yourself to explore the world and seeing if you could achieve your goals without the additional collegiate debt.
- You incur the risk of mental burnout by jumping back into what will prove to be a very arduous and gruesome academic endeavor.
Now the pros of waiting:
- Allowing time to maximize your LSAT score. The exam is offered four times a year and it’s hard to manage preparation with academic obligations. Time is your best friend in preparing.
- You gain some work experience. After you seen what’s out there, it may help you decide if you really want/need to go. Largely, a law school app is like fine wine and Nia Long, it gets better with time.
- Saving money to help alleviate the cost of graduate school. It’s pricy and there’s no work-study allocation!
Cons of waiting:
- Well that LSAT score, if you have one, it does have an expiration date. 3 years. Not that long at all. Who wants to take it again, especially if you slayed it?
- Applicant pools will only become more competitive. With the advent of lawyers’ inability to find jobs, it’s becoming incumbent upon people to go to the most competitive law schools they can.
- You may face difficulty procuring strong academic letters of recommendation from professors due to dated interactions.
Are there ways to mitigate some of the cons for both? Of course, but I just wanted to provide some fruit for thought. I don’t want you guys to strain yourselves with unnecessary timelines based on arbitrary and often, self-imposed expectations. Professional degree programs highly encourage work experience for a reason and it’s to allow you to develop insights, perspective, and more-focused life planning in addition to being able to contribute more richly to the experience and classroom dialogue. Before you decide when to enroll (also notice enroll presupposes admission, but because all you of are going to have the most amazing applications, I can make that assumption), here’s my opinion on what could help you decide if law is a fit.
Try and sit in on a couple of law school classes and see if you can envision yourself in that environment. I’m sure you can find a professor that will let you get a sneak with the right well-worded email. Talk to current 2Ls and 3Ls and get a sense of why they went and what they aspire to do. Find an attorney and ask them why they went and if they are pleased with their decision. Remember our degree toolkit of financial savvy and career critical. (If you’re a new reader, see former post “Can I get an Order of JD with a MBA on the side?) If you don’t know an attorney, they’re attorneys running legal clinics at the law school at your university. Fortunately, they’ve probably practiced in various settings prior to the clinic job. They can probably connect you with attorneys in a wide array of different functions.
For those of you, who do decide to wait, go build a versatile skillset. Try and go into a profession that will help you garner acumen outside your comfort zone. For those of you who want a law career “appetizer,” Kobre & Kim has a Legal Analyst program that gives you more intimacy with legal practice than the traditional paralegal program in addition to some financial analysis tools. There can also be a great benefit to the paralegal programs at big firms as partners can sometimes have the capital to turn your waitlist decision to admit. You have a wealth of options, pursue them.
To my MBA aspirants, HBS, Yale, and even Stanford have made commitments to welcoming your applications through structured programs (2+2, Silver Scholars) that combine work experience and ultimately, the MBA before the age of 26. Don’t feel pressured to apply during Senior year because a hint of career uncertainty will result in a ding. These programs are HIGHLY competitive and reward highly entrepreneurial/tech-oriented candidates with focused and unique plans. And as always, the business school will be there when you reconsider towards your mid-20s.
IF YOU REALLY BOUT THAT LIFE, JD and MBA hopefuls, if you do apply straight out, please come correct. Your application can’t afford any blemish. Since you don’t have full-time experience to add color to your application, your undergraduate record, the standardized exam, and your aspirational story will be the sole predictors of your success. Especially Seniors aspiring to apply to MBAs straight out of undergrad, remember they probably won’t take more than 50 of you, across the world. If we gonna be about that life, we might as well emerge victorious.