Someone just found my blog with the Google query: "don't go to law school." Hmmmm. Whoever you are, you're probably wise to be thinking hard about whether to do it or not. I don't know whether Google will have the answer. I certainly don't have the answer. But here are some things to think about.
Don't go to law school right out of college because you're smart and you've been encouraged to by various history professors or relatives or because you like debating or arguing and you vaguely think you might want to get into politics someday. Don't go to law school because you're not sure what else to do, or because your parents really want you to. Or, at least, don't go to a really expensive law school for those reasons, unless you have the means to do so without incurring big big debt. Don't go to law school, in other words, to avoid making a decision about your life as an adult and what you want it to be like. Because if you incur big debt and make your peer group an extremely competitive and perhaps atypically unhappy group of people you will limit your ability to make that decision, clearly and well and for the right reasons.
Law school is fun. I worked harder and learned to think better than I did when I was at Yale. Partly that's because of the nature of law school, but a lot of that was because I wasn't mature enough to be particularly focused on my classes while I was an undergraduate. And when I got done with my undergraduate degree I wanted nothing to do with smart, highly critical and highly articulate people for a while. I went off to the woods and fell in love with a schooner captain and worked in a library and learned about computers and started a nonprofit and hung out with organic gardeners and carpenters and boat riggers. And I learned a lot about how to manage on a very little amount of money, and how to cook interesting dishes and how to get my laundry done before it became a crisis and how to make sure there was enough money in my checking account when rent was due and how to be a professional colleague with people who were much older than me and different in style and background and aspirations. I learned what made me happy and what made me frustrated and what I needed in my daily life to feel like I'd had a good day that day. And I began to learn that part of what I need in my daily life to be happy is contact with smart, articulate people, and some connection to a world where ideas are being pursued. I don't need highfalutin' intellectual stimulation the way some people need it, and I need a LOT of other things too (friends, fresh air, and fun) or I get restless and depressed. But I like to play with words and ideas, to engage with smart people, each day. And when I went back to law school knowing this, and knowing how to keep balance in my life, I had a fantastic time.
I really think if you go to law school before you've done that -- figured out, not just how to live as an adult, but what the elements are for you of a happy life, it's a lot harder to do it afterwards, when you're encumbered with an enormous debt, a status-crazy profession, and a whole lot of friends and family and peers who have a particular view about you and your ambitions. Suddenly you have to reject something, rather than assemble something. And I think that's usually harder to do.
UPDATE: Michigan Law student Carey discusses the dangers of getting onto the conveyor belt of law school prestige very well, here.