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Trunk: Law school is a waste of time

By Penelope Trunk, Special to CNN
updated 3:31 PM EDT, Tue October 4, 2011
Depending on what you want out of it, a law degree may not be helpful.
Depending on what you want out of it, a law degree may not be helpful.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Attorneys sell peace of mind -- you have to sell that aspect of yourself to clients
  • Determine a career path rather than dodging difficulties by going back to school
  • Thinking you're very different from the norm is very dangerous for your career

Editor's note: Penelope Trunk is the co-founder of Brazen Careerist, a career management tool for next-generation professionals, and writes a blog on penelopetrunk.com.

(CNN) -- 1. Being a lawyer is about sales.

Law schools rely on the LSAT and school grades to determine who will get into the program. However once you are a practicing lawyer, what will matter is whether or not you can get clients. Clients don't choose their attorney based on their test-taking skills. Clients choose someone they feel comfortable and safe with. Attorneys, after all, are like any other salesperson; attorneys sell peace of mind. Someone has a problem and they hire an attorney to solve it. You have to sell that aspect of yourself if you are going to survive most law positions.

2. You are not going to be in a non-profit.

Many, many students think they are going to law school to join a non-profit and change the world. The problem is law students have to pay back their debt -- no small amount when we're talking law school. So unless you are independent wealthy , you'll have to go to a big law firm first, to pay off your school loans. And once you get used to living the life of someone at a big law firm, you're not likely to leave. This is because we get used to whatever salary we earn. No matter what we earn, we will think we need 20% more. Part of this is survival -- if you were happy with your stash of berries you'd starve to death in the cave. And part of this is because financial security is a relative feeling: if you hang out with big-firm lawyers, your sense of financial wellbeing will adjust to theirs.

3. Going to law school is a cop out.

Going back to school is easier than getting a job. Because you have been in school for 18 years, and, usually, when people are deciding to go to law school, they've been in the work world only a few years. But unless you really think you are going to die if you do not become a lawyer, you are likely just using law school to avoid all the difficulties of adult life -- most notably, working in boring, low-paying jobs trying to figure out where you fit. But there's a lot to be said for taking the time to figure out who you are instead of dodging difficulties by going back to school.

4. A law degree is not useful

People used to say "get a law degree -- you can do a lot with that." But really, you cannot. If you have a law degree, you can be a lawyer, and, if you are not a lawyer, you announce on your resume that you had no idea what to do with your life, so you spent $150K on a law degree that you don't need. A law degree is not necessary for non-law jobs. So don't go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer. And, even if you do think that maybe you want to be a lawyer, consider the idea that most forms of graduate school are outdated -- in terms of what you get for what you pay. In today's workplace, the Bureau of Labor reports that most people will have 3-5 careers. Given that, investing two years and $150K in any one of those careers is probably overinvesting.

5. You are not different.

Too often we look at the world around us, and there are clearly trends, and we think we can be different. The thing that is common is to believe you are different, and special, and rules will not apply to you. The odds of you really being different are pretty much zero. You are human and you probably just like everyone else. Thinking you're very different from the norm is very dangerous for your career. In Alcoholics Anonymous, the first thing people do is admit they are not special. This is because we cannot go about the difficult business of making good choices for ourselves until we realize that we are average, and the rules of the norm apply to us.

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