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Interview with Chris Paik: Inside the Head of a Former Law School Hopeful

Sept. 20, 2012
Personal Finance
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Choosing to go to law school is a big decision that all prospective law students should not take lightly. We interviewed Chris Paik (CP), a former law school hopeful, who chose not to go to law school. He shares with us his personal experiences and thoughts about law school – and the financial implications that come with it.

What are your thoughts on law school? Tell us a little bit about what was going through your head when you were deciding whether to go to law school.

CP: For me, deciding not to go to law school was a pure financial decision. I think I would’ve been a great lawyer but there’s a point when it’s not worth it – there are important financial considerations you need to be mindful of. When you’re young and when your parents are still paying for your finances, you don’t think twice about the financial implications of anything.

Being in law school meant losing out on potential income for three years, not to mention the cost of tuition and living expenses. And if you’re in a major metropolitan city, costs go up and up.

There were other things I could have been doing with my money other than spending it on law school, like saving up to buy a house. A law degree is not a tangible asset – it’s a “mortgage you can’t live in”.

You speak about the financial implications of going to law school, but were there other considerations other than the high costs?

CP: Even with a decent LSAT score and good grades, I didn’t know that I’d get into one of the top 50 law schools – and even if I got into one of the top 50 schools, there was no guarantee of a job. At the top law firms, they look at the name of the law school you went to and if you don’t have that pedigree, they won’t even consider you or think twice. No matter how smart you are.

I had friends who went to Hastings and Boalt (UC Berkeley), and they weren’t getting jobs.  The market is just too saturated with a lot of experienced lawyers and not enough jobs. Was the time and money going to be worth it? I concluded no.

The nail on the coffin was that I was working at a legal consulting firm, and a lot of law school grads who passed the bar were applying to these entry-level jobs that didn’t even require a law degree. $200K later in student loans, these people were applying for the same exact position as me without a law degree.

What would you tell someone who is considering law school today?

CP: Law school is all about class rankings. It’s a very cut-throat lifestyle so be prepared. Be prepared to meet those infamous law school gunners.

The worst reason to go to law school is if you’re bored or if you don’t know what to do with your life. If you’re going to need to take out a large loan to pay for law school, seriously consider what your life goals are and see where a law degree fits into the picture.

People who successfully graduate from law school and pass the bar are, by no means, rolling around in money afterwards. Half their paycheck goes to paying off their loans. So the real question is: is law school going to be worth your time and money?

Check out NerdWallet’s law school comparison tool for more information about the employment statistics at different law schools.