Law school is NOT undergrad. Your heart and head should be in it before attending. It’s intense, it’s ridiculously expensive, it’s like a job, even—they’ll know if you don’t show up! So really research your schools and go only if you know you want to work in law.
That’s the advice of Rebecca Gingold, senior investigative attorney in the Kings County DA’s office. She was part of a panel event held last night by Stratus Prep, a test prep and admissions consulting company, on the value of a law degree in the face of an uncertain legal job market and menacing debt burdens. Vault’s Mary Kate Sheridan moderated the event. The other panelists included the founder of Stratus, a senior partner at a law firm and a recent law school grad.
One of the great values of going to law school, the panelists all agreed, is the change in thinking that takes place. Elnaz Zarrini, a recent grad of Fordham, said the different mindset that law school cultivated in her allowed for stronger analysis, better writing and more precise communication.
“The ability to think on your feet, think in a logical fashion are skills that are transferable no matter what you do,” said Peter Samuels, a senior partner at the law firm Proskauer.
Shawn O’Connor, Stratus’ founder, said law school helped him to really know what it’s like to understand another person’s perspective, something he presumed he could already do prior to attending Harvard Law, but couldn’t.
While empathy and a finely honed mind are no doubt of great value in any field a person chooses to persue, many prospective law students are immediately concerned with the prospect of borrowing $150,000 with no true sense of the employment picture. While he didn’t exactly discourage law school prospectives from borrowing, O’Connor did warn candidates about the stubbornness of student loan debt. “The only way you to avoid paying off student loan debt is death,” he said, referring to the fact that student loans don’t disappear even after filing for bankruptcy. Given that, he urged students to really consider all available pieces of information—like loan forgiveness programs and loan types, for example—before making any decisions.
And as far as the legal job market for non-top-tier law school grads? Gingold soberly reported that at the Kings County DA’s office hiring was still down. But she added that her office has hired students from local schools, because “they are the ones who are in the area to get the externship opportunities,” as well as pro bono attorneys, noting that “having your face there everyday is important.”
Samuels emphasized the uncertainty of the legal job market and suggested that people avoid making a decision on law school based on the current economic turmoil. “If you can forecast where the legal job market is going…then you should be a psychic,” said Samuels. “You’re as likely to bet wrong as bet right. Stick with the fundamentals: Do you want to go to law school?”