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by Vault Law Editors | March 10, 2009

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So you're thinking of becoming a lawyer. And why wouldn't you? After all:

It's a respectable profession.
Salaries can begin at $160,000.
Anyone can apply (no particular major required).
You can't be a lifeguard/waitress/Wii addict forever.
You don't know what else you want to do with your life.

And with perhaps just that much to guide them, approximately 84,000 students applied to law school in the fall of 2007 to join the over 1.1 million lawyers that already exist in the United States.

However, becoming a lawyer doesn't just mean getting a great salary and becoming a respected professional; there can also be a lot of job dissatisfaction. A study of California lawyers by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice found that "only half say if they had to do it over, they would become lawyers." One article written by a law professor reports that "Lawyers seem to be among the most depressed people in America." It's clear that becoming an attorney isn't for everyone. The question is whether or not it's for you.

When viewed from this light, perhaps the aforementioned perks aren't enough by themselves to justify the leap into the law. So for all of you considering becoming the next Atticus Finch, here is some advice on how to figure out whether or not you really want to become a lawyer, or if you just don't know what else to do with a Psychology/History/Communications/Anthropology major.

A lawyer is like a Hydra

This is a fancy way of saying that there's no one way to be lawyer. See, the Hydra is the mythological Greek animal with many heads. In the same way, there are many different jobs in the law. Broadly speaking, the law is divided into civil and criminal spheres, but each sphere has a widely divergent number of participating lawyers. From Perry Mason-style courtroom litigation to helping people plan their wills, there is a broad spectrum of legal careers. Because of the multitude of legal job options, it's important to research which, if any, seem interesting. Yes, research is not as much fun as manning the lifeguard station at the beach. But spending too much time in the water is what got many of you to this level of uncertainty in the first place.

A great place to start figuring out what legal jobs exist is Vault's "Day in the Life" profiles. You have to sign up to check them out but it's free and you won't get too much junk mail. Profiles include descriptions of a day in the life of an Assistant District Attorney, Bankruptcy Law Associate, Employment Litigator, as well as others. Another web site that has a good description of several types of legal careers including law professor, public defender, and working in a firm or public interest field is wetfeet.com.

Get dirty

This is a not-so-fancy way of saying you're not going to know whether or not you like the job until you actually do it. After you've decided which part of the law seems appealing, pick a lawyer with a career in which you're interested and shadow them for a day. It might seem scary, but writing several e-mails that express interest should do the trick. For a more sustained experience, do a free (or paid--paid is better) internship in the field you think you'll like. After walking in those lawyer shoes/loafers/sensible heels, you'll be in a better position to find out if the law is for you.

If it is, don't forget about the LSAT (the required standardized test for law school admission). The higher your score, typically the better the law school you can attend and the more options you'll have upon graduation. If law isn't for you, you can always go back to lifeguarding. It worked for David Hasselhoff. Sort of.

Article by Jodi Triplett and Trent Teti, founders of Blueprint Test Preparation. Blueprint unites amazing instructors with the longest LSAT course available.

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Filed Under: Law

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