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Ogechi: 7 Things to Note About Going to Law School in the U.S



I was cleaning my room the other day when I found the folder that contained my degrees. I inspected them and nostalgia swept over me the moment I picked up my Masters degree. I remembered the beginning, the end and all the stress in between. You see, in 2010, I was faced with one of the biggest decisions of my life; to pursue or not pursue a law degree in America. Since I had rejected the idea of studying nursing, but had completed one year in diploma law at the University of Lagos, I decided to keep studying law.

I soon realized that for some professions, you need a first degree and an entrance exam before you begin the actual course; Law school, Medical school and Pharmacy school are a few examples. To study law, you need a first degree in anything which could take approximately four years, prepare and sit for the LSAT entrance examination, and then apply to law school which is three years.

So, I armed myself with a bachelor’s degree in Communications. What better way to prepare myself for Law School than with a degree that focused on reading and writing literally? It wasn’t until the final year of my undergraduate degree did I begin to research and consider things seriously; more importantly the cost of Law School.

In the States, there are different types of loans but the three most common loans are loans for; a house, a car and school. One in every person who resides in America has at least one of the above mentioned loans with some having all three. Between an undergraduate degree and completing Law School, it is very possible to graduate and have over $120,000 in student loan debt. That is almost N24,000,000. Phew!
Now, there are many reasons people decide to go to Law School. Some of the reasons not limited to;

Legal Shows
Many of us might have grown up watching; The Practice, Law and Order, Boston Legal, Ally McBeal and more recently, Suits. Suddenly, you begin to think you’re Harvey Spector or that you will graduate, have a huge office, with a killer view while yelling out orders like Louis Litt.

I can argue/I’m a talker
I have heard this reason a thousand times, “I want to be a lawyer because I can argue”. Here’s the truth; any one can argue on any topic depending on how hot (or cold) it is outside and how passionate they are about said topic.

Making Bank/Prestige
There is this notion that lawyers make a lot of money upon graduation. That is not even close to the truth. A lot of them graduate without finding jobs or finding jobs that doesn’t even pay more than one third of their student loans without health benefits. Prestige in a career is all relative.

I Hate Math
Some people don’t want to deal with math or they’re afraid of it. I used to be like that. Back in Primary school, I had an encounter of a dangerous kind with a math teacher and lost interest.

At some point in your life, you must get good at asking yourself hard questions, seeking answers and answering yourself truthfully. Removing every emotion so I could think logically, I had to ask myself: Why did I want to go to law school? Why did I want to become a lawyer? Could I pursue another career and find fulfilment as well? Surprisingly, the answer was yes. So, I decided to pursue a Masters in Accounting.

Here are some lessons learnt since graduating:

The Fear of Debt is the Beginning of Wisdom
I always equate debt to diving into an ocean and trying to swim up for air but being unable to, because there’s a huge rock tied behind you. Yeah, I know it’s a grim picture. Unfortunately, that is the reality for a lot of people. After working in the bank for over seven years, I have realized debt is among the top three reasons people don’t/can’t pursue their dreams. Student loans are rarely forgiven. So, it is important that you take a moment and decide what quality of life you want from your career. I knew I wasn’t a trust fund kid. Also, I didn’t want to be in my forties and still paying student loans from my twenties. Responsibility is like a progressive tax system. The older you get, the more responsibilities you will have. Avoid packing on a lot early in the game.

Count the Cost
I believe in miracles. I really do. However, unless you are off to Harvard, Yale or Stanford Law school (translation: in a pile of 60 resumes the recruiter is most likely to pick yours first) please, take a moment to count the cost. Unless you have scholarships that significantly reduces your out of pocket expenses or allows you get your law degree (or any other degree) for free, you need to ask yourself if it is worth it. Also, you should ask if there will be a return on investment (ROI)? How do you know if it is worth it? Simple: The cost of pursuing a thing must never outweigh the benefit.

Do Your Research
Because the decision to go or not go to law school was a huge one for me, I must have polled over 100 people including lawyers, non lawyers and recent graduates. I also interned at two law firms. Those who hadn’t been to law school kept talking about ‘the prestige’ while the lawyers were candid enough to tell me, had they known, they would have done something else. The internet is littered with articles of students who felt they were ‘deceived’ about law school by the administrators because they graduated and either couldn’t find job or found jobs but were earning so little with thousands in student loans. Before you even prepare for and take the LSAT, go and find an (unpaid) internship at a law firm. If you can do the work for free for an entire summer or a year, there is a probability you truly have a passion for law. Do your own research so you don’t end up feeling duped.

Face Your Fears
You must build up the courage to turn around and face all your fears. Most times, you’ll find it’s not as bad as you think. As humans, we have a way of making small problems seem larger than life. Many people decide to become lawyers because they don’t want to deal with math. I too had that fear. But I worked through the problem by spending extra time on my homework and asking for help when I needed it. My lowest grade in all of my Math classes was a B. I took Math up to Calculus.

An Expensive Degree is not a Guarantee to Success
Some people might believe the more expensive the degree is, the more likely it is they will be successful or graduate with a huge salary immediately. Life doesn’t quite work that way. The most successful people today are those who were determined to be regardless of their education. Some were hardworking, other realized early that one key to wealth is to be a problem solver. Here’s another tip for students: Your student loan should not be more than your starting salary unless you went to Medical or Pharmacy school.

You Can Make a Difference and Save The World Without Being in Debt
This one of the reasons many people decide to go to law school. However, in the flight safety speech you hear on the plane, you are told to wear your mask first before trying to help someone else. Life is no different. You have to be able to save yourself before you can save someone else. Going to law school is not a prerequisite for making a difference or saving the world. More importantly, you don’t need to rack up over $100,000 in debt to do so. All you need to do is look around your neighborhood, find a cause that appeals to you and commit to it.

It’s OK to take a Step (or two) Back to Move Forward
After my bachelor’s degree, I had to go back to the local community college to take prerequisites for accounting and prepare for the GRE before I could apply to grad school. There were times I was discouraged and felt I wasn’t making any progress especially as the prerequisites took a year. We all make mistakes; and sometimes, we may feel it is too late to do anything about the situation. That is just your mind playing tricks on you. You only worsen it when you continue down that path after coming to that realization.

Not going to law school remains one of the best personal and financial decisions I could ever make. It would have been a waste of my time. I have no regrets; I have very little student loans and sleep easy. I will frame and hang my Master’s degree with as much pride as I would have hung my Law degree.

Are you thinking about studying law in the States? Did you go to law school in the States? How did you pay for law school? Share your experiences.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Stephen Coburn

Ogechi is the founder of OneSavvyDollar exists to make your personal financial life dramatically simpler, more convenient, less intimidating, more fun and fashionable by teaching personal finance in a fun, engaging and empowering way. On her blog, she writes about entrepreneurship, career, education and interesting money news. Connect with her on facebook: @onesavvydollar or Instagram: @onesavvydollar