Rockstar or Lawyer: Should I Go To Law School?

My little brother made better career decisions than I did.

Brian Tannebaum finally answered a commonly asked question by most potential law students: should I go to law school? If so, which school should I go to?

His answer:

If you went to law school to be an advocate and counselor, not just for the job you thought was supposed to be there at the end — if your goal was to enter a profession and represent clients, go to law school.

If you’re looking for a job in Biglaw, where you went to law school and your ranking matter. If you’re looking for a job elsewhere, no one cares. If you’re not going to Harvard, Yale, UVA, NYU, Stetson, or South Texas (I was kidding about the first four — (still no sarcasm font?)), it doesn’t matter where you go. Get the J.D. and pass the bar.

Are you considering law school? Wondering which school to go to ?

Ask yourself this instead – what do you want to do with your life? What’s important to you?

If you’re thinking “I guess I’ll become a lawyer because it’s a safe way to make upper-middle class income, and what else can I do with a liberal arts degree anyway”, you are going to be sorely disappointed. I’m sorry to tell you, but law is not a ticket to a steady job or middle class income. Law should only be pursued by people who can’t imagine their life without being an advocate. It’s not a path to make lots of money, it’s not easy, and you don’t have a a great chance of success. Most people who go into law fail. There are many safer careers that pay more and will leave you with less educational debt. I know too many people who went to law school because they didn’t know what to do with a liberal arts degree, and they figured law was a safe fallback plan. Now they’re miserable because it’s not, and it comes with a lot of responsibility and educational debt. Although passion can be a bad quality for a lawyer when it comes to representing clients effectively, it takes a lot of moxie to make it in law.

My brother, who is a musician, asked me a similar question. After a few years in college, he told his stiff, rigid, “I did everything right” lawyer brother he was considering dropping out of college. Horrible idea? I’m sure he expected me to say “Education is the most important thing ever in the world, how dare you even consider not getting a masters degree!!!!”

Right…?

College is a safe route. If you want a job that guarantees a steady paycheck and health benefits, stay in college. Don’t become a musician. Music certainly isn’t a safe route, and there isn’t a guarantee you will succeed or make a lot of money. You probably won’t. The music industry is oversaturated, it sucks, and not many people become successful musicians. Being a musician only works out for a select few who are either lucky, talented, or both. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking the safe road.

But if you’re dead set on becoming a musician, you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, and you understand what you’re giving up and what you’re getting into, go for it. When you’re sitting in a cubicle ten years from now, daydreaming about playing nightclubs and wondering if you had the talent to make it, will you regret the chance you never took, or will you appreciate what you have?

Same is true with law. Will you be sitting in an office ten years from now, enjoying a steady paycheck and health benefits, saying to yourself “I wish I would have gone to law school…”? Or will you go to law school and become a broke lawyer working 12 hour days, getting constant calls from your student loan company, thinking to yourself “I miss the days when I had health benefits, a steady paycheck, and a good career… law school was a terrible decision.”

Think about that.

It’s been about 6 years since my brother dropped out of college. He’s still on my cellphone plan, doesn’t own a home, and has to borrow my car when he needs a ride. Although music is not terribly lucrative, now he’s living his dream, in some sense. I guess that’s more than most people can say. Will he regret not having a traditional career in another 10 years from now? Dunno.

At the end of the day, we both took a shot on something – me on law, him on music. I don’t think people realize it, but both careers are equally risky, although law is more accepted in some circles.

So if becoming a lawyer is your dream, go for it. Just don’t expect much, or anything, really.

And if law isn’t your dream, pursue a career that is.

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