What do you want to be when you grow up?
God, if I had a lira for every time I was asked that question as a kid, I would be able to buy... well, a lot of cappuccinos. For some reason, adults assume kids have no worries or ambitions of their own (riding the slide, that bully down the street, the new girl, etc.) and that kids in fact spend their days wishing for a future that may never come. So kids get asked the question.
Whether you are one of these "kids" being asked the question, you were at some point in your life. So whether you are on the brink, taking the leap into adulthood, leaving home, choosing university, or thinking about a career path, I counsel you to think about choosing the law as that path.
For those of you who believe you can do anything, regardless of your age, and are pondering a career change after having already been pushed over the brink of adulthood long ago, I firstly say I admire you. Then I say that you should be considering the law.
Because the law is about possibilities for you as a person, and about shaping the world around you as a society.
I know law school applications are down, the legal job market is tight, law school tuitions are exorbitant, and some law schools are even fudging their employment numbers. I admit that these are not encouraging signs. But let me take a moment to tell you why I think that being a lawyer, and going to law school, is actually quite awesome.
1. Suit up!
Fact: American men are badly dressed. Suiting up is one of many solutions to this problem. A man in a suit is not treated in the same way as a man in a hooded sweatshirt, no matter what is going on with his hair, shoes, and beard. Shoes are, of course, important as well. But the first step is heeding Barney's command and pulling yourself together.
Beyond the automatic prestige accommodated to someone in a suit, the beauty of suits is their versatility; you can polish the shoes and throw in a white pocket square for the office, switch to a checkered pocket square for happy hour, and pull on brightly-colored sneakers for a night on the town.
The caveat to suiting up is, of course, having a suit that fits you. Avoid the middle-American potato-sack and the Zara Euro-shine when heading into that interview.
2. Money is transient; education isn't
Yes, debt from law school is awful. And it is true that the legal market isn't what it once was. A quick glance at Above the Law reveals that entry-level law jobs are still not forthcoming.
But is that such a big deal? First of all, I strongly believe that whoever wants to work can find a job. Finding that job can be in itself hard work, and engenders networking, research, and good communication skills.
Secondly, the beauty of being an attorney or of having gone to law school (just like knowing a foreign language) is that it will never disappear. No job loss will make you not an attorney (unless you do something stupid and breach ABA or your local bar rules of professional responsibility; more on this later).
3. Law school rox!
Law school does rock. Well, mostly. I'm not sure what happens over there at Harvard, but I had a total blast at school. While it is indeed serious business, you are still a student -- not something to be taken as seriously as your interminable work life will inevitably be.
Plus, U.S. law schools are increasingly hands on, experimental, and results-oriented. This is not something that exists in other countries' legal culture, especially not in France. French law schools are basically a place to collect your degree, attempt to memorize some articles from codes, and listen to boring lectures during which people fart or fall asleep (depending on the attendance policy). There are few exceptions to this rule, if any.
There are, of course, negative aspects to the law school experience: the gunners, the stressers, the tuition. These are factors to be weighed as to which law school you attend, not whether or not you shall attend law school.
Scholarship money matters, and with the tuition required in U.S. schools, it is a crying shame that there is no government subsidization. This is a fact of American life, although such life is gradually evolving. But the more things change...
This is different than purely suiting up. Since the 2013 Grammys, Justin Timberlake and his pals have made looking good trendy, though JT's outfits can be borderline clownish.
Overall, not a bad trend to buy into, if you ask me.
5. Professional Responsibility
This is a legal term of art that encompasses many things, most particularly social justice. Attorneys also have requirements for continuing education, just as they are subject to a host of rules that guide both private and professional life. Lawyers may get a bad rap, but such rap should only apply to those spending their time breaking or circumventing these rules.
There are several important aspects to note about these requirements undergirding the legal profession. Firstly, being a "doctor of laws" is a position of power that can easily be abused. Such rules protect the law, the public, and other attorneys' legal practice. Additionally, social justice via legal action is one of the most important roles of the attorney in any society; no social justice movement is complete without zealous legal representation. Finally, it should by now be a golden rule of the 2000's to contribute, to give back, to the society in which one lives.
This is a key aspect of the role of the attorney in modern life and is honestly applicable to any profession. No person is complete without doing what is in his or her power to help those in need.
This is not a reference to the traditional notion of flexibility, in which you can come and go when you like or work from home. That is not a common feature in legal jobs (unless you're super lucky!).
What is true, however, is the flexibility bestowed upon each and every member of the bar. Being an attorney, having a legal degree, grants you access to all of the echelons of society and professional pursuits, from the very top to the very bottom. You can obtain a fellowship to work (for free, yay) at the UN war crimes tribunal in Cambodia, you could start your own boutique law firm, as one of my fellow Georgetown graduates did, find yourself on the board of directors of a multinational company, or spend your days honorably toiling in the backrooms of Brooklyn courts in search of justice for the indigent.
Going to law school means learning how to think differently. Passing the bar means having the keys in your hands in order to apply this method of thought to all walks of life. This is a gift that is not to be taken lightly.