May 14, 2010

Pre-Law Confidence: Optimism . . . or Delusion?

The News Editor blog over at the National Jurist reports that 52% of pre-law students surveyed in a recent Kaplan poll are "very confident" that they will find a job in the legal field after graduation from law school, and that a mere 7% "lack confidence."

Okay, that's amazing given the legal job market, but I suppose not downright shocking, given that the folks surveyed were from a group who had taken the LSAT this year, so they must have some reason for going to law school. But get this little tidbit:

"[O]nly 16 percent say they are “very confident” that the majority of their fellow aspiring lawyers will [find a job in the legal field].

* * * *

“Pre-law students’ confidence in their own job prospects are likely an indication not just of self-assurance, but of their optimism in an economic turnaround,” said Jeff Thomas, director of pre-law programs, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions. “What’s interesting is the drop-off in confidence in their peers, which perhaps may just be an indication of the general competitive atmosphere that exists between pre-law students.“

To summarize: The economy is bad, the legal job market is bad, lots of folks are saying that this is a bad time to go to law school, but the only thing that has changed in the attitude of students taking the LSAT is that most of them think other people will have a tough time getting a job.

The quote from Mr. Thomas is interesting. He attributes this bizarre double standard to self-assurance, "optimism of an economic turnaround," and a competitive pre-law atmosphere. I'd say he's one-third right. Self-assurance-- or perhaps more to the point, foolish pride-- is at work. Students who don't know what law school is like have no idea whether they will do well in law school, and they certainly have no clue about others.

The fact is that every student applying to law school is shocked that he or she is not in the 98th percentile of the LSAT (it must be that I'm not a good tester) and cannot get into Yale or Harvard. First-year law students are shocked when they don't get all A's (the prof is unfair) and when they get their first legal writing paper back (prof don't know English) and when their first-year grades come back (I've never gotten a "C"!). Law school is a completely different world, and students don't know how to gauge their own prospects. This is primarily due to ignorance of the nature of legal study.

In order to be a bit more knowledgeable about the law school experience, I suggest doing some homework, coupled with introspection, before rushing headlong into law school:

1. Take at least three or four practice LSATs and evaluate what they tell you about aptitude and likelihood of first year law school success. Despite what some say, the LSAT is still an excellent indicator, for most students, of first-year success. If you are not as cut out for legal study as you think you are, don't blame the test. Plenty of very smart people do not have the warped aptitudes for law school. This is no shame. Study something you were created to study. You'll be happier.
2. Count the cost financially. Find schools that will not only take you, but will also give you some scholarship money based on your LSAT and GPA.
3. Read two or three books about law school AND about what lawyers actually do.

I know that God calls men and women to law school, even in this job market and economic environment. I urge students seeking his guidance to, first, do their homework to discern their own aptitudes and skills in relation to legal study. Second, I pray that they not think more highly of themselves than they ought as they consider their options. Finally, I hope that they do not wager a large debt load on their confident predictions of their own legal prowess.

Wisdom has built her house. . . .
To him who lacks sense she says,
"Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight." Prov. 9:1, 4-5


  1. Good advice that hopefully saves at least one person from going to law school when they shouldn't. Its better to find out ahead of time than spend the money and effort. There is always another profession just around the corner.

  2. Thank you for this post! As I am preparing to take the LSAT, these questions about what God would have me do in a couple of years weigh on my mind.

    Practically, I think I will see what my score is and see what kind of financial aid is available for Fall 2011 or 2012, depending upon our return.

    As a part of my thought process, I have brought these things to the Lord with a kind of list of vocational possibilities that I might do in a couple of years and He has lead me to see that I should be able to cross each one of them out to a point where I can say, "Not this, not this, not this... okay, Lord, it doesn't matter because I have you." Even thinking about my future in more general terms, the Lord has lead me to passages like Matthew 13, where Jesus says "heaven is like a treasure that a man found. That man went and sold all he had and bought that treasure" (my scrappy paraphrase of course). The man who sold all he had makes me think of myself selling all my dreams away.

    At this point in my life I am considering either education, law, or full-time ministry. Each of these are on my list at the moment, and what keeps me formulating a list at this point, is the words of the Lord Jesus, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48) Pray for me that I would make these decisions in humility. Thank you for your faithful exhortation.

  3. Thanks for the good comments!

    I will pray, Kyle, and I know that wherever God leads, he will have you prepared for your ministry in that field.

    I like what you said about "selling" your dreams. think it is often harder to "sell" our own dreams and expectations than to sell our "stuff."