Dropping out of law school is not the end of the world. Let’s get that out of the way. Don’t believe me. Here is a list of people you might have heard of who dropped out of law school and seem to have avoided living under bridges.
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Vince Lombardi
- Harry Truman
- Paul Simon
- Diane Sawyer
- Harper Lee
- Al Gore
- Gene Kelly
- Donald Rumsfeld
And a few who stayed in school turned out to not be so great…
- Serial Killer Ted Bundy
- Bernie Madoff
The truth is people drop out of law school all the time, and their lives don’t go to hell in a handbasket. Shocking, no? Law school is hard. The practice of law isn’t for everyone. A recent survey of Florida attorneys found it isn’t for a lot of people. Fully 30 percent of young lawyers in the study said they would not enroll in law school again. That number is massive, and should act as evidence that you are not alone if you are starting to think the practice of law just isn’t for you.
Why Drop Out?
You need to be honest with yourself when considering quitting law school. You need to be objective as well, but we both know that it is nigh impossible when you are standing in the middle of the storm trying to make the decision. As with most critical decisions, you should take a day or two to relax and then pursue as objective an analysis as possible as to whether law school is the correct choice for you.
Don’t make an emotional decision. Make bullet-point lists. Take it slow. Your focus should be on categorizing the aspects of law school that you enjoy, are ambivalent about, and can’t stand. Now look for themes. Perhaps the problem is a particular aspect of the practice of law that you find unappealing. I’ll give you an example.
I once worked as outside counsel for a firm that had an attorney who had the sole task of conducting legal research. The idea of litigating and communicating with clients gave him the shakes. Still, he loved digging into antiquated treatises, legislative intent, and creating briefs based on case law and his research. I’m not too proud to say that he found persuasive authority I completely missed, authority that won many a vital motion. Would anyone consider him a great lawyer? Not in the classic sense, but he was invaluable when it came to arguing a case, and he seemed pretty damn happy with his life.
Finding an interesting practice area can be the path to a satisfying life and a lucrative career. In my first year of law school, I met a fellow student from New York. He was the stereotypical New Yorker with the accent, attitude, and confidence, but he quickly realized he hated law school and dropped out after a month. Flash forward 20 years and imagine my surprise when an insurance broker introduced me to the same gentleman. And he was a lawyer.
“Mike” had gone back to law school after finding a niche he was happy in – arranging adoptions. To this day, I still find it hilarious that a loud New Yorker who drank like a wild man and created curse words out of the blue could be an adoption attorney, but he is. What made him happy and thriving in the field? He feels he’s helping people – truly. One evening over an adult beverage or two, he confessed to crying every time an adoption is finalized, and the new parents leave with their child. Now THAT is job satisfaction.
Am I suggesting you don’t drop out of law school? Not at all. Just that you take the time to analyze what makes you unhappy versus the positive aspects of the law. Once you’ve totaled the ledger, consider whether there is a legal niche that would meet your needs as a career.
If so, pursue it.
If not, screw law school.
Life is short – hunt around for something you’ll enjoy. If there is one true cliche, it is do what you love if at all possible.
Law School vs. Practicing Law
Before deciding to drop out of law school, it is probably worth mentioning that practicing law in the real world is much different than what you experience when attending classes. Those hypotheticals in your classes where Jane is married to Fred but having an affair with Judy while playing golf and one of their tee drives takes out a window in a house, causing the heating bill to go through the roof and who is responsible for the subsequent impact on climate change? Yeah, those scenarios rarely come up in the real world.
The practice of law is both more practical and results-oriented. Some attorneys find this beneficial since there is a sense of closure, while others find it tedious since there isn’t much intellectual stimulation with, oh, arguing over dirt compression in construction defect cases.
If you find law school boring, I encourage you to pick up an internship or clerking job as soon as possible to get a taste of real-world law. If nothing else, head down to the local courthouse and take in a trial or two. You’ll quickly get a feel for how the practice functions in a real-world environment as well as realize that most attorneys aren’t all that competent!
Dropping Out Consequences
You’ve decided to drop out. Are there consequences? Yes, but perhaps not as painful as you may think. Will potential employers frown on your decision to quit? Possibly, but you can turn the decision into a positive by suggesting you were mature enough to realize being an attorney wasn’t your calling in life, so you made the hard choice. Many people will empathize with such a position.
Finances are likely the most significant consequence of dropping out. If you loaded up on student loans, those loans are going to have acceleration clauses in the boilerplate language of the loan documents. You’ll need to start paying back the money as soon as the lender realizes you aren’t in school any longer. Make sure you account for the cost, particularly if you are an older law student.
…and then we have family and friends.
Honestly, your friends probably couldn’t care less what you do for a living as long as you are happy and bring over a bottle of wine every so often. Hopefully, the same is true for your family. If not…well…I believe the Latin phrase is “screw eis” (screw them). Look, let’s have a heart to heart. You need to be happy. Life is way to short to be a slave to the expectations of others. Are you a dog on a leash or a wolf roaming the forest?
Most parents just want their kids to be safe and happy. If yours start giving you grief, ask them if they want you to be miserable? That usually shuts them up.
Take charge of your life. Its the only one you’ve got.
Ah, the old “use your law degree to get in the door in other fields” pitch. We’ve all heard it, right? I call it the last sad refrain of the unhappy law student or lawyer. Look, it isn’t true for the most part. A law degree might get you in the door for an interview, but the world is about relationships. Foster relationships as much as you can because sooner or later, the people you know will be the people who pave the way for the key assists that help you in a career.
Dropping Out Of Law School
Decision time. Make it. Honestly, you already know the answer if you are still reading at this point. The question may be less should you drop out of law school, versus do you have the courage to do so? Change is tough. Change is particularly tough if you’re going to need to face up to student loan payments and family members who guilt-trip you. But if you need change, make it.
Most people are in their 20s when attending law school. That means you can quit and have a good fifty years to do something you find more satisfying. Maybe you end up as the President of this great nation like other law school dropouts such as Roosevelt, Truman, and Wilson.