Introduction: First Things First

So you want to be a lawyer?  Making the commitment to attend law school is often a tough decision. And choosing the right law school for you is even more difficult. What makes a law school great?  What makes the significant financial commitment worth the investment?  And what can justify the time spent on preparing for, attending and succeeding in law school? What can you do with a law degree?  And will a law degree help you change the world? The answer is: It depends. Introcoins

Just like any other significant life decision, choosing the right law school is an intensely personal decision. And it should be informed by markers that reflect that align with your own values.  Your law school choice should also represent a wise financial decision. If you are interested in public service, these considerations must be a central part of the calculus in choosing the right law school for you.

The Society of American Law Teachers is committed to supporting a diverse pipeline for social justice-minded law students, especially in this time of economic challenges. We hope this book will inspire students to consider law as a viable career. Despite the challenges and hurdles, law school is an important step for many people who want to dedicate their lives to promoting justice. Law is a unique profession with special social obligations and opportunities. For people who are considering a career in law – especially those considering making a contribution to practice in underserved communities – we hope this guide can be an important resource.

This book begins with an overview of the legal profession and different ways to practice law.  It offers information on law school admissions, debt repayment, and choosing the right law school for you, as well as information on the law school curriculum.  This book is intended to:

  • Highlight the access to justice gap and the lack of diversity in the legal profession
  • Affirm the purposes of law and lawyers as stewards of justice
  • Present alternative options/models for pursuing a career in public interest, including by pursuing a low bono practice in underserved communities
  • Provide practical guidance on financing a legal education and managing debt post-graduation, including by explaining the federal loan forgiveness programs
  • Explain the admissions process, share insight on admissions decisions and give students the tools to procure and negotiate a better offer through financial aid or scholarships
  • Identify the factors law student should weigh when choosing a law school (Believe it or not, the analysis should not being and end at the “rank.” There are incredibly important financial considerations including scholarships and school loan forgiveness programs, job preparation and placements, geographic location of the school in light of the students’ interest, curriculum offerings and design, commitment of public interest, and diversity to consider.)
  • Empower social-justice minded law applicants as consumers to make the best choices

Yes, that’s a lot of ground to cover for a little book. But we’ve had a lot of help. In addition to the law professors who volunteered to write this book, we relied on interviews with law students and attorneys in the field.

Throughout the text, law students share their insight on these considerations during the law school process. As you wade through the information captured here, pay attention to the pop up boxes with reflections and advice from law students who want to help.

IntroScale ImageThe book also strives to make use of its online format by introducing you to social justice lawyers.  In addition to knowing about icons such as Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley and Nelson Mandela, we want to introduce you to social justice lawyers working in communities across the country. These lawyers are working to protect civil rights, the environment, reproductive autonomy and working conditions for thousands of people. And they started with an idea of attending law school.  Read their stories and watch their interviews to help clarify why you are considering law school. We hope they will inspire and challenge you.

Finally, we have included a self-assessment and checklist for more guidance. Take the time at various intervals throughout the text to get a gauge of your own strengths and weaknesses as it relates to financial literacy, personal priorities, learning style and the role of the social justice lawyer.  Each assessment is also linked to a resource list tailored to the topic. In case you still want to learn more about social justice and managing law school debt, we have a Bibliography with additional books, articles, handouts and websites. There are several sources we have collected that offer rich perspectives, very helpful resources and hands-on management devices to help you make a good decision.

Lawyers are life-long learners, and the first education you need to embrace is the process of educating yourself about law school.  Making a smart decision that limits your debt exposure and emphasizes the special goals you have to serve the community will help you make the best choice for you.