Ask practicing lawyers if you should go to law school and they'll probably tell you "no," or so the joke goes. But the world needs attorneys — President Donald Trump's five months in office have proved that, from the lawyers fighting Trump's executive order travel ban, to the attorneys investigating his possible campaign ties to Russia, to the various lawyers now representing the President during the probe. In fact, some predict all the attention could lead to a heightened interest in the profession, a so-called "Trump bump."
But is law school right for you? CNBC spoke with Laura Hosid, law school admissions and career counselor, about the questions you should ask yourself first.
The biggest mistake people make is going for no good reason or for the wrong reasons, says Hosid. So if it's because you think it looks fun or you want to be rich, you might want to think again.
A surprising number of people want to go to law school because they love "Law & Order," says Hosid, but "being a lawyer is nothing like what you see on TV." In fact, it can take lawyers years to even set foot in a court room or get a cushy job like in-house counsel.
Similarly, the idea that being a lawyer will make you rich is off-base, says Hosid. "There are actually a lot, a lot, a lot of jobs that … don't make a lot of money," she says. According to U.S. News & World Report, the median private sector salary was $68,300, and the median public sector salary was $52,000 among J.D. recipients in the class of 2015 at ranked law schools. Only 35 law schools of the 197 ranked reported median private sector salaries in the six figures.
"Yes, technically you can do anything with a law degree, but that doesn't mean you should," says Hosid. "That doesn't mean you need one."
She suggests talking to people in the fields and jobs you're interested in. "Find out how valuable they would view a law degree if you were looking for a job in their position," she says. "Just because you see a lot of people have law degrees, it might not be the case that it's necessary."
Even if the field does require an advanced degree for you to be taken seriously, you may be able to do a one-year Master's and not a three-year J.D., says Hosid.
Also consider whether you'd want to work in the private sector or the public sector, or for a non-profit. Would you want to do trial work or research? In what city or country do you want to find a job? All these factors can affect whether you need a law degree, and if so, where it would be best to go to school.
"I worked at Georgetown Law School in the Career Services office," says Hosid. "I started when times were really good and employers were bending over backward to take us out to dinner … so we would tell our kids to go to their firms." Then the recession hit.
"By the time I left, we were taking them out to dinner and we were flying to cities that Georgetown grads would never go to before to talk to people at law firms and try to convince them to hire Georgetown grads. And we're talking Georgetown grads – it's not Harvard but it's a top law school."
The moral of the story is that the legal profession is not immune to the economy.
On a positive note for prospective students, law school applications have been down in recent years, which means schools are offering a lot of scholarship money these days, says Hosid.
The truth is, a law degree from a school ranked below the top 14-to-25 does not open the same doors as a degree from a top tier institution, says Hosid. That's important when it comes to those higher paying corporate law jobs and other coveted positions.
If you can only get in to a lower ranked school — which is the case for most people — graduating at the top of your class and doing extra-curriculars like journals or clinics can help. Hosid also suggests planning to practice in the same geographic location as your school, as the alumni network may be stronger and the school may be more well known regionally.
According to U.S. News & World report's 2017 law school rankings, the average cost of tuition and fees among the top 10 law schools is $60,293 per year. For private schools it's $46,164; for public schools it's $26,264 in state and $39,612 out of state.
It's also important to consider living or moving expenses and the fact that you may not be making a steady salary for the three years you're in school.
Weigh all this against what your law degree could get you in terms of opportunity and salary.
Taking time off can be beneficial for a couple of reasons. First, anecdotally, Hosid says that her clients that have done so tend to have more thoughtful, realistic reasons for going to law school, "whether that's because they've tried something else or they've given it some time to think about it," she says.
Additionally, it can give prospective students additional chances to take the LSATs.
Hosid says she's also found that both law school admissions and later employers are more interested in people who have had some real world experience, "even if it was just a year or two," she says, and even if that experience wasn't totally relevant to the fields of law they wanted to pursue.