Is Law School Worth it Even if You Don’t Plan to Practice Law?

Law school demands a lot from students. It takes a major commitment of time, money and effort. Even if you receive a full scholarship, find the learning rewarding and make connections among your classmates, there are trade-offs. After all, there are plenty of ways to spend three years of your life besides reading and arguing over old legal cases.

Obviously, law school is a no-brainer if you plan to become a lawyer. But if you have no interest in practicing law, it’s important to weigh the costs and benefits.

The Advantages Law School Gives You in the Workforce

As graduate schools and workplaces become increasingly specialized, a J.D. is a relatively versatile degree.

[Read: What Is a J.D. Degree?]

Of course, some of the arcane legal rules you learn in law school may never come up in life, unless you get caught up in a complex contract dispute or a dramatic fight over inheritance. And most law students concentrate in a legal specialty, especially in their third year.

However, the skills you gain in law school have broad applicability across a range of fields. Law school will strengthen your ability to think on your feet, sift through evidence, analyze risks and methodically work through complex problems.

More practically, law school comes in handy when you need to sign contracts, resolve disputes, interpret laws or understand legal processes.

The credential of a J.D. also signals an ability to handle rigorous coursework and manage stressful demands, particularly if you earn it from a reputable law school.

Many potential employers look favorably on law school graduates, particularly in fields like business, professional services, politics, mediation, communications and social justice. And many law graduates gain the confidence to succeed on their own as consultants, journalists and entrepreneurs.

[READ:How Law School Applicants Can Prepare for a Social Justice Career]

It is now common for law graduates to work in positions considered “J.D. advantage” or “J.D. preferred,” roles in which a law degree is highly valued but not strictly required. I have had many jobs that fall into this category, as a researcher, professor, policy consultant and law school admissions coach.

The Worth of Law School for Nonlawyers

If a law school graduate succeeds in a nonlegal field, did his or her degree help? If another ends up a disgruntled lawyer, was law school a poor choice?

To put these outcomes in context, it’s important to consider realistic alternatives, not just an idealized vision of success. And unfortunately, it’s hard to know whether law school is a sound investment until it is too late to change course.

Carefully consider opportunity costs. If you passed up law school, what are the chances you would spend that time taking crucial steps toward a life goal? If you feel uncertain or unenthusiastic about your current career trajectory, law school may be a low-stakes decision even if you don’t intend to practice.

Also think realistically about your career path. What kind of environment do you perform best in? What kind of work-life balance do you envision? What kind of daily tasks do you hate, and which do you find energizing or fulfilling?

If you feel unsure, do more research. Take time to pursue internships or volunteer opportunities or conduct informational interviews with people in a range of fields. Ask them how worthwhile a law degree is, instead of trying to assess it in the abstract.

[Read: Is Law School Worth It? What Recent Law Grads Say.]

For example, imagine you want to work for a health care startup. Perhaps a law degree would help you deal with complex regulations and risk management. Or perhaps it would be more useful to gain real-world experience, a master’s in science or technology, or an MBA. Ultimately, professionals in the field are best suited to answer that question.

Finally, if you are considering law school as a waypoint toward a nonlegal career, note that you may find it unexpectedly hard to deviate from a legal path. Law graduates often face substantial financial and social pressure to practice law. The lure of highly paid legal work can be irresistible, and the security of such work can be hard to forgo.

To be sure, many lawyers practice only briefly before switching careers — myself included! But walking away isn’t as easy as it may seem at the start of your journey.

More from U.S. News

18 Questions to Ask to Decide If You Should Be a Lawyer

How to Become a Lawyer: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Pick a Cost-Efficient Law School

Is Law School Worth it Even if You Don?t Plan to Practice Law? originally appeared on

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