Can I Be a Lawyer?

If you were in a club and posed this question to a group of young lawyers at the bar, one would probably answer, “I don’t know, can you?” Amidst the guffaws of laughter by the others, you’d be no closer to finding an answer to your question and no wiser about what it takes to practice law.  

Are you thinking about becoming a lawyer? When you think about your future, do you keep asking yourself, “Can I be a lawyer? What does it take? What kind of person do I have to be? Do I have the right skills?” Chances are, you’re not the only one asking this puzzling question, so this article is meant to help you with some self-examination so you can plan your future career path and make an informed decision about whether or not to become an attorney.

Since successful lawyers are experts at asking pointed questions and responding with succinct, rational answers, let’s use some “If….Then” logical, fact-based points:

Can I be a lawyer if my main goal is financial gain for myself and my future family? The answer is maybe because then you may be deluding myself about lawyers’ earnings. Through the media, we hear a lot about wealthy lawyers both in fact and fiction. But for every F. Lee Bailey or Denny Crane, there are thousands of hard-working lawyers that choose to work for the government as public defenders and deputy district attorneys. These lawyers’ goals aren’t to get rich because they won’t. They do it because they have a calling to serve the justice system and the people who depend upon it.

Can I be a lawyer if I can’t afford to pay for law school and I don’t want to incur a lot of student loan debt? The answer is no because then you simply won’t be able to pay for tuition, books, lodging, meals, and daily living expenses. According to the Internet Legal Research Group, New York’s prestigious Columbia Law School is the costliest in the U.S. with tuition and books around $43,500, plus another $16,000 for room and board. Of course, not every law school is this expensive; state university law schools are much less expensive than private schools but you can still count on bills exceeding $25,000 for two years of law school tuition and books. If you haven’t got a scholarship, grant, or the G.I. bill, you will probably be eligible for a student loan; this, plus a part-time job, will get you through.

Can I be a lawyer if I have really good study skills and learn quickly? The answer is yes because then you won’t find law school to be impossibly difficult. Becoming a lawyer takes an inquisitive mind, the self-discipline to set aside virtually unbreakable study time, and the ability to organize your school, study, work and fun times into appropriate, but not equal units. Going to classes and studying will take up most of your time, and your part-time job will put gas in your car, but don’t forget to schedule some fun time to give your mind and body a well-earned rest. Lawyers need good stress management skills, and the practice of law is VERY ACADEMIC in nature!

Can I be a lawyer if I have a past criminal record? Generally, the answer is no because then this could be interpreted that you’re a person who does not respect the law. In Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow said, “You can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest.” You can go to law school if you have the money, but most states agree with Jack and will not grant a license to practice law to anyone who has been convicted of a serious felony. With misdemeanors and juvenile records, the rules vary from state to state.  DUIs are really the line in the sand, anything more serious than a DUI and it is unlikely you will be able to obtain admission to a state bar.  (Though it is possible to be denied admission because of a DUI… I personally know several lawyers with a DUI on their record who were admitted to the bar.)

Can I be a lawyer if I’m a basically moral person with good social skills? The answer is yes because then you would have the kind of personality that results in ethical conduct towards clients, other lawyers and judges. Your good social skills would put you in good standing with others and allow them to trust your abilities and integrity. Lawyers must remember that in public or in private, they’re always lawyers and represent the profession as a whole. When a lawyer is arrested for a DUI or is “outed” having a sexual affair with his or her clerk, it always makes the papers somehow. An old but true saying about lawyers and judges is that they must avoid even the appearance of impropriety; they represent the law, and the law should be worthy of respect.

Can I be a lawyer if I want to spend my life in a vocation that has as its core value a duty of “justice for all?” Of course the answer is yes because then you will uphold the true intention of the Constitution of the United States. This document that begins, “We the people….” is more than a piece of paper; successful lawyers regard it as the true, abiding spirit of our nation. If this is your own, personal core value, then you will make a wonderful lawyer!

The next time you ask yourself, “Can I be a lawyer?” think about Abraham Lincoln, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and fictional attorney Atticus Finch. A current world leader, the first woman on the Supreme Court, and a country lawyer who, in a Pulitzer-prize winning novel, risked his life to see justice done; all must have, at some time asked themselves, “Can I be a lawyer?”  But the more important question is should I be a lawyer?  You need to learn as much as possible regarding law school and the practice of law before committing to law school.

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