Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard of Casey Anthony--the 25-year-old woman who had allegedly murdered her 2-year-old daughter. She was found "not guilty" this week. Her trial has rocked the media for some time, putting much focus on the prosecution and defense lawyers. Surely both gentlemen have made healthy sums from this case, and the prestige and intrigue of their high-profile jobs is enough to attract any student. If you're considering practicing law, know that not everyone is awarded highly-televised murder cases.
Becoming a lawyer is a noble, well-respected career move, but it can come with some downsides that one might not expect. Case in point: In 2009, 53,508 new lawyers passed the bar exam with only 26,239 openings in the field. Despite an economy in the tank and a market that caused 15,000 legal positions to miraculously disappear from the nation's largest firms, law schools are pumping out more new lawyers than the economy needs. The result yields classes of graduates hundreds of thousands in debt with zero prospects for entry-level work.
Here's a warning: DO NOT TAKE LAW SCHOOL LIGHTLY. You must love legal work and not expect the flashy lifestyles perpetrated by the media and college recruitment campaigns. It is true that lawyers can earn six-figure salaries, but having a law degree does not guarantee this privilege. The Wall Street Journal broke it down like this: "The legal profession is really two professions: the elite lawyers and everyone else." Basically, if you're not graduating from a top 10 law school, your chances of earning high sums are greatly decreased. "Tier three" school graduates, on the other hand, can earn a $60,000 median salary. This is still a good wage, but The New York Times estimates a need of about $65,000 per year to stay ahead of law school debt.
You may think, "Well, 60 grand is still pretty good. After all, law schools report that 93 percent of grads have jobs." This doesn't necessarily mean legal positions, however. Law schools have been known to actually count graduates working where their degree is not needed. Waitresses? Check. Cashiers? Check check. I'll say it again: In today's economy, be sure that what you're educating yourself in is really what you're passionate about. Do not focus solely on perceived earning potential or you might be disappointed.
If you're not deterred, then maybe it's the right path for you. Like every profession, some make it and some don't. If you're one of the lucky ones, maybe you'll land the next murder case like Jose Baez. Just don't blow your entertainment deal like he did. Missing out on your client's fame from escaping the death penalty would be a real shame.