I studied legal philosophy in my undergrad. Here’s why I’m not going to law school.
People often describe me as an “extreme person.”
Being a hypochondriac, a slight pelvic pain is enough to send me down the rabbit hole of Wiki pages. After which, I, of course, discover I have a rare, untreatable parasite that is most commonly found in Papua New Guinea. I will obsess over this for days, maybe even weeks (I am a lot of fun!).
If a cute boy doesn’t text me back within 10 minutes, I fantasize about packing up my dog and booking a cheap flight to Japan. “Oscar, We’re leaving!” I tell my dog as he stares up at me with a look that says, “Whatever, Mom. You say that every week.”
When I was in my first year of University, I thought that going to law school would be the ONLY hope for my humanities degree.
Me? Extreme? No way.
For some undergrads, law-school is a logical next-step. But for many, it’s not. If you are planning to go to law school for any of the following reasons:
→ “I’m good at arguing.”
→ “My dad went to Osgoode.”
→ Or, my favourite answer, “I want to be like Harvey Specter from SUITS”
You may want to explore other options.
I’ve spent four years studying legal philosophy and listening to the narratives of my professors. What have I learned? That going to law school for the wrong reasons will earn you nothing more than crippling debt and three torturous years of wishing you were somewhere else.
If you are seriously considering law school, read this and then ask yourself if it’s still for you.
“I want to make the world a better place.”
I went to McMaster to be part of the Honours JPPL program. Justice, Political Philosophy and Law. (No, it is not “like political science”).
If I had to give you a Sparknotes description of the program, I would say that it’s heavily philosophy based, focused on unpacking the normative functions of our legal systems.
I remember the day I applied.
Vividly. I sent a supplementary application to the chair of the philosophy department. Eagerly pitching my case for why I deserve a seat, I wrote; “as a dedicated vegan, my passion for animal welfare has turned into a drive to explore the varying perceptions of ethics and its influence in the law and justice sector.” I know what you’re probably thinking. An ad hoc attempt at painting myself to be a social justice warrior.
But how closely linked are law and morality, actually?
Does being a lawyer actually mean you’re going to bring ethical change to the world?
In Canada, the average starting salary for an Intellectual Property lawyer is around $88,000 a year. The average salary is around $125,000 a year. For the average Tax lawyer, an entry-level salary is looking at approximately $74,000 a year, the median being $105,000 and the most experienced lawyers earning up to $148,000 dollars a year. Entry-level salaries for Real Estate lawyers are a bit higher, starting at $95,000 and the highest paid to earn around $190,000 a year!!
You know how much you’d be earning working in public interest law? Entry level would start around $45,000 a year. With five years experience, you’re looking at $58,000.
For those of you that are not familiar with public interest law, it is the sector that deals with protecting the under-represented and marginalized people in society. For instance, those living in poverty or in unsafe living conditions. It should not be confused with a field of law, but it is more to do with the clientele that a lawyer would represent. If you want to restore justice to the people that are most subject to systemic abuse, you are looking at an incredibly low salary in respect to other areas of law.
At an average salary, are you still as inclined to dedicate your career to that sector?
You don’t need a fancy law degree to be a social justice warrior.
When we’re not actively killing industries, eating tide pods and complaining about the housing market, we millennials are formulating opinions on things more than previous generations.
And rightfully so. We are unique in that most of us have both a post-secondary education and technology at our disposals.
With the expansion of both technology and education, undergraduates, especially arts students, have the ability to channel educated opinions and critical knowledge of the world through creative means.
Write something powerful. Film something powerful. Just be innovative.
The internet is an incredible tool. If you don’t believe me, look at the #MeToo movement.
A two-word hashtag used to address the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment primarily in the workplace. Social activist, Tarana Burke, used the phrase to give people a glimpse of how widespread the problem really is. In fact, during the Golden Globes this month, actors and actresses banded together in full black attire to stand in solidarity with the #MeToo movement. Oprah gave a breath-taking speech that reached the hearts of many, especially women, across the globe.
My point, is that we are living in an era where our voices are being heard and our opinions matter increasingly. Although using a fancy law degree is one way to do it, there are infinite possibilities to advocate for social justice.
It’s fuuuuuuucking expensive.
Let’s break this down a bit.
The average cost of an Honours B.A degree (a minimum requirement for most law-schools) is about $6,500 a year. For four years, that’s around $26,000 not including rent if you’re living away from home, textbooks, groceries and “fun” money.
The University of Toronto is one of the best law schools in Canada, it asks for $30,000 a year. Next up we have Osgoode, coming in hot at around $22,000 a year. In third place, we have Western, a solid $18,000 a year.
We’re millennials. We can’t afford this shit.
How are we supposed to be social creatures while paying off university loans, all the while paying $30,000 a year for law school?
Even the payoff is a toss-up. Assuming you have the grades to get into a reputable law-school, and assuming that you kill your LSATS, and assuming that you make it through all years of law school and pass the bar. You still have not dodged the instability of the current hiring climate.
It’s competitive AF.
“Become a lawyer,” they said. “It’ll be worth it,” they said.
A New York Times article showed that in 2013, 67 percent of law graduates in the United States were employed within a year of graduation. But the majority of those students came from the most elite law schools including Duke, Yale, Cornell etc. In 2014, 71 percent of students were able to obtain full-time employment post-graduation. Even with the slight increase, that still means that a quarter of graduates are either unemployed or obtaining jobs that they are significantly overqualified for, many of which do not carry the crippling weight of law school debt.
Although the New York Times does not offer much insight into the current Canadian job market, it does speak to the growing competition within the legal sector as a whole.
In fact, also in 2013, Ontario’s Lakehead University opened a law school giving priority to Aboriginal applicants as an initiative to give Northern students better access to legal education. With the expansion of the University comes a bridging of certain cultural gaps, but it also contributes to the already large pool of law graduates who will soon be looking for a career in law.
I live in a constant state of panic. But if I can wrap my head around the idea that there might actually be something out there for me other than law school, I know you can too.
If you want to go to school for philosophy or any humanities program for that matter, I would highly recommend it. Even if you choose not to pursue law, it gives you a foundation to critically analyze facts, to challenge the status quo and to formulate substantial opinions on topical matters. All of which are valuable skills that you can apply to careers outside of the legal sector.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.