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Is law school still worth it, given the high cost? How can a prospective student decide? (Video Interview)

Dean, The University of Arizona College of Law

Marc Miller, Dean at The University of Arizona College of Law, answers the questions, “Is law school still worth it, given the high cost? How can a prospective student decide?”



How do you decide whether the enormous cost — financial and human cost, three years is a long time, and a lot of opportunity — is worth it? I think that has become a harder question. It’s become a harder question both because of changes in the job market and in the economy generally. I think that’s why we’ve seen a decline in applications to law school.

I think a cold, hard, dispassionate look at what lawyers do, at what the job opportunities are, a lot of reflection about whether or not someone is willing to enter the profession through a variety of entry points…

People who go in thinking, “There’s one thing I want to do… I’ve seen a lawyer do this kind of practice and that’s what I want to do…” That kind of passion I respect, but I think in this environment, it’s the kind of passion that should lead a prospective student to hesitate, to think, “Do I really want to be a lawyer, or is there just some narrower vision I have in mind?”

We have somewhat less control, I think, as students and individuals, over precisely how our careers will unfold. I still believe that, over time, lawyers can craft, if they like what they do, if they enjoy being a lawyer, they can craft a variety of very successful careers. I think being a lawyer is a wonderful thing.

For so long I think bright students with general good language skills and good logic skills have thought, “I’m not sure exactly what I want to do, but law… Law would be a good option,” and I think that kind of casualness is no longer in order, I think a much closer reflection…

There are ways of exploring this. Traditionally, or for some time, a number of people would spend time as a paralegal. It’s a great way to see, to get a sense of, at least in the law firm or business environment, what people are doing.

There are jobs that do not require a law degree in political settings or administrative, executive branch government settings that can give people a better view, a picture of what lawyers do.

I think being a lawyer is still one of the really wonderful professions. I think intellectually, it’s challenging. I think one of the things that many law students come to see early on is that the uncertainty, which at first is frustrating, indeed it’s unnerving… What’s the answer? There is no answer. Why not? I think that uncertainty and ambiguity become part of the joy, over time, of being a lawyer. It’s rewarding to work with facts, to work with issues, to represent clients, to help people in a variety of settings.

Fundamentally, that’s what lawyers in practice are doing. We’re servants. We’re agents for other people. We’re trying to help, whether it’s a corporation or a small business or an individual in any setting, whether it’s drafting a will or helping with a custody arrangement or defending someone accused of a crime. We’re helping and representing individuals. The personal and intellectual rewards of that remain great.

For those for whom it’s right, I still think this is one of the great, great areas of professional training and practice.

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