Piano, Pageants & Politics

Why I’m putting off law school (and maybe you should too)

From the time I was in the 8th grade, I was pretty set on going to law school. My dedication to high school mock trial only reaffirmed this destiny (FYI, we were the state champions). I was going to study political science as an undergraduate then seamlessly transition into law school. I had it all planned out. When my name was called into the top 15 at Miss America on live television, my picture was even accompanied by the incredibly boring fact that I aspire to be a lawyer.

During my second year of college, I played the piano on Thursday nights at an upscale Thai restaurant (yes, it was as weird as it sounds). One of my most frequent patrons was a lawyer named Tom. After a few weeks of small-talking with Tom, I shared my own big lawyer dreams with him. I was surprised when he rebutted with, “you don’t want to do that”. He added, “What you do now is so much more exciting and fulfilling. People would give anything to be able to do what you do”.

It planted a seed.

I noticed my conversations with lawyers were becoming more and more identical. Some bit their tongues. Some told me straight out that law is boring. One woman in her 40’s revealed that she had just finished paying off her student loans. Ultimately, no one seemed enthusiastic about their career or the process that it took to get there.

My “A HA” moment was in Atlantic City, the morning of the Miss America arrival ceremony. A panel of very successful women in different fields were invited to speak to the contestants about their careers, successes and obstacles. One of these women was a poised, passionate (and quite stylish) attorney. I really wish I could remember her name, because she was a bad ass.

Like myself, she had initially planned on going to law school right after college. Opportunities in the modeling industry and being crowned a state titleholder changed her course of action and at 30, she decided to return to law school. She was financially stable. She had her life in order. She had already pursued her dreams in the fashion industry. By then, she knew that she really wanted to be a lawyer. As an older student, her wider perspectives and life experiences translated well in the lecture hall.

That’s when I realized, “I don’t need to do this right now.” I don’t need to rush into something I’m not 100% certain I want. Right now, I can fully focus on developing my rising music career, something that would definitely have to take a back seat if combined with the time, financial and intellectual commitments of law school.

Let’s talk about these commitment issues.

Law school is expensive. Tuition for the top 10 law schools exceeds $43,000 a year with lower-tier options not much cheaper. In fact, the average law student at a private school takes out $122,158 in loans. Let that sink in. Plus, because the market has become so saturated with lawyers, recent graduates are often forced into lower paying jobs. I did a search on the job-finding website, Indeed, to see what the salary would look like for a fresh-off-the-press attorney in Massachusetts. First of all, your lack of experience makes you ineligible for most of them. You could work as a trial attorney for the Massachusetts Division of Children/Family Law or the Mental Health Litigation Division, making $45,000 per year. A gig as an appeals attorney for the Public Defender Division will earn you $55,200 a year. And there are a couple of private firms willing to pay you $60,000. If we do some math, that comes out to roughly $30 an hour. I make more per hour teaching 7 year-olds how to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the piano. And I can wear leggings to work. Glad that 7 years of school was worth it.

Law school is really time-consuming. A common theme in my conversations with lawyers and law students is “Beware the Reading”. Apparently, they make you read a lot in law school. If you thought it couldn’t get worse as an undergrad government student having to read political philosophy in an obsolete form of English, well, you’re wrong. Apparently it does. According to one student, the commitment is 8-10 hours a day plus a full weekend day at exam time. If that wasn’t comforting enough, she adds “some would say I am underplaying it — I know some who did 12 hour weekdays plus a weekend day.” Say goodbye to your side job, your hobbies and your social life. Plus, you have to make a commitment to geographically stay in the same location for 3 years. While this isn’t too horrifying for most, that really scares me as someone working in the entertainment industry. Opportunities don’t wait for you.

I’m not saying I won’t go to law school. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to law school. But at this time, I’m not 100% committed nor ready. I can’t imagine many recent college grads are. I have so many options and opportunities in front of me right now and rushing into something so demanding and time-consuming just doesn’t make sense. Try following your crazy dream. Do something you love. In 10 years, law school will still be there waiting for you. Your 20’s won’t.

#lawschool #school #alissamusto #gradschool