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Cornell University

Deciding on Law School

A juris doctor, or JD, degree can lead to a wide range of law-related careers and can open doors to careers in government, business, higher education, communications, and numerous other fields. The study and practice of law can be intellectually stimulating, plus the legal profession calls regularly on your reasoning, analytical, and communication skills. The possibility of effecting social change, setting legal precedent, and defending basic human rights attracts many who are dedicated to making a positive impact on the lives of people they serve. An expectation of prestige and high salaries is also a consideration in deciding on a legal career. 

You should explore the realities of working in the legal profession fully before reaching a decision. Legal work can require considerable time completing tedious, painstaking research and repetitive administrative tasks. Hours can be very long and often include weekends. Depending on the type of law you might practice and where you work, salaries may not meet your expectations. Therefore, it is essential to evaluate both advantages and disadvantages of the profession before making this important decision. An important step in making your decision is to learn about the ways in which employment for law school graduates is evolving. The National Association for Law Placement offers detailed information about employment and insights about where the legal field may be headed. 

Exploring Your Interests

As you carefully consider whether a law degree is right for you, there are a number of ways you can explore the field:

  • Stay informed. Register to receive e-mails about law-related programs and opportunities by completing a Student Profile on Handshake. Under your picture (or initials) icon, select “Career Interests."
    • Indicate "Graduate School" in response to the question "What options are you considering after graduation?"
    • Select "Law" in response to “Which type of graduate programs interest you?”
  • Seek advice. Talk with a career coach and take interest assessment tests (at your college career services office or in Barnes Hall) to learn if your values and interests align with what is required in the legal field.
  • Conduct research. Learn about legal careers using career resources in Barnes Hall. Investigate online resources that provide information on legal careers, law schools, and other law-related topics.
  • Consult others. Inquire about issues ranging from personal attributes needed to be successful in a legal career, to rewards and challenges associated with the legal field, balancing a legal career with one's personal life, and the employment outlook in a challenging job market.
    • Talk with family members, friends, or Cornell alumni who are lawyers.
    • Use CUeLINKS to identify, speak with, and shadow alumni.
    • Meet with a pre-law advisor in your college career office or at Career Services in Barnes Hall.
    • Discuss the law school experience with current law students and sit in on a class. Visit Cornell Law School’s website for information.
  • Experience. Gain exposure to the legal field to develop your understanding, confirm your interest, and build your skills.
    • Intern with a law firm or law-related organization while attending Cornell.
    • Take time after you graduate and before you apply to law school to hold a position as a paralegal or legal assistant in a law firm or to work in a law-related organization.

Dual Degree Options

Some applicants consider dual degree programs associated with a JD. Common dual degree programs blend the following degrees with a JD: a PhD, MD, Master’s of Public Health (MPH), Master’s in Social Work (MSW), Master’s of Public Policy (MPP), Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) and Master’s of Public Administration (MPA). Dual degrees can be valuable if the additional degree focuses on issues you are passionate about or a setting you plan to work in (academia, medicine, corporate management, patents and intellectual property, environmental science, international affairs, and public health are some examples). Keep in mind, though, that dual degrees can be expensive and time-consuming. Often, the expertise needed to work in these settings can be developed instead through work experience after you obtain your JD. Explore the potential value of obtaining a dual degree by speaking with people currently doing the work you want to do, as well as with your professors and career advisors.