So you went to law school. Didn't we warn you about that? All joking aside, what's done is done. Right now, you have to stop beating yourself up over making the decision to attend law school. Whether you're paying sticker at a TTTT or attending a T14 with a named scholarship, this is not the time to focus on what else you could've done with your life besides hating your life in law school. This is a time for the following things that I will outline and talk about below:
1) Reflection on your law school experience
2) Deciding whether or not you will drop out
3) If yes, what steps to take personally and financially
5) Moving on
You may recognize some of these as being similar to the stages of grief. Well, for many of you considering dropping out, law school was not a decision you made hastily. The dream of becoming a lawyer is not something that I am asking you to casually throw out the window. Take a second and 1) Reflect on your law school experience.
1) Reflection on your law school experience
What are some things you enjoyed about law school? Did you enjoy meeting new people who you shared a common goal with? Did you become a more outgoing person through networking and attending bar review? Have you found a new personal mission by studying inequalities in the law that affect the homeless? Write these things down. They are important, and you have gained something from these experiences. As you move forward, remind yourself that just because law school was not right for you, you now know some things that will make a job or program of study one that will captivate and enrich you.
Now write down why you are thinking about leaving your law school. Are you dissatisfied with your grades or job prospects? Has a family member become ill, leaving the burden of their care on your shoulders? Has your financial situation changed? If you have a spouse or family member that you trust, you may want to bring these things to their attention. However, keep in mind that they may not understand the legal market. Do not hold this against them.
I would also like to take this moment to advocate seeing a therapist. Your school should provide someone to talk to, and there is almost certainly someone in your area who will see you at little to no cost. The stress brought on by this decision can be life-altering. Talk to nearly any student who has ever been in this situation and they will tell you that until they talked to someone, they didn't realize how much stress they were carrying on their shoulders. Talking to someone can help you see this decision in a different light, or make your desire to go with an option even stronger.
2) Deciding whether or not you will drop out
After you've talked to someone you trust (and hopefully a therapist) and reflected on how you've changed over your time in law school, it's time to 2) decide whether or not you will drop out. People may give differing advice on this, but in my opinion, once you make a decision, stick with it. Waffling and making the decision seem reversible will torture you and those you care about. Be firm, and take that time to reflect on your experience to make this decision truly final.
Some people you might want to consult include the Dean of Students at your school, who can help you decide whether a leave of absence or complete withdrawal is best for you. Don't be shy - the person in this position has spoken to many students in this situation before. While you don't have to pour your heart out to them, they might be able to give you some clarity in your decision-making process. You also might want to speak with Career Services. Career Services can be a great resource for not only talking about what you can do with your law degree if you're feeling discouraged, but also for tips if you decide to pursue non-legal jobs. You might even find that talking to someone in Career Services, if you have developed a relationship with them, is easier than speaking with the Dean of Students right away.
3) Steps to take personally and financially
From here, I'm going to focus on those that have decided to drop out of law school and 3) what steps to take personally and financially. First, you're going to need to talk to your school's Dean of Students and fill out some withdrawal paperwork. This is surprisingly painless and efficient. Just schedule a meeting, fill it out, and be on your way. You don't have to give them too much detail. Next, you should let the people who are most important and supportive in your life know what's up. You don't have to tell your facebook friends, your distant great uncle, or everyone at your law school. It's like if you have to cancel your wedding - let people who are not in your inner circle find out from word of mouth. You don't, and shouldn't have to deal with them face to face. Now is the time to surround yourself with people who love you no matter what your decision.
In the financial sense, here's what you need to know. Scholarships and grants do not need to be paid back. You may even be eligible to receive a full refund of loans you were using for the semester if you dropped out early enough. Contact your financial aid department for more information on your school's stance on that, because it can vary from school to school.
You're like, come on, tell me about my private and or Grad PLUS loans! You're probably stressing about your loans, right? Don't panic. Those loans aren't going to come due right away. You have about 6 months to a year after leaving school before they will require some sort of payment. This website will have every federal loan in your name: https://www.nslds.ed.gov/nslds_SA/. It shows when you took them out, when they will be due - everything. It may take some time for it to update after you make it clear to your school that you will not be returning. If it does not update, you should call and inform them of your situation - you're not "lucky you don't have to pay on time" - there may be another issue, such as multiple records of your address of even someone using your social security number. Make sure you ask about consolidating your federal loans if your balance is especially high.
As for those pesky private loans (if you have any) you'll want to check out your interest rate. Some of your private loans will likely have higher interest rates than your federal loans, and so you may want to consider paying those off more quickly.
Are you in a situation where paying your loans at all will be a financial burden/impossibility? Don't forget about deferment. You can defer payment for several reasons. The period of deferment varies from lender to lender, but you can defer up to three years for unemployment, underemployment, continued education or military service. Just remember that deferment isn't a permanent solution, and try to avoid forbearance at all costs. Forbearance can keep you from owning a home and maintaining good credit.
Now that we've navigated what for many of you has been the scary stuff, here's what was hardest for me. 4) Acceptance.
You have to accept that this part of your life journey is now over. Law school didn't work out for you. At first, I didn't struggle with the decision much. My grades were average at a T1, I hated law school, and I had a couple job leads (that worked out in the end, if you're wondering, dear reader - there is hope) so I knew I couldn't stay. But when I started saying goodbye to the friends I'd made, and made arrangements to move out of my cozy 1L apartment, I panicked.
What comes next? What do I tell people about the year I've spent reading case law and figuring out how to do things that I will now never do? Will my friends make fun of me? Will I ever find work I love? Am I a failure?
You are not a failure. For someone like you, reader, who has been successful and smart all their life, this is probably what you feel like. But you're not a failure. You tried something, and it just wasn't for you. Or maybe it is for you, but it's not financially feasible right now, or your family needs your attention. This is not the end of the road.
TLS folks will be mad that I am saying this, but you are special. You are special, and you are loved by those around you. No one will give up on you because of this. And you shouldn't give up, either. You must accept that this is a chapter in your life that has to close for right now, but that a new one is beginning. Remember that therapist I told you to talk to? Get in touch with them and get those fears and feelings out in the open.
None of us really knows what we're doing. Adulthood is full of figuring out what you want out of life. It's full of struggle but also full of hope. Keep that hope with you. The negativity of law school might've made hope seem a little cliche, but we all need hope. Hope is that thing that makes us get up and look forward to a new day. Put that hope in your heart and look to it when you're having trouble facing the world after law school. It will help you find acceptance.
5) Moving on
You know what, fellow drop out? I'm so proud of you. And why am I so proud of you? Because you're 5) moving on.
Whether you move on physically, like to a new city or new job, or not, you're moving on. Each day you get further away from the stress and burden you felt as a law student. Moving on is like the last step of a 12 step program - it never really ends. I'm still moving on. You might have days where you feel a pang of regret. You might have days where you wonder why you didn't leave sooner. Acknowledge that thought, and release it to the universe.
So you're thinking, okay, I'm sick of your hippie bullshit about therapy and acceptance and the universe. What if I really regret this decision and want to go back someday? Well, as it turns out when you start law school, you have 7 years total to finish. So if you drop out having completed 1L, you have 6 years to complete 2L and 3L. You can't start 2L in that last year, though, because you won't have time to complete the degree. See: --LinkRemoved-- "Standard 304(c) A law school shall require that the course of study for the J.D. degree be completed no earlier than 24 months and no later than 84 months after a student has commenced law study at the law school or a law school from which the school has accepted transfer credit."
Dear friend, I hope this has helped you make a healthy decision about your law school career. Please PM me with any questions you might have, or comment below. Also, if there is something specific you feel I should address, I am open to suggestions and edits.
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