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Why law school was the best $150,000 I ever “wasted”

Law school graduate who found alternative careers
Law school graduation

I really thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Society tells us it is a prestigious, lucrative, and noble career. When you tell someone you went to law school, there is an automatic increase in respect from the listener. “You went to law school? You must be so intelligent. You must be so rich. You must be so worthy.”

I went to law school because I wanted to help people. During college, I probably spent more time going door-to-door, protesting at large corporations, and writing letters to politicians than I did on my assigned coursework. I wanted to make a difference. And I was convinced that becoming a lawyer would allow me to do so. Mainly because no one ever told me that it was a bad idea. Again, society had always encouraged me to:

  1. Get a higher education

  2. Make more money; and

  3. Gain more status

So I went to law school. By my second year, I had gained over $50,000 in student loans and more than 15 pounds on my small, 5-foot figure. I had anxiety, and my hair was falling out.

Attorney on a Journey as a burned out and overweight lawyer
Me, during my 2L year in law school. The unhealthiest I have ever been in my life.

When I decided to leave my legal job for a different industry altogether, everyone around me told me that I had “wasted” my 3 years in law school. “Then why did you do it? Why did you invest all that money?”

Because it’s what I thought I wanted.

And then what I wanted, changed.

(More on why I quit the legal profession here.)

We, as a society, have major issues when someone says their passions change. Having multiple careers doesn’t represent courage, ingenuity, or growth. Instead, it represents fickleness, lack of direction, and instability. And we have major issues when someone chooses less prestige or money for health and happiness. We’d rather work until we’re hospitalized than take a pay cut to focus on our health (which we can never buy back, by the way).

I really thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Law school, and my brief time working as a lawyer, showed me that the lifestyle and career were not things I wanted.

But how would I have known that if I didn’t go to law school? How would I have learned what it took to be a lawyer if I hadn’t practiced law? After my experience, I committed to putting my mental and physical health first. It led to me discovering my passion and life purpose; now I coach other lawyers to do the same.

I went to law school because I wanted to. Then, I learned that I wanted something else. Yes, it cost me $150,000. Because law school is NOT free.

I know unhappy lawyers that have been trying to leave the law for over 10 years. That’s the real waste. It’s called the sunk cost fallacy. Specifically, the “phenomenon whereby a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial.”

I’ve met so many lawyers and professionals who never reach their full potential because they let all that time and money that they spent on law school dictate the rest of their lives. But let’s break it down: Those lawyers spent $150,000+ and at least three years of their lives in law school or the legal profession.

Does that amount of time and money justify one’s unhappiness for the rest of their life?

You can always make more money. But you can never buy more time. I had accepted that I couldn’t get those 3 years of my life back. So why waste any more time or delay? That $150,000 taught me that it was time to start the life that I wanted. And right now is the best time for anyone else, too.

Former lawyer turned travel blogger in Penghu, Taiwan
Living my best life as a paid travel blogger and life & career coach in Taiwan.

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