Is This A Phase?

Ron's son plans to enter law school when he finishes his undergraduate business program. Ron's wife wants to let their son enter law school. Dave suggests he have some serious conversations with his son first.

QUESTION: Ron in Austin has a son in college. His son plans to enter law school when he finishes his undergraduate business program. Ron and his wife have no mortgage and no debt. His wife wants to let their son go ahead and enter law school. They have $750,000 in the bank and a $500,000 paid-for house. Dave suggests he have some serious conversations with his son.

ANSWER: He has a great work ethic, or he wouldn’t be sitting where he’s sitting. He does know how to work. It’s just not in the “workaday world.”

There’s value to both sides of this argument to say that you need to get some work experience to figure out if that’s really what you want to do or not. It’s hard to figure that out when you’re a sophomore in college. And then there’s value to saying that a high percentage of people who leave school promising to return someday never do, and he may never go be the attorney he might have been. He’s obviously a bright kid, too. Certainly, SMU law school would be strong. The other thing is I don’t guess you have to make that decision right now. I think you’ve got a little bit of time to make the decision.

I’m not going to recommend he go into debt to do this. But I think the thing that needs to be discussed with him is what type of law would he like to practice, and try to find someone in the area that you guys know who he can go shadow for several days this summer, because he may just be enamored with it because he won that little competition. But when he gets in and figures out what lawyers actually do all day, he may lose his enthusiasm for the whole thing. It may have been just because he did a mock trial. Not every lawyer is a litigator. Most of them aren’t. It requires a certain personality style, and it’s not what you see on television to be a quality litigator.

I would recommend he intern a couple of summers actually shadowing the type of law that he’s thinking of going into. Then if he’s really bent on it and you kind of test him out and he carries some of it by working in the summers and he’s going to save up some money and pay for part of this process, then if I were in your shoes, I would probably back him. But I’m going to push back and test his resolve for this process because you sure don’t want to half-do law school. All you get then is the bills. You don’t get the income. What people forget about education—and they forget about it when they go into debt to do it all the time—is not everybody finishes school. As a matter of fact, almost half of the people who start don’t finish. And not everybody who graduates from law school can even pass the bar. You’ve got to play all the way through for this to even make economic sense.