Some law students enter their program with expectations of fighting injustices like they have seen on popular TV courtroom dramas. But the realities of law school can quickly become overwhelming.
Becoming a lawyer requires extensive education, testing and commitment. And law school often comes with a hyper-focused culture of competition and achievement.
The constant pressure to be the best — to have the best grades, to get the best summer internship, to work for the best law firm or agency — can make any law student question their chosen path.
If you’re considering leaving law school, you’re likely juggling a difficult decision, conflicting emotions and a heavy student debt burden. Here’s what to do if you fail out of law school or choose to drop out, including how to assess your repayment options for your law school loans.
Reasons students drop out of law school
There are many circumstances that could cause a student to consider dropping out of law school. Some law students experience a form of “perceived failure” that can cause them to question their purpose. For example, many students are accustomed to receiving top marks as an undergraduate and are shocked to find law school is not only a lot harder but also more competitive in terms of getting to the top of the class.
Additionally, some lose interest in law once they’re in the trenches of law school, and still others discover new passions along the way. Law students also face a multitude of external factors that can influence their decision to leave, such as:
- Experiencing a major life event (e.g. having a child or caring for an ill family member)
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Fear of having an unmanageable amount of student loan debt
- Concerns about potential job opportunities
- Decline in mental or physical health, including high levels of stress, anxiety and fatigue
Although this isn’t an exhaustive list, each of these situations can be intensified under the strain of law school.
4 things to consider before dropping out of law school
You might be facing multiple obstacles that can sway your decision to leave law school. Before making a final choice, consider the following:
1. Be honest about your true reasons for leaving
Dropping out of law school is a big decision that requires careful consideration, including identifying the root cause of your desire to leave.
If you’re considering dropping out because you aren’t confident in your abilities or feel like you’re falling behind, reach out to your academic advisor, mentor or trusted professor. Your learning style may not match how many law professors teach.
For example, you may find the Socratic method of teaching intimidating and stressful. Additional resources might be helpful to get you through the material until the teaching method becomes more natural.
If you’re struggling with an issue outside of law school (e.g. feelings of homesickness, depression or anxiety), you might benefit from talking with a counselor. They can help you work through what you’re feeling and get you additional care if needed.
Once you’ve pinpointed the true reason you want to leave law school, you can decide whether to stay or leave based on what’s best for you in the long run.
2. Figure out your long-term goals
Even if you had a career plan going into law school, your goals might change over time. Ask yourself questions like:
- Does a law degree still fit into my long-term goals?
- Will a law degree help me achieve the salary and job satisfaction I want?
- Will combining a law degree with my other passions open the door to new possibilities in the future?
If you need help answering questions like these, consider reaching out to your university’s career services office. They can help you assess your strengths and weaknesses, while mapping out your long-term goals. They might also point you in the direction of a law-related career that you haven’t even considered.
3. Explore alternative career options
If you’re considering dropping out of law school, you might feel like you’re alone. You aren’t.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt, broadcast journalist Diane Sawyer and legendary football coach Vince Lombardi all dropped out of law school and went on to have wildly successful careers.
And plenty of non-celebrities choose to change career paths every day for a variety of reasons.
The key to making a successful educational or career transition is to have a plan in place before you leave law school, whether that’s entering a new academic program, pursuing an entirely new field or giving yourself a set amount of time to figure out your next move.
4. Consider how your law school loans will be affected
Depending on where you are in your academic journey, it might make the most financial sense to complete your law degree. But you don’t necessarily have to feel trapped into staying in law school just because you’ve already taken out a large amount of student loan debt. Consider these options for handling your student debt.
Option A: Use PSLF to drop out of law school
If you’re planning on leaving law school, you can work at an eligible government or nonprofit employer that qualifies under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.
With PSLF, your loan payment is calculated under an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan like REPAYE or PAYE. These plans use 10% of your discretionary income to determine your monthly student loan payment, not how much you owe, which means it doesn’t matter whether you owe $50,000 or $500,000 in federal loans.
You’ll only have to make 10 years’ worth of qualifying payments before your remaining balance is forgiven tax-free. By using PSLF to your advantage, you can drop out of law school and pursue a different career or academic path.
Option B: Plan on using IDR forgiveness to pivot to a new career
If you don’t work for a PSLF-qualifying employer, you can still take advantage of loan forgiveness with an IDR plan.
Your monthly payment will be calculated based on 10% to 15% of your income, but you’ll have to make 20 to 25 years of qualifying payments. Also, this option will incur a tax penalty on the final forgiven balance.
With proper planning, you can offset this future tax bomb by dedicating a set amount of your income to a non-retirement savings account each month.
Get a customized repayment plan for your law school debt
Although many law school obstacles can be overcome with help, sometimes dropping out can make sense.
If you find yourself exploring alternatives to law school, our team of consultants can walk you through various student loan repayment strategies that are unique to your situation. This tailored advice can help you make the best decision when it comes to sticking it out with law school or moving forward on a new path.
Schedule a one-hour consult today to receive a customized student loan repayment plan.