@6thousandmiles: I’m a new lawyer. I graduated in May 2012.
1) it is incredibly expensive to go to law school, and scholarships are few and far between. It is also a lot harder (if not impossible) to et grants because it is a secondary degree. I’m about $80K in debt (just from law school, I have no debt from college), and I took out the absolute minimum for tuition (I was lucky that my parents paid all my living expenses while I was in school), but I know a lot of people have a lot more debt than me, even though they went to the same school, because they took out more loads for living expenses. The ABA prohibits first year law students from working their first year, so that is at least one year you will have no income. Second year students are allowed to work, but it is rare to get a paying job your second year (most are unpaid internships). Just to give you an idea, my student loan payment is $1,300 a month.
2) I work at a firm as a civil litigation associate and I was incredibly lucky to get my job. I was in the top 10 in my class, and almost everyone below me is struggling. I make $65K a year, and that’s quite a bit for law first year associate in my area. The job market for lawyers everywhere is terrible. I saw a statistic that said there are more law students in the country than there are lawyers. My dad’s company had an opening for in house counsel, and they had 76 lawyers WITH PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE apply. It is so hard to get a law job right out of law school, and many firms don’t even hire people with no experience anymore. The hours are sporadic. My firm, and most firms, have a billable hour requirement. I work almost every Saturday. It sucks. I have some friends that have awesome hours (8-5, no weekends), but they work for the government and barely make enough money to live on, let alone pay back their loans. Most firms around here do not have part-time positions, so having a family is really hard. My SO is a lawyer as well, and we have no idea what we are going to so when we decide to start a family.
3) this sounds terrible, but the type for person that makes a good lawyer in the traditional sense is a very cynical one. There are obviously great lawyers who don’t fit this description, but all the legends do. As a lawyer, you always see people on the worst day of their life or close to it. Sometimes it is rewarding (most of the time it isn’t, even if you win a case), but incredibly emotionally taxing, and after a while you kind of get numb to it, which sucks because that means you kind of get numb to a lot of other emotions as well. All my professors always said the worst reason to go to law school is because you want to “change the world” or “make a difference.”
4) law school isn’t really like college where it takes people different amounts of times to finish. Everyone finishes in three years (if they finish), or possibly 2 1/2 if they chose to be miserable and take a ton of hours every semester. It’s a pretty set curriculum. I loved law school, it was a blast and I met my best friends in law school, but honestly because of the job market, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to go to law school today. I would hate to be a new graduate in 3-4 years, jobs will pretty much be non-existent by then. Law schools are actually getting in trouble for misrepresenting the statistics your getting a law job after graduation, so when you see a school that brags about having a “99% job placement rate,” it’s probably not true, or it’s very misleading at best
Oh, and no one practices international law, so I wouldn’t count on doing that after graduation. Some firms might deal with international clients, but “international law” doesn’t really exists. Most of my friends are working in areas of law that they did not originally want to work in, but It’s almost impossible to get any job, let alone a job in a particular field that you like. You gotta take what you can get. I have no idea what art law is.
Most people have no idea what lawyers actually do. If we haven’t successfully talked you out of it yet, I would strongly suggest straying to shadow a lawyer for a few days to see what they actually do. It’s not like the movies. It’s actually incredibly boring most of the time.
I’ll just say this: there’s a reason Lawyers have the highest suicide and substance addiction rates of professional careers.