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When you look at a map, you may see a few ways to get to your destination.
If you use a GPS device, it will usually show you the fastest route. Most people, especially in a hustling e-speed society, take the fastest way because they can't wait to get there.
But in the immortal words of Robert Frost, taking the road less traveled can make all the difference. It is a truism for poets and lawyers, too.
Here are three major decisions you will have to make at the crossroads of your future legal career:
1. Law School
Depending on your undergraduate performance and admission test results, your law school choices may be pre-determined. Whatever your options, however, choosing the highest-ranked law school is always a good choice.
But you should think farther ahead in your legal career when choosing a law school. The best law school may open more employers' doors, but where do you really want to work?
The top law firm and corporate jobs often go to top-tier law school graduates, but some of the most successful lawyers have not come from the Ivy League. It has something to do with street smarts and the ability to communicate with others -- like jurors and business people.
2. Law Firm
Even if you are still deciding where to go to school, it is not too early to decide where -- literally -- to go to work. Location matters in the law just like in real estate.
That's because salaries and the cost-of-living are foils to each other. While BigLaw firms may pay the highest salaries, it costs a lot to live in New York City, Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles. Housing, transportation, food ... the list goes on.
In contrast, many rural communities are literally paying lawyers to practice in their towns. If you imagine yourself settling down to a country-lawyer lifestyle, there is already a place for you in the Midwest. By the way, gasoline is about $2.44 a gallon in Nebraska.
3. Law Life
Of course, whether you choose a small town practice or a big city firm, you may never have that choice again. Choosing where to live is like planting a tree: you take root and pretty soon you can't move.
That's what the poet was talking about -- making choices that will change your life. There's nothing inherently wrong with choosing the best law school, the best law firm, and the best zip code.
There are no classes on work-life balance in law school, however, and many lawyers tend to prioritize work over life. It can be a delicate and difficult balancing act.
So it's your life. At the end of the day, when there are no more career choices to be made, where do you want to be?