I think the answer to that question depends upon the reason you decided to go to law school in the first place. If you want to be a lawyer because you think you'll make a lot of money, this might very well be a good time to consider other alternatives. A decent plumber or other tradesman can earn fifty dollars per hour or more. You'll likely have a lot less stress and probably won't have to work many nights.
On the other hand, if you want to be a lawyer because the law and its workings are interesting (and perhaps even fascinating to you), in my opinion, it's as good a time as any to begin the practice of law. Here's why:
1. The entire economy is presently in the tank. It will likely not remain so. Pretty much all disciplines, including plumbers, are presently having a hard time finding a job. There really are few bright spots, in terms of companies that are still hiring like they were a few years ago. About the only sectors that are growing at present are health care, education and government (that said, if those areas interest you more than the practice of law, then you should go for it. Other than a medical degree, almost any other educational path you choose will probably be less costly than a law degree.)
However, as far as the rest of the economy goes, in the long term, a law degree will probably enable you to find a decent job when your peers with other educations may still struggle. This is because the training that you will receive as a JD has many other applications besides the practice of law. The reading, reasoning, research and analytical skills that you will develop have applications in a variety of jobs.
This versatility is why JDs become newscasters, editors, managers, executives and can engage in many other non-law related occupations. Howard Cosell, Ben Stein, Mahatmas Ghandi, Fred Thompson, Geraldo Rivera and something like 40% of our Congress can't be wrong. A law degree is one of the few post-graduate curricula that provides a general, as well as specialized education. As a lawyer you can practice law. But you can also do many other things. However, non-lawyers (e.g. doctors, plumbers, accountants and the like) cannot practice law without a law degree and license.
2. You may actually want to become a lawyer. You enjoy reading, thinking, analyzing, researching and all the other indicia of law practice. In short, the study and practice of law are interesting to you and as a result, you will likely find reward as a lawyer. Not to personalize this, but I worked almost twenty years in jobs that I didn't really enjoy. I have yet to have a day as a lawyer that I have not enjoyed. The work is interesting, stimulating and I find that it fulfills my need to solve problems and help people.
Does it make sense to make a long-term decision in light of short-term economic conditions? If you want to be a lawyer, then become one. Depending upon the length of the current downturn, you may have to work for less than you planned or in a job with less prestige, but anything you do will accrue to your skillset as a lawyer. Spend this time developing your craft and gaining the experience that will pay dividends down the road.
Which brings me to my next point:
3. Rather than rethink your decision to become a lawyer, maybe now is a good time to rethink your school choice. Traditional wisdom is that law students "should go to the best law school they can get into." This is because an Ivy League education, especially for those who do well academically, have historically been a guarantee of a high-paying large firm job.
In my opinion, this phenomenon has also created a strange paradox: to get those high paying jobs requires a law degree that costs a great deal of money. As first year associates' salaries have skyrocketed, so have law school tuitions. You make more, but then you have to because you owe so much on your law student loans.
However, there are plenty of decent state schools out there, where you will receive a great education, pass the bar, get licensed and go to work as a lawyer. Further, there are part-time programs where you can work and earn your law degree. In other words, you don't necessarily have to go into infinite debt to become a lawyer.
You may be asking yourself whether you can get a job with a "Local U" law degree. The simple answer is: "absolutely." After all, these schools have been minting lawyers for decades; many if not most end up working as lawyers. Will you get a job with a top Wall Street firm? Maybe not. But if you do very well at "Local U" you will likely end up with good job opportunites. Plenty of people before you have.
And don't get me wrong. An Ivy League law school education is a very desirable accomplishment. My point, however, is that you may not need one in order to have the career satisfaction you seek. And if you add the risk presented to the new lawyer by a great deal of debt, compounded by potential unemployment, it make make more sense to consider a lower cost school (I should add at this point, that many schools, including Ivy League schools also offer loan forgiveness programs for graduates engaging in certain kinds of public service/interest law. This could very well make the economic stress faced by new graduates more palatable.)
If legal employers can help new lawyers move past the "Ivy League Paradox", we very well could see a paradigm shift in the employment opportunities for new lawyers. A graduate from "Local U" may not need to make $180,000/ year in order to survive. And further, with associates starting their own firms and developing creative ways of practicing law, we may be on the verge of that paradigm shift.
Will it be as easy to find a job when you graduate in three years as it was for graduates three years ago? Who knows. But I would never give up on a dream because I feared short-term job prospects.
The real question you should ask yourself is: "Do I really want to be a lawyer." As I've said repeatedly in these posts, if you want it bad enough, you will become a lawyer. You just will. And while you're at it, pick up a copy of my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009).