Thursday, September 2, 2010

Who Should Go to Law School?

My main squeeze suggested that I write about this topic.  Perhaps he thinks I'm too one sided when it comes to the law school debate.  I probably am.  However, there are a few people who I would suggest should go to law school--very few.  If you fulfill the following criteria, then I am on board with you going to law school and I'll dance at your graduation.
  1. If you get into a T8 school;
  2. If you get get a full ride or borrow, at most, $40K;
  3. If you can live at home or with a spouse that will pay your living expenses or if you are independently wealthy; and
  4. If you worked for a small firm for at least a year, and still want to practice the law.
Then, once you have finished your first year, you can continue with my blessing if:
  1. You placed in the top 25% of your class and
  2. You secured a summer associate position.
Notice #10, Duke Law?  My point exactly.  T8 or fugetaoutit.
Let me explain:
  • I think that a T8 will be prestigious enough to weather this financial storm.  
  • If you get a full ride, then you are free to work wherever you'd like or--more honestly--doing whatever you can find. You should never borrow more money than you think you will earn in a year.  I think $40K is a safe bet for lawyers these days. That's a great starting salary in NYC from my observations.
  • I had a substantial scholarship for tuition, but it's easy to lose site of the cost of rent and food and other expenses.  Therefore, if you want to do it right, you should have all of your expenses paid for by your parents or by your spouse.  When you're 22 years old and you have $10K in your bank account (from Sallie Mae), it's so easy to spend the money frivolously.  But when you pay back that $10K, it will be be $30K.  So, when you buy a Starbucks coffee for $4, if you're buying it with borrowed money, it's a $12 coffee.  Remember that.  Of course, if you're independently wealthy then these issues don't pertain to you.
  • I worked for a small firm and there were many kids that worked there while in college.  They all hated the small firm environment and what we did for a living, but still wanted to go to law school.  Why? Did they think they were better than us?  Here's the cold, hard truth--you will be lucky to find a job in shit law.  So, if you work there, and you don't like it--don't bother going to law school. If you thrive in that sort of atmosphere, welcome to the profession!  At least, by working in a small firm, you will have a good grasp of the worst case scenario.  Well, that's not entirely true.  The worst case scenario would be not finding a job at all.
  • Once you've finished your first year, that's it. Your future is decided.  If you didn't do well, there is no trophy if you keep on keeping on.  You are screwed out of all of the great opportunities for law students.  You won't land a summer associate position that will give you premier employment. You're done.  Cut your losses and get out.


  1. Angel, this is somewhat unrelated, but I was wondering what you thought of companies that prep people for the LSAT and the instructors that work for those companies. Do you feel, for instance, that Kaplan is "in on" the scam? Do you feel that its instructors have an obligation to tell their classes of bright eyed hopefuls of the woes that await them? Even if it goes against company policy? I am curious as to your thoughts.

  2. Yes. I do feel that they are benefiting from the scam. They are the fleas on the backs of the birds that eat ticks off of the rhinos, so to speak. But, they will go down with the law school industrial complex in due time. I don't feel the same about BARBRI which is necessary to pass the bar, since law schools are so inept at preparing you for the bar exam. My KAPLAN instructor was not so gun ho about law school, but never spoke out against it exactly. Now I know why. He was probably pissed because he was a GTL grad with no real legal job (in 97, mind you). Anyways, I digress. Kaplan is not to blame so much as law schools. So I am not hating on them.

  3. Great advice from a realistic point of view. Of course, many that are entering Law School are not very realistic because of age or that elusive Lawyer dream. I think you may have missed a point or two. What if it's not about the money? What if a person has a genuine desire to help people? Hang their piece of paper on the wall, and help the indigent? I know there are certain needs that have to be met, thank you Maslow, but I also know that some people go beyond the normative demands of society. I'm no freaking Mother Teresa, trust me on that one, but I want to help. I think being an attorney, albeit a poor one, is a good career path for an optimist that truly doesn't care about money.

  4. Wendell Oliver Worthington, IIISeptember 3, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    "Yale or fail."

  5. Well, if you follow my guidelines, #1-4, then you will be in a great place to help people. When you want to help indigents, money becomes more of an issue than ever. If you go to law school on loans, helping the poor becomes cost prohibitive. You will have to get a high paying job to survive, in which case Part 2, #1 an 2 become pertinent. So, it's always about the money.

  6. "So, it's always about the money."

    I agree. When Sallie Mae comes knocking, she doesn't care about all the nice things you've done to help people.

    Besides, most people who don't care about money actually do care more than they realize. Society teaches us to pretend to ourselves and others that money isn't that important. Society tells us that we should feel ashamed about wanting money and many people internalize this feeling.

    The fact is that you need a good deal of income to lead a basic middle class life, i.e. to have a decent house in a good neighborhood with decent schools; and so on. There is no shame at all in aspiring to this.

  7. And the grass isn't always greener, either...

  8. Realistically put. Especially true about the First Year outcome. There are no "attaboys" or rewards for "toughing it out". Those grades gotta be there 1L. Not fair, but true.

  9. Hell, I graduated number 8 in my class (albeit from a TTT), was on Moot Court Board and still never got any job offers. Pfft.

  10. I like your take on living expenses. It's easy to look at the numbers and see "Well, it's going to cost me $100k, and I'll end up paying back $250k" and not really be able to tell the difference between the two. It's a huge number and you're paying over a long period of time; not something our brains are really meant to comprehend.

    But, if you ask yourself "would you spend $10 for that coffee?" it becomes easier to understand how awful debt is.

  11. Whatever happened to debt be damned? Safe Sex be damned? Life is for the short term. Where is my Hammer album? Oh, wait...I am really stuck in the 80's. Never mind. Ha.

  12. I just want to add one thing: you should also go if you have some other distinguishing characteristic about yourself that will set you apart from the pack.

    For example, I'm a patent prosecutor. The valedictorian from Yale by definition cannot do my job if she doesn't have the requisite pre- law school background.

    Even within this niche, the law student should look for things in their record that will set them aside from others seeking a prosecution job; such as an advanced engineering degree, technical work experience, etc.

    The law student who wants to deal with licensing in the digital music realm, for example, will be setting themselves ahead of the pack if they have separate pre-law experience in that particular industry.

  13. Love your blog, but don't hate on Duke Law.



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