Thinking About Lawschool? Some Advice From A Law Student.
I recently answered a question from someone about going to Law School. I’d like to reproduce my (fine-tuned and edited) answer here for the benefit of anyone who is thinking about Law School.
First, there is a ton of literature that I suggest you read before deciding to go to lawschool. The legal market right now is very tough because the market is a) flooded, and b) the recession has not spared the legal profession. I will have over $200,000 in debt when I graduate, which means that I am seriously considering pursuing a career as a JAG officer in one of the branches of the military so I can get access to loan forgiveness programs. And there have been many articles written in the past several years about the prospects of legal graduates. Some exaggerate the gloom and doom in my opinion, but the more info, the better. Here’s a smattering of articles to get you started:
Secondly, there is a spat of lawschools which are being sued right now for fraudulent reporting of after-graduation employment statistics. Cooley and NY Law are the two high profile cases right now:
in other words, be VERY meticulous in your search for potential schools. don’t be afraid to scrutinize, contact alumni, and ask pointed questions.
Third, rankings in law school are a huge deal. There are generally 4 tiers in the law school rankings. I highly advise that you do not go to a Tier 4 school. This will hurt your prospects of employment when you graduate. I go to a tier 3 school (Albany Law School). Albany has a very rich history, well-published professors and some prestigious alumni (including a former Supreme Court Justice) all of which help. For better or worse, the reputation of the school matters.
Fourth, which schools you can get into depends nearly entirely on your LSAT score. Whereas undergraduate schools don’t focus on SAT scores specifically, Law schools place roughly 80% of their focus on LSAT performance. This may seem unfair, but the reason they do this is because Bar Passage Rates actually mirror LSAT performance fairly consistently; so admitting too many students with average or low LSAT scores is a fairly good predictor of loweing your school’s Bar Passage Rate, which can be a death-knell for a school’s academic reputation, Tier rankings, and admissions. In other words, if you decide to commit, study your ass off for the LSAT. Spare no expense on study aids, and take as many practice exams as you reasonably can without burning yourself out.
Fifth, Law School is nothing like undergraduate school. I usually arrive on campus around 9:30am and I am either in class or doing work until 7:30-8pm. You can’t cut corners, and it’s extremely unwise to procrastinate. There’s no trivial material. Every single assignment is necessary to understand the subjects you’re learning, and you will cover significantly more material per class than you did during your undergraduate experience. You can’t really take days off for mental health either. You’ve got to plan your breaks and down-time ahead of schedule to avoid that.
Sixth, Law School is the first time you’re going to be exposed to a Professional Code of Ethics. Being a lawyer is not like most other jobs, where a small mistake isn’t a big deal. Making a small mistake as a lawyer can result in someone going to jail, or being convicted, or screwing a patient out of healthcare, or ruining a family’s life by screwing up their grandmother’s will in a way that makes it legally unenforceable; or forgetting to add the last “zero” in settlement paperwork that ends up screwing your client out of a ton of money. All of it is Legal Malpractice, and you are legally liable for all of it. You have got to be confident in yourself if you’re going to go to Law School, because even honest mistakes aren’t ok anymore.
Sounds intimidating and depressing, right? Well as I’m sure you can guess, it’s not all bad. Here’s the upswing:
Law school is intellectually rewarding. Everything you learn here has real-world application. As I said: nothing you learn is trivial. Everything you learn in class could easily end up in a Memorandum of Law or an Appellate Brief when you graduate. This makes it extremely interesting and engaging.
Law school peers are, in aggregate, smarter and more dedicated to their education than many of your undergraduate peers were. If you are a nerdy type, then you will probably enjoy the fact that people in Law School are typically brighter than your average student in undergrad. This is not to say that most or even all undergraduates are dumb. Far from it. What I mean is that all the kids who treated college as “highschool part 2” are gone. You’re looking at a body of kids who all at some level understand that they are making a commitment that will determine the trajectory of the rest of their life. This means that they are actually interested in the material they are studying, and you won’t necessarily feel like a dork for wanting to raise your hand in class and take a vigorous stance on something you read (though doing this too much will get you labeled a “gunner,” a term you will become very familiar with if you decide to go to Law School).
You’re not alone. Unless you go into solo practice, you’ll usually have associates to check your work for you to make sure you’re not making the type of mistakes that will expose you to Legal Malpractice. So even though you have to be meticulous and careful, you’ll have other people to check your work most of the time, and vice versa.
Finally, Law School grants you an opportunity to do something extremely meaningful with your life. Remember that every Supreme Court case that ever meant something in this country was argued by some group of lawyers. Brown v. Board ended separate-but-equal. Loving v. Virginia ended anti-miscegenation laws. Roe v. Wade gave women constitutional protection for their Right to Choose. Lawrence v. Texas made homosexual relationships legitimate. Behind all these cases was a hard-working, coffee-drinking, 14-hour day working lawyer who was trying to get justice for their client, and for society at large.
And it’s not just the Supreme Court. If you go into civil practice, you could end up fighting health insurance companies in State Court to make them pay for a cancer patient’s transplant; or bringing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of State affiliate of the ACLU to force your state to properly fund Public Defender offices so indigent Defendants aren’t constructively denied their 6th Amendment right to counsel. Or you could end up as legal counsel for a Union, negotiating with employers to make sure that the workers you represent aren’t getting screwed. Or you could end up writing the legal brief that defends some naive, innocent kid from the RIAA when they try to sue him for $1000000000000000~ dollars for illegally downloading 3 lady GaGa tracks.
So there you have it. Lots to consider. It’s a huge investment of time, debt, and responsibility. Oh, and Don’t Do It For The Money. Unless you plan on graduating in the top 10% of your class (extremely hard to do) you will probably not be starting at a very impressive salary when you graduate. Do it because you love it. Do it because you’re genuinely interested in learning the law, in being an attorney. And because you’re not afraid to work hard.
One last thing: there are a few public law schools floating around that charge ALOT LESS for tuition than most private institutions. Buffalo Law in New York is one such law school. If you do some research i’m sure you can find others.
There you have it. A brief primer for the prospective law school student, from a law school student. Hope it helps.