The Jury Talks Back

6/1/2010

Law School Advice

Filed under: Uncategorized — Leviticus @ 2:41 pm

I’m going to be applying to law schools within the next six to eight months, and I was wondering if the lawyers who frequent this site had any advice they’d like to share: about where to go, which schools had good programs in what, advice about study habits, and any other general stuff that seems pertinent. Should I go to an East Coast school? I’m partial to the West – to its ways, views, and climate; and I’ve lived here all my life. But people keep telling me I should try for someplace in the East.

I like the idea of UT-Austin, or LSU, but I’d also be interested in hearing about some other good places. Any advice would be appreciated.

46 Comments »

  1. The only limitations are your LSAT, GPA and wallet, Leviticus. Everything else is how you want to live your life.

    Comment by nk — 6/1/2010 @ 4:28 pm

  2. I don’t mean this as a pointed question, nk – it’s a genuine one: do you like what you do? That’s the one thing my dad always said: “Do what you love and everything else will follow.”

    Comment by Leviticus — 6/1/2010 @ 6:58 pm

  3. Where do you want to live when you’re done? If you plan to settle on the West Coast, attend the best law school you can get into on the West Coast. if you don’t know/care where you want to settle, go to the best law school you can get into, period. Either way, start studying for the LSAT now and take it sooner rather than later. Knowing your score will give you a much better sense of where you can realistically expect to get in, what should be your safety school, etc.

    Comment by Xrlq — 6/1/2010 @ 8:10 pm

  4. It’s a demanding profession, to the point of being stressful. But you can do anything with it, from working in your dad’s real estate business to being President. It brings a good balance between intellectualism and practicality and, depending on your nature, you can emphasize either. I suppose the biggest requirement is that you must be a people person. You cannot be somebody who does not like talking to people. And, in the end, it’s indoor work with no heavy lifting.

    Comment by nk — 6/2/2010 @ 4:34 am

  5. And, yes, I like it very much. Much more twenty years ago when I had the time and energy to do what I wanted as much as I wanted, and less this month when I have to do CLE. 😉

    Comment by nk — 6/2/2010 @ 4:38 am

  6. The biggest mistake you can make is think that a J.D. and a law license are automatic tickets to a livelihood.

    Comment by nk — 6/2/2010 @ 8:44 am

  7. I was always raised to be confident in my own abilities; and that money was a thing to be wary of and keep at arm’s length, in grudging acceptance of its necessity. The last thing on my mind in considering an education in law is how much money I’ll make on the tail end.

    The indoor work aspect I’ll manage – I’ll just make sure to live somewhere out West, in answer to Xrlq’s question, so that I can get out and about once in a while.

    Comment by Leviticus — 6/2/2010 @ 11:02 am

  8. Leviticus,

    welcome to the club.

    I applied all over the place (the highest ranked school which admitted me was Bloomington), but ended up going to USF after my husband made it clear that moving was really not on the table.

    The best advice I got was: apply where you want to practice, so you can start making contacts in that community.

    My personal advice as someone still in law school would be: while I don’t think the quality of education is significantly different between a #20 and a #60 school, rankings are really, really important to getting the first job out of law school.

    I would also say: law school is *not* as hard as people make it out to be, and if you don’t maintain your life outside of law school – making time for friends and family, and doing the things which you love to do that bring you joy – it’s easy to get sucked into a neurotic corrosive law school culture which seems mostly to be driven by fear of failure rather than joy in success.

    Comment by aphrael — 6/2/2010 @ 3:08 pm

  9. I think law school is a great option because it opens so many career doors without forcing you to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. As for which law school to pick, I agree with others that the main thing is to try for the highest ranking law school in the region where you plan to live. One way to find a job is networking with other graduates, which is one reason why it’s better to stay in the region where you went to school.

    More thoughts:

    1. Regarding New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana: UT-Austin is good if you plan to stay in Texas, but all the Texas law schools have their supporters in various parts of the state. I know several UT and Tech grads that work in New Mexico but I think New Mexico and Colorado law school grads do as well or better. I’d pick a Louisiana law school if I wanted to work there since La’s laws are based on civil law and are different from what other law schools teach.

    2. Don’t take on debt if you can avoid it or take on as little as possible. There was a time when students assumed that going to a top-tier law school would guarantee a high-paying job so you could pay back $100K or more of debt. Given today’s economy, those days are probably gone for awhile.

    3. Apply to a range of schools in the region where you want to practice because schools vary each year in their application and scholarship criteria. For instance, UT wants to move up in the rankings so it has been more generous in recent years with scholarships for applicants with high LSATs and GPAs.

    Comment by DRJ — 6/3/2010 @ 1:14 pm

  10. Leviticus, I am not a lawyer nor did I attend law school at any time, but I feel I can address a part of your question. I too grew up in the West, but when I turned 18 I headed to the East Coast for college. I would suggest that experience to anyone. Living in a different part of the country exposes you to a whole bunch of experiences that you might not otherwise encounter. I eventually returned to the West, but I wouldn’t trade my time on the East Coast for anything. I would guess that I would have had interesting and rich experiences had I attended college in the Midwest or the South too.

    I do acknowledge the arguments that you should attend law school in the area in which you intend to practice. No doubt you will want to weigh the advantages of that.

    So despite not knowing what your situation is and how rooted you may be to the West, I would highly recommend that you consider experiencing a different part of the country. You will be all the richer for it.

    Comment by JVW — 6/3/2010 @ 4:18 pm

  11. JVW,

    That may be good advice for college but I’m not sure about law school. A friend’s son graduated from Michigan Law (a very good law school) almost 10 years ago and he had a very hard time finding a job in Dallas, at a time when graduates from most Texas law schools could get a job. The only advice he gave our son about law school was to avoid going out-of-state if he wanted a job in Texas. I’ve seen the same thing happen to a Yale Law grad, and that’s the #1 law school in the nation. But I’ve also seen the opposite happen when it comes to getting a job in a New Mexico firm, so maybe it’s a Texas thing.

    Comment by DRJ — 6/3/2010 @ 5:06 pm

  12. Leviticus,

    As for some of your other questions, I recommend you register early with the LSAC. It has helpful advice and information and offers a new free LSAT practice exam each month or so. Also, when it gets closer to the time you will take the LSAT, buy and take all the exams you can force yourself to take.

    The newer LSAT practice exams are supposed to be better than the older ones, but I think taking a few of each is a good idea. I also think taking the practice test is far more effective than a prep course but some people swear by LSAT prep courses. (Note that there are other prep courses like Law Preview that get you ready for your first year of law school, not for the LSAT. I think some of these courses are good but some are expensive.)

    I strongly suggest you take the June 2011 LSAT sitting if you will be taking the LSAT next year and applying to law school a year from now. If not, the June 2010 deadline has already passed so definitely take the October 2010 sitting because it gives you a chance to take another test in time for the application deadlines — in case you don’t like your first score.

    Some helpful websites are Law School Numbers and Top Law Schools.

    Work hard on your personal statement. Most schools ask for variations on the same theme so a well-done statement can probably be used on more than one application. But be careful: If you personalize the statement for a particular school or region, make sure you don’t include that in other school statements.

    Start early getting your family info for financial aid if you plan to submit that. It’s cumbersome and can be a problem if you wait until the last minute to file your applications.

    Many law schools use the Common Law School Application form. You can fill this out at your LSAC account and submit it easily to several colleges, with addendums for extra information each college needs. That’s another reason it’s helpful to get a LSAC account early, because you can start working on your forms.

    Start thinking now who you want to get recommendations from. The LSAC requires recommendations be in a specific format so you need an LSAC account to get the form. It’s best to get at least as many college professors as you can, although employers and high school teachers are also used. Be sure to ask them if they will give you a good recommendation. You don’t want a recommendation from someone who will be wishy-washy.

    Also, if possible, I suggest you submit your law schools applications at least 2 weeks earlier than the final deadlines. The addendum process (supplemental forms, essays, recommendations) can take up to a week or two to finalize so if you file on the final application deadline, your completed application may be delayed. Many of the schools say they will give you an extension but you don’t want to take a chance on being eliminated over a deadline. Plus it can make you pretty nervous for those 2 weeks.

    As for how many applications to file, it’s up to you. The process is pretty easy if you use the Common Application form, but the filing fees can pile up quickly. If you have a high LSAT, many law schools will waive the filing fee to encourage you to apply. The number varies from year-to-year but I think it applies to LSAT scores of 170 or above.

    Comment by DRJ — 6/3/2010 @ 5:42 pm

  13. One more thing: I wouldn’t worry about what to concentrate on in law school unless you are absolutely sure you want to do something like tax law or patent law. The first year of law school is pretty much the same no matter where you go, and almost everyone changes their mind (sometimes several times) about what they want to do before they graduate.

    Comment by DRJ — 6/3/2010 @ 5:54 pm

  14. Mamas, make your sons grow up to be cowboys
    don’t let them be doctors and lawyers and such…

    If you refuse that advice, I found that within medicine that the difference in atmosphere between a well regarded midwest school and well regarded east coast schools was downright culture shock, with an unhealthy tendency to pride and pomposity in the east. How much that is true in law, and whether or not it would be an issue for you, I cannot tell. But if you interview in Philly I’ll take you to dinner at the The City Tavern, and you can ask Ben Franklin’s advice if he’s in that night.

    Comment by MD in Philly — 6/3/2010 @ 6:12 pm

  15. Two more considerations: Money and practical experience.

    For example, in Chicago, I was able to get a job as a law clerk (not a docket clerk NTTAWWT) in a major law firm my first year and basically paid my way through school while also learning what real law is like. Additionally, Illinois allows third-year law students to practice law, in court, under the supervision of a licensed attorney. I imagine other states have the same. These two things are something you will find only in a big city and not a college town.

    Comment by nk — 6/3/2010 @ 6:30 pm

  16. Don’t go unless you can get into a top 20 school or get a full ride scholarship from a lesser school. For God’s sake don’t go private. Try to get into a public state school.

    “I think law school is a great option because it opens so many career doors without forcing you to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life.”

    A JD is a stain you will have to hide if you have to get a non-law job. Who would hire a lawyer for non-law? You won’t get hired as a paralegal, either, because those are usually non-lawyers or super good secretaries who moved up. Different mindset and interpersonal dynamic (with lawyers) entirely. And document review is being offshored. Don’t go unless you have family in the profession who will give you a job or have some other connections.

    The admissions offices are full of s*** about placement rates, too. The losers don’t answer the questionnaires so the schools don’t really know their own success rates.

    Don’t get all starry eyed about this and assume your future will work itself out somehow. It’s not a priesthood or army of saints.

    Don’t go…

    Comment by cassandra — 6/3/2010 @ 6:48 pm

  17. Cassandra – here in California, at least, the private schools are price competitive with the public schools, because the public schools are horrifically expensive.

    I don’t know if I’ll put my JD on my resume if I apply for other tech jobs. It’s an interesting question. (One thing I will say: for all that it’s been hard in many ways, working full time while going to law school part time has done wonders for my ability to remain disconnected from the worst parts of law school culture, has reduced my debt load significantly, and means that I have no embarassing hole in my resume. If Leviticus currently has a successful career, I’d strongly recommend a part time program as an alternative to borrowing money and not working for three years.)

    Comment by aphrael — 6/3/2010 @ 7:09 pm

  18. Exercise while in law school or people will mistake you for Jabba the Hutt after graduation (or for me which may be worse as I am slightly larger without the gold bikini clad princess in attendance.)
    On a serious note, attend school near where you want to practice. You are better off as a grad from a lower ranked local school than a grad of a high ranked (but not top 10) further away school.
    Think about what you want to do with your life, and know that you won’t make 100K+ a year out of school unless you go the Big Firm route, and then they own you (think being at work minimum 80 hours per week and knowing you aren’t doing enough.)
    Good luck.

    Comment by Dudeman — 6/3/2010 @ 7:37 pm

  19. Agree with a lot of nk’s advice. Law schools don’t really teach you much about the nuts and bolts of law practice, so look for a school in an area large enough for there to be opportunities for practical experience. I can only speak about litigation and trial work(what transactional lawyers and corporate counsel do are dark mysteries to me) but I’d think that in today’s tight job market if, when you graduate, you already have some idea of how to take a deposition or handle yourself in court it will give you an advantage with employers. When I got out of law school, back in the ’80s, I had no idea about either, but I think firms may have been more willing, then, to invest in training young lawyers than they are now.

    Even before law school, if you have the spare time, you might spend some time at the local courthouse watching what goes on — routine stuff like status conferences and motions as well as trials. Unlike a lot of other professions, law is, to some extent, practiced in public, and you have the right to go see it. It might help you figure out what you do, or don’t, want to do with that State Bar membership card when you finally get it.

    Comment by RL in Glendale — 6/3/2010 @ 9:26 pm

  20. Leviticus, I’m an LSU law grad, my dad’s on the faculty, and I work for LSU (oh, and my brother just finished his first year there), so if you’d like to talk about LSU in more detail, I’d be more than happy to. Just drop me an e-mail. Back when I started school (1989), I did a lot of thinking about whether to go to school in La. or out of state. As others have suggested, where you want to live ultimately is an important component of the decision-making process.

    I agree with Dudeman’s advice at #18. I’ve had a great career in the public sector, but I’ve been very fortunate to happen in to some very cool jobs… but the pay tends to be modest, at best.

    I disagree with cassandra at #16. I know a number of people with JD’s who do not practice law, and are quite successful. In a number of political and public service jobs, a JD will boost your pay substantially even if a law license is not actually required to do that job. If you actually pay attention and work, it really will teach you critical thinking skills that can then be applied in just about any field.

    Comment by PatHMV — 6/3/2010 @ 9:27 pm

  21. You will do fine by going to night school.

    Comment by Arizona Bob — 6/3/2010 @ 9:59 pm

  22. You need to have your priorities straight: if you go to the University of Kentucky College of Law, you can get UK basketball tickets, which is, by far, the most important consideration.

    Comment by The University of Kentucky alumnus Dana — 6/4/2010 @ 4:29 am

  23. Comment by The University of Kentucky alumnus Dana

    That’s pretty funny, yet a true point in keeping in mind one’s overall priorities, like wanting to live in the mountains for a few years…or listening to grunge rock vs. bluegrass when you come up for air

    of course, if Leviticus would rather watch college hockey…

    A question, does it make much difference which school one goes to as far as “general outlook/ political philosophy”? It seems to me most law schools tilt toward the liberal side of things. Are there places known to be liberal overall but who have well know individuals with a conservative bent to get equivalent political perspectives? I know that the general outlook one gets in medical ethics or philosophy is very dependent on where you go, but even then, some of the most “liberal” places have rock-solid “conservatives” that can hold their own, or more, with anyone.

    Comment by MD in Philly — 6/4/2010 @ 5:09 am

  24. In my experience it’s not so much the faculty as the other students: it can sometimes be extremely difficult to get students to express in class opinions which are contrary to what they think the prof, or the herd, want to hear.

    Comment by aphrael — 6/4/2010 @ 6:36 am

  25. Re: study habits.

    1. Get hornbooks and used Bar Prep Books from a Law Book Store that specializes in used books. Law School uses the case method, where you read cases to learn black letter law. It’s a convoluted mess and inspires more confusion than necessary. Hornbooks and Bar Prep books strip the material down to exactly what you need to know.

    2. Get in a study group. They will help you outline during the semester. They will help you with difficult concepts. Even better, when you need to miss a class, you have a ready source for make up notes.

    3. Most students suffer burnout at some point in the first year. Recognize when you are headed down that path and give yourself a break sooner rather than later. Your recovery time will be shorter and you can avoid it conflicting with big events.

    Good luck.

    Comment by BSKB — 6/4/2010 @ 7:58 am

  26. I suffer a burnout point some point during each semester. It usually lasts about a week, and then I start recovering.

    Comment by aphrael — 6/4/2010 @ 7:59 am

  27. I disagree with BSKB. Learn what your professors want you to know. No hornbooks, no Bar Prep books. Pay very close sole attention to your professors and their assigned study materials. For the bar exam, sign up for the professional prep course. Don’t go DIY.

    As for partying … don’t! Unless you want to be the next guy selling peanuts and crackerjack at the football game or serving drinks at the (other) bar. Law school is work. But more than that, if you want to be any good at it, fill every minute that you’re not sleeping with law.

    Comment by nk — 6/4/2010 @ 8:20 am

  28. Comment by MD in Philly — 6/4/2010 @ 5:09 am

    My Civil Procedure professor had dog-bite scars on his legs. From dogs Mississippians had set on him when he was trying to get black people to vote in the South, alongside Thurgood Marshall. I don’t know whether that’s liberal or conservative. But it’s a proud thing for a lawyer.

    Comment by nk — 6/4/2010 @ 8:25 am

  29. Having attended law school and having interviewed and hired literally hundreds of law school graduates (for temporary positions – hence the large number) let me just add my two cents and say that opinions vary on almost everything related to attending law school and/or attaining a degree. Except for cost. Unless your higher education expenses are covered by others that you do not care about, cost is the key consideration. Almost everyone becomes concerned about cost too late in the process to do much about it. Knowing I would be paying for my education myself I developed a simple strategy:

    1. Develop a qualitative ranking of law schools (your criteria).
    2. Identify the highest quality schools (that you have a shot of attending) with the cheapest tuition and the cheapest living expenses.
    3. Apply
    4. Attend the best combination of price and quality that accepts you.

    In the end it amounts to three years of your life and money. If you choose a place you can have a good time and it doesn’t cost an exorbitant amount of money it takes a lot of pressure off of the “was it worth it” end analysis.

    Comment by JDBlackaby — 6/4/2010 @ 8:44 am

  30. nk and I are at odds on the subject of hornbooks. There are strong differences of opinion on this. It is subject to the way in which you learn best. I found them invaluable as a supplement, but I understand the basis for disagreement.

    For certain subjects, I found it absolutely vital to have a simple explanation to work with because the case method is little help (Property.) Other subjects require that you read the cases because your studies are about the development of the law over time (Con Law, Civ Pro.)

    If you are opposed to the use of hornbooks, still make ample use of the restatements (some classes require them on the book list anyhow.) Get cozy with the restatement of contracts and torts.

    A couple of other points I forgot.

    1. Consider taking a prep course on how to take law school exams. Learn proper test format. A significant percentage of your score comes from knowing how to format a proper response. While you will be taught about IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) there are other simple ways to make your exam more readable and easier to pick up points.

    2. Read prior exams the professors keep on file. First of all, you’ll see their sample answers showing what that professor considers a good response. Second, professors tend to repeat questions, especially in subjects where the law is constantly changing, like con law. As my prof used to say, “the question stays the same, but the answer is different.”

    Comment by BSKB — 6/4/2010 @ 9:24 am

  31. In the mid 70’s when I was considering law school, I discussed the matter with Anthropology Professor, Leslie White, then in the twilight of his career. He advised me in no uncertain terms to go into an honorable profession.

    Comment by ropelight — 6/4/2010 @ 10:48 am

  32. Thank you all very much for your advice, particularly the stuff about studying where you want to practice.

    DRJ: I have a book of ten or so practice LSATs I plan to finish before I take the test itself – one every week or so starting in July. It should give me a good idea of where I’m at. I don’t like the idea of prep courses much – my East Coast cousins (bless them) took Princeton Review stuff, and I don’t think the benefit was worth the cost. I’ve already got a few people in mind for recommendations, and I always take my personal statements seriously – often because I have a chip on my shoulder about not wanting to produce a boilerplate response.

    MD in Philly: you’re the second person to advise me to be a cowboy rather than go to law school – nk was the first. There must be something to that, if the two of you advocate it, but one of the cooler things I’ve realized living in NM is that being a cowboy and being a lawyer aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. On the other note, if I’m ever in Philadelphia I’ll give you a holler. (And PatHMV: I’ll certainly shoot you an email if I decide to apply to LSU, and thanks for the offer).

    Comment by Leviticus — 6/4/2010 @ 10:52 am

  33. In the West, Boalt Hall at Berkeley, or Hastings in San Francisco are good choices, so is UCLA if you can find a parking place.

    Comment by ropelight — 6/4/2010 @ 10:54 am

  34. UC Davis is also a good school. As is Stanford, but Stanford is extremely hard to get into.

    Comment by aphrael — 6/4/2010 @ 11:05 am

  35. I agree with most of the posts above. What I’ve found is that many communities with law schools frequently build strong alumni bonds with that school’s graduates. I grew up in California, went to college in California, planned to live in California, went to Georgetown (for its reputation), got my summer internship and subsequent jobs in D.C. because Georgetown grads frequently looked to bring in younger Georgetown law students. I’ve been here for 25 years now (counting law school).

    So, if you know where you want to live and work, find the best school there that you can afford. Reputation of the school counts. However, don’t fixate on the reputation of the school too much. Many of the “lower-ranked” schools produce fine attorneys, in part because they tend to focus on the actual nuts and bolts of being a lawyer, rather than focusing on the theory of law itself. In my experience, I would count Georgetown as a theory school (from a fact pattern deduce the issues and justify the rationale for the result). My sister went to a law school located beside CalState Fullerton, and that school appeared to produce nuts and bolts type attorneys.

    Comment by 509th Bob — 6/4/2010 @ 11:19 am

  36. My one C in law school was in Criminal Law. I had a B.A. in Criminal Justice. I had done an internship with the Cook County State’s Attorney. I was a paid staff associate for the Chicago Crime Commission, keeping track of organized crime under a former FBI agent, and monitoring the felony courts under a future judge. I just did not give the answers on the test that my Criminal Law professor wanted me to give.

    Comment by nk — 6/4/2010 @ 3:53 pm

  37. Leviticus,

    I knew you would be well-prepared.

    Also, I appreciate the comment about going to a law school that actually teaches you how to practice law. The top law schools have clinics and other opportunities for hands-on experience but, as a rule, they don’t focus on getting students ready to practice on Day 1. In Texas, Baylor is known for preparing students for the courtroom so that’s a reason to consider Baylor.

    Comment by DRJ — 6/4/2010 @ 6:17 pm

  38. Leviticus,

    My 2 cents: I saved a TON of money going to a state school, and it made my life after law school much easier.

    Now, I was lucky in that my state school was UT-Austin, which is a good law school that doesn’t close national opportunities. (One of my profs referred to it as “among the top 11 schools in the nation” — a funny reference to the school’s academic ranking in US News & World Report at the time. No idea if that has held up.) But I think keeping your debts low is a very important factor.

    Five years out, nobody will care where you went. They’ll just care what you’ve done. But you may still have the debt.

    Comment by Patterico — 6/6/2010 @ 5:34 pm

  39. Patterico, that’s basically why i’m in a night program and didn’t transfer to Hastings —> I’m still working full time as a software guy, which hasn’t prevented me from taking any loans but has kept my loan load incredibly small as opposed to my classmates.

    It’s a mixed bag; in some ways it reduces the number of doors which will be open to me when I graduate. But at the same time it reduces the number of doors which I can’t afford to walk through.

    Comment by aphrael — 6/7/2010 @ 3:00 pm

  40. But at the same time it reduces the number of doors which I can’t afford to walk through.

    That’s the same advice I gave my son. Having a lot of debt means you can only consider top-paying jobs. In a bad economy, it’s better to leave as many jobs as possible on your list than to be limited to only the top-paying jobs.

    Comment by DRJ — 6/7/2010 @ 6:36 pm

  41. No matter which school you want to go to, you can get the “Certified Intellectually Honest (Even if/when Wrong*)” stamp from the crowd at PP’s.

    Hey, the live preview seems to be working now.

    These tech guys are so good, next thing you know they’ll be making sense of the US budget and accessing wi.th.ou.t per.mi.sion the computers of the “Not-u-but _ran” non-convent.ional b.o.m.b programto set it back a few dozen years.

    And after that, they will figure out the right way to rank college football teams at the end of the season.

    Comment by MD in Philly — 6/7/2010 @ 8:44 pm

  42. Sorry, I didn’t see this out there so I thought I’d throw it in: DON’T GO TO LAW SCHOOL!! Its an awdul experience that leads to an unhappy life. Find something that makes you happy.

    Comment by lawschoolgrad — 7/16/2010 @ 9:39 am

  43. […] 9.The Jury Talks Back » Law School Advice My personal advice as someone still in law school would be: while I don’t think the quality of education is significantly different between a #20 and a #60 school, rankings are really, really important to getting the first job out of law school. http://patterico.com/jury/2010/06/01/law-school-advice/ […]

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