All About Law School

A recent article in the New York Times, Is Law School a Losing Game?, has been making the rounds lately. Since we have a surfeit of lawyers in the Bloggernacle, I thought it might be a public service for us to talk about our experiences with law school for the benefit of our readers. I’ll roll the ball out to get us started:

1. The Decision to Go. My dad was sort of an advocate for law school. He thought Dallin Oaks did it just right: undergrad accounting, then a law degree, on the theory that if law school doesn’t work out, you’ve got something to fall back on. (And he was a frustrated attorney anyway.) So that was an influence.

When I returned from my mission, I was thinking about history, but the recession made me reevaluate. So I went back to BYU with the idea that I would do economics and then law school. At BYU I fell in love with classics and changed my major. For about a year I planned on going on to do graduate study in classical philology. But then my first child came along, and I decided to get more practical and opted for law school.

2. Where to Go? I went to an open house for the University of Chicago at BYU, and in my journal I expressed some interest in Columbia, but neither of those schools was a serious option. I didn’t have any money, so finances were a major consideration for me. I only applied to three schools: University of Illinois, BYU and UoU, and once I got into Illinois, that was that. (I had kept my Illinois residency with just such a scenario in mind.)

3. The Cost. I had a half-tuition scholarship. My recollection was that annual tuition was about $5,000 (I went 82-85). Each year I took out a $5,000 federally guaranteed student loan at 7%, and we were able to get by on that. (The idea of taking out massive loans wasn’t anywhere on my radar screen; I simply don’t know whether that sort of thing was common back then.) With a couple of undergrad loans, I graduated in 1985 carrying only a little over $19,000 in debt, which I easily repaid over the ten-year statutory period. For me it was a great investment.

4. What Was It Like? The modified socratic method you encounter in heavy doses your first year is indeed terrifying at first. You walk into class wondering whether this is the day when you’ll be publicly humiliated and eviscerated in front of your peers. Over time your fear of these encounters subsides, and the second and third years I don’t remember it being much of an issue. Other than that aspect of it, I enjoyed the experience. My professors were excellent, and my classmates were cool and sharp people.

5. Grades. I don’t recall getting a C before law school. But everyone in law school can say the same thing, and somebody has got to absorb those Cs. Unfortunately that was me first semester. I got two Cs, a C+, and two Bs. I was, needless to say, very disappointed and perplexed. I had been used to small graduate seminar style classes with intensive and immediate feedback from my professors; the large lecture halls were new to me, and I really didn’t have a good feel for what it was the professors were after in those essay tests. So after one semester I was in the bottom quartile of my class. Ouch! The second semester I got straight Bs, which was an improvement and for that semester put me in the top half (third quartile overall). I must have figured the game out (belatedly), because my grades shot up after that and I ended up in the top third, which is quite a trick when you start where I did. I even won the BNA Law Student Award, given to the student with the best upward progression in grades. Of course, to win that award you’ve got to start off poorly, and since the law school reward system favors those who start out hot (especially with invitation to law review), it was cold comfort.

[I didn't go to law school with the idea of becoming a law professor foremost in mind, but I'd be lying if I said the thought hadn't occurred to me along the way. But when I flamed out my first year, that was the end of that. You don't have to be Nate Oman to become a law professor, but it certainly helps. (By which I mean that there is a sort of track to that end: Go to a top 5 school, make killer grades, get on law review, graduate near the top of your class, do a clerkship, publish a couple of articles, work a few years as an associate at a prestigious firm. I could have become a prof from a top 20 school like Illinois, but not after that first year flameout.)]

6. Getting a Job. Back then graduating top third from a top 20 school like Illinois was pretty much a guarantee to a good job. I ended up at a smallish (15 lawyers) municipal finance boutique in Chicago. I gained a specialty that really fits me and my personality well. Public finance is intellectually challenging, but it’s also a collegial rather than adversarial type of practice, what I call “win-win” law. We are instrumental in creating public works like roads, sewers, parks, schools, hospitals, airports, factories, you name it. And it is a more genteel practice than most when it comes to balance and quality of life, which was important to me.

7. Would I Do It Again? I would definitely do it again in 1982. In a way it really was the educational equivalent of a lottery ticket. My job is not terribly secure, but I am compensated well, and I thoroughly enjoy what I do. Knowing what I know now would I try it in 2011 and no guarantee that I would get the same result? No, probably not. Even Illinois is so expensive now I’d have to take out loans of over $100,000, and the job market stinks, as described in the article linked above.

8. What Advice Do You Have for People Considering Law School? Go to the best school you get into and hope you do well academically. If that happens, it’s still a lottery ticket that is well worth the investment in loans, and you’ll still be able to pay those loans off eventually. Otherwise, I would seriously consider pursuing a different career.

Those are some quick thoughts on my experiences. Tell us about yours.

Comments

  1. 1. The Decision to Go. I first thought about law school when I was on the mock trial team in high school. I went to college and majored in poli sci, minoring in philosophy. I wanted to be a civil rights litigator. My last year of college, I took the LSAT, did fairly well, and I started out on my applications. However, it felt like the wrong time. I went on a mission instead, and I ended up starting law school right after I got back.
    2. Where to Go? I didn’t want to lose any time between coming home from my mission and starting law school, so I looked for schools that would allow me to start mid-year. (I got home from my mission in December.) At the time, I became aware of only one school that had such a program – Golden Gate University in San Francisco. I’m from the Bay Area, so this was great. I spent my P-days working on my application. I got accepted and started school 3 weeks after getting home from my mission. (GGU didn’t work out.) On my second attempt, I went to Santa Clara University. I’m now a 3L there, and I’ll be graduating in May. I’m very happy at SCU. It’s a good school with a supportive and approachable faculty.
    3. The Cost. I took out loans at GGU, and at SCU, I’m working and taking out loans. I didn’t get any scholarships. I’ll graduate with about $140,000 in debt, which is atypical. This is because I lost all of my credits from GGU when I went to SCU, so I’m basically paying for 1.5 law degrees.
    4. What Was It Like? I was miserable at GGU. The school got put on probation with the ABA while I was there, and it created a pretty toxic atmosphere. I also realized that my starry-eyed view of the law was not accurate. I had envisioned it as being like a continuance of a philosophy program. When GGU and I parted ways, I had abandoned my desire to be a litigator and I nearly enrolled in a PhD program in philosophy. I ended up deciding to go back to law school, but I don’t plan on practicing law. (Well, I’ll probably have to for a few years to pay back my debt.)
    5. Grades. I had a bad first semester at GGU. Like, C, C, C- bad. Don’t get me started on the curve. I pulled my grades up, and I ended up getting the highest grade in the class in Constitutional Law. Anyway, by the end of my third semester, my GPA was respectable. However, the school was on probation and decided to purge my class. My Witkin Award and my disqualification letter came in the mail the same day. At SCU, I’ve been a solid B student, punctuated by a few A’s as well. I’m on a law journal. In the grand scheme of things, I’m fine with it, seeing as I’m juggling work and school at the same time, along with a chronic health condition.
    6. Getting a Job. Let me get back to you on that one. I’ve decided to be a professor. I know that I’m fighting an extremely uphill battle with this one, given my grades, my false start, and given that SCU is a good school, but it isn’t Yale. I’m writing like mad, and I’m hoping that once I have a few articles to my name, somebody will take a chance on me.
    7. Would I Do It Again? I don’t know. I feel very strongly that God called me to law school, so in that respect, yes. (Though I would have done it differently.) However, in the absence of an unmistakable spiritual prompting, no, I would not do it again. I would go for the PhD in philosophy.
    8. What Advice Do You Have for People Considering Law School? Make sure you’ve done your research on the school you’re planning on going to before you go. Where you go can make or break your career. Also, don’t take yourself too seriously. There was a time when I didn’t know how to have a conversation that didn’t revolve around law school. Don’t lose yourself like that.

  2. Oops. Sorry for forgetting to close one of my tags, and sorry it’s so long!

  3. The Decision to Go. I was stuck in a job I didn’t really like and that frankly didn’t pay well (high school science teacher). I’d known a total of one lawyer growing up, and didn’t really know anything about it except for what I saw on TV. I’m not sure what prompted me to consider the career, although I think all the lawyers in the bloggernacle contributed to me realizing that lawyers do much more reading and writing than public speaking. I can read and write much better than I can discipline teenagers.

    Where to go?
    I applied late in the game (I wasn’t able to take the LSAT until February). This meant I couldn’t apply to some law schools (mostly mediocre ones) and my top choices had pretty much already filled up. Enough decent law schools liked my LSAT scores and offered me free applications (a big deal to someone on a limited budget), and a combination of a decent ranking (similar to U of U’s), scholarship, and in-state tuition the first year if my wife found work there before school started, along with a clear sense that this was the right place to go, resulted in a cross-country move to the Midwest.

    The cost: paid for with savings, living frugally, part-time work while in school (both me and the wife), and subsidized loans. My grades and background got me a good law firm job after my first year, and I made as much per hour there as I had teaching. (If that’s not a sign of how poorly young teachers are paid, I don’t know what is.)

    What was it like? First semester was hard. My Torts teacher hated my guts, and I had panic attacks whenever I got called on in that class. I studied like crazy, but she’d still make comments like “Did you even read the assignment?” in front of the whole class. Fortunately, exams are anonymous, and I earned an “A” in that class. That was by far the worst part of law school, and the pressure went way down after that first year.

    Grades: Top 10% first year (which shocked me–I had no clue I would do so well). Part-time work and a demanding church calling, along with a bit of laziness, led to a bit of a drop the second year (but still in top 15%). And that’s where I’m at right now, still waiting for last semester’s grades to come in. One more semester…
    Grades that first year were hugely important. They helped get me onto law review, and they helped get me my job. Grades in the second and third year don’t matter as much.

    Getting a job: still working on it. My law firm just laid off a number of attorneys, and have told me they won’t be able to hire me after I take the bar. I’m crossing my fingers for a job as a law clerk for a local judge in Idaho (his current clerk told me I’m on the “short list.”) It would be a great place for my family right now, but we’ll see. With the economy right now, legal jobs are incredibly hard to come by.

    Would I do it again? I haven’t actually finished yet, but I’m going to have to say “yes.” It’s the right career for me. But it’s certainly not the right career for everyone. If you’re looking for big money or prestige, become a dentist or a medical doctor.

    Advice? Apply early, if you can. Don’t feel like you have to go to a specific school. U of U, for example, isn’t looking for more Mormons; other schools outside of the West love Mormons and seem to actively recruit them. And think twice before going into the field–if you’re not sure about it, it’s probably not the right choice.
    I will say that those who can succeed as dentists or doctors should probably go that route instead. I would have, but I did miserably in any class that required large amounts of rote memorization (anatomy, etc.) My memory stinks, so medical school was out of the question.

  4. GREAT post! I am very interested to read these responses. I just got my LSAT score on Friday and am finalizing my apps. I am applying to law school as a “keeping my options open” and am still weighing all the pros and cons of going to law school. Keep ‘em coming!

  5. Since law school is one of my favorite topics now, I’ll share.

    I was in a graduate program that I didn’t like, and was looking to switch into a field that what be more practical, make decent money, and still let me read and write. But I had learned from my first grad school experience that graduate degrees are not always worth their costs. In fact, if I could go back to undergrad, I’d major in the sciences, get a job, and skip graduate school all together.

    Where to apply: I decided that unless I could go to a top 10 school and graduate with no debt that it wasn’t worth going. Given that a number of students at my top ten school are unemployed, I think that was a wise decision.

    Do I like law school: No. The forced curve is brutal and feels arbitrary, one never receives feedback from professors (reinforcing the feeling that grades are arbitrary), journals are time consuming and don’t teach you much, people tend to zone out once they’ve been cold called so class discussion is pretty bad, and there are not nearly enough practical, clinical courses. From a pedagogical standpoint, I think it is abysmal.

    BUT, I am glad that I went because I’ve really enjoyed all the internship experiences that I’ve had and I’m excited about my career prospects. Law school for me is about the end result, not the journey. Now, if I were unemployed and had debt, I’d probably be saying something else.

    My solution: We should get rid of law schools and go back to an apprenticeship model.

  6. 1. The decision to go. I took several graduate school exams before finishing at BYU, hopeful that I would do better on one and that would help me decide what I wanted to do. I did the same on all of them, so took the summer off to go to Europe after graduation, then came back to Provo (where all my friends were) and got a job as a legal secretary. That experience (if these clowns can do it, why can’t I?) cemented my decision to go to law school.

    I’ve talked several times over the years with people who decide to go to law school because they can’t think of anything else to do, or who think they can use their law degree to advance in some other field. Yes, it’s true that there are many law school graduates who end up being influential in other areas, but really, don’t go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer. Otherwise, it’s kind of a waste of money.

    2. Where to go. I did not apply to BYU, because I knew it would be hard to turn down the cheapness–that was why I ended up there as an undergraduate, which I later came to regret. I also knew that I didn’t want to work particularly hard, so it was important to go somewhere prestigious. :) I went to Columbia Law School, which I really enjoyed. There is nothing, nothing like being in New York City (I moved there sight unseen). Columbia is in the Top 5, which in theory makes it a national law school, but I did find myself somewhat handicapped when I came back to Portland because Columbia was then using a pretty opaque grading system (E, VG, G) that non-New York firms didn’t understand. So if you have the grades and scores to get into a top law school, do it. If you don’t, go somewhere where you can make connections to help you get a job (probably close to where you want to end up), and work your butt off to get the best grades you can.

    3. Going to a top law school is expensive. Tuition my third year at Columbia was $10K/semester, plus living in New York City is not cheap. I graduated with $85K in debt, and struggled finding a job for nearly a year (one of the few from my class to have any difficulty at all–this was 1994, so not the best job market, but not the worst, either). I had the good fortune to marry a sugar daddy with stock options who was able to pay off my loans before the stock market crashed, and that has given me more flexibility–i.e., I am on an EXTENDED maternity leave, now 10 1/2 years old. :) If you want to practice law in a big firm, don’t worry too much about the debt. If you want to practice public interest law, the top law schools have loan-repayment assistance programs. If you go to an expensive third-tier law school and get middling grades and graduate in today’s economy, you are screwed, not to put too fine a point on it.
    4. What was it like? I had tons of fun in law school, enjoying New York City and participating in extracurricular activities like the Law Revue Show. I didn’t get awesome grades, partly because I didn’t want to give up the other things and partly because my bad study habits caught up to me (I hadn’t been forced to develop them at any point previous–another regret from settling for BYU undergrad). I was able to have courses with some marvelous professors who changed the way I thought–not my opinions but my process of approaching a question. I discovered that I was interested both in criminal law and intellectual property law, though strangely I got my best grades in my tax law courses (due to a coincidental synergy between Professor Stone’s teaching style and my learning style).

    5. Grades. I broke up with a boyfriend right before my first set of finals, but even so I (like Kevin) was kind of shocked by how mediocre they were. It was incredibly disheartening. During my second semester, I had a class that (atypical in law school) had graded assignments throughout the course, not just a final, and doing well on one of these assignments renewed my confidence in my own abilities, and my grades steadily improved. In my third year, I missed one of the scholar designations (grade-based honors peculiar to Columbia and it’s grading system) by one point, and I ended up in the middle of my class (I think–Columbia did not have class rankings) overall.

    6. Getting a job. Like I said, I was one of the few from my class who struggled. None of the career services people at Columbia could ever figure out why, other than to guess that firms were reluctant to risk hiring a Mormon woman who would drop out to have babies. Yes, I did sort of drop out after having babies (I have maintained active bar membership and some networking activities), but at the time I was single with no prospects. I did finally find a job, then a better job, and then I moved to Portland when I got married to find an even worse hiring market. But I did, through the miracle of networking, eventually find a job in my chosen area of practice (intellectual property law–patent litigation, copyright and trademarks).

    7. Would I do it again? I don’t know either. Certainly I loved living in New York City, and I loved the intellectual challenge of law school. But I might have been just as happy to live in New York doing something else. One thing’s sure: if and when I go back to work, practicing law is going to give me my best buck for the bang.

    8. I don’t really have anything to add to what I said above. But if you’re just looking for a steady career to support your family, I would choose dentistry over the law.

  7. One more comment to add: If you are thinking of applying to law school, I think it is worth applying early and shopping for the best financial aid package you can get. Waiting six months will not kill you, but going to the wrong law school will.

  8. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    I’ll just comment on one aspect of the decision to go part. If you love BYU to an unobjective degree, and all things BYU are an integral part of your identity and self-worth, stop reading here.

    At BYU, I think they recommend that those interested in law school go and speak with the pre-law “advisor.” So I did. You should also know that I was already convinced I wanted to be a lawyer from the time I was 14 or so, so whatever this advisor person said about going to law school I was still going to go. In a nutshell, she advised me not to go because my LSAT score was a 175 or higher. She stopped just short of saying that she wanted to see BYU grads at top 10 schools (for her own purposes), and if they could not get there then they should keep practicing the LSAT until they could. She encouraged me to go work for a thinktank in D.C. for a year and study until I got a 175 LSAT every practice. I laughed to myself and walked out into the unknown. Fast forward. Law school was great in every sense (grades, financially, family, location, opportunities, etc.). My first gig out of law school was great too. Follow your gut, don’t listen to bozo pre-law advisors IMHO.

  9. I’ve talked to many friends and acquaintances over the past few years who were thinking about going to law school, and advised them not to go. There are a few caveats. If you can get into a top 10 school, if you know you will be in the top 10% of your class, if you don’t have to take out a lot of loans to do it, AND if you know for sure that you want to be a lawyer. It’s what I really wish someone had sat me down and laid out for me. I think I managed to persuade several people to think long and hard about the decision. I am 5 1/2 years post-graduation now and have managed to find a good job with a good boss in the field I wanted to be in. But nothing really makes up for the giant crushing pile of debt that rests on my shoulders every single day. It has affected many things in my life, including starting a family, my ability to choose where I want to live, and has at times put a strain on my marriage.

    1. Decision to Go: I studied English and History in undergrad and was getting a Masters in English when I decided to go to law school. Several of my friends from church were in law school and it sounded like something I might like, since I liked school and writing and such. I had loans already from undergrad and grad school, but figured it wouldn’t be too big a deal to take on more because I would be making $150K right out of law school, right? That’s what all the law schools told me anyway. I came from a background where most people in my family have no higher education. I really didn’t get any good advice from family, who were just excited and impressed that I would be going to law school.

    2. Where To Go: I applied to several first tier schools and one second tier school for a safety (since my LSAT score was decent). I felt like coming to Boston was the right thing for me (through prayer and contemplation), so I went to BC Law. At the time, it was ranked #22, but it has since fallen in the rankings to the upper 20s. On the whole, I liked BC as an institution. I think the Jesuit service ethic was fairly apparent in much of the faculty, administration and student body and that there wasn’t any backstabbing competitiveness like I heard about at other schools (though who knows how accurate those rumors were).

    3. Cost: At the end of it all, I wound up with over $150K in loans. See reference to crushing debt above. Thankfully I graduated to low interest rates and consolidated everything under low rates.

    4. What Was It Like? Complete shock. You don’t realize until you get there that while you’ve been the smarty-pants your whole life, so has everyone else you’re going to school with. I was not expecting to struggle like I did and the forced curve showed me how many other of my peers were getting it when I just wasn’t.

    5. Grades. First semester was rotten. Part of it was because, like commenter #6, I was having major boyfriend issues right before my first finals (we wound up breaking up later). I wound up first semester with a C+, a B- and the rest B’s. I had never gotten a C+ before and I seriously contemplated dropping out after that. Second semester was a bit better, but the die was cast and I got a grand total of 2 interviews from on-campus recruiters. And this was when the economy was MUCH better than now. Years 2 and 3 were much better, and to this day I like to freak out other lawyers by bragging about my A in Tax Law. Apparently not everyone thought the Tax Code was as readable as I did. But missing out on that 2nd summer internship resulted in me graduating without a job.

    6. Getting a job. This was a rollercoaster experience for me. I moved to DC intent on getting a job in health care policy, but right before leaving Boston, I met the guy who is now my husband. So I moved back to Boston a year later. In the meantime, I worked a few of those soulless contract attorney positions. The money was actually pretty decent, but it was a horrible existence. I really credit God and a few of his angels (one in particular in the bloggernacle) for helping me get my foot in the door with health care law. I worked for a health law firm while I was in law school, but through cobbling together a couple of independent contracting and part-time opportunities, I got some experience post-law school too. Those experiences made me a viable candidate when the firm I worked for in law school opened an office in Providence, where I moved after getting married. For the past 3 years, I’ve been working in health law, and even get to do a bit of policy work.

    7. Would I Do It Again? No. If I did, I would do it smarter. I would go to BYU or a state school. But I think the main thing I would do now if I could go back is to take some time to really figure out what I WANTED to do. Even though I am so grateful to have a job, and a job in my field of interest, being a lawyer is pretty boring. For example, I’ve spent a good chunk of today entering standard clauses into a clinical trial agreement. Woo hoo. Now that I’m older and have a better idea of who I am, I can think of about 14 other career paths that interest me more than practicing law (which is MUCH different than learning the law or talking about the law). But I have this debt, you see…

    8. Advice. See first paragraph above.

  10. Kevin, an inspired idea. Got to be useful input for prospective students. A family member is considering law, so this and the comments will be valuable, at least in managing expectations if not decisions. ;)

  11. MikeInWeHo says:

    I work closely with two former lawyers. Both were very unhappy in the profession and returned to grad school in their 40s to study psychology. They are now both licensed psychotherapists and report being much happier, despite somewhat reduced incomes. Not sure what to make of that.

    Personally, I was under heavy family pressure to go to law school but wound up studying social work and psychology in grad school instead. Never regretted that decision.

  12. The Decision to Go: I was a history major in college, I knew I wanted to go to grad school and I figured that a history master’s would be only slightly more useless than a history BA. So law school it was.

    Where to go: I applied to so many schools it was a little ridiculous, because I seriously only thought about 4. I ended up choosing a top 10 school because it was close to home, was my “dream” school, and would be a lot cheaper than most of the other schools I got into (except for the ones that were giving me large scholarships). Then I got off the waitlist at a top 3 and agonized over it for way too long before I stopped being stupid and realized that debt was my friend.

    The Cost: I’m officially halfway through, and I will graduate with significantly less debt than I anticipated due to the grants I’ve received for my parents less than spectacular income. With the money I’ll save up from my summer associate position this year, I should be in decent shape (as decent as slightly over $100k can be).

    What was it like: it’s awfulness combined with moments of enjoyment – I enjoy selling my books on amazon at the end of the semester, I enjoy the free pizza at lunch, and I have enjoyed a couple of classes. But the classes are boring and I hate reading casebooks and I frankly don’t care about what I’m learning most of the time, because I know I’m just going to have to learn it all again later.

    The grades: Which of course, brings me to this point: our grading system is set up to disincentive everyone but those who are gunning for summa cum laudes or clerking for the supreme court etc. Why put the effort in to only get the same grade everyone else is going to get? After a not so good semester was followed up by a completely terrible second one, I’ve thrown in the towel as far as grades are concerned and just do whatever I want to do. The classes I like I spend way more time on that I probably should and the ones I don’t? Whatever.

    Getting a job: This is the reason I’m glad I decided to go to school where I’m going – my grades are not so great and I still get to work for a firm next summer. Maybe they’ll like me and I’ll get to work there for forever (and by forever I mean 5 years or whatever their system is for getting rid of us) and maybe they won’t, but someone’s bound to hire me – the school will repay my debt as long as I work in public interest for the the government. My backup plan is to be a elementary school janitor (which is a joke, because I hate cleaning, but knowing that at the very worst I could do that and survive is a nice thing to remember when facing such a tough legal market).

    Would I do it again? Absolutely, but I admit that I am completely spoiled and that if I was attending a different school my answer would not even be close to the same.

    Advice: Please do not pay full price for law school unless the school has a great loan repayment plan. Do not go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer – everyone thinks they can use their degree to springboard into some other career, which you can, but odds are you’re going to have to be a lawyer at some point to use the springboard. Law school is not something you should do because you can’t find a job with your history degree. If you want to be rich, don’t go to law school – go to business school or buy a lottery ticket. And when applying, apply to a couple “stretch” schools that are still somewhat realistic – I’m only where I am because I ran into a kid who worked at the BYU prelaw department (after the only BYU devotional without an apostle speaking that I went to the final three years of my undergrad) who told me to apply to this school even though I didn’t think I would ever get in.

    Someone mentioned problems with the BYU prelaw advisors – I just graduated a couple years ago and I found them super helpful and willing to help people who didn’t have 175s (I certainly didn’t score that high). I had a friend who scored 20 points lower than me and they were just as helpful to her as they were to me (helpful in more ways than just suggesting that she retake the test, which she didn’t).

  13. If you’re thinking of going to law school, I’d recommend that you travel back in time and attend Chicago in the late 70s, where the average tuition for the three years I was there–I graduated in 1980–was $5,000/year, where even those who just scraped by seemed to get jobs, where my total student debt (some at 3% when market interest rates were approaching 20%) was less than 1/3 of my first year’s salary, and where I was able to get out of the incredibly dull big firm, corporate law practice after ten years and hang out my own shingle.

    Observer’s comment reminds me of a friend who also went to a pre-law advisor at BYU who advised him to apply to some regional schools, and to avoid the national schools. So he ignored the advice, went to Harvard, was on the law review, clerked for a justice on the Supreme Court, became a law professor and dean of a law school and is now a university president and told me once that he ascribes all his success in life to his desire to prove that advisor wrong.

  14. Preface: I’m just beginning my second semester of my first year.

    1. The Decision to Go.
    I started thinking about patent law a few years into my biology PhD program. That was around the time that my first research project petered out and I realized that I didn’t love research science enough to make the sacrifices that academic science requires.

    I started doing some studying for the patent bar, including reading a patent law textbook, and I found it really interesting. I was planning on trying to skip law school and getting a job as a patent agent. Full time law school didn’t seem like a possibility until I spoke with a recent BYU grad who was working in patent law. The possibility of making $20k plus in the summers made it seem like a financially viable path, provided I could get some scholarship help. I took the LSAT about six weeks after I decided that full time law school might work out.

    2. Where to Go?
    I applied later than ideal, so I didn’t get as many acceptances and scholarship offers as I expected, but was still accepted to a top 10 school with a 1/3 scholarship. If I was young and didn’t already have a bunch of debt, I probably would have gone there. But I couldn’t imagine taking out another $150k in loans when I already had debt and already had family. The fact that I had a PhD gave me some confidence that I would be OK job-wise if I went to a lower-ranked school. So I took a full scholarship at BYU and moved into my parent’s basement.

    One consideration that people often don’t take into account is that, while going to a top-ranked school increases your opportunities for those big salary jobs, it also constrains you in that if you get yourself into big debt, you almost have to take a big firm job to pay the debt back. If you discover while in law school that your calling is to be a guardian ad litem or something like that, you might not be able to take that job. Going to a lower-ranked school with less debt can lead to more freedom.

    3. The Cost.
    If I get a summer associate position this summer and next, that will come close to covering living expenses for all of law school. Not paying tuition is pretty awesome. The other cost is the salary that I could be making as a post-doc right now, which isn’t very high, but it adds up.

    4. What Was It Like?
    I love it. My attitude going in was that law school was a hoop I had to jump through to get a job, but I’ve found the subjects interesting and the overall experience really enjoyable and challenging. I like going to class, which is a big deal for me, since all throughout my career as a student I have missed as much class as possible. I like doing the reading. I’m motivated to work hard.

    5. Grades.
    I don’t know yet, and it’s so hard to predict. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was anywhere in the top 2/3. I would be surprised with a bottom 1/3 result, but you never know. I’m pretty sure I studied as hard as anyone, but it seems like at least half of my class studied as much as humanly possible.

    6. Getting a Job.
    I’m anxious about job prospects overall. I’m going into a field that has fared a little better than the rest of the legal market, and I have a technical background that’s in relatively high demand, but in this market that’s not enough for me to feel secure. I would be even more worried if I didn’t have good credentials.

    I’m being considered for a summer job at a Chicago firm right now. I’m hoping that it works out.

    7. Would I Do It Again?
    I feel like I made a wise decision for me, but I guess time will tell.

    8. What Advice Do You Have for People Considering Law School?
    People should forget the popular notion that having a law degree is a ticket to upper middle class comfort. It gives you a pretty good shot at a decent career, but you have to manage your expectations and keep your debt reasonable. I would say that if you can graduate with less than around $50k – $70k total debt, it generally wouldn’t be unwise to go. Some people can probably justify higher debt loads, especially if they’re going to a top 14 school, as the job prospects there are still relatively good.

  15. If you are entrepreneurial, not averse to risk, like research and writing, and really want to be a lawyer, I would go to law school.

    The job market is truly brutal now. Not as bad as for the market for tenure track positions for new Ph.D. recipients, but worse than I have seen in the 32 years since I was graduated from law school. If a person really wants to be a lawyer and is willing to take risk–like hanging out a shingle if you can’t find a job with a law firm or the government–then, why not?

  16. Kevin, I’ve got a comment in moderation.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    I released it, Tom.

  18. 1. The Decision to Go. I thought I had an intellectual mind, but wasn’t sure I would do well in a traditional academic field/career. Law school seemed like a good balance between intellectualism and practicality. As it turns out, I found law school to be a much less intellectually stimulating experience, and law students to be much less intellectually curious, than I had anticipated.

    2. Where to Go? Like all law school applicants, I paid attention to rankings. But that was not my only concern. Location, academic programs, and the availability of scholarships/financial aid definitely played into my decision. I ended up attending a Top 14 school with a half tuition scholarship.

    3. The Cost. Tuition was over $40K per year. My partial scholarship (and working spouse) helped mitigate the cost, but I still graduated with a hefty amount of debt.

    4. What Was It Like As mentioned above, I was disappointed in the lack of intellectual curiosity that so many of my fellow law students displayed. I naively expected that my peers and I would have meaningful debates about weighty issues; as it turned out, most of them were more concerned about churning out 4.0s and landing prestigious Big Law jobs than philosophizing about law and politics.

    But law school did provide me with an opportunity to pursue some personal interests, which made the experience tolerable (if not enjoyable) on the whole.

    5. Grades. I did well in law school, but not outstanding. I maintained a respectable GPA throughout law school, but didn’t graduate Order of the Coif or anything.

    6. Getting a Job. I began interviewing at the onset of the recent financial crisis. Things were scary, but I was fortunate enough to receive an offer from a large West Coast law firm. After spending an anxious summer at the firm, I received a permanent job offer. I was lucky; many of my peers weren’t so fortunate.

    7. Would I Do It Again? Hard to say. If I could start over, I think I would give more thought to grad school. But since job prospects are pretty bad for PhDs (at least in the fields I would have considered), I probably still would have gone to law school.

    Although I now have a well-paying job and shouldn’t have any problems paying back my student loans, I would still pay more attention to cost.

    8. What Advice Do You Have for People Considering Law School? Don’t go unless (1) you really, really want to be a lawyer; (2) you are accepted into a top program; and (3) you receive at least a half tuition scholarship. Even then, you should think twice.

  19. A question for those who have already responded (or are going to respond) whose primary concern is about debt incurred. Let’s say that money is not the issue, either you get scholarships or you can cash flow law school or whatever. Does that change how you respond to #7 and #8?

  20. 1. The Decision to go – I did an undergraduate degree in music, and realised pretty quickly it was fairly useless when it came to having regular and well-paying work. I thought law would be a good intellectual fit, and would periodically spend a few hours doing LSAT practice exams. Around the time I was considering applying, I moved in with a friend who was a lawyer for a big firm. She worked seven days a week, 12-14 hours a day and was miserable. For better or worse, her experience convinced me not to apply. I ended up getting a good job with an oil company, and though I don’t make as much money as I would as a lawyer, I have a lot less invested in my career and am able to do quite a bit of music on the side. My former roommate now works as in-house counsel for a large corporation and LOVES her job. I sometimes regret not applying, but I think in the end I just wasn’t that interested in a law career so it’s probably for the best.

  21. In my experience, law school was the best part of being a lawyer, but I am frequently nostalgic for returning to college. Others have mentioned that their law school classmates were disappointingly non-intellectual and career-focused. While true, law school beats the hell of the actual profession of a lawyer in that arena. Unless you are a constitutional lawyer on the cutting edge of making new precedent, you need to find some other outlet for your intellectual energies. (and hence, the Bloggernacle was born).

    I was in law school during the last “fat” years of the job market. My first year I did an unpaid internship as a judge’s clerk, which was only possible because my wife had a teaching job and we lived at home with her parents for the summer. I had a difficult time locking down a summer internship after my second year (though I eventually ended up with enough options to split summers in Houston and Dallas), but at that point, you were basically guaranteed a job offer unless you really screwed up. Friends who were in later years have told me some real horror stories, and even at a top 10 school, nothing is guaranteed anymore.

    Another factor I would mention is that, if you really want to make the decision to become a lawyer a profitable one, after taking into account the loans and opportunity cost of lost income, the kind of job you will have to take will make it difficult to be the kind of parent that you want to be. Young associates in BigLaw firms (which is where you need to end up if you are going to pay back all of those loans) are expected to work long hours, take little or no vacation, and typically have very stingy parental leave policies (at least for men who are not the primary caretaker in their families). Even when you are away from work (or on your too-infrequent vacations), you will be expected to keep your Blackberry attached to you at all times and check in frequently at the office.

    As far as whether you “really, really want to be a lawyer,” I would say that, unless one of your parents is a lawyer, or another close relative, or unless you have worked for some period of time in a law office, you don’t have any idea what it means to be a lawyer and whether that is something you want. My advice would be- absolutely do not go straight from undergrad. Work a couple of years doing something else to get a better sense of where your life is headed and what you want to do. If it is a possibility for you, go while you are still single, as this will subtract heaps from the guilt induced by spending long solitary hours in the library.

  22. As far as whether you “really, really want to be a lawyer,” I would say that, unless one of your parents is a lawyer, or another close relative, or unless you have worked for some period of time in a law office, you don’t have any idea what it means to be a lawyer and whether that is something you want.

    +1

  23. Coffinberry says:

    1. The Decision to Go. I had been a musician since nearly infancy, but Mock Trial my senior year of high school lit my fire. I got a BS in Sociology from BYU (with a Music Minor), and then promptly had a string of four children. In my second son’s baby calendar, there’s a scribbled promise to myself: I will go to Law School when my youngest child starts 2nd Grade. Which promise I then forgot. But it’s what I did anyway after years of Cub Scouting and Primary and School PTA etc. I even put those activities on my application resume (because I didn’t have anything else to put there)… the CU Admissions Office people later told me that when they read what I wrote under “Skills” (that I could make a batch of chocolate chip cookies from scratch in less than twenty minutes–thrown on there because I’d had to do exactly that the morning I wrote the resume because a kid forgot to tell me of a bake sale) the decision to admit me was made. (Ok, it was also partly the LSAT score, but the cookies made it an auto-admit.) They tell me I was the first person admitted to the class of 2008. I started Law School when I was 40 years old, a week before my daughter started 2nd Grade.

    2. Where to go. Well this was kinda easy, since there are only two law schools in this state, and I wasn’t about to move teenagers in the middle of high school just to satisfy my personal whim. So I applied to both schools, one was a 30 minute commute away, the other an hour. I was accepted to both. Both offered scholarships, the farther one offered the bigger one. But the nearer one was a higher ranked school with a smaller class size, and I just plain had a really good feeling about the place. (Yes, it was a truly strange thing to be a BYU grad at the University of Colorado, but I loved it.)

    3. The Cost. Ah, if I had taken the bigger scholarship that DU offered, my debt would have been smaller, but I would have gone positively nuts commuting into Denver daily and it would have cost two hours a day of time with my kids. You can’t put a price on that. CU paid nearly all of my 1L tuition, but gave me only a tiny scholarship my 2L year, and just a little bit more my 3L, so I ended up about 35K in debt overall. (It was going to be zero, but our unvested stock options collapsed to zero value when my husband’s employer was caught up in that backdating scandal in the mid 2000s.) But, when you think about it, 35K isn’t so bad. And besides, they built a fine new building with all that money, right?

    4. What was it like? Oh my goodness it was the most fun rollercoaster ever. I just loved it. The professors were wonderful, classmates collegial. With one exception, the classes were fascinating and fair. The library was like heaven. The work was hard, but it could be done and still leave time for my family. I made for myself a rule about no studying on Sunday, and it worked for me. I am blessed to be a very high-speed reader, and that also probably made a huge difference. I will admit, however, that I remember law school about like I remember childbirth… now that the pain is over, I only remember the good stuff. But I know it was hard, and sometimes I was full of self doubt, and classes frequently provoked me to carefully examine my own personal and religious beliefs so that I could express them with clarity and fairness in a sometimes less than receptive environment. I tutored legal writing, researched with a professor, was on the Law Review Editorial Board (and was published), and worked two semesters in the Legal Aid clinic. I eventually became the first student to graduate with the school’s new Juvenile and Family Law Certificate (doing so with honors).

    5. Grades. I was spared the experience of a C, with my closest skirmish being that durned B- in 1L Constitutional Law. I finished in the top 15% of the class.

    6. Getting a Job. Biglaw interviews never went well, possibly because there was no good way to explain the near 20-year gap on my employment history without making it clear that my family is my first priority. Which is probably just as well, since that priority probably isn’t all that good a fit with Biglaw. I interviewed with some appellate and state supreme court judges, but nothing worked out. Thanks to the professor I researched with, I slid nicely into a district court clerkship which I kept for two years. Most legal jobs in this state are in Denver, but I decided that I really did not want to commute to Denver, so that closed a lot of doors. I had until recently been thinking about working toward a professorship, but I realized that my late start reduces the chances of making that happen. At the same time, I also have had opportunities to work in music again (who knew that a ward choir director calling would re-awaken my interest in composing and arranging?) plus I still have (big) children at home. So, I hung out my own shingle in September, secured a virtual office, and began hunting for clients. I’m now keeping plenty busy, and expect to be cash-flow positive this month. I am adding mediation to my lineup this month. My practice focuses on low-income clients, needing disability and family law services, with a paid consultation on the front end, sliding scale fees, and monthly repayment plan. Now, mind you, this works because there’s another primary wage-earner in the household (an electrical engineer with 20 years experience makes a great deal more than a just-starting-out attorney!).

    7. Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat.

    8. What advice do you have for People considering Law School? Research carefully how much it will cost, and be sure that you have a way to pay the debt. Be ready to study your eyeballs out. Learn to read FAST. Balance your life. Be ready to accept lousy grades, and humble enough to ask what you need to do to do better in the next class. Be patient with people who think, act, and believe differently from you, because they will quickly be your friends. And only do this if working with people for relatively low income in return is what you really really really want to do. Because lawyers are lucky these days if they make 50K/year.

  24. 1. The Decision to Go. I dumped computer science for microeconomics as an undergrad at BYU and became fascinated by the emerging field of law & economics. (I later became disenchanted with the scientific trappings of microeconomics in law school). I had a high-paying engineering job at Novell while a student at BYU and thought that if the law & economics angle didn’t work out, I could fall back on some sort of patent related legal work, but this turned out to not be possible because of the way the patent bar rules work.

    2. Where to Go? Since I had no financial resources, I figured I would be better off repaying my student loans if I went to a top 10 school and I wanted to go as far back east as I could to spread out my education geography a bit. Ended up at the University of Michigan.

    3. The cost. 100% loans for me – well into six digits. I was offered full tuition at Syracuse and over 50% at Indiana, but thought there was no way I could get a job coming from those schools and was enamored with the prospect of a top-10 school.

    4. What was it like. Law school can be pretty interesting in the electives, but the standard pedagogical model gets tiresome during the first year. Taking the bar review course after the 3rd year though is kind of an epiphany as to how practically useless most of it is. I think of it as like getting a Masters degree in the humanities.

    5. Grades. I was blindsided by the way the system worked and got one A-, Bs and a C+ my first year. This had a disastrous impact on my interviews for a summer associate position in the beginning of my second year, since all they look at are first year grades and all of the biglaw firms have strict GPA cutoffs. Although my grades improved in the subsequent years, dropping out of the system in my first year meant that I was going to have to take an alternative (i.e. not biglaw) career path and that my ability to repay my massive loans would be in jeopardy.

    6. Getting a Job. I interviewed and sent out resumes like crazy and got little response. I ended up clerking for a local law office doing ERISA and Trusts & Estates during my law school summers. By the time of graduation I had worked out an associate position doing similar work at a very small law office near my hometown in California. I worked my way up to a larger law firm and now to yet another larger firm in Los Angeles. I now work in a regional office near the exurb where I live and am finally feeling like law school was a good idea for me. I do an interesting mix of T&E and corporate M&A work and have significant responsibility and sometimes satisfying client contact.

    7. Would I do it again? Yes, it has worked out for me, though in unexpected ways. I enjoy the practice of law in spite of the many irritants that come with it.

    8. What Advice Do You Have for People Considering Law School? I don’t think you can really know that you want to be a lawyer, so I don’t know if advice that says you should is really helpful. You should be realistic about the costs, the opportunity costs, and the likely job prospects for whatever school you are attending. There are a lot of articles out there you can read on how the tuition at many law schools does not correlate well with the job prospects that school will bring to you. This is one of the worst job markets for new attorneys in many years and I am not convinced that it will improve much in the next several.

    In most jobs at larger firms, you will spend several years pushing paper for due diligence or document review on behalf of large corporations, and I suppose this could be a rude wakeup call for any misty eyed idealists who think that a high-paying job will let you do constitutional law all day or represent extremely sympathetic clients in child custody disputes. The need to bill your time and collect money from clients is a significant part of the job that doesn’t get much play on TV or in law school. Perhaps the measure of how jaded I have become is that my wife watches all these TV shows about lawyers (including an especially egregious one from the UK called “Kingdom”) and all I can think about is how on earth are these people getting paid by their endless parade of sad-sack clients?

  25. MikeInWeHo says:

    Kevin concludes his “quick thoughts” with a request for others to share their own. What follows from most of the lawyers are responses in virtually the identical format, with 8 bullet points each. Fascinating. What does this mean?

  26. #19 Amanda, I would have to say that even with the money factored out, I’m not sure I would still go to law school. I wish I had more of an idea of what it really means to be a lawyer. That is important to think about before considering law school. As #21 noted above, it is hard to know unless you actually have someone close to you who is a lawyer.

    If I didn’t have the debt hanging over me now, I would probably get another degree, in a field that interests me more (such as public health, dietetics, or even nursing). Though I do work in health law, I often find myself wishing I was actually working in health care, and able to directly help people more, especially when my clients talk about what they do on a day to day basis.

    Though without the giant debt, I could take a lower-paying legal job and driectly help people. So it still might be good to have the degree, with the flexibility to do something more fulfilling with it.

  27. I would be interested in hearing legal academics’ thoughts on this question.

    (Hint, hint, Kaimi and Nate.)

  28. Persecuted Mormon says:

    I’m a 2010 graduate from a top 20 school in DC. My thoughts.

    1. The Decision to Go.
    Little else you can do with a philosophy degree. Also, law school seemed like a good investment back in 2006 when the market was booming and there didn’t seem to be a ceiling to associate salaries.

    2. Where to Go?
    Applied to Utah and BYU and was accepted, but I wanted to leave the state. In the end it came down to a top 16, a top 12, or this top 20. The top 20 gave me full tuition with $1500/month for living expenses during the first year. That scholarship made the decision easy.

    3. The Cost.
    My school gave me full tuition plus first year of housing. Still ended up with about $19K in debt.

    4. What Was It Like?
    Good people. Good professors. Very stressful.

    5. Grades.
    First semester flameout of B’s and B-‘s. Progressively better after that to graduate in the solid middle of the class.

    6. Getting a Job.
    Was at a terrific litigation boutique in a medium-sized market during my second year despite my mediocre grades. But the economies hit them too, and they weren’t able to give me an offer after I graduated. Finding work has been EXTREMELY difficult and painful. I just recently accepted a public-interest position doing work that I love. The benefits are incredible, and the pay is OK, but nothing like what I envisioned when I as applying back in 2006.

    7. Would I Do It Again?
    Absolutely, but only if I graduated with a light debt load like I have now. Despite the stress and the competition, I actually LIKED law school. Would I do it again if I had to take on $200K in debt? Probably not. I’m not smart enough to get into the top third that lands the BigLaw jobs that could help me pay off my debt.

    8. What Advice Do You Have for People Considering Law School?
    Your debt is a very real thing, and practically non-dischargeable! It’s easy to put the debt out of your mind in school while you focus on your grades, but when push comes shove, $2000/month payments (about what you’d pay for $200K of debt) will kill you unless you’ve got a BigLaw gig. Law school is only a good investment if it’s not that expensive.

  29. With all this talk about the costs of law school and the limiting effect that massive debt has upon career options, we should probably note that there are programs out there that allow J.D.s to take on lower-pay work without committing financial suicide.

    I believe the federal government provides the option to lower one’s monthly loan payments so that they are commensurate with the person’s salary. This requires that the loans be stretched over a longer period (thus incurring more interest in the long-run), but it does make it more feasible to keep the lights on and food on the table. And, as I recall, if you consistently make payments on time the balance on the loans will be forgiven after 20 years. But if you have a public interest job (broadly defined), the balance on the loans will be forgiven after 10 years.

    Additionally, some schools have tuition reimbursement plans. My alma mater, for instance, offers tuition reimbursement assistance for graduates who work in the public interest and make less than $60K/year.

    If a law school applicant envisions himself/herself working in the public interest, or is simply not confident that he/she will land a BigLaw job, these programs should be considered when assessing the cost of law school.

  30. Or, I should add, if a law school applicant simply wants to avoid BigLaw (certainly an understandable desire).

  31. I made the decision not to go Law School in the late 1990’s. I made the decision after serving in church callings with multiple lawyers who all seemed unhappy with their jobs. I may have been happy. I will never know.

    I almost see the current situation (terrible market for lawyers) with law schools and being roughly similar to going into professional sports. If you are good enough to get drafted and know you will probably play in the big leagues its probably worth it. If you are going to mess around in the minor leagues for years and never make the bigs you should probably move on. Same with law school. if you currently can’t get into the major leagues (a top school) its probably not worth the debt and time to mess around in the bush leagues. Go into another field.

    When do the lawyers here think the law job market will turn around?

  32. “I would be interested in hearing legal academics’ thoughts on this question.”

    I actually think that these kinds of voices should be way down on the totem pole. Not because I have anything against Nate or Kaimi, but because the statistical odds of a law student going on to teach at a law school are so small that to go to law school for that purpose is not a good idea, even if you believe you’re brilliant (and *every* law student believes he or she brilliant prior to the first semester’s grades).

    “Those are some quick thoughts on my experiences. Tell us about yours.”

    To the gravamen of the post: debt for law school is very high, and the ability to find a job after law school has diminished considerably. So-called Big Law is hiring in significantly lower numbers than in years past, and if you graduate with over $100,000 in debt, Big Law might be the only fiscally sound choice out there, if you can get it. And though you’ll have a few gluttons for punishment tell you differently, life at Big Law–for all but a few lucky ones–is like something from the Leviathan: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and, for most associates, short. The money is the only thing that makes it worth trying.

  33. I actually think that these kinds of voices should be way down on the totem pole. Not because I have anything against Nate or Kaimi, but because the statistical odds of a law student going on to teach at a law school are so small that to go to law school for that purpose is not a good idea, even if you believe you’re brilliant

    Perhaps that’s why it would be helpful to hear from those who have gone through the gauntlet and landed a job in legal academia. Many law students and prospective law students (including Kevin, as he notes in the OP) entertain the possibility of an academic career, but few realize just how difficult it is to break into the academy. A professor could provide some insight into the ultra-competitive market for law teachers. This may be of benefit to prospective law students who are interested in legal academia.

  34. Kevin Barney says:

    I would love to hear from Nate and Kaimi on their reactions to the New York Times article, their personal experiences in law school, and their comments on breaking in to the academy. I linked this post to a status update on FB, so maybe one or both will see it and then comment here.

  35. 1. The Decision to Go. I was always sort of an intellectual butterfly. I liked to learn about lots of different things, but had a tendency to get bored. Started off in political science and wanted to go into the diplomatic service. Despite multiple language classes pre-mission I got sent stateside. There I met a few attorneys and talked with them about what they did, and realized that if I had a family I didn’t want to haul them around the globe. I liked the idea of government, law and politics. Law seemed to be the best choice after that, as I am not cut out for politics, but it was close run.
    2. Where to Go? I didn’t have the grades for a top 10 school due to a disastrous freshman year, but had a very decent LSAT score that made the top tier law schools a viable choice. Having spent a year back east, I knew I preffered the West, so looked at schools in the Intermountain west and West Coast. UofWash, U of Arizona, BYU, UCLA, USC, Stanford. Got turned down at UCLA and Stanford, Accepted at the rest. Didn’t apply to the other schools on my list after my acceptance at U of A (ASU, Willamette, U of O). I was still thinking of a career in government service, so turned down the pricey USC (then $30k), plus expensive living costs. BYU and U of A had inexpensive tuition (about $6k a year), and offered a scholarship. BYU’s was slightly better (1/2 for the three years), and gave me a better shot at potentially going to the Pacific NW.
    3. The Cost. I had a half-tuition scholarship. Tuition was $6000. I had money saved up in my college fund, as my tuition for undergrad was minimal. My wife an I had a son our last year, and took out a subsidized stafford loan to pay for living expenses. The rate at graduation was 3.75%, paying around a $100 per month.
    4. What Was It Like? Exciting, scary, lots of work, rarely boring. If law school were lawyering….
    5. Grades. Challenging. Got great grades my first semester, and they stayed ok the rest of the time. Not great enough that I got a federal clerkship, but decent enough that I didn’t have problem getting a job.
    6. Getting a Job. I graduated just after the dot com bust which killed all the transactional jobs. Still, there was plenty of work in litigation. Jobs in Oregon/Washington were difficult to come by, and didn’t pay all that well if you weren’t in the big national firms. But I wasn’t dead set on an particular city, and looked in various places in the west. At the time Las Vegas was a booming place, with demand for lawyers increasing faster than supply (this was to end soon). But I graduated from a good school and in the near top of my class. I ended up in a regional litigation firm, and have been doing the same thing ever since. The fluidity of the legal market in Vegas then was a big boon.
    7. Would I Do It Again? Maybe. I love a lot of things about my work. There isn’t a ton of security, but don’t think I would have a large problem getting on with another firm. I get paid decently, but some years have been better than others. New hires wouldn’t be in the same boat. And while Vegas isn’t as bad as some places, due to only having one law school, that school continues to put out more and more graduates. Further, I can’t imagine carrying a debt load of $150k.
    8. What Advice Do You Have for People Considering Law School? Ask your self if you really want to be a lawyer. I used to tell people that a law degree could be valuable in other fields, and the experience was good. But that’s when the price of admission was a lot less. Talk to lawyers, ask them what they do. Take a year and work at a firm as a secretary/staff.
    If you do still decide to go to, Go to the best school you get into and hope you do well academically. If that happens, it’s possible you will get the brass ring, a big firm job that will let you pay off your debt in 5-10 years, so that you will have the experience, and education to do what you want. If you want to do prosecution, or criminal defense, or other government work, be aware that paying $2k a month for loans will make it difficult to live on a government wage.

  36. My experience with law school started when I was probably in 4th or 5th grade, when my parents and teachers all started telling me that I would make a great lawyer one day. I followed this path for 10-12 years, until my last year of undergraduate studies, when I flipped a coin (more or less) and chose economics instead.

    After 3.5 years of graduate school in economics, I decided that I had chosen incorrectly, and decided to go to law school, as everyone had always predicted.

    Two weeks later, I snapped out of my funk and went back to economics. Whew!

  37. On the question of whether you really want to be a lawyer —

    As a legal secretary I was around a lot of law offices for 20 years, ranging from solo practice in American Fork to managing partner of Las Vegas’s then-2nd largest law firm. Most of my employers were in civil litigation but did a little bit of just about everything (tax, criminal, family, bankruptcy) when necessary.

    Almost everybody was happy on those rare occasions when they could do something truly positive, like an adoption or successfully defending against absurdly overblown personal injury suits. The sports agent loved the famous people he occasionally met. I liked depositing 1c residual checks for Peter O’Toole. Almost nobody was happy most of the time — nobody likes to throw a widow out of her home because she unwisely put her property in the name of a ne’er-do-well son who defaults to your bank client, or handle nasty divorces, or deal with the tedium of routine estate planning for clients who really didn’t have estates. Some of my employers were so miserable at what they did that they were bad at what they did — they’d put off discovery until too late, or neglect trial prep until the night before (that particular boss lived for drama, even though he had to create it by procrastination).

    The only man I ever worked for who I think truly enjoyed his work was a Catholic who handled church law for his parish in addition to his bread-and-butter civil practice. When a parishioner wanted an annulment in order to remarry, for example, he would go anywhere, interview anybody, do whatever preparation was necessary, in order both to help his client and to protect the interests of the church he loved.

    Some of my evaluation of my employers’ satisfactions may be colored by my own utter dissatisfaction with my own work (people don’t go to lawyers because they’re having a good day, and it was a tedious, dead-end career for me — what could anybody do even assuming I was the world’s greatest secretary? promote me to lawyer?). Still, I think I saw enough to advise potential law students to be realistic about the kind of law they will practice, and be able to cope with that kind of life year after year before they ever get started.

  38. it's a series of tubes says:

    1. The Decision to Go.
    No attorneys in the family, no prior connections. Was pursuing an MBA at a top 25 program after a BYU EE undergrad. 1st MBA semester took a business law and ethics course, and decided to do a dual-degree JD/MBA. It was a joint decision / discussion with me and my wife, and she probably pushed it more than I did. Her take: “You’re just the right amount of an ass to be a good lawyer.”

    2. Where to Go?
    During the MBA admissions process, applied and was accepted with financial aid to various top programs around the country (I generally perform very well on standardized tests; I probably score far above my actual ability. Got a 740 on the GMAT with little effort). Although I ended up selecting a good school in the west rather than the top-ranked schools I had been accepted to, I stayed at my MBA school for law school.

    3. The Cost.
    No scholarship to law school due to my fairly late decision to apply. I worked 2 jobs (adding up to little more than full time) in law school to support my family (2 kids before law school, and one born during school) so my wife could stay home and not work. I also took out the federal Stafford max for four years, so I graduated with about $75k in debt (pretty low interest rates due to my graduation timing and consolidation options).

    4. What Was It Like?
    Enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.

    5. Grades.
    Did well, but due to the extra load of family and work I could only muster top third. Hard to compete with those who have an extra 8+ hours a day to devote to it…

    6. Getting a Job.
    This was a bit before the recent slowdown, so summer associate opportunities were plentiful, particularly for those interested in and qualified for hard IP practice. I took an offer from an AmLaw 100 firm in the same city as my school, and returned upon graduation. I’m still here. I enjoy the work I do (patents, trademarks, licensing, etc) and the people I work with, who are generally good folks / family men / family women with interests outside work. Well compensated; happy; plenty of time for the family, vacations, church callings, etc. Yes, I know I am the exception rather than the rule, but in my assessment the choice of firm / practice group makes a world of difference. Still, I know I was lucky.

    7. Would I Do It Again?
    Yes. Unlike Ardis’s experience, people often come to me when they are having a good day / have a significant business deal / have an invention / are starting a business. Yes, I deal with disputes, suits, and all the negative issues, but generally my practice involves lots of “win” and a decent amount of “win-win”.

    8. What Advice Do You Have for People Considering Law School?
    Given the current market, and current expense, you’re crazy unless you have the fire in your bones and just HAVE TO BE A LAWYER.

  39. This is a really interesting post. I’d kill to see the equivalent on an MBA. (albeit without snickers from the JD crowd, yes yes, you’re much smarter than all of us)

  40. Scott, I remember going to lunch with you during that two week period!

  41. You are correct!

  42. Kevin Barney says:

    Scott, you definitely made the right call!

  43. “nobody likes to throw a widow out of her home”

    If you’re reading Ardis’s comment and you think, “Wait a minute, I might enjoy that!” then law school is for you.

  44. Susan W H says:

    I would love to ponder this and answer, but most of my answers would be so far out-of-date as to be meaningless. Long story short: Hugh B. Brown advised my husband to go to law school. Hubby was friends with one of his granddaughters and she invited him to visit and ask questions of then Apostle Brown. Hubby’s undergraduate degree was in accounting and he managed to get a master’s in public administration while he was at USC law school. He passed the CPA exam on his first try two months after he took the bar, which he also passed. He also had a scholarship for law school, and we had student loans. Did I mention that he is brilliant? He’s also ADD, but we didn’t know it then.

    I was working on my undergraduate degree at UCLA at the same time. We had two kids and worked our classes around our schedules so we didn’t need to hire sitters until he went to work.

    Due to financial pressures he started a part-time job with a CPA firm his last year in school. During his career he practiced with 3 of the then Big 8 and ended as a tax partner in one of the Final Four. After a few years of retirement he went back to work with a local law firm. He is enjoying it.

    I was a political science major at the U of U dreaming of a career in the foreign service until I learned that at the time, the only place for women in the service was as a secretary or a wife. J. D. Williams called me in and gave me some realistic counseling that led me to decide on law school. I think there were three poly sci majors at the time and few job opportunities for women. My bishop had other plans for me and called me on a mission, where I met DH, a rare sort in those early 1960’s. He wanted a smart wife.

    So when my youngest started kindergarten I started in a part time four-year program. I was one of the first waves of women law students in the 1970s and enjoyed it. It was a challenge, but I don’t regret it. I actively practiced law for several years and just last year went on inactive status in the bar.

    DH graduated in 1970 and I did in 1977.

    Two days ago I discovered the BYU women’s law student blog and was happy to read how well these young women are doing.

    Advice for people considering law school: Times are tough for the legal profession right now. The hours are long, the competition fierce, and jobs scarcer. If you can’t bring in new clients and bill and collect you will be out of a job no matter how hard you work or how talented you are.

    Both of us were steered into the law by the advice of people we greatly respected. I would advise people to seek out similar advice. Seek out lawyers and people you respect and ask them to give you realistic advice before you commit the time and money in schooling. As Ardis noted, there are many unhappy lawyers out there.

  45. Ardis, re the church law guy, the law of religious institutions is hugely satisfying and interesting. So much so that Nate Oman and I used to work at a firm where we did a significant amount of this work at deep discounts or free because we thought it was fun.

  46. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    (37) Ardis, I’m guessing that being a lawyer for the Catholic church may have passed it’s golden era. But I could be wrong depending on who you ask.

  47. Ron Madson says:

    Was an English major and started graduate program and then at last moment took LSAT and went to law school—“two roads diverged into the woods and I took the road most travelled…”
    With small firm to start and then went out on own just a few years later and loved being essentially solo and free ever since (25 years). Now practice with son and daughter in law in small firm in small town. love it. freedom to come and go and take what cases I want and charge or not charge…
    I like what a mentor told me when I first started practicing, ie, that see yourself first as a counselor and secondly as lawyer/litigator. Enjoy applying creative solutions at times and finding reconciliations if possible. I can tell you that I could have never fit in a large firm with billing requirements—“I would rather sit on a pumpkin then a velvet cushion or ride on an ox cart and breathe the fresh air then ride in a fancy excursion train and breathe the malaria all the way” (Thoreau quote as best as I can remember)
    Practice of law I believe can be what you make of it—money should not be the primary objective—if it is then the practice can be very taxing IMO.

  48. Ron Madson says:

    okay here is the exact Thoreau quote:
    “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.
    I would rather ride on earth in an ox cart, with a free circulation, than go to heaven in the fancy car of an excursion train and breathe a malaria all the way.”

    And if getting $ is one’s primary objective then when I mentioned it can be “very taxing” I believe it is taxing not just for you, the lawyer, but for your community.

  49. Ok, so in addition to the $ aspect, I have been reading about making sure that you want to practice law and having a realistic idea of what that entails.
    My question (and I expect some flak for this) is – what if I am fairly certain (at least 50%) that I won’t practice law? My situation is such that I could continue working (and I enjoy what I do) or I go to law school (with no debt incurred). Maybe I have an idealistic view of law school but I want to be trained how to think critically blah blah and I like school. However, I know that I have ZERO interest in BigLaw and will probably opt to be a SAHM once I finish law school. But I see it as keeping my options open down the road and I would only be interested in public interest stuff (adoption, guardian ad litem). How many, who have gone through law school, see value in a law school education in and of itself? It kinda seems like it’s hip to diss law school and all the pseudo-intellectuals but I think it sounds challenging in a pretty fun way. Any thoughts?

  50. Persecuted Mormon says:

    At Amanda 48,

    Do it if you will not incur debt. A legal education is terrific in itself. It’s intellectually challenging, and you learn some great things.

  51. Years ago I put my thoughts together to help a friend.

    http://www.adrr.com/law0/ has them.

  52. It kinda seems like it’s hip to diss law school and all the pseudo-intellectuals but I think it sounds challenging in a pretty fun way. Any thoughts?

    Law school is certainly challenging, but not in a fun way. . . unless reading casebooks 13 hours per day, day after day, sounds like fun.

    Don’t get me wrong–law school’s not all bad. Some period find satisfaction doing clinical work for the under-privileged. Others find satisfaction participating in moot court and mock trial competitions. I wrote a lot of papers on arcane topics, which I actually found satisfying.

    But I also read thousands and thousands and thousands of pages’ worth of cases. I also learned to get by on relatively little sleep. If you go to law school, there’s no getting around that.

    Law can be a very fascinating field, and a legal education is a great asset. I don’t regret going to law school. But I’m not going to sugarcoat it–it’s a very trying experience. If you have a spouse or significant other, it will be trying for him/her as well.

    (OK, I’ve commented enough on this post. Back to lurking…)

  53. I can’t see the point of going to law school if you have no interest in being a lawyer. Even if you won’t incur debt there is still some opportunity cost. If you just want intellectual stimulation, or want to learn to think critically, go to grad school instead (PhDs are free). I’m sure many of you have seen this, but anyone planning on applying to law school should watch this fine film:

  54. Natalie B. says:

    48: I’m in law school now. I’ve noticed that most people who enter thinking public service end up wanting firm jobs. Part of it is the money, but I think many also realize they find the corporate work more interesting, don’t have the temperament for public service, or want to work in a place that will train them (you will not leave law school knowing how to practice law). In this economy, you really should keep open-minded about all options. The public service jobs can be very difficult to get.

    Another thing you should realize is that law school forces you to make plans for life after law school fairly soon. You essentially interview for your first job after law school at the beginning of the second year. If you don’t land a job for your 2L summer, you will have closed a lot of options. So if you can’t articulate why you want the degree, I’d wait until you can. If you really want to be a SAHM in the next three years, maybe you should have your children first and go back to law school later.

    When I left undergrad, I thought I needed to go to grad school to continue developing intellectually. I was wrong. I learned far more outside of school than I did in it. There are so many opportunities to learn with the Internet, that I don’t think any degree is worth the opportunity cost if it is just being done for education for its own sake. I’d go to law school only if you want to be a lawyer. I’m satisfied with my decision to go to law school because it is leading to a career I want.

    But if I had only gone to law school in search of a fulfilling intellectual experience, I’d be unhappy. In fact, after my 1L internship I felt that returning to school was going backwards because I was learning so much from my work experiences.

    It seems to me that most academic lawyers have a few basic ways of thinking about a problem that can be mastered in the first semester. The rest of the time is just filling in knowledge. I’ve only had one class in law school that inspired me the way my undergraduate courses did. And, in general, you do not write papers or have the intellectual conversations that you get in an undergraduate seminar. You just sit there listening to the professor lecture and then take an exam at the end of the semester hoping that the professor tests what he taught.

    If you want to know what law school is like, The Paper Chase reminded me a lot of my first year, though my professors were all nice people.

  55. Law school has been getting more expensive, while delivering nothing in the way of improved experience for the students, and without any correlation between the expense of the school and job placement. E.g. the best law schools in Texas and the worst (which span the rankings from top to bottom) charge about the same tuition.

    The teaching method actually disrupts learning. It has, as an advantage, a massively reduced effort on the part of the person teaching. But there is science on what makes people learn better. That would require, of course, real feedback on a weekly basis and smaller classes to make that possible.

    Which would change the economic model.

    Interesting system, all in all. I’m glad I’m a lawyer, but I went to BYU back when the law school tuition was in hundreds of dollars a semester. I enjoy legal practice.

    But, many, many people who are thinking of law school would be better served to look at getting a PhD in business.

  56. I agree with what other people have said about student debt (it sucks), job prospects (even worse), and the actual practice of law (sometimes good, sometimes bad). I want to echo Natalie B.’s comment about how front-loaded law school can be. When I was in school a few years ago, 1L grades largely determined the position you got in between your 2L and 3L year, which in turn would usually determine your first employer. Just one C+ in a dinky writing class precluded me from even interviewing most of the firms I was interested in. Some of that may have changed since the economy tanked, now that employers are more skittish about committing to hiring so early in the process, but I think it’s still true much of the time.

    I also want to mention something that not many people have talked about: location. If you happen to know a city or region where you live, I strongly recommend applying to schools in that area. The practice of law is still quite provincial in some ways, and state bar admissions still operate to exclude outsiders. If you want to work in a certain market, your two main avenues are to go to a school in or near that market, or go to a top school with name recognition that will buy your way in. In my case, I attended a top 20 law school in the city where I wanted to live, which was the best of both worlds. But even then, I had a hard time convincing employers that I was really going to stay. It wasn’t until I clerked for a local judge that firms took me seriously. I think location is especially important if you are trying to get into a small or saturated market. For example, I hear that it’s tough to get a job in Utah or Colorado if you don’t go to one of the two law schools in each respective state.

    And just like everyone else says: do not go to law school unless you are really sure you want to practice law. If you’re not sure if you’d like it, try an internship in a legal field first. If you just want to make money, try being a banker. I actually love what I do and I love my firm, but it’s not for everyone.

  57. Natalie B. is right on the money. Law school should be two years of classroom instruction and one year of practical experience in an internship. As a law student, I earned the highest grade in my Securities Regulation class, but had no idea what an “S-1″ was or any other practical knowledge about how securities transactions work in reality. In my first year contracts class, we didn’t read one actual contract. Instead, we focused on the theory of concepts like anticipatory repudiation, damages, etc. While I loved learning the theory, law school does a terrible job of teaching its students the skills to make them successful lawyers.

    I loved law school and paid off my debt within a year working at a big law firm, but I absolutely would not go to law school if I were applying in 2011 unless I could get into a top five school. I attended a top 25 law school where I now teach, and it’s disheartening to see how many of my brilliant, capable students are contemplating an uncertain future saddled with a quarter of a million in debt.

  58. John Mansfield says:

    So, where is all that extra law school tuition going that it didn’t twenty years ago? Universities will always find something to do with more money, but have the law schools used it in any particular way?

  59. 58 – Really really extravagant monocles, cuff links, and tie chains. Its mind-blowing opulence.

  60. StillConfused says:

    1. The Decision to Go. My beautiful sweet Aunt Ginny said in her extreme drawl “OH Paaaattie, you are so smart. You are going to be a lawya someday.” I was probably 6 or 7 at the time. I love my Aunt Ginny and so the decision was made.

    2. Where to Go? I went to BYU law school… which is very funny because I despised that school for undergrad, but it is different in upper grad (and maybe I matured a little)

    3. The Cost. Nothing. I was the Hinckley Scholar.

    4. What Was It Like? I had an absolute blast. I came there from being an air traffic controller so I didn’t see it as even remotely stressful. I loved my teachers and still stay in touch with them (except for beautiful Michael Goldsmith who passed away). My children were younger then (first and fourth grade for my first year) so when they didn’t have school they would come with me. They loved it and the teachers loved them.

    I never understood the obsession with studying. Back then (not sure if it is still the case) you only had one exam… at the end of the semester. So I never understood why people were studying so far in advance.
    5. Grades. To keep my scholarship, I needed to stay in the top third. So I made sure that I did that. But I had no interest in being on law review or any of that kind of stuff. Seemed awfully boring and time consuming to me.

    6. Getting a Job. My favorite law professor was retiring from law practice as I was coming through so I essentially just worked with him and the other attorneys at his firm. Not too long thereafter, I left the firm and went out on my own. It was just easier for me and the clients that way. I have also been in house counsel for a number of companies and such.

    7. Would I Do It Again? Absolutely. It was a blast. But hopefully I would have the same great professors!

    8. What Advice Do You Have for People Considering Law School? Don’t listen to all of the hype. It really isn’t bad. It is actually quite fun if you don’t get hung up on yourself.
    Try to go to a school near where you plan on living. Also, try to go to a school that has practical classes and not just all theory fluff. Align yourself with some of your favorite professors and keep in touch with them… they have a wealth of knowledge and information. Most importantly, do what works best for you. (For instance, I took Securities Regulation as a first year student because there was a time gap in between the first year classes and I don’t like to be idle)

  61. Hi Amanda, don’t know if you’re still reading.
    I was pretty much in your position (can go to law school without incurring debt), and I decided to go to law school. I’m in my second semester of my second year, and I don’t regret it.
    I have a little baby now, so that makes things like summer internships and externships during the school year a bit out of reach, and thus makes the possibility of a job after graduation even more out of reach, but getting that job was never really my purpose in going to law school in the first place.
    I decided to go to an okay school that gave me a great scholarship. There is no fierce competition among the students, the professors are really nice, but it’s still challenging enough that I have to work to keep a good GPA. But I don’t have to study crazy hours. I love going to school without having to worry about how I will pay anything back, or whether or not that firm will call me after my interview, or hunting down networking opportunities.
    In the meantime, I’m keeping my eyes open for the perfect job – something I can do from home part-time that involves research and writing on some topic that is at least moderately important to society.
    Those lawyers in the bloggernaccle who know of such an opportunity in the Bay Area, let me know!

  62. S.P. Bailey says:

    1. The Decision.
    I had wanted to be a lawyer since I was a kid. Shoot, I even put a sign on my desk in sixth grade advertising my services. A few years later I was teenager infected with all kinds of romantic genius pretensions. Still recovering from all that as a returned missionary years later, I was all fired up to pursue a P.hd in English lit. Then my professors one by one told me that they hated their jobs (low pay, department politics, no geographic autonomy)—and that they would get law or business degrees if they could go back and do it all over again. My Plan B was to become a brooding famous novelist. Alas, I was young, Mormon, and married. I wanted to both reproduce and feed our offspring with the bounties of my labor. And I was like *babies can’t eat my unpublished manuscripts!* Then I realized that Plan C was actually Plan A if I went all the way back to childhood: law!

    2. But Where?
    I only applied top 10 and BYU. It seemed so humiliating at the time to end up at my fall back school. I got over it.

    3. The Cost.
    BYU is a bargain. I didn’t even show up to my scholarship interview. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Top 10 or bust! was my mindset at the time. Amazingly, they gave me one anyway. My wife did a masters degree at BYU at the same time. Also, we ordered pizza sometimes when ramen noodles would have been just fine. If you add 20 years of interest to the cost of a pizza, it is more expensive than diamond crusted caviar. We still came out well under 6 figures in debt.

    4. What Was It Like?
    Sobriety affords no competitive advantage at BYU since almost nobody goes out and gets plastered on the weekends. Also, *everybody* silently prays that they will “perform to the best of their ability” before finals, so God can’t do individual Mormons at BYU any special favors. It was stressful. BYU was way too competitive. I was part of the problem. I wanted to crush my classmates because most firms that came on campus to interview would not even talk to you for 15 minutes if you were not in the top ten percent! This apparently isn’t a problem in the top-10 schools. I made some great friends in law school, but I should have made many, many more. There were a lot of cool people who I never got to talk with much. I was busy outlining cases and memorizing arcane multi-part rules. Funny how you never do either of those things as an actual lawyer!

    5. Grades.
    I graduated in the top 10.4 percent of my class. 15th of 144. There were 145 in my class until the last semester. That means I was top ten through the magic of rounding up for part of my law school career. Then some jerk didn’t graduate! For a while there I was really angry that I didn’t get a certificate that says “Order of the Coif” on it. That’s how crazy law school makes people. Order of the Coif?! I can’t decide if that sounds dirty-dirty or just bodily-function dirty. Anyway, I got over that too.

    6. Getting a Job.
    Out of law school, I did a clerkship with a federal judge and then worked as a DOJ trial attorney both in DC. I never met a lawyer in DC who had both time and money. There were only lots of bleary-eyed, strained-marriage biglaw folks on one side, and lots of teetering on the verge of bankruptcy government/public interest-type folks on the other side. A few years later, the mountain states started seeming much less provincial and fly-overy. I applied and interviewed at firms all over Utah, Idaho, Colorado, etc. Ultimately, I turned down offers at some regional firms, opting instead for smaller, more entrepreneurial places with tons of freedom, opportunity, upside, and stuff like that. Great decision for a variety of reasons.

    7. Would I Do It Again?
    Yes. I love practicing law more and more the longer I do it. It is a good fit for me, I love my clients, I have been lucky to find a good group of people to practice with, we win/settle lots of good cases, etc., etc.

    8. What Advice?
    Most people are not cut out to be lawyers. Even some very good lawyers are not cut out to be lawyers. They kick butt, but they always have little tears forming in the corners of their eyes. It is a weakness to be exploited. You will probably be happier and wealthier starting a small business and hiring people like me to do your legal-type homework.

  63. I got into several prestigious expensive law schools. After much contemplation, I instead went to a decent, less prestigious school that offered me a scholarship.

    And the result? When I decided I didn’t like corporate law, but loved public service law, I was free to go with the lower-paying job, unburdened by serious debt.

    The snob in me regrets the lost opportunity of attaching a fancy name to myself. But the practical self is happy to be free to go to a job I love every day [and one that is flexible for my family]. Those other degrees would have helped me have a prominent career. But I guess I knew I didn’t want prominence–I wanted a life.

    So, decide what is most important–money, time, future advancement and so on-and then decide

  64. Natalie B #54 and Rachel #61 (and anyone else who has responded to my questions) – thank you very much! Great comments, giving me lots to chew on. I currently am a Probation Officer in a Drug Court. I work a lot with DA’s, PD’s, magistrates and judges. I know how tedious a lot of that work is and have no illusions that practicing law looks anything like Law and Order. I love what I do but I also see that there are just some things that I cannot do without a law degree. I also still have this (naive?) idea about the value of a law school degree. Am completely not interested in business or a PhD in anything.
    Anyway, thank you again for the comments!

  65. So, I guess I am disagreeing with some of the previous comments. You should consider going to the best school you get into, but you should think about cost-benefit based on what YOU want. Advice for future big firm lawyers is different for advice for future public defenders.

    Do you want to work 80+ hours a week if it means you have wealth and/or prestige? If so, by all means go top ten. I know people who have gotten great clerkships this way, and others who have used this to start lucrative careers. Not for me, but definitely a good choice for others.

    Do you want to do something less stressful and/or more fulfilling? Consider going lower key and graduating with a lower debt load, or go to a school like Yale where there are options for loan forgiveness for public service.

  66. . . . or go to a school like Yale . . .

    This is good advice.

  67. Sobriety affords no competitive advantage at BYU since almost nobody goes out and gets plastered on the weekends. Also, *everybody* silently prays that they will “perform to the best of their ability” before finals, so God can’t do individual Mormons at BYU any special favors. It was stressful. BYU was way too competitive. I was part of the problem. I wanted to crush my classmates because most firms that came on campus to interview would not even talk to you for 15 minutes if you were not in the top ten percent! This apparently isn’t a problem in the top-10 schools. I made some great friends in law school, but I should have made many, many more. There were a lot of cool people who I never got to talk with much. I was busy outlining cases and memorizing arcane multi-part rules. Funny how you never do either of those things as an actual lawyer!

    Loved this. Thanks. I’m glad you did it — it meant you could be my mentor on law review. Too bad we never had a friendly conversation at that time (you weren’t the only one squandering the opportunity to meet and get to know tons of really cool, interesting people in favor of trying to gain a sliver of competitive advantage over them with your head buried in a casebook in your carrel).

  68. S.P. Bailey says:

    Thanks, John. You are definitely one of the people I should have gotten to know much better during law school!

  69. E&R&O's Papa says:

    I became a lawyer by default and then have had a charmed (if often stressful) legal career for two decades. But still tell anyone considering the law that if they can think of something better to do with their life, they should do that instead.

    1. The Decision to Go. I had stayed too long at BYU, didn’t have the energy to finish my liberal arts master’s thesis, and needed to escape. Law school is a great place to hide for a while.

    2. Where to Go? In the late 80s applied to the top 4 law schools as well as my state school, got into them all, and went to Yale.

    3. The Cost. Too much, but a fraction of what it would be today. I graduated $45,000 in debt and still pay $200 a month in student loans. U of C offered me a lucrative scholarship that would have left me debt-free, and I was too naive to realize what I was giving up. But I still would have been better off at Yale, so I’m not complaining.

    4. What Was It Like? Immensely enjoyable. No grades, and a healthy change from Provo.

    5. Grades. In theory they were inscrutable and didn’t matter. (The Dean started with a speech called “You’re off the Treadmill,” and said “our goal is to get 90% of you in the top 10% of the class.”) In reality crazy overachievers remain crazy, they just find their own outlets, even in New Haven.

    6. Getting a Job. I got the Big Law job in my hometown that I wanted, then spend a few years at a prestigious nonprofit, and now I’m a partner in a big firm. But you never stop worrying that it will all disappear any moment.

    7. Would I Do It Again? Yes — but I’d probably choose not to end up in litigation. It turns out I hate conflict.

    8. What Advice Do You Have for People Considering Law School? Don’t plan your life around winning the lottery. Be honest and realistic about who you are, what you want, and what the economy offers.

  70. Little Sister says:

    I’m writing because I think many of these comments apply to a legal world that no longer exists. The 70s, 80s, and even 2008’s, are long gone. Law school tuition has spiraled out of control because law schools have every incentive to increase revenues and young students can’t comprehend figures that big (myself included).

    I am a current 3L at a top 3 law school. The past three years have been the happiest of my life. But, even so, I would strongly advise students against going to law school. Going to law school is like buying a Ferrari entirely on loans, you may absolutely love driving it, but you shouldn’t have bought it.

    I graduated from college debt free, but I will be exiting law school with approximately $200,000 in law school debt. This actually is after living frugally, and not taking out the full amount offered by the school. Tuition is $45,000 and rising – and that’s before living costs and interest that starts collecting from day one. To pay off these loans, I will work 60 – 80 hours a week for the next ten years at a job I won’t love. If I want to start a family, I will have to do it between short maternity leaves – I won’t be able to afford to drop out for a year or two. Public interest law jobs are nearly impossible to get without work experience, and pay next to nothing. But working for a corporate firm was not what I had in mind when I decided to go to law school and the work/life balance is non-existant.

    Kellyim had it right – do not go to law school because you: 1) don’t know what to do with your BA degree, 2) want to practice “international law”, 3) are interested in “development” or helping people, 4) want to learn to “think like a lawyer.”

    Go to law school if: 1) you know you want to be a corporate lawyer, 2) have a full scholarship, 3) get into a top ten school, AND 4) will perform at the top of your class at that school. If one of those is missing – don’t go.

    I know this is a hard message – and I would not have believed it three years ago because I was so happy and hopeful and excited and flattered. And it’s true that I think law school has been a total blast. But the future awaits – and it ain’t pretty.

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