Law School Discussion

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Messages - Zepp

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21
Zepp – I agree with most of your comments, but would like to interject that some of the best attorneys I have ever had the pleasure of associating with were not with “big law”.  There are people out there – attorneys and others – who value a principle more than they do financial gain.  Many of the attorneys who work in public interest law could do well in a large firm, but have decide to pursue employment based upon their values.  Some of them struggle to meet their law school debt, and some of them do eventually move into more profitable areas.  However there are excellent attorneys who will never make what is considered a good income, but who are happy in doing what they do and feel they are contributing to society.

I agree 100%. 

22
I still fail to see the correlation with how much a lawyer charges determines if the lawyer is good or bad?  If a lawyer “wins,” he’s considered good; if he “loses,” he’s bad – right?  So, what does pay have to do with it?

Lawyers that win frequetly generally have the luxery of charing a higher rate.  Like you later say, it comes down to the market.


Good vs. Bad Attorneys – isn’t it all relative to the beholder?  Good vs. bad has to do with personal character, doesn’t it?  Cost is determined by what the market is willing to bear.  If a lawyer wants to offer assistance to the lower class, who are most deprived of legal assistance due to unreasonable fees, and is able to operate his firm at a lower fee, does that make him/her a “bad” lawyer?  Boeing and Microsoft, I’m sure, pay high rates for their attorneys, but have lost some significant cases – so, are their lawyers “good” because they cost more even if they lost?

I agree with your first statement.  The "good" lawyer is the one that wins, or negotiate the best possible outcome for his client under their circumstances, and does everything in his power to ethically represent his client.  I'm less conerned about the white hat/black hat b.s.

If a lawyer graduates from a “low” end school, but is able to research, represent, and win for his client, how does that make him a bad lawyer?  Personally, I still don’t see how what school you go to makes any someone better than another if they are able to apply the necessary skills for competent representation.  I do concede that law firms need something to evaluate a new grads potential, but that still is no guarantee.

I agree.  Good attorneys come from all sorts of different schools.  However, I would venture to guess that a larger percenage of Harvard grads are "good" attorneys than Cooley grads.  People that get admitted to the best law schools do so based on an already established pattern of academic success.  So you have a classroom filed with academic overachievers.  It doesn't take much to come to the realization that the level of discourse will be much higher at the better schools, as you have a room full of generally intelligent people, that are accustomed to performing at a high academic level.  Again, this is not a guarentee of a "good" or even "better" lawyer.  But if you had to place bets as to which is more likely to be the "good" lawyer, why wouldn't you pick a grad from an elite school?

23

There is no apriori proof big law firms do anything better than any other forms of practice other than charging  big fees. In fact, some of the most spectacular fails have come out of big firms becuase of their size and ability to create big rather than small mischief. They are just big and politically powerful and rarely get sanctioned and disciplined for that reason.

You can try to weasel out of it anyway you like, but simple logic will lead any sane person to the conclusion that the odds are much better of finding the star attorneys at a large firm, than a two man operation operating out of a shopping mall.  Top firms are made up of partners how have been able to produce results.  They started as associates in these top firms.  They were recruited by these firms because they were the top of their class at the best law schools.  They got into the top law school because they had great LSAT scores and high GPAs from good universities.  Do I think a pool that consists of people who have been academic over-achievers their entire lives, being mentoured professional by similar over-achievers who have proven themselves successful in the practice of law is more likely than not to have the best attorneys?  You bet your backside.  Do you honestly think people pay large firms their fees without conderation the the results they can achieve?  Do spectular fails come from BigLaw.  Of course.  Sometimes big mistakes go hand in hand with big stakes.  Do we hear about  them?  Of course, because it's big news (and yes, they too get sanctioned).  Do we ever hear about the working class guy that picks a lousy lawyer out of the yellow pages with a big ad?  Probably not.  Just how many average Joes have their cases messed up by incompetent lawyers?  Who knows. 

As for Courts' reluctance to sanction...I don't know of a single court that is quick to pull the sanction trigger.  Just look at distance learning poster child Orly Taitz.  She's been chasing President Obama around for the past 3 years with the most rediculous junk law theories and frivolous law suits, can't follow the most simple of rules of procedure, and seems to have forgotten even the most basic principals of laws, and yet has only been sanctioned once.  Go figure.


As for not "cutting it" at a big firm, anyone with any common sense would flee any job that requires one to work more hours than they humanly want to and induces highter than average rates of sleep deprivation, stress, and substance and alcohol abuse. Having said that, they do practice law well or they go out of business just like anyone else.

Common sense also lead a person to take the best paying job to pay down $150-$250k in school debt, and suck it up for a few years.  That, and many people in big law thrive on the high pressure environment.  It's that alpha personality thing that drove them to succeed throughout their academic careers, and go after the biggest challenges.


Reading for the bar is what online and correspondence law school is all about just without the sponsoring attorney and with a shorter time period involved. The statistical rates I think though are meaninless because the sample would be so small and self selecting. Anyone who opts for distance learning law in the US better be hard core and a gambler as the odds are at least 10-1 against in California. In fact I suspect many wash out even before they hit the FYLE. As I said before, the only reason for opting for distance learning would be geographic as the time involved to be successful will be the more not less than traditional school. The only exception I contend is that someone with excellent mnemonic skills can pass the California bar by simply memorizing all the outlines, Blacks law dictionary, nutshells, past bar questions and Flemings or something similar. Of course once they get their law license, they will need to learn how to practice law by hanging out with attorneys and attending court everyday for a few months.

My two cents is anything worth doing, is worth doing right.  The bar passage rates are already pretty low in brick and mortar non-ABA accredited schools.  That has to be a reflection of either the school and quality of education, the quality of the students, or both.  In any academic enviroment, a good deal of what you learn you learn from your fellow students and the discussions they drive.  The higher the quality of students, the higher the quality of education.  Once you get past the bar, you learn from experience.  The better the quality the mentor, the better the eventual attorney.  If someone is relying on leaning to be an attorney by "hanging out" and "attending court" I feel sorry for the first clients this freshly minted attorney will take on.

24
Unless you define "good" as equalling how much an attorney earns, hourly fees have absolutely nothing to with how good an attorney is for a client. Some of the best attorneys work for free or on a contingent fee basis, the hourly guys who work for big firms, are usually good at one thing - billing their clients for every nanosecond spent on a case. Good attorneys work for people and causes not corporations and insurance companies. Or to put it another way, an attorney who represents SSI claimants does a Hell of a lot more good than one who helps corporations squeeze more money out of consumers and employees. 

So by your definition, all those attorneys, who graduted near the top of their class, in the top 14 law schools in the country, working in biglaw, representing large clients, aren't good attorneys?  You do know that most large firms have pro-bono requirements too, so do they become "good" attorneys only while doing pro bono work?  Hate to break it to you, a large poriton of those "Good attorneys [who] work for people" are pretty average at what they do, if not much worse.  Biglaw has a way of weeding out the deadbeats.  While there are many attorneys doing what they feel is for the betterment of society than just looking for a big paycheck, there are many more who just can't cut it at a big firm, and are taking whatever they can get.

If someone has a bachelors degree and training and can pass the bar, why shouldn't they be an attorney?

You know there are still a few states that let you take the bar without law school (VT, VA, NY, CA).  It's called reading the law.  You study under a practicing attorney, and then they let you take the bar.  Perhaps you should check out percentages that pass the bar.  It makes the unaccredited schools look like they have stellar bar passage rates.

25
but why would anyone actually need a paper lawbook these days? They are super expensive, cumbersome, and have regular Hellishly expensive updates. And they come in electronic versions anyway. Any attorney who is doing more than 5% of their research from paper books is way behind the technology curve. Let's face it, law books which can't be searched for terms or immediately cross referenced are a waste of time. Law schools who rely on paper are setting students up with outmoded skill sets. The ABA is so far behind the times that it is hugely irrelevant to most lawyers except where it maintains its death grip on law schools. The ABA can't even begin to resolve the morass of multijurisdictional practice and the Internet - they s_ck. But the law book publishers love them.

I'm guessing you've never had to deal with a client on a tight budget (or God forbid, a pro-bono client)?  Westlaw charges $15 to view a case you pull up by citation.  Actual searches just pile on the dollars.  I suppose you can use some of the free on-line services, but I have yet to find one that's worth a damn.  There aren't too many options for low cost research, and books are still free to an attorney who knows how to use them effectively (and provided law schools are still carrying them).  And what exactly is the solo practioner supposed to do when his clients can't afford the cost of Westlaw and Lexis, and he doesn't have the volume to get a decent discount from either?  If the nearest law school stops carrying the paper volumes, he's pretty much SOL, isn't he?  So, no, I don't think it is unreasonable for the ABA to expect law schools to carry, both for use by their students or their local legal community, nor do I think it unreasonable to expect an attorney to know how to use bound resources effectively when necessary.  I think it is just as much a failure by an attorney to not know how to use bound resources as it is to be "behind the technology curve" and not use electornic resources.

26
It's a festering pile of B.S.  Rather than whine about ABA standards (because having standards are a bad thing in the practice of law?), perhaps these deans and faculty of these sub 4T schools should look at their salaries.  Law schools are a cash cow for universities.  They are cheap to run, and the deans in even 4T schools bank half a mil. or more a year.  The blog, "third tier reality" profiles many of these schools, including the pay of administrators and faculty, and when you see how much the salaries are at even the worst ABA-accredited schools, you'll see the "standards" have less to do with the cost than the willingness of these educators to line their pockets at the expense of students that don't realize their diploma is probably the worst investment of their lives. 

There is no reason third and fourth tier schools should be charging anywhere near top 14 school prices.  The only reason they do is simple greed, and they get away with it by dazzling naive students with b.s. salary stats.  And the costs of law school has very little to do with the availability of affordable legal representation.  The reality is there are a great many unemployed lawyers out there.  The vast majority of the many thousand of students who graduate law school every year will never even get an interview at a V100 firm, much less actually work at one, billing $300 and hour.  The luck grads of T3 and 4 schools manage to get jobs at small firms doing divorces, family law, and representing your average client for not much money.  They'll probably be making some $40k a year, and just barely paying their law schoold debt.  The less than lucky ones will have to give up on the law, and take jobs in other fields to pay their debt on a degree that is doing them no good.

The problem isn't that the standards are set too high.  The real problem is students aren't getting what they pay for.  While an argument can be made that the top 14 law schools can charge $45-50k a year because their graduates have a reasonably good shot at biglaw, making $160k to start, can you honestly tell me that 4th tier schools like Touro and Suffolk are priced right at $41k a year?  Can there be any justification as to why these schools are charging only $4k/year less than Harvard and Georgetown?  Are the graduates of Touro and Suffolk only getting $12k less value on their degree than a Harvard of Georgetown grad?  The vast majority of T4 schools charge between $32k and $38k/year for tuition.  These 4T schools have no touble paying their admin and faculty six figure salaries, but the problem is that the ABA has too high a standard that makes it expensive to run their library?   They're just greedy SOBs that don't want the ABA cutting into their bottom line with silly "standards" like requiring the library have books, when that money could be paying for something far better like the dean's salary.

27
Where should I go next fall? / Re: Massachusetts School of Law
« on: December 15, 2011, 11:20:00 AM »
If I were you, I would still consider the possiblity of taking an LSAT prep course, and taking the LSAT again.  I kicked my score up a full 10 points after a prep class.  I knew other people that increased even more.  With a 3.5 undergrad gpa, and if you can bring up your LSAT score, you might not end up at Harvard, but you may be surprised were you can get into.  You would really being doing yourself a disservice by not at least trying to see what a prep course can get you.  Another thing to keep in mind when speaking to alums is that the legal market has change greatly in the past 3 years (even for Harvard grads, although for them, it just means fewer biglaw job offers).  Where as before 2009, if you graduated from any tier 1 school in roughly the top 50% of your class you had a decent chance at biglaw, and those that did well in tier 2 had a decent shot as well, now the biglaw jobs are far and fewer, and even people that more tier 1 grads are taking goverment jobs, and even the top of tier 2 schools are taking jobs they would never have considered before the economy went belly up.  There is far more competition for far fewer jobs today, and the lower you are on the list, the better chances you will feel the squeeze the worst.  And remember, your job prospects will forever be limited by that list below.  Those are the only states you even have a possiblity of being able to practice in (and even some of those are conditional...Maryland, for example, does require an applicant attend an ABA accredited school, but can waive that requirment if an applicant shows equivalent education or experience or both...note "may").  You don't have those same limitations with an ABA accredited JD.


I can see your point about the difference between a fourth tier school and MSL.  I really don't see the point of paying $30k a year for a T4 eduation.  Your job prospects will be hugely limited at even an ABA accredited T4 school, but you'd be paying BMW prices to drive a Yugo.  However, I think it should be very possible for you to get into a T2 or T1 school with your grades (and if the prep course boosts your LSAT).  A prep course will cost you probably a couple grand.  Sure, it's a good amount of money in a tight economy, but we're talking about a career here.  Don't sell yourself short.    You're going to be spending at least $50k even at MSL, might as well spend a little more on the front end to boost your LSAT score, and a couple more in applications to see just how good a school you might possibly get into.  Your JD will stay with you for your career, and no matter what anyone will tell you, even well into your career, potential employers will still look at your school and GPA.   You should really find out what is possible before writing off options.   

28
Law School Applications / Re: application question
« on: December 14, 2011, 12:34:04 PM »
Since the schools aren't going to rely on what you say your score is on the application, and will wait for the official results from the LSAC, you can go ahead and apply. Since most schools do rolling admissions, it is always helpful to apply early, but you are at a bit of a disadvantage in that you don't know what your score is, and if it even within the realm of what the school normally considers, and may well be wasting your money by applying to a schools that are beyond your scores, or not applying to the schools you have a shot at.  But there really is nothing to stop you from sending in the application. 

29
Law School Applications / Re: Patent Law - Prospects for an Engineer?
« on: December 14, 2011, 12:28:57 PM »
I don't think your Cornell grad work will help you get into Cornell's law school, unless you have a close relationship with one of your professors who has good ties with the law school, and is willing to work behind the scenes for you (or you're able to work some kind of dual degree out of it).  Just on paper, it probably isn't going to make much of a difference (I have a Master's from Georgetown, and was initially rejected by Georgetown for law school). 

The only time I see your graduate work making a difference is if the school is highly regarded for its IP program, and looking at students with science degrees is something that they are generally accustomed to (I don't believe Cornell falls into this catagory).

30
Where should I go next fall? / Re: Massachusetts School of Law
« on: December 14, 2011, 12:17:28 PM »
Attending a non-ABA accredited school is never a good idea.  You'll be able to sit for the bar in only Mass and NH.  You will eventually be able to be admitted into 20 other states, but in light of the fact that so can anyone else that attended any other law school ABA accredited or not, and some who attended an ABA accredited school can be admitted to any of the 50 states plus DC, I think it is more accurate to say there is no way you can be admitted to practice in 30 states.  And not only are they not ABA accredited, they applied, were denied, sued the ABA and lost, and have been very adamant that they have no intention with meeting ABA standards.  So it is safe to say, they probably never will be ABA accredited.

Then there is the question of what you intend to do with your degree.  Your options will be very limited.  You can only sit for MA or NH.  The job market in NH is very small, and you will lose out to a UNH grad at every turn.  In Mass you're competing with the grads of 10 other law schools, that cover the spectrum of ABA accredited schools, from Harvard that depending on the year is either ranked 1, 2, or 3, to your lower tiered schools like Western NE, and everything in between.  So there is no shortage of local schools that a hiring firm can pick from, so there really is no local advantage.  And who exactly did you speak to in determining they have a "good reputation for producing quality and successful attorneys"?  The school's admissions recruiters?  Every school will have someone they can point to that has been successful despite the disadvantage of graduating from a school with poor credentials.  More important than those few grads that they display on their website as being successful is how are the 100 other grads that graduated with those people doing?  What percentage of grads are working attorneys 5 years after graduation?  The chances of getting a job with any law firm, of any size will be pretty slim.  With the number of schools in Mass at every tier of quality, there's a good chance that even for an entry level attorney position at a 3 attorney firm, starting pay at $30k, there will be someone from a better school trying for that same job.

Then there is the cost factor that you mentioned.  At least, unlike most T4 law schools that think they can charge you virtually the same prices as a top 14 school, at $15k a year, you're not paying BMW prices to drive a Yugo.  The top 14 schools charge around $40 to $50k a year.  Some T4 schools charge up to $40k a year in tuition.  How a law school whose graduates don't any prayer at biglaw, can justifying charging the same amount as the best schools, whose graduates at least have a reasonable shot at the six figure income that can pay that debt, is just unconscionable.  So you graduate with the same debt after 3 years that most JDs have after just their first year (not to mention since they don't even require the LSAT, you save a couple grand in LSAT fees and test prep).  I don't know what their bar passage rate is, but I believe that anyone who vaguely pays attention in law school, and spends the money for a bar prep course, and studies their back side off, can pass the bar (and from what friends have told me, the Mass bar isn't that hard).  So at less than $50k of law school debt, starting out on your own, or with a friend, doing basic legal work (wills, power of attorney, minor criminal cases), and building a practice from the ground up is at least possible.  Heck, even taking contract positions doing document review should be able to pay that debt down.  Not an easy or glamorous career path by any stretch of the imagination, and if you're bringing $30k your first few years, you'll be doing well.  But at least if you can't make a career of it, the debt won't so oppressive where you're in a position where you can't even make the interest payments, and your debt is actually increasing.  You'll at least be able to walk away from the legal field and move on without having to have to pay for it for the rest of your life.

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