Law School Discussion

Take the money or Move up a tier?

Re: Take the money or Move up a tier?
« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2004, 08:18:28 PM »
I want to elaborate a little bit.  If you're good at what you do you won't be stuck at $40K forever. 

I'm going to 'pontificate' a bit, so please forgive me.  Most lawyers don't want to be lawyers.  I was talking to someone yesterday who goes to a 3rd tier school and she was telling me how she didn't think she could do litigation.  But you go to the local legal newspaper and go through the job postings and they're almost all litigation.  Corporate transactional work pretty much only happens in the big firms or in the boutiques. 

But if you want to be a litigator then it doesn't matter so much where you go to school.  And plaintiff's attorneys can make big money if they're good at what they do.  In fact they can make more money per hour than people in BIGLAW.  And litigation, even on the defense side which pays less than the plaintiff's side, is a lot more recession proof than corporate work. 

But here's the drawback, most law students don't want to do litigation.  It's a lot less glamourous (for some reason that spelling looks wrong and I'm drawing a blank) than corporate work.  And in my opinion (based on my observation) most law students don't really want to be lawyers.  There's really no way that you can know when you're applying whether you really want to be a lawyer because you can't know what being a lawyer really means. 

Take litigation, for example, most cases never get to trial.  The real work is civil procedure stuff.  Hardly Jack McCoy.  Being a lawyer means reading and writing.  It's not as exciting and fun as it is on The Practice. 

So based on my opinion I would definitely say that vast majority of law students shouldn't be in law school.  Not doing something you like (or doing something you're apathetic about) is okay if you're well paid but it sucks if you're not. 

It's a gamble and the odds of winning go down with the ranking of the school.  The top grad at a 4th tier school is going to get a great job.  And in the middle of the class guy/girl at the 2nd tier can make it into a small firm doing litigation.  If he/she is good at it (usually we're the best at things we like) then he/she can have a great career.  I don't see much difference between 2nd and 3rd tier although the 2nd is marginally better.  What matters is the market and the competition.  If a city has a top-notch school and a 3rd tier school, then people from far away 2nd tier schools won't get the local jobs over the 3rd tier person.  However, for schools within the market 2nd tier is better than 3rd tier. 

I think that the 4th tier is too risky.  The 3rd tier and 2nd tier is a chance and I would recommend dropping out after 1L if you're not in the top half.  But see the problem is that almost no one drops out.  After 1L you get the song and dance from the professors about how you have to 'stay the course.'  There are always exceptions, people from the very bottom of the class who end up millionaires.  But my advice is never to assume that you'll be the exception.  Start out assuming you'll be average and figure out if you can live with what it means to be average from that school. 

Re: Take the money or Move up a tier?
« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2004, 08:26:01 PM »
Go to the best school you can get into.  You will get out of debt, you cannot repeat your law school education. Where you go will also affect the $$ you make coming out.

Re: Take the money or Move up a tier?
« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2004, 09:18:32 PM »
What if you are a student who doesn't have any financial support from mommy, daddy, etc.- and you are trying to decide between a prestigious school in your home city that costs $30K per year vs a solid school, with a full scholarship, that is still in your home state.  And you're not totally sold on working in a big firm.  In fact, at this point you would prefer to work in a smaller, yet still reputable, firm.  By smaller, I mean less than 50 attorneys.  What would you do?

And this is a true dilemma...

Well that depends on what the gap is between the two schools in terms of hiring, but in general, where you go to school WILL follow you the rest of your career.  Not that all firms will do this, but what will you do if the firm you're trying to lateral to is biased against non-prestigious schools?  You have to realize that firms make money by attracting clients and they attract clients by employing attorneys with degrees from top schools.  If you go to, you'll see stories about how a hiring partner at big firm wouldn't give an applicant the time of day even though the applicant was very possibly the best in his field.  All because of the 3rd tier school he graduated from 30 years ago.  Now, I'm not saying everything on that site is the cold, hard truth but seeing as how most, if not all, of us here are either dreaming about law school, applying to law school or currently in law school, I'd much rather take the word of someone in touch with the actual conditions facing lawyers today.

And BTW, I am a student who will be paying for law school without daddy and mommy's help. :)  And the amount I'm projected to borrow for the coming academic year is almost $60,000.  Needless to say, I hope the loan gives me $60,000 different reasons to light a fire underneath my butt. ;)

Re: Take the money or Move up a tier?
« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2004, 09:36:28 PM »
The Apprentice tonight showed how where you go to school impacts how people perceive you.  IMHO, Kwame should have been fired.  But the reason (IMHO of course) the Donald fired Troy was that kind of knee-jerk uncertainty about someone who didn't go to college and more assurance about someone with a Harvard MBA.  He just didn't want to take the chance. It was too 'risky.' 

That's what hiring committees do.  When comparing the 1st tier grad to the 4th tier grad, they're going to have more faith in the 1st tier grad, meaning they're willing to give them a little bit more consideration.  Like when I choose my car, I bought a Honda instead of a Kia because I was risk-averse.  I'm sure there are Kias that are just as reliable (and maybe even more reliable) than the Honda but it was an easier decision to choose the Honda. 

I think the Kwame thing also demonstrates that people from the better schools aren't necessarily better.  IMHO Kwame is a weak player.  He may be good at his Wall Street job but he shouldn't win.  But in the tough call his Harvard MBA gave him a little edge and in the job market you have to have that little edge. 

Re: Take the money or Move up a tier?
« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2004, 09:45:16 PM »
When you are deciding between the 4th tier and 3rd tier school, another thing you need to take into account is location.  If you get into a 3rd tier school in Florida and a 4th tier school in Michigan (for example) it could be the 4th tier school is really the better choice.  Sure the 3rd tier Florida school is better ranked, but if you want to work in Michigan and Michigan firms typically hire people that graduate from Michigan schools (regardless of tier) and rarely even look for people from Florida schools (regardless of tier), then the 4th tier school is actually best for the situation you want after school (getting a job in Michigan).  Also, you might want to look at bar passage rates for the schools in the state you want to work in.  If the 3rd tier and 4th tier schools are in the same state and at one there is a bigger chance that you will pass the bar, then that might be the better choice (again regardless of rank).  If you don't pass the bar, you aren't going to be practicing law (at least not as a lawyer)...

When you are choosing between the 3rd tier and 4th tier school there are a lot more things to take into account than just what their ranks are.

Re: Take the money or Move up a tier?
« Reply #15 on: April 02, 2004, 08:19:32 AM »
For those obsessed with U.S. News:  The $30K per year school is at the bottom of the 1st tier while the full-tuition scholarship is to a "3rd Tier" school.  The "Tier 1" school has a VERY STRONG reputation within my home city, yet the "3rd Tier" law school has a solid rep as well.  In fact, it's largest alumni base is in my home city.  Both are in my home state.  I will no financial support from family, no trust fund, no inheritance...  Going to the "Tier 1" school would easily put me at $130,000 debt upon graduation.  On the other side, I could graduate from a "Tier 3" that has a solid rep, with little to no debt?

Which would you choose? 

Re: Take the money or Move up a tier?
« Reply #16 on: April 02, 2004, 01:08:22 PM »
imo, i would honestly take the t3 w/the lesser amount of debt. i understand the arguments of the whole debt vs. prestige in getting you anywhere issue/debate/whatever; but i also know that - especially if i was to stay in my home state - a lower debt load is just as easy to pick off over time at a firm where i'm making (we'll say) $20K less than the debt i'm carrying.

for example, if i had to choose between Northwestern and John Marshall in Chicago? i believe that JM would rake in the lower debt and if i got into an IP firm in chicago, i'm sure i'd be able to cover the debt i raked in while in school. (realizing that i wouldn't have any kind of financial help from my parents)

just my opinion. :)

Re: Take the money or Move up a tier?
« Reply #17 on: April 02, 2004, 01:30:03 PM »
Since they are both in your home state then I'd still recommend going with the higher ranked school.  The higher ranked school will give you that little extra which could be the difference between a decent job and bad job.  Like I wrote earlier, imagine yourself as the average student at both of these schools.  I don't know your city but even though the 3rd tier has a "solid rep" in your city I am almost 100% certain that a middle of the class grad there really struggles to find something decent.  And if I'm wrong, then please tell me where you are and I'll move there tomorrow because a city where a middle of the class local 3rd tier grad can get a decent job is like law student heaven.  It's a matter of simple economics.  There just aren't enough jobs so firms need an easy way to weed people out. 

BTW, I'm in your shoes, no rich daddy for me.  My law school education has been financed entirely by loans and a large scholarship in my first year at a 2nd tier school.  I have amassed an ungodly amount of debt.  I can't even bring myself to say the number out loud. 

To illustrate my point, I'm probably going to end up doing insurance defense work which is fine with me.  Law students tend to turn their nose up at it because I don't have a rich daddy.  So I'm looking at insurance defense firms in a certain city and there is obviously a hierarchy of firms.  There are insurance defense firms that do more complex litigation that pay their associates in the $60K to $80K range.  Then there are insurance firms also doing complex litigation that broke off from big firms.  They pay their associates about $50K.  Good litigators from these kinds of firms can get into BIGLAW.  They can also move to the reputable PI firms which pay very well.  Then below these firms we have the less reputable insurance defense firms where they do $10K auto insurance claims.  They pay their associates about $40K and often don't even give benefits.  Plus those firms don't get respect so their associates often can't move to better firms.  For example, I sent my resume in to a blind job listing and they replied and said they wanted to interview me.  I did some research and found out that the senior partner had been suspended for sexually harrassing some of his employees.  I noticed that one of the partners just left to be an associate with an auto accident defense firm.  So I cancelled my interview.  I had a long talk with the career counselor and I decided that I have the 'luxury' of being able to cancel that kind of interview because I'm at a good school.  The local 3rd tier grad in the middle of the class would be grateful for that job. 

Do the math for yourself.  Say for example, you'll probably always be able to make $15K to $20K more a year coming from the 1st tier school.  Does that over time make up for the additional cost? 

There are other factors to consider.  What kind of contacts do you have?  Networking is the best way to find a job.  Do you prior work experience? 

You want to figure out what happens in this economy to the middle of the class grad at that school.  That's really difficult to find out.  You can't ask the school because they lie. Employment statistics reported by law schools are so inaccurate that they're almost funny.  You can't ask the career counselor for advice either because they won't tell you the whole story.  Partners probably won't know either because it's been years since they were in the market.  Maybe you could find some recent grads to talkto by doing a Martindale search.  I also recommend visiting the school and going up to students in the cafeteria and the halls.  You want to find 3rd years.  Ask them if they have a job lined up.  If they don't have a job ask them how their job search is going.  3Ls without jobs are bitter and will give the real scoop.  You might also try to meet some young attorneys in the city.  Does the local bar association have a young attorneys section?  Try to find people who've been out for just a few years who work at average firms.  They'll give the real scoop of what it is like for graduates of that school.  And by all means, stay away from the really successful grads of that school.  Sure the top 10% law review guy has a great job.  But what does he know about what it's like for other people?  You talk to him and you'll get your hopes up.  I'm sure you're smart and all that but odds are that you'll get average grades. 

Re: Take the money or Move up a tier?
« Reply #18 on: April 02, 2004, 01:40:51 PM »
Yeah, I think people need to realize that ambitions aside, you should consider your job opportunities as someone in the middle of class, not someone in the top 10%.  Everyone wants to be in the top 10% (or at least everyone should -- I doubt you'll find many people who say they wouldn't prefer being top 10% over middle of the class) but tell that to the 90% who don't make it.


Re: Take the money or Move up a tier?
« Reply #19 on: April 02, 2004, 01:54:37 PM »
The problem with thinking of yourself as an average student at both schools is that your probability of being an "average" student depends on the level of students at the school.   Suppose you've been accepted at two schools--Harvard (where you barely got in) and the University of Missouri (where you're far more qualified than your fellow applicants).  Should you ask yourself, "How does the average Harvard grad do as compared to the average University of Missouri grad?"  No.  At the University of Missouri, you won't be in the middle of the class, you'll be at the top of it.  At Harvard, you're more likely to be toward the bottom of the class.  You should ask how the best students at Missouri do compared to the lower-ranked students at Harvard.

I realize that few people are making a decision between such widely varying schools.  I also realize that you can't really predict how well you'll do in law school with any certainty.  Still, it seems reasonable to consider this sort of thing.