Law School Discussion

What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?

What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?
« on: April 14, 2009, 02:02:46 PM »
So, it is decision time. I live and work in Alaska, I have grown up in Alaska, and I want to move back to Alaska when I get done with law school. However, I also want to gain a strong education and have minimal debts possible. I am interested in environmental/marine law but don't want to specialize so much as to reduce job offers as Alaska is a small market. I have narrowed it down to three schools:

1. Lewis and Clark-recieved $26K for three years, tuition this year is around $32K
2. Tulane-recieved $40K for three years, tution this year is aboug $40K
3. U of Utah- recieved 3/4 tuition scholarship

I had other offers, but did not feel comfortable with the amount of debt those would have incurred.

I visited all three, and the faculty and students were most welcoming at Utah. However, the cost of living is high there, finding a place for myself and a large dog would be hard. I liked the range of classes at Tulane, just not sure about a hot climate. Lewis and Clark is the closest to home, and has the strongest ties to Alaska. However, the cost of living there is also high, and the overall feeling I got when visiting the law schools did not impress.

Question is, how important is it to attend a law school in the same region as where you want to work if you plan on working in a small state with no law school of its own? I am leaning towards Tulane, best school, best scholarship, and overall good feeling.


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Re: What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2009, 02:11:35 PM »
Any should be fine, but I also prefer Tulane of the three.


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Re: What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2009, 02:12:16 PM »
I'm just thinking out loud here and I don't really know, but I imagine most law in Anchorage would be related to Oil/Environment, or Fishing.

Lewis and Clark has that oh so famous envronmental law, plus there are fisheries in Oregon you might be able to work on/with or whatever.

Tulane is in New Orleans, so there's a ton of fishing, plus it's a major city on the Gulf so there are probably more Oil cases there, but it is a LOOONG way away from alaska.

Utah has oil/envromental issues but no ocean... but it is more conservative and so on...

My suggestion would be to find out the names of a few big firms in Alaska and look at their attorney bios, find out where they are from and try to email the people from those three schools. Also, you can contact the career services offices at those schools and ask them about the alaska market/for alums working there to contact.

I'm willing to bet that Alaska's legal market is pretty small so if you can get any contacts there they'll probably be willing to help you out.

Good Luck!!

Re: What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2009, 02:13:35 PM »
It sounds like Utah is a great deal.  COL can't be that bad, and I doubt Tulane's rep carries all the way to Alaska.  Since AK doesn't have it's own law school, I imagine any western state school would be ok.  Your pre-existing ties should be all you need on that front.

Re: What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?
« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2009, 07:15:47 PM »
I'm from Alaska and I'm just about to finish at Tulane.

The thing you need to understand about Alaska is that while it's a small job market, it's also quite a bit easier to practice there than many other places due to a lower overall saturation of attorneys and no law schools in the state.  There is a lot of government work and a smattering of small-medium (15-30 attorneys) firms that you can probably get on with if you send your resume around.  And, being local, I'd imagine you have a few ties to the area.  So basically, if you're from Alaska and perform decently in law school, then it's not hard to get something in the state, though this also obviously depends heavily on your interests, interviewing ability, grades, etc.

That being said, also consider that wages aren't especially high in Alaska.  There are very few 'biglaw' style offices, and the few that do exists are small branches with only 10-12 attorneys, sometimes less, several of whom are partners.  The highest starting associate salaries in Alaska are in the 80s to low 90s I believe, so if you have any dreams of reaping some enormous salary and bonus straight out of law school, they're not compatible with practicing in Alaska.  The majority of lawyers up there are either in practice with small firms or the state - that's really all the economy will support.

So far as the environmental stuff, that's all well and good, but you need to consider that A) just going to a school with a US News acclaimed environmental specialty is no guarantee that you'll be able to work in the field,  B) there are a very limited number of jobs related to environmental law anywhere, including Alaska, and C) even if your school has an specialty ranked on some magazine list, you'll still lose out to somebody with better degree prestige, grades, or a better connection/resume for the job.  Attempt to specialize in law school if that's your interest, but don't count on it getting you that dream job - the vast majority of people in areas like environmental first distinguished themselves with elite grades and firm performance, then specialized in environmental issues.  Also, the majority of environmental law jobs don't really entail what most people imagine, so I'd investigate that a bit by actually speaking to attorneys in the field if you haven't already done so.  Many of them simply litigate on the behalf of corporations or work in-house handling regulation - the 'save the earth' and jobs that involve truly interesting issues with NGO's and non-profits are few and far between, and they're very competitive due to high interest. 

Now, after all that, I think your best bet is Lewis and Clark - they have a lot more alumni in Alaska than most law schools, and I can think of two attorney's I know off the top of my head who went there. That schools recognition with locals and simple proximity to Alaska is going to be a far more helpful thing than the marginal increase in prestige you'd get form Tulane.  In my experience, after several years of returning home and one summer interning with a Judge in Alaska, people there simply don't know what Tulane is and have no idea that it's ranked higher or has a good maritime program.  I did meet one older attorney who graduated from Tulane, but he was retired and was in criminal defense for most of his career.  But again, just to emphasize, the superior ranking of Tulane is really useless for you, and you'll be paying substantially more to attend. 

NOLA is not as cheap as you probably think, and Tulane has some of the highest tuition in the country.  Based on your scholarship size, it's probably on the sliding decrease system based on your GPA, and you should be aware that they throw out hundreds of those things every year with the anticipation that many students won't be able to hang on to them.  Even with the scholarship deduction, your debt here will easily north of $100K for no real employment advantage, so unless you really love New Orleans, then I see no real advantage.  I say this as a guy who loves Tulane, but it really isn't for everybody.  I got a full ride, I immediate have family in the area, and I'll probably practice in the South, so it made sense for me.  If I had any intention of moving back to Alaska right away or I was paying even 1/2 the sticker price, there's no way I would have chosen Tulane, and that was when the economy was booming and jobs were plentiful.

Re: What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2009, 07:42:52 PM »
Lewis and Clark.  9th Cir. for the win.

Re: What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?
« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2009, 08:38:37 PM »
One major advantage for Lewis and Clark is the the ninth circuit.

I am not trying to gain a prestigious law firm job, or neccessarily work in environmental law. I have interest in that, but I have interest in many things. Hence why I am somewhat nervous about attending L&C becuase it is so "environmental" based.

I am also aware of the lower paying jobs with a law degree. I have been working for the State for the past 5 years, since I obtained my UG, and realize that my job I am at right now pays about the same as the job I would get as an Attorney I for the state. Hence why I am nervous to be quitting a job right now without good job prospects when I return.

Tulane would actually cost me less than L&C. All three schools require me to obtain a 3.0 or better to keep the scholarhips, which I believe is the top 50% of the class. I may be naive in thinking this, but I believe that I should be able to at least stay in this percentage just knowing my working history and how competative I am with myself. I am not the typical 22 year old comign to law school right after their UG. I am fully aware the implications of attending law school, and the money-sucker that it is. I am not trying to "save the earth" but rather have a hand in local regulations and interpretations of the laws. At least with Tulane if I did fall under the GPA the first year I will be able to obtain a half-tuition scholarship the next year. Not so with other schools...

Unfortunately most of these threads have turned me from being excited about law school into being pessimistic about the whole experience. That is why I am also somewhat skeptical when I was visiting law schools that most students did not have anything bad to say about school. Other than a L&C student...

When I visited Tulane I asked the career office aobut their ties to Alaska, and they proudly said they placed a student with a clerkship in Alaska recently. I imagine they were talking about you. Other than that though they pretty much told me the job search was on my own, which I kind of assumed it would be...

Re: What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?
« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2009, 11:16:40 PM »
Tulane would actually cost me less than L&C.

How so?  Assuming stable tuition rates:

Tulane = $40K/yr *3 = $120K-$40K (scholarship) = $80K

L&C = $32K/yr * 3 = $96K-$26K (scholarship) = $70K

Is the COL in NOLA substantially less than around L&C?

Also, if you plan to go back to Alaska to visit family, work, etc, don't forget to factor in the additional airfare costs for NOLA as compared to Oregon.

Re: What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?
« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2009, 12:02:46 AM »
I guess I should clarify that the scholarships were

Tulane $40K a year for three years
L&C $ 26 K a year for three years
Utah 3/4 tuition scholarship for three years

So in that sense, Tulane would be cheaper as it covers most of the tuition, and all of the tution this year...

Re: What school if want to come back to Alaska job market?
« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2009, 03:47:37 AM »
I misunderstood your original post and thought that the $40K at Tulane was disbursed over three years, not that you had a full ride.  That does change things a bit, but my point about Tulane not necessarily doing you any favors in Alaska stands.  Another thing you should be aware of is that Tulane routinely groups large scholarships in the same section, meaning that a percentage of them are forced to lose value based on the curve (median probably be over a 3.0 for your 1L, BTW).  The administration has generally denied doing this, but a few years ago some interested students privately kept track of it simply by talking to people in each section every year, and they definitely noticed a clustering of the largest scholarships each year.  I'm not saying this is guaranteed to happen to you, but it's something to think about.  Most private schools tend to give out more money than they can afford to, thus the strings attached to the amount - they're counting on a at least a few people losing all or part of their scholarships.  The sliding scholarship/GPA adjustment is nice, but suddenly finding yourself an extra $50K in debt when you counted free tuition can be jarring, and I've seen it happen to people.

That actually wouldn't be me that the CSO was referring to - I only interned with a judge my 1L summer, which is different from clerking.  There are a few other Alaskans here, a 1L that  I know of specifically, but never more than just a few, and the two others that I've met haven't intended on returning to Alaska to work.  That's not helpful for your decision, but I just thought you'd be curious to know.

I didn't mean to imply that you were naive about environmental jobs or wanted to get into a 'save the world' sort of position, I just wanted to clarify that most environmental jobs aren't along those lines.  So far as L&C being "so environmental based," I really wouldn't worry about that.  There's no such thing as a specialty law school - if you didn't want to do anything concerning environmental stuff for three years there, then you'd never be exposed to it.  Even though L&C is occasionally at the top of the US News list for that specialty, you really have to consider that nobody really knows or cares about that stuff except for law students.  Tulane, Colorado, Vermont, Oregon, etc, all have recognized environmental programs that, in truth, or probably pretty equal in quality and just separated by some arbitrary criteria that US News employs to create a list.  Nobody at these schools worries that their reputation for environmental law is going to somehow hold them back, and as I said, hardly anybody in the legal world is really aware of it outside of the particular specialty.

Anyway, if you want to work for the state and focus on regulatory stuff, I don't see one school offering a vast advantage over the other.  Obviously you'll have better odds of running into some L&C alumni in Alaska when you look for jobs, but if you're interested in public agencies, than alumni connections won't matter nearly as much as basic grades, journals, W/E, all the standard stuff.  I know nothing about Utah so I have no input there, though I don't see any reason to choose it over the other two if you're coming back to Alaska.

For a lot of people, I think this should come down to how much you really enjoy NOLA, because there are a lot of aspects of living down here that can rub people the wrong way.  I personally like it, but I've spent time down here my whole life.

Tulane is a good school and it worked out well for me, but honestly, once you get past schools ranked in the top 25 or so, the ranking differences are marginal.  A school ranked at 40 isn't wildly better than a school ranked at 60 - they're both regional, can place about 15% of the class at large firms when the economy is good, and the bottom half of the class will probably struggle to find the jobs they want.  If you like Tulane then definitely go for it, but make sure you're okay with New Orleans, fight like hell to hold onto the scholarship (because COL isn't that cheap down here and the debt can pile up quick), and don't expect that the school's marginally better ranking will help you out in Alaska (or anywhere outside of the South, really).  For the purposes of working in Alaska, L&C probably whips Tulane in terms of offering a leg up, but if you like the school better, then don't let it hold you back.  Also consider that once you get working and get established after a few, where you went to school matters much less.  You're not looking to hit partner at a Vault firm, so it won't matter much whether your degree says L&C or Tulane in the long run.  Good luck with the decision.