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Author Topic: Diminishing Returns in Law School  (Read 790 times)

TheCause

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Diminishing Returns in Law School
« on: April 12, 2010, 02:44:51 PM »
I was on Law Review Staff and on the Law Review Board, so I've worked with some amazing law students.   I've always been around the top third in my class, and I got on Law Review either because I am a good writer, or I'm just lucky.
I also hang out with a bunch of students who are ranked around the middle of the class.

I feel like I have a good understanding of what it takes to be in the top half, top third, and top ten percent of the class. 

Granted, the top 4 or 5 students might just be smarter than everyone else, but I think work (both hard work and smart work) makes all the difference.

Think of law school as a speeding car.   It takes a certain amount of power to maintain 50 mph for a period of time.  How much more power do you think it takes to maintain 100 mph for the same period of time?  Twice as much?  Much more. Probably 4 or 5 times as much. 

For example
50MPH in a standard SUV probably requires around 20 horsepower.
100 MPH probably requires around 100 horsepower.

So the faster you go, the more horsepower per MPH you need.

As you go up the rankings in law school, the more effort per ranking spot you need.

Let's say you are ranked 75/150 and you maintain that ranking by studying an average of 10 hours a week. (doable)
To be ranked 50/150, you probably would have to jump up to an average of 20 hours a week.
To be ranked 25/150 (Twice as many spots)  You probably have to jump up to 50 hours a week.

This is caused by the bell curve that most law schools use.  It's like a distance cycling race where everyone is huddled in a pack, and when someone breaks away some people chase them, and some people conserve their energy and stay in the pack.  At the end of the race there are usually a few crazy people who are out front, followed by a small chase group a few minutes behind, and then slowly the groups get larger and larger.

At some point, most students realize that they can't keep up with the leaders, and that ranking 50/150 is just not worth twice the effort of ranking 75/150.

This psychology probably means that if you basically kill yourself all year long, You are almost guaranteed a spot in the top 25% of the class.  (Granted, the first 1L semester is full of flukes and anomalies, but my theory holds true in the long run)

Law school is littered with people like me who fall comfortably close to the middle as soon as they realize they can't quite get into that top ten percent.

Next question, for whoever wants to answer it, is whether ranking 50/150 instead of 75/150 will even help you get a job?






 


cooleylawstudent

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Re: Diminishing Returns in Law School
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2010, 03:35:57 PM »
Your overthinking it. Just do your studies and pass your exams. You'll be fine if you do that.

TheCause

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Re: Diminishing Returns in Law School
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2010, 03:54:53 PM »
Your overthinking it. Just do your studies and pass your exams. You'll be fine if you do that.

I'm done with Law School.  But thanks for the advice.



Thane Messinger

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Re: Diminishing Returns in Law School
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2010, 04:06:59 PM »
I was on Law Review Staff and on the Law Review Board, so I've worked with some amazing law students.   I've always been around the top third in my class, and I got on Law Review either because I am a good writer, or I'm just lucky.
I also hang out with a bunch of students who are ranked around the middle of the class.

* * *


Cause -

First, congratulations.  What you've achieved is, as you state, done with some effort.  

To draw on the automotive analogy, there's yet another factor.  This is efficiency.  Some vehicles simply top out at a certain speed.  That can be a lack of raw horsepower, or wheels that are out of alignment.  And while most vehicles can go fast, not all can go fast well, or safely.  The key is in the design of the vehicle, both aerodyamic and internal.  For our law student, the key to efficiency is to use study time wisely.  That's the engine of legal speed, and there are many ways to reach a certain finish line.

Unfortunately, most law students are stuck in a world of the Model T . . . the world of kindergarten-through-grade 16, of raised hands, brown-nosing, hands cramped from note-taking, and regurgitation.

This is not the fuel for success in law school, or in the law.  Judges and senior partners could care less if you can regurgitate abc legal doctrine.  They want to know whether you know what to do with that.  That requires not just horsepower, but handling.  In this sense, the world of the law school classroom is deceptive because it looks like a regular classroom . . . but it's really a training ground for what those senior partners and judges will need.  Law exams are the way these skills are tested, and it's not a surprise that law exams are very different from the roadwork underneath our Model T.

And there's a final factor, relating to your final question:  getting a job.  (Or, better yet, the job.)  Not all cars are successful, even if they're otherwise roadworthy.  Some are ugly.  Some are just the wrong car for the wrong market.  One way to fine-tune one's legal automobile so that it's pleasing to the pit bosses is to, well, make sure that we know what the pit bosses want.  This is achieved for those top-ten-percenters (in this market) with summer clerkships.  For everyone else, the challenge is to duplicate this crucial evaluation and training period.  Find a part-time position in years 2 and 3.  This is essential.  It will give a taste for the real world of law, and it will help with the eventual transition.  It will build hugely important contacts, and it will help with the immediate bills.

It almost doesn't matter which law office.  Small, medium.  Corporate, non-profit.  The experience is valuable, and the contacts are invaluable.  (I've known several colleagues who've gotten their jobs with a phone call from their part-time boss or judge--and a decent interview with their new employer, a friend of the boss or judge.)

As to the last point, take the subjective component seriously.  Prepare for a pleasant, engaging interview.  Read The Insider's Guide to Getting a Big Firm Job, which will help with the actual interview as much as in getting one, big firm or otherwise.

I hope this didn't take the automotive analogy too far, and I enjoyed reading your note.

Best of luck to all,

Thane.

Thane Messinger

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Re: Diminishing Returns in Law School
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2010, 04:23:55 PM »
Your overthinking it. Just do your studies and pass your exams. You'll be fine if you do that.

I'm done with Law School.  But thanks for the advice.


I responded before I saw this.  If you've had clerkships or part-time work, that's of course the first step toward finding that job.  If not, now's the time to draw on the relationships with professors to see who they know who might need help.  (It's useful to have narrowed down your interests prior to this, so that you're asking more targeted questions, such as "Who do you know who might need help in corporate work with my background as a CPA . . . ?" or some such.)  At the same time, expand the circle of potential employers with outlying areas, smaller firms, agencies, and the like.  You might also consider military service as a JAG officer, if you're so inclined.

If you've already lined up a job, then congratulations again.  If not, hang in there.  With your credentials, there are future employers who will be interested.