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Author Topic: Think about this before going to law school (Overconfidence)  (Read 1894 times)

jack24

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Think about this before going to law school (Overconfidence)
« on: November 05, 2010, 02:10:00 PM »
I generally agree with the law-school-defender bigs5068, that school is an investment that can pay off in the long term, and that effort is often a huge factor in finding success.

But I suggest you go through the decision like an equation, and see if you can truly make an informed decision.

Roughly, Financial Security after law school = Take home pay - Cost of Living (different depending on lifestyle and location) - Debt Payments.

Debt payments include tuition payments, lifestyle during school, and scholarships.   Those are all basically predictable and nobody should ever complain too much about that part of the equation.   Scholarships can variate a little bit, but most students know what they are going to get going in.

Cost of living can variate depending on where you are in life, but this is always unpredictable no matter what you do. 

Take home pay is usually influenced by your class rank, your job seeking efforts, the city you live in, the rank of your school, and the economy.

The rank of your school is pretty static, although some do change a lot over the course of three years.  However, you still have a good idea of what to expect going in.
You can predict your effort level (although some people vastly overestimate this) so you do have control in this part.
You have some control over the city you live in, but it's going to be affected heavily by the economy and the type of law you want.
Your class rank:  Yes, you have some control, but you cannot predict this worth crap.  Maybe you are put in classes with professors that you don't work well with, maybe your classes have the smartest students who wreck the curve, maybe you don't do well on essay finals, maybe maybe maybe.  Some might make the argument that anyone can do well in law school if they work hard and smart, but the fact is that NOT everyone does well in law school, and almost everyone does worse than they thought they would.

So look back at the equation
Financial security as a lawyer = take home pay (you really have no solid way to predict this) - cost of living (relatively set) - debt payments (easily estimable) 

So when people like me tell you to think hard before going to law school, we generally want you to consider whether you may have an option that includes a more stable and predictable future.  Law school is nothing close to a sure thing, and is a huge investment. 

I would recommend that you take the highly innaccurate income data from your school and cut those numbers by at least 33%.
If the average or median income level at graduation is 60,000, then consider whether or not you  can have the lifestyle you want and pay your debt payments while making an average of 40,000 over the first ten years.
(After the first ten years, the outlook will probably get better if you are any good at all.)

When you have almost no way of predicting an outcome it's ill advised to take on too much risk.  That is why law school is so different than other fields.  The investment is as high or higher than most other graduate degrees, but the predictability is insanely low.

Now you can estimate that you are special and that your income will be near the top of your class.  Unless you have previously measured your test taking abilities against your fellow classmates, you have no real idea whether or not you will be at the top of your class.  If you get a 180 on the LSAT, maybe you can be confident, but you'll have a scholarship or go to Yale anyway, so this doesn't apply to you.

That mistake of overconfidence is like going into debt to invest in a new company's stock because you "really feel like it's going to go up," and many stocks do go up. 

bigs5068

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Re: Think about this before going to law school (Overconfidence)
« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2010, 04:39:02 PM »
Thanks for the shout-out and I agree with you on this post.

First thing for any student to realize is that law school is NO guarantee of anything. The only guarantee is that if you decide to pay a lot of money and stick through three years of school you will get a shiny piece of paper with your school's name on it and this paper will give you the ability to sit for the bar in any state. That is the only guarantee an ABA school can give you.

Another huge factor that still boggles my mind is that you SHOULD NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE A LAWYER. Just yesterday I was sitting with one of my really good friends who is in the top 10% of the class. He said man I am tired of school and not knowing what I want to do when I graduate. He then went onto say the ONE THING I DO KNOW IS THAT I DO NOT WANT TO BE A LAWYER. I am not an a-hole so I did not say anything to him and he is my really good friend and I want him to stay, but you should not be wasting time and money if you don't want to be a lawyer. You go to medical school to be a doctor and you should go to law school to be a lawyer. Of course you might be able to get a job with an M.D. doing something other than medicine and you might be able to get a job doing something other than the law with a J.D., but you probably could have to those places 3 years earlier and without 100k or more in debt.

An add on to that is if you do decide you want to be  a lawyer be realistic. Especially when going to a lower ranked school. I cannot tell you how many of my classmates want to do international corporate law. A whole other cohort wants to do just international law you know, "help them write treaties at the Hague." Directly from my classmate who is in the middle of his class at GGU. I wish them the best, but those jobs just don't exist and when the one or two jobs do open up in that area they are not going to look at tier 4 grad. So you need to be somewhat realistic with your expectations. There are not a whole lot of international law jobs out there, corporate law is also generally left to the Ivy leagues and even they are struggling. I don't know what else to say about that, but just be realistic odds are you make any kind of money after graduation you should know how to write motions etc. Take every legal writing & research class you can. Do not waste time on classes like refugee law or international comparative law. They are interesting classes no doubt and once you make some money as an attorney maybe you can take them as a hobby. Remember you are paying exorbitant amounts of money to be there get and if you are paying a ton of money you should get as much practical experience as possible. When you get to the real world no partner or boss is going to want to take time out of their day to explain basic research skills.  Classes like taxation are also useful to know. Boring as hell yes, but it is useful and marketable to know.

Realistic Goals would be to be a D.A, Public Defender, doing litigation work, but no you probably won't be doing a trial for 10 years, but a lot of evidentiary argument most likely. Again, not real exciting stuff, but actual real world things that need to be done. After doing lots of basic work for the first 5 years of your career most likely you will start to get the hang of it.and might start to do some real cool stuff. It takes time nobody is looking to hire international corporate lawyers freshly minted from GGU. No matter what school you go to you are going to start at the bottom of the barrel. Nobody is going to care that you went to law school. Believe or not so did every other lawyer you work with.

I think that being more realistic plays into your Overconfidence argument. People think they are going to finish #1 in whatever school they want to and be whisked away to do a sweet corner office in Paris where they write treaties for the Hague. That is not going to happen even if you finish number one at Harvard. I also remember everyone at the first day of orientation being like I will be in the top 10%. 100% of the people thought that, but believe it or not only 10% can be in the top 10% of the class. I never thought I would be in the top 10% all I was really concerned about was passing and I did not worry about what anyone else was doing. I also went out of my way to help people who asked for it I was not a male private part and if anything helping someone out rewards you in the long run. This advice was given to by a lawyer I worked for in college. He said if you ever go to law school be nice and helpful to everyone you never know is going to be a judge, opposing counsel, or on the other side of an interview in 10 years. If you were cool to that person they will remember and if you were a male private part they will also remember. Not to mention helping people with things actually helped me to understand things better and if I did help someone and they did better than me will good for them. Maybe my class rank went down 1 or 2%. Odds are it probably did not effect anything.

To continue onto that do not worry about your class rank it is counterproductive. The best way to succeed in law school is to study, pay attention in class, do practice questions, show up to every class, and stay off the internet in class. Just do the things you are supposed to do. Not that it will guarantee anything as Jack stated. Doing those things will increase your chances of doing well, but exams & class rank are basically a crap shoot. I have a problem with how the system works although it is currently benefiting me, but there is not much I or anyone else can do about it.  Of course there are people out there who can succeed without doing any of the things they are supposed to do, but odds are you are not able to do it. Even if you are it is not worth failing out to find out if you can get away with being lazy.

The final thing to any potential student is do not take U.S. News to seriously. The formula is an absolute joke and is subject to change over three years. Not to mention once you get outside of the top 25 or so schools nobody knows the difference between McGeorge v. Michigan State, Stetson v. Gonzaga, Brooklyn Law School v. California Western. There are ELITE schools and the rest are just schools that no employer will be that impressed by. If a lower ranked school offers you a significant scholarship ask yourself is going to a tier 2 school worth 90 k more than a tier 4. The answer in my opinion is generally not, but in some instances it can be worth it. Aside from the cost the most important thing to consider when choosing a law school is LOCATION. If you want to live in San Diego go to Thomas Jefferson or California Western over Gonzaga. Although Gonzaga is higher ranked you are going to be in Washington your professors will have no contacts in San Diego, your Career Services will have no contacts in San Diego, You will not be able to work for any San Diego firms during the school year or even summer realistically. Then on top of that nobody in San Diego unless they are basketball fans will have heard of Gonzaga-The home of John Stockton, but they will be well aware of Thomas Jefferson & California Western. You can lose that logic to any geographic location just really stay away from the rankings unless you are rocking a 170 or so on the LSAT.

Also final side-note no ABA school kicks out 25% of their class. So any bs rumors you hear about a tier 4 having a mandatory kick out rate is completely false. Look at the other compared to academic on the attrition rates. Other generally means the student transferred to a better school not that they failed out. However, some people do unfortunately  fail out, but no school wants this to happen. First they are human beings they don't want to see people fail and second they want your money and will do everything to help you succeed, because it is their best interest for you to do so. That applies at every law school in America they don't want you to fail or not find a job.

Bottom Line: Go to law school only if you want to be a lawyer, remember being a lawyer is not all glitz & glamur in fact it is far from that especially when you first graduate so tamper your expectations of 200k a year offers at graduation , go to school in the location you want to live in, if the schools you are considering are NOT ELITE i.e Harvard, Georgetown, Yale, UCLA, USC, basically a school that does not require to explain where it is then get out as cheap as possible. Tier 2 schools will not open many more doors than a tier 4 so in my opinion it is best to get out 80k cheaper.

Anyways, that is just my two cents and I am only a second year law student. So take everything I say with a major grain of salt, but in my limited experience I think those are important things to know. Remember there are  lot more knowledgeable people than me, but they do not exist on sites like JDunderground etc. Those type of people would complain no matter what happened. Also remember that education in any form is a huge investment of time & money with no guarantee of success. So be careful about choosing to do it. Quite a rant I should probably start studying instead of wasting my time procrastinating on here (don't be a procrastinator either if you choose to go to law school  :)