Law School Discussion

schools for public interest careers, help! Tier 3 schools vs. reputation

  • Firstly, I am becoming discouraged with the reputations of schools I am interested in, after reading things online.
  • I am interested in a career in work for women's reproductive rights,  and other work for women  and I'm very passionate about the subject. 
  • I applied late in the game  with Feb LSAT scores, but after researching online, I feel like I won't get a job if I go to any schools I have applied to. 
  • 3.37 - ( I started school at 16, but my grades got better). /158 
  • But! Since I am quite young (20), the idea of 35k a year starting salaries doesn't scare me off, and I'm excited to work my butt off in order to achieve the rank I need.

My question is, with any of these schools do I have a fighting chance in their respective public interest legal markets? I'd be happy to live in any of these cities
GGU - accept w/20k
BROOKLYN - waitlist
waiting on 
STURM - PT/DAY (asked to be considered for both)
LEWIS and CLARK (missed deadline)- DENY

But! Since I am quite young (20), the idea of 35k a year starting salaries doesn't scare me off, and I'm excited to work my butt off in order to achieve the rank I need.

Will you be able to live comfortably making $35k and paying off student loans? 

Take a look at the stats at these schools before you go:

% of grads going into public interest:

GGU - 2.9%
Brooklyn - 5.8%
Loyola LA - 3.3%
Sturm - ?
CUNY - 33.3%
Depaul - 4.5%
Chicago-Kent - 4.5%

Might want to also call the admissions department and see where most of the PI grads are going.

I have some (admittedly limited) experience with public interest law. Here's the deal: "public interest" is a relatively broad term that encompasses everything from large non-profits like the Sierra Club to very small local food banks, and everything in between. Some private for-profit firms call themselves public interest firms because they focus on employment discrimination, immigrant's rights, etc. Some government jobs, like the public defender's office, can also be considered public interest.

Large, national PI organizations are actually very competitive when it comes to hiring. Lots of rich kids with Ivy League degrees who don't need to worry about paying off loans apply for these jobs. The smaller PI offices are less competitive, but as you've indicated, don't pay much. If you'll be graduating without much debt it may not matter, but if you've got to make $1500.00 per month loan payments $35-$40,000 is gonna be tough.

Here's the advice I'd give to anyone contemplating law school:

1) Set realistic, achievable goals and be clear about what it will take to realize those goals. If you go into law school with a distorted or unrealistic vision of the future, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Going to GGU doesn't mean that you'll be unemployed, but it does mean that you might need to be flexible and modify your post-law school expectations. Women's Interest legal jobs are few and far between, and you'll be competing with some serious heavy hitters. I'm not just talking about academic credentials, either. You might be competing against a woman who attended a T4 school, but spent ten years as the executive director of a small non-profit, or as a social worker, etc.

Your chances of being a happy, productive law student will greatly increase if you don't limit your options early on. Understand that you may not get your dream job straight out school, and be willing to build up experience in other fields so that eventuallly you'll be in a position to land that dream job. I hope I don't sound discouraging, but I've been throuh this process and I can tell you that adaptability is valuable. Regardless of what anyone tells you, you can go to a T3-T4, work hard, and get a job. Just be informed and realistic about your options. 

2) Get as much experience as you possibly during law school. This is absolutely imperitive, especially if you attend a less-than-prestigious school. Most public interest organizations have very tight budgets and can't afford to spend too much time training a new lawyer. In my limited experience, they tend not to hire people straight out of law school. Connections and experience will go farther towards getting you a job than your school's career placement office or on-campus interviews.

3) Consider rankings, but don't dwell on them. Very few schools have the kind of awesome reputation that will get you job based on prestige alone. When you get into the second, third, and fourth tiers the distinctions become even murkier. At that level most schools are regional/local,and it probably makes sense to go to school in the area in which you intend to live and practice. Grads from local schools who have had the opportunity to spend three or four years networking and doing internships are in much a better position than out-of-towners who show up after graduation. This is often true even if the out-of-towner went to a higher ranked, but still non-elite, law school. If you want to be in the SF/Bay Area, for example, I'm not sure it would help you to attend CUNY or Brooklyn.   

Good Luck.

Roald -  Thank you for your insightful reply.

I am actually very interested in many aspects of the public sector, women's work is just my go to example because my internship experience with planned parenthood, my women's studies major among other things, but getting a job working for the state with domestic violence cases is just as important as working for a major women's organization to me.  No job is too small

 Secondly, student load debt isn't a a issue with GGU an CUNY - between scholarships, savings and financial aid, I'm looking at borrowing 50k, to attend either. BUT! with the stip on the GGU $ nothing is certain. Living expenses are out of pocket.

However, after reading things online, I've become very concerned about committing to a tier 2,3,4 school  AT ALL

It's good that you're paying attention to the scholarship stipulations, they can be very tricky. Take the time to fully understand how the curve at your school works, and what it will take to maintain the full scholarship. I went to law school with a 75% scholarship and had to stay in the top 15% in order to retain it all. I assume your scholarship has some similar requirement.

Let me tell you, no matter where you go, whether it be Harvard or GGU, ranking in the top 15% (or even top 1/3) is no joke. A lot of people think "I'm going to lower ranked school, and I got this big scholarship, so I must be smarter than the vast majority of my competition. Clearly I'm destined to be on top." I'm sure you've heard this before, but law school is nothing like college.

Here's what they fail to realize: you may be smarter than the vast majority of people matriculating at your school, but you won't be competing against the great unwashed masses for that top ranking. You'll be competing against other people just like you. Smart, ambitious people with big scholarships and lots of motivation. The level of subject matter mastery and writing ability that would have gotten you straight A's in undergrad will get you a C in law school, seriously.

You can make it happen, however. Dedicate yourself entirely to succeeding, and don't waste time. I'm graduating from law school in CA with a small, local reputation only. I went out of my way to make connections and to obtain internships, and have a good job offer. It's not really the type of law I want to work in, but it's better than being unemployed. Like I said before, be flexible and adapt to what the market needs and you'll be two steps ahead of most of your classmates. 

Sorry, just forgot to mention a few things.

If your living expenses are coming out of pocket, does that mean you'll be taking out loans to cover them? SF and NYC are especially expensive cities, and that could add significantly to your debt.

You also stated that you're concerned about attending any T2, 3, 4. Well, this goes back to what I said earlier about establishing realistic, achievable goals. For example: You don't have to be a Harvard grad to get a great job, but if you want to clerk at the Supreme Court you better be Harvard grad. It's a trite example, but you get the point. If you want to work at a prestigious national organization or big firm, you need to get into a top law school and then perform very well.

On the other hand, check into your local DA (which has domestic violence and sex crimes units), Public Defender, or local advocacy groups. I guarantee that they're NOT stocked with Harvard and Yale grads. You can attend a local T2, 3, or 4, and have a good shot at these places. If you go to school in CA, I highly recommend that you take advantage of the state bar's training program which allows you to become certified to make court appearances while still in law school. You can even argue full misdemeanor trials. That kind of experience is worth its weight in gold when it comes to finding a job.