Deciding Where to Go > Choosing the Right Law School

Fourth Tier worth it if 60% scholarship offered.?

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My husband and I and my toddler were just relocated to Charleston, SC with his job.  I have been offered $25k for three years to attend Charleston School of Law.  Wondering if it's worth it to this recently accredited school... The tuition is $38k.  Due to my husband's job and our life circumstances, if I want to go to law school it really does have to be in our back yard, and it's the only school around.  I am confident I will graduate at the top of my class... Is it worth the roughly $30k in debt?

First off before I say anything realize that anyone posting on this board or others is nothing more than an anonymous internet poster that knows nothing about you, your situation, or what is best for you and on top of that their is no qualification for typing on this board or others all you need is an internet connection, which a bum can acquire at a public library.

With that said I am an attorney and have gone through law school and notice several things to be concerned about in your post and I also think any OL such as yourself should consider the following things in this order when choosing a law school. (1) Location (2) Cost (3) Personal feelings about school (4) The reality of legal education (5) and last NOT first U.S. News rankings.

Concerns form your post
First you say you are confident you will be in the top of your class, but I can tell you 100% of students at every ABA school think this on the first day, but only 10% of the class can be in the top 10% and there is a 90% chance you won't be in the top of your class. This is not a knock on you, but everyone that attends an ABA law school is smart, hard working, and motivated. Not to mention if your dealing with a toddler at home the multiple 25 year old single people will have a lot more time to study than you, which puts you at a disadvantage.

You also really need to answer the question of whether you want to be a lawyer or not. A lot of people go into law school expecting things to be handed to them at graduation, but that is not how it works. You have to work your way up the chain and starting out sucks to be frank and if your doing that with a young child it will be tough, but it can all be done. However, make sure a legal career is something you really want.

With that said I will go into the following 5 factors I think every 0L should consider.

1) Location
It seems obvious that you understand this your Husband has a job in South Carolina and you have a small child so the only law school you can attend is South Carolina so for your scenario I don't need to break this down.

2. Cost
It is great you received scholarship, but one thing any potential 0L really needs to understand are the CONDITIONS of the scholarship. Typically the school will say you need a 3.0 GPA to maintain the scholarship and I am sure you obtained a 3.0 in undergrad without breaking a sweat as did everyone else who got accepted into an ABA school, but law school is much different based on the curve.

Typically only 35% of the class can have a 3.0 and as to my point above there is a 65% chance you will not be in the top 35% this is no knock against you, but just a simple reality. So I strongly encourage you to check on the conditions of the scholarship as there is a good chance you will lose that scholarship for years 2 and 3, but I do not know SC's system.

3) Personal Feeling About the School
It appears you only have on option, but somethign I think is important is to visit the school and see how it fits your personality. When I was a OL I visited multiple schools some I hated and others I loved, but that is my personal opinion. Visit the school interact with students, professors, admins and if you get a good feeling from the school listen to your gut if you feel like it is a cesspool then stay away it is your life and your decision make sure the school fits your personality.

4. Reality of Legal Education
I know there is all this discussion of "better" schools, but the reality is at every ABA school you learn the same exact thing. Your first year you will take Torts, Contracts, Property, Civil Procedure, and then they generally mix up Con Law, Crim Law, and Criminal Procedure between 1L and 2L, but you will take those courses.

For Contracts you will likely read the Epstein Book and then Epstein himself will be your BarBri Instructor when you graduate no matter what law school you attend. In Contracts you will read the Hadley v. Baxendale Decision and other Supreme Court decisions and believe it or not the Supreme Court does not write seperate opinions for different law schools the law is the same.

In Torts you will read Palsgraff to learn about proximate cause and Justice Cardozo in 1930 did not write 200 different opinions for every law school there is only one.

Pennoyver v. Neff in Civil Procedure again the Supreme Court in 1800 wrote one opinion and that is what you will read whether you attend South Carolina or Harvard.

After you graduate you will then take Barbri or Kaplan to pass the bar and if you graduate from an ABA school and pass the bar your a lawyer period.

5. Rankings
When I was a OL I though this was the gospel and should be the basis of any decision I made, but now I realize this is nothing more than an a for profit, unregulated magazine offering an opinion. This should not be something you base a life altering decision on you can use it as a factor, but it is literally a magazine nothing more.

To illustrate this point realize U.S. News ranks more than law schools for example New Mexico is the best place to live according to U.S. News

South Dakota is one of the best places to retire in 2032 One of the factors in making this decision is access to dental visits. Really read the formula U.S. News used to make this determination and you can realize how little research goes into their rankings.

I imagine U.S. News saying New Mexico is the best place to live is not going to inspire you to pack your bags and move there or even apply to New Mexico Law School. Furthermore, I think you would question anyone who opened a retirement account in South Dakota based on this magazine alone. Are their legitimate points made by U.S. News sure, but where you attend law school will impact the rest of your life what some magazine thinks should play a very minor role in your decision and not be the basis of it.

It sounds like you have on option to attend law school in South Carolina at this time in your life. Law school is not going anywhere and if your husband moves somewhere else then perhaps you can attend law school elsewhere, but South Carolina might be a great choice for you.

You also have to consider whether you want to occupy yourself with law school while raising a toddler that is a major decision that only you can make.

I am sure South Carolina is a fine school nothing spectacular, but it will give you the tools to pass the bar and assuming you pass what you do with your law license is up to you. I have met many great attorneys from "tier 4" schools and many bad ones from "tier 1" schools and obviously vice versa. Bottom line is whether you make it in the legal profession has a lot more to do with you than the school you attended.

This is similar to my situation.   I live in Jacksonville,  Fl.   Only one law school here,  Florida Coastal School of Law,  a 4th tier but they might offer an evening part time program that will fit my schedule.   I also have small children, so I feel your pain. 

Living legend makes a a bunch of great points. I would add one more.. If you are likely to live is Charleston after law school, find out what the local market is like for practicing law. Go to the career center at the school and ask about placements in Charleston. Talk to some local law firms and see what they are projecting for 3-4 years down the road.

The reality is that most students do have limitations on where they are going to go to school and where they are going to live and work.  If you want to practice in Charleston, then there might not be any advantage to getting a degree somewhere else.

This is true in most cities and states, i.e. if you want to practice in Indiana then going to school in many other places does not get you a leg up.

I know this thread is a few months old, but thanks, livinglegend, for the great advice. I am in a situation similar to the OP, and when I seek advice on these online forums I usually just get a lot of bashing. Your closing line ought to be a sticky: "Bottom line is whether you make it in the legal profession has a lot more to do with you than the school you attended."

Thank you for the insight!


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