There's been a lot of talk about admissions requirements, the legal market, etc. I worried about all these things two years ago when I decided to go to law school, and I concluded the following:
1) I wanted to go to law school for a reason different than most (which I won't disclose) but it involved needing to make a major life change. Patent law was my choice as I found I had a lot of interest in the esoteric work of patent lawyers while working with my firms external patent counsel on my patents. I knew, however, that I wanted any change I would make to my career path to not be a step backwards; I was a reasonably successful engineer just a few years out of college -- that's decent coin. A lot of lawyers made less than I did, but still had 100k of debt. That constraint seriously governed my decison.
2) The Legal Market: It's oversaturated. The pool of law school applicants is ENORMOUS -- and this is the defining factor about law admissions and the legal hiring market. There are more lawyers than we really need, and fewer good lawyers than we should have. I think this is because many use law as a last resort; many humanities and SS students go into law because they don't know what else to do or their parents pretty much tell them to. Many others go into law because of the money they 'presume' they will be making on account of the profession's prestige (indeed, a law degree was the way a commoner used to be able to get into the lowest rung of nobility, Esquire) regardless of their actual interest in the field. But the truth is that pay in law is what my stats professor called a "Dolly Parton Distribution" -- there are two peaks, one around 55k and another around 125k. Yet most people see/think about partners making 200k+ and huge amounts more at biglaw firms -- a teensy tiny fraction of the lawyers in the U.S.
But as the economy tanked, law school applicants went up while law firms were literally going bust, and partners making 325k were on the street. It was literally the worst time to go into law.
That said, with an BSME degree (most any 'hard science' degree would suffice) and a desire to do patent law, I knew I qualified to practice before the USPTO (a qualification that < 10% of law school candidates posesss), and that lawyers with this qualification and desire were both still sought-after and amongst the better-paid of all the specialties in law. Degree preferences to work in patent vary by specialty -- in chem and especially bioscience/pharma graduate degrees are seens as preferred, while in my discipline they can be a hindrance.
Also, law hiring is largely incestuous. Who you know and where you went to school in many way matters more than your actual qualifications. Why?Again, the defining factor -- the pool of applicants is SO LARGE the have to parse it somehow. Even though such-and-such a school is well known for IP plays a far LESSER role than its general prestige -- cf, Franklin-Pierce which is always in the top 5 for IP but far down in the rankings. I was afraid their diploma wouldn't secure a job I'd want. With a full ride, maybe not a bad deal though (I did get that).
3) Choice of School and Admissions: In law, aid is harder to find than in other grad disciplines (law is, technically, a professional degree, even though it is a Juris Doctor degree, it is not the terminal degree in the field, it is the first). There are pretty much no RA/TA positions that pay for your tuition as I would have in Engineering. Aid is merit and need. I had an actual job, need was out for me.
Admissions is, at the start, mechanically based on LSAT and undergrad GPA -- my GPA just made Dean's List, but was nothing special ("decent" in law is like 3.8+). Those characteristics sort you into buckets -- if you are in a 'consider' bucket, other things come into play, soft characteristics like experience, background, and such. My feeling is that undergrad program
matters more than undergrad university presitge.
That is (and I mean no slight) my Engineering degree from a good school mattered a little more than a social sciences degree from a T10 Ugrad -- especially as I was using that background for my field of study. This menat that if my LSAT was not > 99.5% I was not even in the running for a T10 school. That also meant that if I was accepted in the teens or twenties I would not really get much of an aid package. Period. Even with a good, pertinent resume and U.S. Patent numbers after my name. So the choice was this -- a lower-grade school with a big aid package and less chance of a 'better' job right out of college or the best schools I could get into and as much as 200k in debt. That is crushing debt. I had 60k when I left undergrad as it was. It would all
depend upon my LSAT score.
About the LSAT -- it is scaled to have a really tight normal distribution so that the differential between a 99.8% student and a 99.9% student can be seen, while students with scores nearer the average get lumped togther. That's why I said my 98th percentile was only decent -- there is nearly 10% of the score's scale range devoted to that last few percent. Again this is driven by the defining factor, huge applicant pool -- the top schools want to be able to parse their applicants VERY finely.
I got my score and used any of the many online tools (and the USNWR ratings) to predict my chances. I sent off applications (and if a school waived the fee for me, I generally would apply anyway). I sent out ten, and was accepted to nine, from in the 100s to the teens. Some came with full rides and some with cash stipends. I literally put all that data into a spreadsheet with tuition (increased yearly at some percent) living costs, book costs, and such to come up with a real Cost of Attendance figure for me. I also put my current job against that (considering lost salary is a dicey thing about which reasonable people disagree), but I wanted to see where I'd be. It's sobering to see how much debt you can have. GW, I think, was about $180k for me. I was not willing to take that much risk and have that sword above me.
I made my decision, picking a school that did have a decent reputation in my field but wound up not actually following through on the full-time program, and am going part-time.
4) Law School. Geez. It's easier than, say, complex variables, but there so much work
. There's (what feels like) seven metric tons of reading a week. I have a (very) long commute (think 5hrs/day), and work full time, so I have to do all my work on the weekend. I try to do 10 hrs a day Sat and Sun, but it's hard. I often don't finish completely but still do ok.
There are two other comments I have to make about law school. I love
going part-time. I like my colleagues, I like the profs, the profs like us and are generally very understanding of the sacrifices we are making to be there. Everything I heard about law students was not true.....and now I know that is because I am a night student. Day students are fiercely competitive to the point, often of either viciousness or blindness -- and that is again, because of the huge applicant pool combined with the effects of curved grading -- all the students compete against each other. They are all trying to get ahead somehow, to stand out from the enormous crowd. I am so glad I'm not in the day program, I think that atmosphere would be hard on me. A friend of mine described the attitude as "mercenary" -- friendships are more networking than anythign else. Study groups are formed that operate more like alliances on Survivor
than a study group. That's not everyone, of course, but it seems there are enough people with that attitude that it colors the experience a little for everyone. One classmate of mine said that she had no interest in law, and fully expected to hate her job, but she was there to make a lot of money when she got out, and she'd do what she had to do. Yikes.
Second, have you ever had a Socratic prof? That is, there is little straight lecture; most of the classroom experience is a dialogue between the Prof and various students -- I had a hardcore Socratic in undergrad and loved him, so I was open to it and enjoy it. But it absolutely flips some people out.
5) Bottom line. Don't go in to this without a decent plan that you evaluate at every decision point. Consider what you are interested in, consider what you can do with it, and the realities. KNOW that you have to do good on the LSAT, and don't underestimate it, nor overestimate your chances when the grade is not what you hoped for.
Part of me wants to say: Don't go to law school to find yourself, but I know some do and it works out well -- I still say you should make the decision with your eyes open. I am really enjoying my time in school, despite the enormous commitment; for some it is the worst decision they will ever make.
Originally Posted by JChance
Oo i did not know that they dont value legal experience that much, I thought it would the same as applying for college. Either way, I'm gonna take the year off and apply, therefore I still want to get professional experience. My choices are either working in the lab as a Chemist, work in a law office to observe/gain legal experience, or some sort of Regulatory Affairs entry-level position. Although I am open to discoveries I will make in law school, I think I want to go into either IP, environmental or Healthcare. Which route would suit me best, in your opinion?
What do you want to do, and what will allow you to save the most money? It might help if your path of study relates, specifically, to some interest of yours that you want to pursue in law --that might be of some limited use in speaking towards the sincerity of your interests outside
of law that you want to use inside
of law. Were I in your position, I wouldn't want some bland general legal position if I could avoid it -- the experience you'll get with NO legal background will likely be of little value, unless you secure a position with a firm doing (again) something of specific interest to you.
Whatever you do, start studying those Logic Games. Now.
Originally Posted by lawyerdad
Listen to Huntsman we he talks. Unlike most of us, he doesn't spout off unless he actually knows what he's talking about. (Don't think less of him for it, he can't help it. It's some sort of character defect. And his encyclopedic knowledge of cocktails is sufficient compensation to make him worth putting up with.) Plus, he has direct and current experience charting the course you're considering, with at least a superficially similar background. How go the studies, H?
Thanks very much, ld, I really appreciate that. I only wish it was a character flaw, then it would take less effort.
As for the studies, well you've heard the old saw that the first year is "scare you to death" the second is "work you to death" and the third is "bore you to death"? As an evening student, I am smack in the middle of "work you to death" land. But I am still enjoying it, though the 18hr days and the 8-10 hrs/day of studying on the weekend is getting to me a little. I have to take classes this summer, which denies me a needed break. Still, I would not have done anything different -- this arrangement is perfect for me.