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August 19, 2009

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"A pompous, overpaid [law school] professor will saunter in and begin blathering and bullying them about some obscure case, reveling in her power like a college calculus student picking on the 4th grade arithmetic class"

An (unintentionally?) amusing image ... if the students had taken college calculus and done well in it, they wouldn't be in law school in the first place. Ha ha.

I'm surprised to hear St. John's called a bogus law school. The university itself is quite well-regarded.

Geraldo Rivera graduated from Brooklyn Law School; how bad can it be?

Not everyone is as smart as HalfSigma and can attend one of them there Top 14 law schools and know how to spot prole weddings.

What are the "top 14"? And does, for example, Boston College count? Seems to me certain law schools have a fair amount of pull in the region where they're located - and thus a strong alumni network - but not outside that region. Good luck trying to find a job in Los Angeles with a Suffolk Law diploma, for example. This seems like a fairly New York-centric post.

"What are the "top 14"? And does, for example, Boston College count? Seems to me certain law schools have a fair amount of pull in the region where they're located - and thus a strong alumni network - but not outside that region."

To quote Siggy, from his prior blog Calico Cat:

"There are only 14 top law schools. That’s right. Not 10, not 15, but 14. They are, in descending order of prestige: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, NYU, Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, Duke, Northwestern, Cornell, UC Berkeley, and Georgetown."

One thing he mentioned elsewhere, as I recall, is that going to a flagship state university's law school may be okay so long as you plan to work in that state. For instance, the University of Oklahoma law school may be a reasonable option if you're sure that you want to remain in the Sooner State.

http://www.marshalldennehey.com/Bio/CaseySipe.asp

I went to school with this guy and he went to a complete unknown law school. Although, he did graduate cum laude and was a member of the school's law journal. He's now an Associate Attorney. Maybe it's OK to attend a lower tier law school, just as long you graduate near the top of the class and land a good internship. I don't know how much money he makes right now, but I'm sure it's a good starting salary and will continue to increase as he gains experience as an attorney.

I think HS has a good point, but as usual he rather overstates it. Schools outside of the top 14 (why 14 and not 10 or 15?) include Vanderbilt and Notre Dame, as well as good state schools like Illinois and Iowa. Lots of graduates of those schools end up in good jobs, even partnerships at BigLaw firms. And some Yalies don't make partner in BigLaw.

But he's right that a middle-of-the-class graduate at a second or third tier law school is going to have problems servicing massive debt. One point that's worth considering is relative cost -- it's obviously worth paying for Harvard or Yale or even the University of Chicago. But if you really have to go to law school and you can't get in to a top 14 -- or 20 or whatever -- school, consider going to a good state school and doing whatever you have to do (including living there and working at some boring job for a year) to get the in-state tuition.

Some law schools just outside the top 14 may be worth attending, such as Boston University's law school (or Boston College's, as Peter A. mentioned): a significant number of BU law school grads appear to be successful at snagging corporate law jobs at firms such as Bingham McCutcheon, Ropes & Gray, etc. While BU's "pull" might be strong only in the Northeast, that just happens to be the region where the majority of top-tier corporate law firms are located. Notre Dame's law school may also be worthwhile, given that school's good rankings (IIRC), formidable alumni network, and proximity to the Chicago corporate law job market.

Peter A.:
The top 14 schools are Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, NYU, Chicago, Berkeley (formerly Boalt Hall), Michigan, Penn, Virginia, Duke, Cornell, Northwestern and Georgetown. These schools have all been in the top 14 positions since US News began ranking them.

Moreover, Anthony Ciolli published a study confirming Half Sigma's point (and common knowledge in legal circles up on law firm hiring) that big law hiring is concentrated within those top 14 schools. Boston College is fine for Boston, and your point about regional schools is well taken, but their placement is not the same as the top 14.

Finally, you point out that the post is New York-centric. Law as a profession is New York-centric. Other than DC, there is no more legal activity (and hiring) other than in New York, and I would venture to guess that New York is the undisputed leader in *firm* hiring. Not to say that other cities don't matter, but New York is far ahead of them in size, scope and significance as a legal market.

Medicine and airline pilot careers are not immune to this. There was a crash earlier this year where it turned out that the captain was making $50K per year and the co-pilot $16K (yes, no typo!) per year. More recently, there was an article in our local paper about the Alaska airline pilots who were staying in cheap trailers in LAX's car parks in order to save money while doing their layovers.

Certain specialties such as orthopedic surgeons make around $300K. However, it takes forever to get through the regime of medical school, residency, internship, etc. etc. until you can make that $300K, accruing hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. Also, surgery is a skill that requires very stable hands. Some people loose that stability either due to age or due to drinking. So, the big earning window for such surgeons is rather narrow (like that of an airline pilot, which is seniority based, if the airline you are flying for does not pop), maybe 15 years or so. Then there is the malpractice insurance premiums.

There really is no safe, guaranteed profession or career. The "professions" have been touted as the sure path to financial success since the early 70's by middle-class parents to their kids. However, it is clear today that there is really no such thing.

I think top 14 is referred to because since 1987, the same 14 schools have always been in the top 14 according to US News & WR:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_eF5IpaOMmrY/SewXHSA8RiI/AAAAAAAAAM0/e-F_a44JEQE/s1600-h/USNWRT14.png

Yale is always #1. The other 13 move up and down, but none of them have left the top 14 and no one has penetrated the top 14.

I fear you might be confusing correlation with causation (an error you're quick to point out in others). It's true that people who go to good schools tend to better in life but this could simply be because people who go to good schools have higher IQ's (and better connections) and its the high IQ and connections that causes the success in life, not the school. There's a famous study that showed going to an Ivy league school had surprisingly little benefit in life.

"I liked law school, but I suppose law school is geared towards only the smartest people, people who have high enough LSAT scores to get admitted to a Top 14 law school."

HS, I thought you went to Arizona? That's not a big 14, so how could you have enjoyed law school? Why did you go to Arizona? You seem like the kind of guy who belongs on the east coast. Your writings are becoming more and more esoteric the longer you remain unemployed.

I'm with Peter A. There is an entire nation east of the Atlantic seaboard and graduating from a school out there has a reasonable chance of situating you well. You don't even have to go to a flagship school. People I know that graduated from a school that missed the Top 50 (but hit the top 60) did reasonably well, as did those that went to either the flagship or one of the private law schools with good reputation. Some with big local law firms that I guess have to hire from second-rate law schools because the T14 grads from the area all settled in at DC.

HS has frequently articulately commented on law school and how critical it is to graduate close to the top of the class in a top-14 school. HS has offered endless credible references and examples of why this is so, so important if one wishes to have a lucrative law career. If you cannot graduate in the top half of a top-14 law school, then DO NOT GO!

Some of the commentors seem to be trying to convince themselves and others that "everything will be fine if they dont go to a big-name law school...I heard of so-and-so and he went to State Law School and he got a job at a big-name law school..."

You've been warned. Ignore HS' advice at your own peril.

HS:

I think you are mistaken. Click here:

http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos053.htm#earnings

Notice the median earnings are quite high. It seems to me that if someone wants to hang a shingle, the the importance of an elite law education declines.

Many people, including those of high IQ, simply would not like law school because the subject matter is extremely boring.

Nice quote from the post:

"Another SullCromscam is to fill the temp ranks with minority lawyers, thus tooting the “diversity” trumpet and looking good on paper to their corporate, hand-wringing whore-masters. Naturally, the partner-level ranks are as white as a wedding dress soaked in Clorox."

This is one of the most conceited post I have read in a long time.

It isn't really necessary to incur debt when going to professional schools:

1. In the sciences, tuition is waived and students receive a stipend. You really only have to do a postdoc if you plan to be a prof.

2. For medicine, law and dentistry you can have the military pay for it in exchange for something like a 6-year tour. This is actually not bad since you will start out as an O3 and wouldn't be earning much in the first years either way.

3. If you are willing to be a part-time student or take classes while working, then many employers will pay some or all of your tuition. I got my MBA for free like this.

There are a lot of angles out there to be worked. I would suggest to a prospective student that they not go into huge dept blindly.

Going along with the overstatement meme, Half's remarks about "top 14" schools (I think it's more flexible than that, as many here have pointed out) really apply to the 23 year old with a poli-sci degree and no work experience. If you're in your 30s, have a real undergrad degree and some managerial experience, a law degree from a lower tier school can actually be quite valuable. You're not going to clerk for a Supreme Court justice, but you'll most likely spill more money than somebody doing that makes.


"it turned out that the captain was making $50K per year and the co-pilot $16K (yes, no typo!) per year"

Those were pilots for a regional airline; pay at the regionals has always sucked. Pay has dropped wuite a bit in the industry as a whole, but senior captains at the majors can still make $200-300K.

I think people don't understand why HS recommends only going to a T14 for law school.

The reason he recommends only going if you get into a good school (T14 or close) is due to a cost benefit analysis. There is no point getting into $150,000+ debt to become a lawyer unless you are fairly sure that you can get a good job working at a big firm that pays six figures.

Sure, people who go to non-T14 schools also get good jobs, but you have to be in the top of your law school class in order to do this (top 10% + law review for lowly ranked schools and like top 20%-30% at schools just outside the T14). The further from the T14 you school is in ranking, the higher up you will have to be in your law school class to be able to secure a good job.

This is a risky bet. If don't do as well as you hoped (top 10%), then you can't generally get a high paying job, and you will end up working for around $40K-$50K. That sucks since you will have huge loan payments and could have gotten a job that pays like that without a law degree.

So what does one do if you have a 180 LSAT and a 3.3 GPA? I'm struggling with where to apply since no place good will take me. Transfer?

re:"I'm surprised to hear St. John's called a bogus law school. The university itself is quite well-regarded."
Posted by: Peter | August 19, 2009 at 10:23 AM

In the just released FORBES list of College and University rankings St. John's University is ranked #504.

See here: http://tinyurl.com/kjncgp

Dan Kurt

You seem obsessed with Law prestige HS. Even if it's a shameless gig, you can make decent cheddar chasing ambulances or negotiating drunk driving busts in Reno or wherever, no? Certainly better than other gigs.

Honestly not everyone can be a, what do you call it, big-law guy. And these people, proles, low caliber types, still need to make a living.

"Even if it's a shameless gig, you can make decent cheddar chasing ambulances or negotiating drunk driving busts in Reno or wherever, no? "

I agree. But to do that, you have to really want to be a lawyer. A lot of people who are going to law school these days are more interested in being highly-paid professionals than in actually being lawyers.

If you are a smart person who really wants to be a lawyer, one angle is to aim for a scholarship at a lower tier accredited law school and then hang your shingle with very little debt.

"In the just released FORBES list of College and University rankings St. John's University is ranked #504."

Those rankings don't even begin to make sense. Example: Duke University is only #104, below Millsaps College of Mississippi. Ridiculous.

All these comments illustrate why we need to force schools to post accurate statistics on how their graduates are doing after school and what they were working at before. There could be any number of factors in determining salaries.

You might need to go to a big 14 if you are straight out of college with no work experience in order to have the fancy credentials to land a 6 figure job. But if you have an area of expertise already established and a specific practice area in mind, you might be able to get a decent return on your investment if you go to a state school and graduate at the top of your class. I have an Uncle who worked for years as a school teacher and went to Cleveland State for law school and makes a decent living handling teachers union negotiations and defending school systems. Still, without solid statistics on the backgrounds of law school graduates and their starting salaries, there is no way to say if this is a pattern or a random stroke of luck. Maybe talking to legal staffing recruiters would shine some light on the issue?

the above post with rankings does not make any sense where Penn is ranked 83. Really???

Some of the commentors seem to be trying to convince themselves and others that "everything will be fine if they dont go to a big-name law school...I heard of so-and-so and he went to State Law School and he got a job at a big-name law school..."

There almost assuredly is a cutoff below which you really shouldn't have gone to law school. I think a lot of the push-back is that this cutoff exists right below the 14th school. Outside the northeast, the law firms are not populated by Harvard grads. They're populated by lawyers recruited from the University of Florida, Southern Methodist University, the University of Colorado, and so on.

Then again, they may not qualify as "lucrative" is the book of many. And for some you are a failure if you are working anywhere outside of NYC and DC. To those people, sure, Top-14 or bust. Same goes for those that can get in to the University of Oklahoma but are destined to graduate at the bottom of their class.

Everyone disagreeing with HS should really google "big debt small law" and see just what a horrible existence awaits non-elite graduates. Just because some people do well for them coming from lesser schools does not mean they are the norm. A mixture of hard work, individual qualities and, as much as I hate to say it, luck, got them where they are.

For those who tout the median income for lawyers as a sign that solos do not do badly, bear in mind that one generally does not instantly become a solo upon graduation. While a feasible option before the dawn of explosive law school debt, graduates simply cannot afford that kind of risk. The risk is not only financial, but a risk of livelihood as well, as an inexperienced solo is likely to commit malpractice, as he or she has no experience, and be disbarred without making so much a dent in a looming loan balance. Also, consider how many graduates take "non-law" positions. In better economies, this included banking and consulting, but is increasingly a number of people who, though admitted to the bar, cannot find work outside of retail, waiting tables, and bartending. All but the most elite students - the highest-ranked members of the country's most storied institutions of legal education - are coming to grips with a reality that cannot be overstated: THERE ARE NO JOBS. Incoming associates are "deferred," or being forced to wait a year or more to begin work. Existing associates are being furloughed or outright fired. For the jobs that do exist, the students who attended Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the like are more likely to get them because of their intrinsic superiority over someone with lesser pedigree, and certainly someone with lesser grades.

This is well-documented throughout the legal community and across the internet. Those who claim otherwise are naive or just willfully ignorant.

If you thought Penn got jobbed, Cornell was ranked #207, just behind Utah State (191) and BYU-Idaho (116) Gordon Fox University was #58, which is much higher than I think they were even anticipating for themselves.

"Those rankings don't even begin to make sense. Example: Duke University is only #104, below Millsaps College of Mississippi."

Did it occur to you that maybe your imaginary college hierarchy doesn't make sense? 88 professors at Duke initiated a Jihad against the lacrosse team because a Negro drug-addict hooker accused them of a crime - for which they were later proven innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt, with no apology. If that isn't evidence of a "university" that has completely abandoned its commitment to truth and reason, I don't know what is. The fact that completely discredited schools like Duke have been downgraded should be considered a virtue compared to those who allow these bloated, self-important, navel-gazing institutions to rest on their laurels.

HS,

Have you considered applying for compliance jobs? It's not practicing law, and you don't actually need a law degree to do it, but many compliance folks at Goldman Sachs and similar firms have law degrees. I did a brief temp gig at GS years ago and maybe 30-40% of the folks there had law degrees, and not from top-14 schools either (I think one had a degree from St. Johns). Compliance appears to be an area where the bar is lower for law school grads.

It's completely brain-dead work, but there's basically zero stress in it aside from the insane hours everyone at a firm like Goldman feels compelled to work.

The Military History channel just aired a program about the JAGs. Interesting stuff.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judge_Advocate_General's_Corps

"The fact that completely discredited schools like Duke have been downgraded should be considered a virtue compared to those who allow these bloated, self-important, navel-gazing institutions to rest on their laurels."


It's kind of funny, that the only thing I know about Duke is that it's the home of the Diver's Alert Network. So, I wouldn't totally trash the school. And they have basketball.

http://www.diversalertnetwork.org/default.aspx

"1. In the sciences, tuition is waived and students receive a stipend. You really only have to do a postdoc if you plan to be a prof."

True about tuition, but its very common to do a post-doc or two, because in many fields jobs are scarce and many positions require 5 years of experience not counting grad school. Remember in the sciences you are frequently competing against a huge pool of foreign grad students (like 50% in physics for instance).

"2. For medicine, law and dentistry you can have the military pay for it in exchange for something like a 6-year tour. This is actually not bad since you will start out as an O3 and wouldn't be earning much in the first years either way."

Its more like 10+ years. Also, the military moves you around a lot and you get the pleasure of being deployed in a war zone every now and then.

@the Forbes rankings are trash. 20% of the ranking is determined by the number of graduates in Who's Who in America (which is a scam to get people to pay money to be included in a worthless book). Another 25% is determined by what the students say on Ratemyprofessor.com.

My brother went to BYU Law School, which has the religious fruitcake label next to it as well, but he had several offers from major firms and two years out of school is making over 100,000. It's not Wall Street money, but it's a good salary for middle America. My brother in-law had a similar experience.

Unfortunately for me, although I had a 167 on the LSAT which MIGHT have been good enough to barely squeak in somewhere good, my undergraduate grades were miserable since I never really dedicated myself to getting good ones. I had no idea I'd even be going to law school until about a year before I graduated. 167 LSAT with a 2.9 GPA isn't gonna cut it, even though the LSAT was clearly a much better predictor of my intelligence and abilities than a GPA which was the product of apathy. (I had 174 on the practice exam the night before the test, I think if I'd pulled that off in the actual exam somebody would have overlooked my crummy GPA.)

But I like my current job and can't complain too much. If you're willing to work out in the sticks somewhere, giving up certain lifestyle advantages to the big cities, you can still find pretty satisfying work as a lawyer in one government job or another.


One of the easiest routes into big money law believe it or not is to go to a law school in New Zealand (bare with me on this).

There are 5 law schools for a population of 4 million none of which are particularly difficult to get into (atleast when compared to T14).

The average student has an excellent chance of working for one of the big law firms in Auckland / Wellington after graduation.

Once you have worked for a couple of years in a big firm you will have an excellent chance of working for one of the big law firms/"magic circle" in the City of London. Until recently City salaries have been roughly comparable to New York ones.

My guestimate is that at least half if not more of new zealand lawyers (who have worked in a big nz law firm) follow this route to London. Most return home eventually but the option is there to stay and make partner and many do.

The strange thing is that Kiwi and Australian lawyers are hired along side cambridge and oxford grads but with, in my opinion, a much easier and less scrutinised path in.

Where is everyone getting all this info on Half Sigma's personal life ie where he graduated, what he's currently doing? I feel out of the loop here.

In other news, yeah law school isn't the most secure of all career options. Yet my unemployed friends keep applying! I guess it's something to do that's more impressive than getting a PhD in American Literature.

Then again, I considered law school once too...when I finished my English degree with a 3.7 gpa at Cornell. Unfortunately, my science gpa was much lower so my weighted average was closer to 3.2. Funny thing, I studied my ass off for all my science classes and I wrote all my English papers the night before. All the other English majors were applying to law school so that led me to conclude that getting into law school must not be very hard.

As for the LSATs, I can't believe people complain about a three hour exam. Seriously, try taking the MCAT sometime.

Anyway, sorry about bashing lawyers. Maybe I'm just upset because I can't seem to catch a hot lawyer for dating purposes like all my other friends in med school. Hey, take me and I'll support you, baby. My job is recession proof.

Looking for a part time jobs? or got unpaid internships? why don't you try a blood donation. I think this is a very big help for college students who needs an extra money and make up to $50/hour for blood donation. As we all know, Blood bank shortages kill tons of people all the time and it is time to spread the word about blood donation and give blood, you will never know when YOU might need blood. This is really beg help even it is just a part time or just once in while, the bottom line of this is to saved lives.

If you are thinking to be a blood donor and looking for specific blood banks and directory you can check it here at bloodbanker.com/banks.

Kate, all your friends want to date lawyers? Why is that? Why don't they date other doctors?

Anyway, I go to law school in NYC and I went to Cornell also. I can attest to the fact that we went to one of the toughest undergrads.

Maybe I'll let you support me but I plan on making good money myself. ;)

Anyway, I go to law school in NYC and I went to Cornell also. I can attest to the fact that we went to one of the toughest undergrads."

Jack, what's the deal with Cornell's advertising graduates? I find them dull

@ Jack. Doctors don't like dating other doctors because they don't want to go home and talk about medicine over the dinner table. It's like you never get off work.

My parent owns a private practice and she always told me that female doctors marry either lawyers, bankers or really good looking people. The latter two will quit their jobs once you are married and take up secretarial jobs in the office because they would rather work for their wives than for some other company/boss. Lawyers are probably the best choice because they don't usually quit their jobs, they just downgrade to working on cases they enjoy.

Nice seeing another Cornell grad here. :)

"and the infamous New York Law School (whose motto is a chagrined “no, we’re not NYU”

For an allegedly "infamous" school, NYLS has had some impressive alumni in the past, including the poet Wallace Stevens (whose day job was working as a lawyer for The Hartford insurance company), and the guy who invented the Xerox process.

"For an allegedly "infamous" school, NYLS has had some impressive alumni in the past, including the poet Wallace Stevens (whose day job was working as a lawyer for The Hartford insurance company), and the guy who invented the Xerox process."

Neither of whom became successful as lawyers, no? Some people are just good...

"Neither of whom became successful as lawyers, no? Some people are just good..."

Stevens was successful as a corporate lawyer for a top insurance company. He didn't become a published poet until later in life.

If memory serves though, the school also has at least one Supreme Court Justice among its alumni.

Linda said:
"here's a famous study that showed going to an Ivy league school had surprisingly little benefit in life."
---------------------------------------------------

Could you provide a source please?

Below is an article that was pointed out by someone who commented on the blog that HS is referring to. According to the article over 50% of the top income earners can expect to make $100k+.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119040786780835602.html

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