Navigating the law school admissions minefield

Disclaimer: the following post will only interest two sets of people. People who are thinking about applying and/or are applying to law school or people who are bored enough at this moment to be interested in my own application process.

While regular Above the Law (ATL) readers have heard this mantra for a long time, those of you who do not read ATL may have noticed the kinda bad week that law schools have had PR-wise starting with a New York Times expose largely featuring New York Law School (not to be confused with NYU Law). It’s a pretty awesome article actually, and while it does a little too much in excusing prospective law students from their many bad choices (one example being agreeing to pay the full $48K/year for New York Law School), it contained some very telling insight for anyone who is even considering the possibility of attending law school.

Later in the week, an ATL post was published detailing the overarching reaction of law schools who have a very clear interest in maintaining the myth that a legal education is worth every penny that can be squeezed out of you and oh hey, don’t worry about that less than stellar job market out there because that doesn’t happen to our students (the irony of this coming from the third-tiers as much as the Ivy’s is quite enjoyable). Combine that with Thomas Jefferson Law’s response to a lawsuit filed by a former student which can best be summed up as: “well yeah, our law school sucks at preparing you for the California State bar exam (as low as 35% in one recent year), but those statistics were there for you to see. Logically speaking, as a college educated prospective law student, it was on you to see how badly we sucked at doing our jobs as legal educators so we can’t possibly be held liable for the fact that you don’t have a job.” To be fair, I do see the logic there. Why someone would borrow hundreds of thousands to attend a law school that boasts a whopping 35% bar passage rate in 2007 is beyond me. However, it’s quite telling that a school like Thomas Jefferson Law even exists and continues to exist while charging (often) stupid 21-22 year old recent college graduates hundreds of thousands to attend their school. Think back to when you were 21 or 22 years old…how solid were your decision-making abilities back then? Mmmhmm. I’d personally support an ABA-mandated requirement that no law school accept students without at least one year in between college graduation and law school enrollment. Give students at least one year to recognize that their student loans aren’t actually like monopoly money and that you do actually have to pay them back and adjust your monthly budget in order to cover them. I wonder what, if any, effect that might have on the large surplus of 24-25 year old unemployed attorneys out there…

This morning the Times followed up on their weekend story with this discussion series featuring 8 “debaters” on the law school question. I found it a little unfortunate that 50% were current or former law school professors who, again, have a distinct interest in maintaining enrollment numbers because that’s where their salaries come from. Not surprisingly, it was the professors who sang the praises of the “experience” of law school and argued that a hyper-focus on employment statistics and prospects after graduation is too short-sighted. There may be some truth to that, but I’d point out that the job market in general, and the legal job market specifically, is simply not the same animal it was when they were students. Gone are the days where having a Bachelor’s degree really meant anything in a non-technical field (they’ve pretty much gone the way of the high school diploma….a really expensive high school diploma). This effect has made its way through the ranks of graduate schools, business schools, and now even law schools.

I find myself fortunate to be currently working in the field that I, you know, went to school for. My decision to finally attend law school is simply the next logical step for me to make given what I’ve decided I want to do with my life. I feel like I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve pretty much navigated an entirely linear path toward that end goal, and now I will have the distinct pleasure of navigating through the law school admissions process as it currently stands. It will be a matter of not simply jumping on board with the best law school that admits me regardless of the cost; no, it will be a much more complex game of bouncing financial aid/scholarship offers off of the various schools, comparing LRAP and loan forgiveness options and requirements, comparing bar passage rates and employment proportion statistics (e.g. does this school send a lot of people into government hiring or is it overwhelmingly large firm work?), etc.

I have an Excel spreadsheet at the ready. 😉

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