Yuko Sin is an instructor and blogger for Blueprint LSAT Prep. He is starting at Columbia Law School this fall, and will be writing a series of law school-related posts about his experiences. Stay tuned!
There are about 300 law schools in the United States, and getting into at least one of them is pretty easy. But, for many, going to law school is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.
Still, going to law school can also be a good idea. I’ll tell you how I made my choice to go, and I’ll share some links to help you decide whether law school is right for you.
The Personal Reasons: Why Law?
In 2006, near the height of the law school boom, I went into my undergrad thinking I’d continue on to law school out of some vague ideas about a proclivity for writing and debate in high school. Watching Ally McBeal in middle school might’ve had something to do with it too. That’s almost as bad as wanting to go to law school because your friends think you like to argue a lot.
By graduation, with the economy down in the dumps, I realized I really had no idea what lawyers did, why exactly I wanted to be a lawyer, and whether law school was actually worth the cost. I took the LSAT, did pretty well, but I put the breaks on my law school plans.
Instead, I talked to lawyers and law students, I read legal biographies, blogs, and fiction – a friend recommend In The Shadow of the Law for its spot on depiction of life at a law firm. Ally McBeal lied to me.
I learned about what I might be getting myself into: large law firm work, though highly compensated, can be brutal and lonely, while worthwhile government and public interest jobs are extremely rare and highly competitive.
I also thought a great deal about what kind of law I wanted to do. Litigation, international law, and technology law all seem interesting. During college I worked in web development, but I decided to broaden my understanding of software and computers by completing a post-bac B.S. in computer science.
The Economic Reasons: Not quite “T14 or bust”, but close
Choosing to attend law school came down mostly to cost of attendance and job prospects. If these didn’t match up well for me, I wouldn’t have decided to go.
Law school rankings aren’t perfect, but the top fourteen law schools (T14) happen to enjoy an employment advantage over lower ranked schools. You should be able to get into one of the T14 schools, even if you end up attending a lower ranked school. If you have the numbers for a T14 school, you’ll get some massive scholarships outside of the T14 that make the dip in job prospects worth it.
I gathered a bunch of data on my schools and put everything into spreadsheets.
The T14 schools are slowly but surely climbing out of the Great Recession (graph shows percent of graduates employed at NLJ 250 firms).
I expect the above trend to continue. These percentages increase for all schools when you add prestigious public interest jobs, elite boutique law firms, judicial clerkships, and reality TV stars. Unfortunately, costs of attendance rose at a rate well above inflation, while real salaries fell.
After finishing my financial aid and scholarship negotiations I plugged all my costs into a spreadsheet, compared the employment scores at all my schools, and looked at what my monthly loan payments would be on a 10-year repayment plan. Monthly payments seem more real to me since I can compare them to tangible monthly expenses like food, rent, and scratch-off lottery tickets.
I had some great options, so it was a very tough choice, but I went with Columbia.
If you really want to be a lawyer, and you can attend a law school with good employment numbers at a significant discount, law school is a pretty darn good idea. So, do your research, and get that monster LSAT score.
Graphs for LSAT and GPA with admissions outcomes
Class of 2013 large law firm plus federal clerkship numbers
ABA Law School Employment Database
Big Law Hiring Partner Blog
Above The Law: Law School Rankings
Law school debt calculator by Michigan Law
Google Docs spreadsheet function for calculating loan payments
Lawyers talk about their typical days at work
Law school costs and employment scores