OT Law school question

Submitted by hillbillyblue on April 22nd, 2012 at 6:58 AM

I have a question for the mgolawyers and those currently in law school.  Is it worth it and would it be wise to take a scholarship at a lesser school or take out loans to go to a school that is ranked a little higher?  I am graduating from Western Michigan this coming Saturday with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in social work and have spent the last two years doing everything necessary to get ready for law school.  I have recently been accepted at Wayne State (currently waiting for scholarship info), have a 75% scholarship at Michigan State, have been placed on waiting lists at Iowa and Wisconsin, and am still waiting to hear back from Chicago-Kent.  The reason that I am asking if it's worth it is because the closer I get to quitting my job and enrolling in a school the more second-guessing I am doing.  I am particularly worried about quitting my job because although I hate it, it pays quite well and I have a famliy to support.  My wife and I have crunched the numbers and it will be possible to live on her income for the next 3-4 years but after that it will be tough.  Any info you guys could give me would be great.  And I am prepared for the snarky comments for considering sparty law.


Edit:  I just checked my status at Wayne State and it shows on Friday they mailed out a scholarship acceptance form.



April 22nd, 2012 at 8:45 AM ^

Disclosure: I'm an associate at a top Michigan firm.  Went to a lower tier top-25 school not unlike some of the schools that have you waitlisted.  Have 120K in loans. 

I did exactly what several of the posters above are suggesting that you do: Went to the highest ranked law school to maximize job prospects.   It worked out for me, but that was in 2008.  If I had graduated in 2009 with the same grades and education, I'd be screwed--massive debt and no means to pay it off. 

With the market the way it is, and your job prospects a little dodgy, you'd be totally insane to make the decision I made.  Take the money and go to Wayne or MSU.  You going to have to work harder to earn the respect of your peers and get good job opportunities, but you'll have the financial flexibility to either: (i) make law a career that you enjoy; or (ii) quit and go back to your current profession.  In short: If you go to Wayne, your worst case scenario is being an overeducated CNC machinist.  If you go to Wisconsin, your worst case scenario is being an unemployed lawyer who has defaulted on his student loans.   

Note: My advice would be somewhat different if you were talking about Michigan/Northwestern/Chicago v. Wayne/MSU.  I think there is a large enough gap between  the job prospects and reputations of these schools to justify rolling the dice and taking on the debt.  At my firm, top 15 will get you in the door even if your grades are only decent.  Top 50 really doesn't unless you don't also have stellar grades, which is basically the same for Wayne and MSU grads.


April 22nd, 2012 at 3:55 PM ^

I think that the doom and gloom is a little bit overstated for the T14 schools.  I'm graduating from Northwestern in a few weeks, and I think it was a pretty good investment for most of the class.  Just guessing, but I think at least half of the class has jobs at Top 250 firms, and they'll be making 160K the first year out of school.  I looked at the 2011 numbers and 115 of of a class of about 250 went to firms with more than 500 attorneys.  Now, they might hate those jobs, but that's an indictment on becoming a lawyer generally.  But money-wise, it was definitely a good choice to go.  I know of only a few people in my class looking for work, and many of those choosing not to go the big firm route is because they wanted to do something else (e.g., clerkship, public interest), not that they couldn't get the firm job.

But I completely agree that the world changes outside those Top 14 schools, so it might be worthwhile to wait for a year and try to beef up the resume.


April 22nd, 2012 at 8:53 AM ^

2008 WSULS grad here. After graduating I worked at large law firm here in Michigan and now work as an AUSA. I assisted with hiring at both places and currently sit on the hiring committee at my current job.

Your question on selecting a lower ranked school over a higher ranked school should depend on where you see yourself practicing over the next few years. WSULS is an excellent school. Great professors, administrators, and your classmates will be instaters who just fell short of getting into U of M. WSULS students that do well are 1b to U of M students who opt to stay in state. MSU students still have a hard time getting in state jobs. On the down side, it just doesn't have the out of state appeal of the higher ranked school. MSU, because of its name and sports program, has much more national pull than WSU, which is indicated in its move up the rankings.

All that said, If you plan to practice in Michigan for at least five years, WSULS is an excellent option; not so much if you plan to go out of state.


April 22nd, 2012 at 8:57 AM ^

I disagree with those who commented that law school itself stinks. I enjoyed it, and I know others who enjoyed it. Not everyone does, and I believe people when they say they hated it, but it's not a terrible experience for everyone.

That said, I'm in full agreement that the schools you're looking at are not worthwhile investments for you. The fact that you already have a good job means that you're not just taking on debt, you're foregoing three years of experience and earnings. Think about how that will affect your entire future income stream. Now, some lawyers rake in.a lot of dough after graduating, but there's a sharp dividing line between the haves and have nots. You could end up with a starting salary at 160,000 (for a top firm in Chicago) or 50,000. And at the schools you're looking at, you'll need to finish at or near the top of your class to even get an interview at the top firms.

If you do decide that you'll be really happy as a lawyer, then I'd go to the best law school in state where you want to live. Detroit firms are more likely to hire from Wayne State than from Kent. And then do two things: work your ass off, because you'll need excellent grades, and network like crazy. Start thinking about getting your foot in the door at good firms before you even walk onto campus. Get coffee with alums of your school to ask them about their experience. You can also build up your resume by participating in a journal, clinic, or moot court competition.

Good luck. You're doing the smart thing by reaching out for advice.

Michael Scarn

April 22nd, 2012 at 9:17 AM ^

The job market is still tough. I'm a 2L at Michigan STILL looking for a summer associate job after being strung along by a big firm (that I met with at on campus interviews in August) with assurances that I would be receiving an offer that clearly never came.

If you do end up going, do everything you can do to beef up your resume while in school, even if the particular activity doesn't really track your interests. I figured I would do moot court rather than law review to give myself a chance to feel out if I wanted to be a litigator, and couldn't be any unhappier with my choice. By the time the competition came around, I was too stressed about finding work (which law review would have certainly made easier) to concentrate and get the most out of the experience.

Good luck, and study a ridiculous amount your 1L year. An extra week or two's worth of work per class that year could make all the difference in the world.

Back to finals studying.


April 22nd, 2012 at 9:12 AM ^

Take it from someone who took a scholarship at a lower-ranked law school; of you're going to a law school that's not in the top 20 or so, get a huge scholarship. That's what I did and it allowed me the freedom to be a little gutsy in my job search and it's paid off.

However, I'm not sure I would have left a steady job to go to law school. I went here straight from undergrad, where I double majored in "I know I want to go to law school" and "I'd better get into law school."

Wayne State dominates Detroit for sure, so if you are going to law school, I go there. I would not go to Kent or Iowa, and I'm not sure I know enough about how Wisconsin does out of its market.

Feel free to email me if you have more questions. It's my username at utk.edu

Waters Demos

April 22nd, 2012 at 10:47 AM ^

This is true to some extent, but it's an oversimplification.  Someone smart enough to go to M may have very good reasons for choosing a Wayne State, Cooley, MSU, etc...  Among other things, financial freedom can't be overestimated.  And once a lawyer has been out for some time, the question of which school s/he went to becomes less relevant. 


April 22nd, 2012 at 9:29 AM ^

If it's your dream to be a lawyer, go to the top-ranked law school you can.  It will give you the biggest leg up in the job market.  You'll have big loans to pay, and it may not work out, but it gives you the best chance of reaching your dream.

If you care about anything else, though, get your law degree without loans.  You'll have a tougher time in the job market, but the freedom to choose any job, legal or non-legal, without all that debt hanging over your head.  If you're at the top of your class at a low-ranked school, you'll still have a chance to build a career, though via a different path (solo or small firm, local work) than you might have otherwise.


April 22nd, 2012 at 9:39 AM ^

I'll be making a similar decision in the next year or so (taking the LSAT in June) and I just want to say that this was VERY, VERY useful for me.  I just find I never can believe those Law School messageboards, etc.  It's nice to hear realistic opinions from people actually in the field.

Thanks again!


April 22nd, 2012 at 11:20 AM ^

Look, you can make a great career even if you don't go to a top law school. It's just a lot easier if you do.

I didn't have as many options as some people here. My options really came down to Notre Dame at full price or a bunch of other schools with scholarships. I chose Tennessee, as you can tell by my sig, and it's worked out nicely for me. However, it was always a little more difficult to find a job in MI because so many people questioned why I had left the state. From my perspective, though, it made more sense to go to a decent law school with a scholarship (since I didn't get into M) than to go to WSU, MSU, or Cooley. I'm not sure if I made the right choice, but it's working out nicely for me and I'll be working in AA post-graduation. 



April 22nd, 2012 at 9:45 AM ^

Its a risk. It turned out well for me. I graduated from a tier 3 two years ago and I'm making just under 6 figures, but I was fortunate to graduate in the top 15% of my class. Two years out, I have lots of friends who are either unemployed or have jobs with salaries that that pay in the 50-60k range, while their student debt is 3x that.


April 22nd, 2012 at 9:50 AM ^

Not a lawyer, but my cousin is an assistant chief in a section at DOJ after leaving a top NYC law firm.  He's a Harvard law grad.

He has classmates that are unemployed.  At social gatherings with him and his Ivy-trained colleagues, none of them want their children to be lawyers.

That, in and of itself, would scare the sh*t out of me.

Also, the entire paradigm of corporate law remibursement have shifted dramatically.  Fewer clients are willing to allow for firms to bill associate hour work as partner hours, some clients are negotiating flat-fees rather than billable hours.  Finally as multiple people noted above, the entry-level position of an associate at a firm is in jeopardy now that discovery has become a commodity rather than a skill.

Good luck, OP.  I don't envy the position you are in.


April 22nd, 2012 at 5:43 PM ^

Not really a joke;  a friend had an administrative job at an industrial chem company, wanted to goto law school, when to Michigan.

Did not go into patents as planned, went into general practice in a small firm.  After two years, returned to his old company.

His UMich law degree makes nice wallpaper.

Waters Demos

April 22nd, 2012 at 10:32 AM ^

I have some thoughts.  I admit that I haven't read any of the comments, so apologies in advance if I'm repetitious.

The scholarship will give you tremendous freedom in some ways (which are abvious), and also deny you some freedom in other ways.  My opinion is that your level of ambition determines how you answer this question.

If you're extremely ambitious, e.g., want to get a federal clerkship, work in New York, or be a professor of law someday, then you need to cough up the cash for a better school.  There will be no guarantees, however, seeing as law school is a curved environment.  But these things are almost impossible to do if you go to a lower tier school, even if you're top 10%, law review, etc...

If you're not really ambitious, don't know quite what you want to do yet, and are just seeing what a law degree can do for you, I would advise going with the scholarship.  While you're there, you will have more flexibility, will compete with less talented people, get better grades as a result, make law review/moot court, etc....  Then, when you're out, the financial freedom will be worth it - the shitty economy won't be as scary and you can be more choosy about your opportunities. 

So, in a nutshell - how ambitious are you?

(Also - as always, consider the option of doing something else with your life very very carefully)

EDIT: After reading a few other posts, I agree that there's not a significant amount of variance in the schools you're considering, so the ambition analysis probably doesn't work as well as considering amount of scholarship and where you want to live.  Particularly with a family to support - I think those will be the two most important factors.


April 22nd, 2012 at 10:29 AM ^

As many of the posters have indicated, that is the key.  I graduated from UofM, went to Boston University Law, and practiced for three years in Manhattan-I hated ever minute of it.  I ended up in commercial real estate in NC and have loved virtually every minute of it.  My law degree and experience has been essential in my job.  I only wish I had a JD/MBA which is a phenomenal combination for my business and many like it.  

I understand that the legal job market is very tough right now, but the recession will end and there will ultimately be jobs for those who are hard working and committed, regardless of the name on the degree.  Does a prestigous degree make everything easier-no question. If you are otherwise a high quality job candidate and graduate from the top of your class from a "lesser" school", you will get there anyway, though it might take longer.  The cream generally rises to the top in any industry. 

Someone above mentioned interning.   I highly recommend it.  Since you do not like your current job (though it pays well), it would be tragic to spend three years and major dollars to end up in another career where you can't find contentment.  I believe that if it turns out that you love the practice of law, the loans (if you go that route) and the three years of studying will be worth it.   I wish you good luck no matter what you decide.


April 22nd, 2012 at 10:26 AM ^

I would give you a lot of advice on why not to go to law school, (which I agree with others I don't think it is for everyone in this economy.) 

One thing to consider is what kind of law you want to practice.  If you want to be a solo-practitioner then it doesn't matter what kind of school you attend really as it will be what you make of it in the end.

But what I will tell you is, out of the schools you listed, none is a particularly elite school, in other words, all of those degrees will be looked at pretty much equally from an employer's standpoint. Some doors will frankly be automatically closed to you coming out of those institutions.

That said, I would choose the most economic option. 

It is bad enough out there already, without putting yourself into extra debt.

And, there is always the possibility you can do what I did, which was to take the best scholarship deal (full ride) at a lesser school, perform well first year, and transfer into a bigger and better situation. 

At any rate, good luck.


April 22nd, 2012 at 10:24 AM ^

I disagree with almost every other response on here.  For the most part, employers hire from local schools.  If you want to live in Chicago, go to Kent (you will need $200k to do so b/tn tution and living expenses).  If you want to live in Wisconsin, go there.  If you want to stay in Michigan, go to either MSU or Wayne.

Next, do you think you are more of an engineer or entrepuer?  If you want to hang out your own shingle, then it doesn't matter where you go, so go with the cheepest place you can get into.  If you don't think you can hack it eating only what you kill and feel working in a firm is for you, go the the most presitgious of your options.  I think Wayne and MSU are about equal.  If you kick ass and really lear International Shoe and The Rule Against Perpetuities, you will be highly ranked and can get a job in any firm in the area.  If you don't go to your 8am classes and end up i the bottom 50 (like me) it will serve you best to have as little loans as possible.

None of my clients ever ask where I went to law school, although it was a big ten school.  But I do still have 80k in debt eight years later.  While I make a great living, my student loans are still a hinderence.  

Clarence Beeks

April 22nd, 2012 at 11:19 AM ^

This is the best post I've read in this thread of comments. Particularly the part about about identifying what type of person you are and what type of practice you want to have, and where. I also think it's important question to ask whether you are making your decision based upon getting a job or making a career. If you are just looking to go to law school so that you can graduate and go where ever you can find the best job, the analysis will be different than if you want to go to law school, graduate and live somewhere in particular. If you're not looking to work for


April 22nd, 2012 at 10:30 AM ^

I'm not a lawyer, although I once had interest in going to law school, so I won't offer any personal advice.  But, one of the better and more candid responses to the questions, "Should I go to law school" can be found here (written by someone who graduated from law school but no longer practices): http://artofmanliness.com/2012/02/27/faq-should-i-go-to-law-school/


The summation of the above link is:

  1. Law school costs a lot of money/requires massive debt that can take many years to get out of.
  2. Scholarships can disappear much faster than you think.
  3. Lawyers no longer make as much money as they used to and a lot of firms are now contracting out jobs instead of hiring people full-time.
  4. You need to be the right kind of person to go to law school- you know what the law really is (not just what you think it is), you can afford it or at least truly believe that you're good enough to keep your scholarship, you're an extremely hard worker, and you're willing to work hard to get a relatively low paying job when you first graduate.


Possibly the single most interesting thing I read in the above article relates to #4:

"According to a recent Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions survey of 330 pre-law students, 52% report that they are “very confident” that they will find a job in the legal field after graduating law school and passing the bar, but only 16% say they are “very confident” that the majority of their fellow aspiring lawyers will do the same. In fact, only seven percent of respondents indicated a lack of confidence in their own ability to secure employment upon graduation. Pre-law students’ attitudes are in keeping with research showing that students aged 18-29 are more optimistic about their economic future – despite a sluggish job market – than past generations."

Everybody going to law school thinks that they're different and better- that kind of attitude is required but you must also truly be better at studying, test taking, memorizing, connecting cases, etc. than the majority of your class in order to keep a high GPA (which I'm told is the single most important item in getting a job).


Based on the article, I'd suggest taking the largest scholarships offered so as to minimize your debt.  Talk to your various advisors though and have them figure out what is best for you personally- all other advice is based on generalizations and may not be applicable.

Nacho Mama

April 22nd, 2012 at 10:38 AM ^

A lot of good advice in the opinions above.  I went to a top-25 law school and graduated 10 years ago. I summered for top NY and DC firms, went to work for the DC firm for a limited amount of time and never practiced again. I have friends who went to Wayne and DCL and are partners in MI firms and have successful careers.  Law school is a tool.  

When I was interviewing I interviewed at a top DC firm where one of the associates got in my grill about if I thought I was special.  He said when he interviewed he was top 3 in his class at Georgetown and lived with his parents for a year after graduating because the market was so bad. He was bitter because I was graduating in a good market and he graduated in a bad market.  I got an offer at that firm.  

Now is a bad market.  I was part of an interview panel at a firm and it was very depressing.   People were dying for any sort of job.  

I will say this. Wayne State is well-respected as a top law firm in the region.  If you can go there for 75% cost that is a pretty good deal. Iowa and Wisconsin are very good schools.  MSU has a good school where you can make a go at it.  Hopefully the market will be better by the time you graduate.  

There is no right answer. You have a tough decision to make. But if you work hard, good things will come to you. 


April 22nd, 2012 at 10:46 AM ^

It's a question of risk/reward, with the risk far outweighing the reward.

I'm set to graduate from a bottom-end top 25 law school in a couple weeks.  Full disclosure, law school has worked out for me, as I was able to secure a big law job post graduation.

However, the employment numbers truly are scary. A friend of mine at school was asked to be put on the student committee seeking post-graduation donations from graduating students. She was told that only 31% of our class has secured post-graduation legal employment. 

31%, and we're set to graduate in 13 days. At a top-25 (granted bottom end of the top-25) school.

I am still glad I went. It was fulfilling and I'm really excited to get started in September. But I don't think I'd have that same, fuzzy warm feeling if I was part of the other 70% of my classmates. Just some real numbers to chew on.


April 22nd, 2012 at 10:57 AM ^

Yes, the part of the other 70% can be rough.  OP just go into it knowing that one outcome may be a paralegal job in this economy.  And, ask yourself if you're comfortable risking that.  The answer may be yes, I'm not saying don't go.  But, just know that this is a possible outcome and a reality for several people I know.

I would ask yourself is it the law that you love and want to work with, or is it the prestige of the title attorney and the big bucks?  The former is attainable the latter may or may not come.


April 22nd, 2012 at 11:07 AM ^

Since you have a job, not only do you have the cost of your three years of tuition to consider, but also the three years of salary you're giving up to attend law school.  That is likely going to be a tremendous cost, and it will probably take a decade to get to the point where your earnings after law school surpass what you'd have earned if you never became a lawyer.  That is true I think even if you land a decently paying job. There are too few legal jobs that pay well enough to enable young lawyers to repay their loans. 

I went to a school which at the time was ranked 25th by US News, after attending Michigan for undergrad (I was out of state at Michigan).  The school I went to was in-state for me tuition-wise.  I graduated with the lowest honors about 5 years ago. My first job out of school was in a defense firm, and it paid me $45,000.00. 

I went straight from undergrad to law school, and did so because I didn't have another job.  There was basically no oppotunity cost in terms of giving up a paycheck, since I couldn't find a job anyway, and I went to an in-state school. Still that job was barely worth it. 

I think law school still makes sense, but the circumstances in which it does are shrinking.  I don't think changing careers to become a lawyer is the wisest choice these days.





April 22nd, 2012 at 11:03 AM ^

You have already done well for yourself.  I will be very candid because this is a huge decision.

  1. Do not go to law school unless you are sure you want to be a lawyer.  The schools you are looking at will not put you on a path to riches.  (To be clear:  the sky is the limit for what you can accomplish after school, wherever you go--but it will have to be your own hustle, it will not be there for you just because you're holding a degree from Wisconsin, Kent, etc.)
  2. If you are certain your want to be lawyer, and certain you want to practice in Michigan, it is probably not worth leaving the state, even if you could get in to Wisconsin or Iowa.
  3. If you are looking to move to a large city in another region of the country go to the school with the best national reputation among your options (i.e. Iowa or Wisconsin).

I graduated from Michigan and work at a firm in DC.  To be very candid, if I had a relative or close friend considering law school I would not suggest it unless (1) you can go to a top 15 school or (2) want to practice local criminal/family law.  And let me be clear that local law practice can be a great life.  Fine pay and much more fun/entertaining than what I am doing.  But make sure that's what you're after. 

Best of luck to you whatever you choose.


April 22nd, 2012 at 11:38 AM ^

I'm a Junior in college right now and I was pre-law for a grand total of one semester my freshmen year.  All of these reasons (Cost, admissions to top schools, salary disparities, long hours, job uncertainty) led me to stop considering law school and focus in on Public Policy, either doing a PhD program straight out of college (no additional debt) or to find a job that would (help) pay for me to get my masters.  From everyone that I've talked to, this route is much less risky and as or more rewarding than law school.  


April 22nd, 2012 at 11:02 AM ^

Hillbilly, I'm a prosecutor out in Los Angeles.  I have a few thoughts on your situation (as a lot of people apparently do).


First, I'd like to know if you've considered going to law school part time?  I believe this would probably take care of some of your concerns.  Going part time will greatly reduce the financial burden on your family.  You'll be able to keep your job (presumably) so you'll still have your income and you'll only be paying out a fraction of the amount for tuition.  Yes, it takes longer.  Yes, it might not be the experience you're hoping for socially (btw, law school is NOTHING like college), but it would greatly reduce your exposure to some of the dilemmas you are worried about.

Second, you really should consider whether you are interested in law or whether you're interested in making more money.  Nearly every person I know from law school hates being a lawyer.  That's because we almost all did it for the same reason:  we didn't know what else to do.  There's only one guy I know from law school who went because he loved the idea of being a lawyer and I don't think it's a coincidence that he is the happiest guy in the world actually being a lawyer.  It sounds like you already make good money.  If that's the case, ask yourself why you really want to go to law school.

Third, if you decide to push forward with law school then your decision of whether to go to a higher prestige vs. lower cost school should be informed by a couple of factors.  

        A.  First, do you plan on going out of state to work as a lawyer?  If so, you should go to the higher ranked/prestigious school.  If, for instance, you came to Los Angeles to get a job and told people you went to Michigan State's law school, they would recognize the name and it would at least start you off on a good vibe.  If you said you went to Wayne State, you'd get blank stares and they might even wonder if that was a real place.  If, however, you stay in state then I don't think it matters much where you go.  In my office, we have a TON of grads from Southwestern.  Ever heard of it?  Didn't think so.  But because people are so familiar with it in the area, it doesn't matter whether a person graduated from Southwestern vs. UCLA vs. Stanford.  We've had experience from grads at each of those schools and some are good and some suck, regardless of which school they attended.

      B.  What do you plan on doing with your degree?  If your end game is to work at a giant law firm and make partner, you'd be better served with the Big Name Law School.  If it's virtually anything else, I don't think it matters much.  


Finally, please keep in mind that having a law degree is certainly no guarantee of a bright financial future.  My office is the largest prosecutor's office in the country.  A little over a thousand prosecutors.  We are hiring this summer for the first time in six years.  We received something like two thousand applications for 40 spots.  We've had people interning here (for free, of course) for a couple of years who didn't get one of those 40 spots.  Having a law degree does not mean you're going to get hired to be a lawyer.  You should be ready to hang out your own shingle and spend a couple of years building a client base (and living in the red) if you decide to be a lawyer.  Also, if you are young enough you could consider being a cop.  I know a couple of officers who went to law school and they are great cops, largely because they went to law school.  And cops make good money.




April 22nd, 2012 at 11:24 AM ^

I have a close friend who worked in the insurance industry (adjuster) while attending law school in the evenings.   I took him 5 years to graduate IIRC, and the work-load between job and school was extreme, but he graduated and practices in NYC in the insurance defense area.  He makes a very good living and the situation worked out well for him.  A person would have to be very committed for this approach.


April 22nd, 2012 at 12:03 PM ^

I debated doing the part-time thing but decided against it.  For the last 2-3 years I have been living on 3 hours of sleep a day (I work nights) and loads of energy drinks  I have been working like 60 hours a week and taking a full load of classes, summer included, and it was all I could handle.  I can't image law school on top of working that much.


April 22nd, 2012 at 11:10 AM ^

My wife just graduated from duke last year, she is a lawyer here in Michigan. I would add that the people saying if you are going to stay here, then go to a Michigan school a correct, if not then go to the highest ranking school. The market is recovering. Things are not great, but they are getting better. Schools also have bridge to practice programs that help if you can't find anything by graduation. Also, the income based repayment will give you some freedom to make a choice not centered around student loan debt.

Sons of Louis Elbel

April 22nd, 2012 at 11:19 AM ^

In the spirit of this blog, let's look at some actual data. Here are 2010 placement numbers for some of the schools being discussed:

Iowa (the highest ranked school under consideration): 25% of its grads had no long term employment 9 months after graduation. I'm tempted to say that this should pretty much end the discussion, but let's continue. Roughly another 12% had jobs in "business or industry," i.e. something you probably didn't need a law degree for. Now, some of those jobs may be actual business jobs, but most of them are probably things along the lines of working for Home Depot, which you obviously don't need a JD for (and which probably aren't paying enough to eat into your debt at all). Another 20% are employed in small firms (under 50 lawyers). Nothing wrong w/small firm practice, but those jobs are unlikely to afford you a salary high enough to pay off the enormous debt load you'll carry. Less than 20% of the class has big firm jobs. Again, this is at a top-50 law school, at the state's flagship university.

Wisconsin: 14% unemployed, 7% in "business/industry." Roughly 30% in small firms or solo practitioners. 20% in government - those jobs may or may not pay decently, but obviously don't pay extravagantly. Roughly 10% of the class in large firms.

Wayne State: Roughly 1/3 of the class unemployed. 14% employed in large firms.

Michigan State: Roughly 27% unemployed. 6% employed in large firms.

So, basically at any of these schools, you have somewhere between a 5-20% chance of coming out w/a job that will give you a good shot to pay off your debt. As well as other luxuries like, y'know, clothes and food for your kids. Your chances of not finding a job at all are considerably higher. Oh, and as someone else alluded to - many of the scholarships that schools give out are contingent on your attaining a certain GPA thru your first year, otherwise they may be cut off. The only problem w/this is that law schools grade on a curve, so they give out scholarships knowing that some people will lose them no matter how hard they try. So even getting a free (or close to free) ride may not be quite the deal it sounds like.


April 22nd, 2012 at 11:42 AM ^

The student loan situation is a scary one - it is a fact that student loan debt has outpaced inflation and family income.  This, combined with the fact that there are a glut of lawyers in the market makes it imperative that you find that job that will simultaneously support your family and pay back your student loans.  Something to consider is that getting a top notch job is basically committing yourself to working 60-80 hours a week (unless you work for the govt).  Do you want to spend your time working and being a slave to student loans or watching the kids grow up?  I live and work in DC and all lawyers who work for firms are overworked and hate it (hell, one lawyer even jumped out off the top of a ten story building and killed himself), but many can't escape it because student loans are are hanging over them.  Even if you get a high-paying job it may be hard, depending on where you live.  I was lucky to get a good job with the govt and make six figures, but unfortunately that doesn't go very far in the DC metro area.

I can't offer any advice on the school reputation/ranking piece, as I am not in law.  However, in my field (and many others), it doesn't matter where you go as much as what you do on the job.  Like some others have said, the cream will rise to the top regardless of where you came from or where you went to school.  Law school may be very different - I know around DC Georgetown law students get a lot better opportunities than, say, students from American University.


April 22nd, 2012 at 1:09 PM ^

The thing that shocks me is how few lawyers responding on here are fessing up to what a crap and stressful profession it is.  

It really really sucks. I don't know anybody that likes it. I know plenty of people that tolerate it because they make decent money. Mostly because they don't know what else they could do to make anywhere near that money, they stick with it.  They are mostly all out of shape, drink too much, miserable and would give anything to hit a lottery so they could quit.

Rather than focusing on drifting into that hell, spend your time learning about emerging businesses and industries that sound interesting and provide real value to people instead of tearing things down and sucking things dry like lawyers do. You'll be so much happier and make way more money in the long run.

I am a Michigan State law grad so I can probably give you insight there too. Absolutely look me up on social media and drop me a message. I'll tell you everything you wanna know about the school, practicing law, why I quit doing it, and how to find better more lucrative things to do when you do quit.

You seem like a good guy with good intentions. You will definitely hate being a lawyer.

James Burrill Angell

April 22nd, 2012 at 8:33 PM ^

I know a lot of guys who hate the practice and some who love it. Some people are very interested, some are bleeding hearts who really believe in what they're doing. I've always found a larger paycheck certainly seems to be related to happiness in some.

I will say this, the smartest thing anyone ever said to me was my first day of law school when one of the professors said "what is a lawyer?" after a few answers with rather lofty points the professor told the class the answer was simple. "lawyers are people who others pay to deal with their life issues that they are either incapable of or not interested in handling themselves. Accordingly, if you're not up for adding other people's problems to your plate, you're probably in the wrong place."

I say this in relation to the stress comments. Yeah, it can be stressful. People who are stressed out about their own situations are paying you to deal with it. But life's full of varying levels of stress. By the time you reach law school you should know yourself enough to know whether dealing with that is something you want. Often those who don't mind a little stress step into the breach and those who don't stay away from the gun. That's life. Think about all the cases in life where that's true. Think it's not stressful being a surgeon with someone's life in your hands? What about a quarterback with 100,000 people hanging on your every move. If you hear something like that and say "bring it on" the stress won't get to you long term. If you cringe at that thought, it will turn you to a life of alcohol or misery or both.


April 22nd, 2012 at 1:18 PM ^

Current 1L here. I was faced with a somewhat similar choice, between the likes of GW Law full pay (gag 75k/YEAR) vs. Wake Forest with a substantial scholarship. Took the money, but even with 30k a year, I'm going to come out 90k in debt (rest of tuition, living expenses, books). Luckily, I do have strong ties to the legal world for jobs, but there are no jobs out there. None.

Do Not Go. Law School is NOT a guarantee of anything anymore, except debt. And pain. And sadness. There's a MASSIVE oversupply of lawyers. 

Of course, I do feel terrible for quashing your dream. If being a lawyer is truly your calling with 100% certainty, then do what you must to pursue it. But I warn you, as others here have, it's an expensive, soul-crushing, mind-numbing experience in and of itself, and you have 0 guarantee of employment after school. Not even a strong chance of employment, at this rate.



It's not my site at all, but it's extraordinary in reporting employment stats & the goings-on in the law school world. Hint: lots of fraud going on.


April 22nd, 2012 at 5:17 PM ^

Sounds like you're just a little butthurt because you invested an excessive amount of time, energy, and money into an occupational field that most would concur is a horrific minefield, a fact only exacerbated by today's economic climate.

I'm not doubting that your viewpoint is an honest one, but it likely is an outlier, the exception to the rule.  Most of the anti-law school (and, let's face it, anti-lawyer) sentiment expressed herein represents the opinion of the majority as I've heard it communicated to me time and time (and time...and time) again. People in general tend not to have a high opinion of it, but when those in the field themselves seem to by and large lament the choice they made, that should tell you something.  The incidence of such thinking seems to be much higher than amongst, say, those in the medical field.  This is because doctors, nurses, etc. are, you know, helping people.  What they do has a positive, tangible impact on the world.  Lawyers...trade in excessive amounts of fiat currency.  They push paper from one side of a desk to another.  If 90% of practicing attorneys disappeared off the face of the Earth tomorrow, only their families would likely notice, and given the hours, even that's less than an assurance.

You are right about one thing- some people, such as myself, make the horrible, regrettable decision to attend law school.  The fault there is our own.  What I learned, and I hope what others understand likewise, is that you don't have to further punish yourself for that mistake by forcing yourself into a career promising you decent money (maybe) and not much else for the next 30-40 years. It's your life, do with it what you want.   I had a scholarship, so I stuck it out even though I held the sneaking suspicion ten minutes into day one (which was just a legal writing seminar!) that I had made a wrong turn somewhere back down the road.  The time I spent in law school represented the greatest period of unhappiness I ever experienced in my life.  I walked out on the last day of school and promised myself that would represent the extent of my legal career.  It has, and I have not regretted it for one second.

Unless you're a civil rights attorney or otherwise doing something to further the public interest, you are likely just dead weight, taking a lot of money out without putting much of anything back in. That's not an attack on you as a person, but rather lawyers as a whole.

That being said- if you enjoy what you're doing, that is all that matters, fuck the opinions of those like myself.  If the law is for you, that's great.  If it's not, that is also great.  The problem is that a lot of us just don't know what we want, and law school is the ultimate "fuck it" option for those in that position who can read and write and otherwise think critically to an at least decent extent.  When making a choice that's going to define your remaining years, my advice based on acquired experience would be to never just say "fuck it."


April 22nd, 2012 at 10:06 PM ^

100% serious: I'm not sure if that agreed or disagreed with what I wrote. 

But I'm not "butthurt" about going to law school; I've wanted to go forever. I'm pretty pleased that I ended up where I did, but the overall picture in the legal "industry" is kind of grim right now.

And I was directing OP to a website that discusses the legal industry & law schools. It specifically has been covering how many law students have come out of school and been screwed badly because there were no jobs. Add $100,000+ debt coming due after graduation (often on top of other student loans). 

Also, there's been a spate of lawsuits and hubub about law schools publishing fraudulent employment data on as a way of advertising law school as a "sure fire investment." Obviously someone should do some sort of diligence, but the schools make the numbers and you can't access their admissions on your own. 

All of which is to say, there's more to the picture here.

Smash Lampjaw

April 22nd, 2012 at 1:36 PM ^

She is on a couple of committees which have occasion to hire lawyers. Two recent experiences may provide insight. The first was a clerk position with a salary of under $35,000. It drew over 150 applicants, including at least one from Harvard. The other was for a staff lawyer for a commission with a salary of $50,000. I don't know how many applicants there were in total for this, but there were multiple Ivy League applicants. There was also at least one Umich applicant, because he was given the position. He was an Ivy League undergraduate and had a wealth of relevant experience before and after law school. That is the market in an area with living expenses quite a bit higher than most places in Michigan.


April 22nd, 2012 at 1:40 PM ^

Accept the offer of the school that offered you the biggest scholarship.  Even as an MLaw grad with good grades, I can tell you that the job hunt was a miserable, humbling experience.  Not having tons of loans to pay back takes the sting out the job struggle.