Here’s his tale:
I graduated from a tier 1 regional school about 7 years ago. I was top 5% of my class with a few “book” or “amjur” awards, and was on law review. I had clerked at a mid-law firm during law school, and accepted a six-figure job offer with them to start after law school. I spent a year dealing with a variety of commercial litigation matters, until I realized I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I should be.
So I sat for the patent bar. I suppose I should mention that I have an engineering degree from a well-known school whose name ends in “tech,” and spent a few years as an engineer before attending law school. Once I passed the patent bar, I quickly got a job at a smaller patent boutique in the mid-west, where I spent all my time on patent preparation and prosecution. I rather enjoyed the work, and found it interesting to be able to use both areas of my education. I made good money too. I started at over $100k, and was knocking on $200k’s doorstep (as well as partnership’s doorstep) 5 years later when I resigned… to pursue a job as an in-house patent attorney with a very large and very successful corporation on the West Coast. I love what I do; I work fairly normal hours; and I am now over the $200k mark.
Going to law school was the best career decision I have made. I recognize that I was lucky enough to get my start a bit before the whole legal market went to s**t, so I had some opportunities that others did not have. However, I firmly believe that IF you can do well at a tier 1 school, and IF you have something unique about you (education, experience, whatever) that can help you get your first legal job, you CAN do well. Even in today’s legal job market.
Oh and no I don’t have any educational debt, but admittedly that’s because I spent a few years as an engineer while living like a broke college student, and saved up enough such that my loans were minimal, and I was able to pay them back with my first few bonuses. I had no debt for my undergraduate education because I had a scholarship.
I asked this source for additional specifics about his finances, which he kindly provided:
1. I recall my law school tuition was about $36k per year. I did not have a scholarship my first year of law school. However, due to my class rank (and I like to think my engineering degree, which made me “different”), I was offered a scholarship to cover tuition for my last two years.
2. I graduated with around $37k in debt.
3. I paid off my loans in three years. I was making monthly payments, and when I got a bonus, would apply most of the bonus to the loan.
There are some lessons to be learned from this story. First, if you kick butt in law school, even a non-HYS law school, you can do just fine for yourself. Second, if you have a scientific or technical background, consider patent work. Third, thrift is good (as shown by the Stanford story we mentioned earlier, as well as our first round of success stories).
Are these points obvious? Yes. But it’s nice to hear from a real-life person who can illustrate them in a concrete way.
Being in the top five percent, at any law school, is no small feat. But you can still do well for yourself professionally even if you’re not that high in the class….