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A Guide For Choosing A Low-Ranked Law School

People ask me all the time, “Should I go to law school?” And I say “no,” and stare at them as if they just asked me if they should douse themselves with gasoline and light themselves on fire. Then they tell me all the things they’ve done to research their decisions — which invariably devolves into a discussion about whether they should be dousing themselves with premium or regular unleaded gasoline (or diesel if I’m talking to somebody who wants to go to Cooley). Then I say “please, don’t go,” and then I look away because I don’t want to be around when they light the match.

Everybody has their own specific situation, and I think that when people are trying to talk themselves into going to law school, especially a low-ranked or poorly regarded law school, they get very invested in the unique particularities of their situation. “Oh, I know it’s a bad idea for [everybody else], but I’m [a special snowflake] and it makes a lot of sense for me.”

Not everybody can get into Yale, or Duke, or Berkeley. I understand that. Therefore, as a public service, let me tell you how to choose an unheralded school in a way that makes sense. Or at least how to do it in a way that isn’t ridiculously dumb. If you are really thinking of going to a lower-ranking law school (and I’ll let the community determine what “lower-ranking” means), here is a checklist of five things you should do before you decide to roll the dice….

1. Get Five More Points On Your LSAT.

The bottom half of law schools in America are filled with people who have some ridiculous sob story about how they didn’t do as well as they could have on the LSAT. They are filled with people who took the test only once, or didn’t invest in a test prep course, or got a crappy score but spent days on their personal essay.

The LSAT is a teachable exam. You can learn how to do it, you can learn how to do it better. Not everybody can get a 180, but applying to law schools with a 145 is an indictment of your own preparation. It’s a reading comprehension test; learn to read better and go get five more points. The “games” section involves sorting things in a way that middle-school students could figure out; learn to draw a picture and go get five more points. If you are willing to invest three years and maybe six figures into your legal education, invest six months and a prep course into getting the very best score on what is essentially the law school entrance exam.

And if you are really so bad at reading and test taking that you can’t even break 150… the bar exam is going to kick your ass all over your jurisdiction. Get five more points and put yourself in a situation where you can either go to a better school or to the same school you were thinking of for free.

2. Identify The Specific Job You Want And Will Be Able To Get With A Law Degree From Your School.

If you go to Harvard Law School, you can probably get away with going to law school because you “want to be a lawyer.” Hell, if you go to HLS you can get away with going to law school because you don’t want to be a lawyer, you just think you can do “anything” with a law degree.

But if you are going to the 150th best law school in the country (however defined), you best be able to point to a specific job, with specific people, who specifically said, “Yes, I’d probably hire you if you had a law degree.” In my post last week about the professor from Arkansas who made outrageous claims about the employment opportunities for Arkansas graduates, some (idiot) in the comments noted that Wal-Mart is headquartered in Arkansas and suggested that that fact somehow meant there were opportunities for would-be “international lawyers” in the community. People need to stop being so stupid and uninformed about their own employment opportunities.

If you want to be a Wal-Mart lawyer, part of your preparation for law school should involve talking to actual lawyers for Wal-Mart. You should take informational interviews with them. You should research where they went to school and how they got their jobs. You should get at least one of them to say if they do hire people with Arkansas Law degrees straight out of school, and if not, what other credentials make for a winning application. At the very least, you should know if Wal-Mart is hiring lawyers before making a decision to invest time and treasure into a school because it shares a state with a company people have heard about.

Researching the employment market is at least as important as researching the school. Everybody who goes to a law school outside of the top places should have a specific employer who has essentially already passed off on their plan. You need to have a firm, an agency, a company, or clients that you can point to and know that you can serve them. These should be real people, not theoretical humans in a market or industry you’ve never actually interacted with. If somebody like me asks “what are you going to do with your degree,” you should be able to say “well, worst case scenario, Bob will give me a job.” Or “Jane said that she’s always looking to bring on new associates from [my proposed school].” Or at the very least, “My Dad works with a bunch of people down at the yard who would like to get their child support adjusted but aren’t willing to pay more than $100 an hour to do it, but I can live on that.”

“I don’t know, I’ve always been interested in entertainment law” — wrong answer! Getting a law degree and passing the bar should be the last step in your job search, not the first.

I’ll put the rest of the steps on the next page, because honestly if I could just get people to research the job market before they go to a low-ranked law school, I’ll have accomplished a lot….

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