Law Schools, Rankings, Reader Polls

The Decision: Jersey Boys And The Book Of Mormon

Lat here. Tomorrow is a big day. First, April 15 is Tax Day; we hope that you’ve filed your return — and that you haven’t been taken advantage of. Second, it’s the deposit deadline at various law schools. We hope that you’ve made up your mind — and that you haven’t been taken advantage of.

Just kidding. Here at Above the Law, where we are sometimes critical of the value proposition of legal education, I’m the designated defender of law schools. I write stories with titles like In Defense Of Going To Law School and Go To Law School: What Else Are You Going To Do With Yourself? I also compile and disseminate law school success stories. We are not uniformly opposed to law school here at ATL; we just want people to make informed decisions.

Helping people make informed decisions is the goal of our popular column called The Decision. We field queries from prospective law students choosing between different schools, offer them advice, and ask ATL readers to weigh in as well.

Now, on to today’s scenarios. We’ve titled them “Jersey Boys” and “The Book of Mormon,” for reasons that will soon become apparent….

From a reader we’ve nicknamed “Jersey Boy”:

I am from New Jersey and I am trying to decide between 3 law schools. The three schools are Penn State, Rutgers Newark, and Seton Hall. I received a full scholarship to each of these schools. I am unsure about how to differentiate between them. My career aspirations are dynamic, but most likely will contain an aspect of entrepreneurship. I also have a strong affinity for finance and have been managing a family portfolio for 6 years. Any insight you could provide me would be greatly appreciated.

Here is what my colleague Elie Mystal has to say:

One question, before I start pooping on your hopes and dreams: if you have a “strong affinity for finance,” why are you going to law school? Why aren’t you working “in finance” or something, taking one of those exams with lots of numbers in them, and trying to become some sort of “financial adviser” instead of a “legal adviser” to finance people? Law school is for people who want to be lawyers. You seem like a person who doesn’t want to be a lawyer but is considering it because they offered you something for free and some idiot told you that you can do “anything” with a law degree. I’m just saying, if I want a steak, I’ll pay $25 for a steak instead of eating the dodgy “free sushi” that’s been sitting under the sneeze guard all day.

Okay, sorry. Lat has just told me — responding in part to these people — that for purposes of “The Decision” column, “don’t go to law school” is not an acceptable response. So let me rephrase your question: “I have dynamic career aspirations that do not include doing better on the LSAT. What school has the most portability along the luxurious New Jersey Turnpike?”

You have three free rides, so at least you are doing something right. You seem to want to work in the Garden State, so let’s rule out Penn State. Don’t worry, Philly will still be there, and if you can pass the NJ Bar you’ll be able to pass the PA bar if that’s where you end up wanting to be.

As between the other two… would it be offensive to say that it doesn’t matter? ‘Cause it doesn’t, not really. You’ll need to do the same matrix of things in order to succeed at either of these schools: finish near the top of your class, hustle your ass off for connections as soon as you get to campus, disabuse yourself of the notion that anybody in “New York City” cares about either of these schools. It’s a tough road, but again, you are wise in that the only thing you’re wasting is three years of your time if the road becomes impassable. I would *literally* choose based on what was closer to my friends/potential dates.

Elie seems to say it’s a toss up between Rutgers and Seton Hall. I’ll be a bit more specific and say go for Seton Hall (which, contrary to Elie’s claim, places a fair number of graduates in NYC firms).

Why? Job prospects. In terms of U.S. News ranking, Penn State (#51) is higher than Seton Hall (#68) and Rutgers Newark (#83). But if you look at the ATL top 50 law school rankings, which focus on employment prospects over irrelevancies, you’ll see that Seton Hall is the only school of these three that makes the cut (at #36).

For more evidence of how the schools stack up in terms of employment outcomes, surf over to the wonderful Law School Transparency website and compare the three schools’ LST scores. Actually, don’t worry, I did it for you — click here. As you can see, Seton Hall enjoys a fairly strong LST Employment Score of 68.9, compared to 55.9 for Rutgers and 44.5 for Penn State. So this one seems like a no brainer: do Seton Hall (assuming, as we do for purposes of “The Decision” posts, that you have already decided to go to law school).

Now, on to our second fact pattern, which we’ve dubbed “The Book of Mormon”:

I’m a 0L trying to decide between three different law schools. Here are the three schools:

Michigan at full price (USNWR rank: #10; yearly tuition: $52,784)
Texas at full price (USNWR rank: #15; yearly tuition: $49,244)
BYU with the LDS discount and half tuition scholarship (USNWR rank: #36, yearly tuition: $5,640)

Here are some more details:

I graduated from BYU with a BA in English in 2008. After asking myself what to do with such a degree (in song, of course) I went an got an overpriced MA in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College in Boston (it was a good program, mind you, just not quite worth what it cost). Unlike many other English majors, I have always been good at math, and I am thinking of going into business law, and my wife and I would like to end up in Texas, Colorado, or anywhere that is in the western half of the country and has a low cost of living. I’m not averse to working in Biglaw. Basically, I’m looking for a job that is not miserable and that pays well (meaning, well enough for my wife to be a stay-at-home mom, which has been her dream since childhood).

While the prospect of going to a top ten school (Michigan) or going to the school that will put in the best position possible to work in one of my desired markets (Texas) is appealing, the debt load that comes with either one is very frightening. If I didn’t get a Biglaw job out of either of those schools (if, say, there is another financial meltdown, which is completely outside of my control), it would be a complete financial disaster for me and my family. At BYU, on the other hand, the tuition for my entire three years would cost less than a single semester at these other schools (not to mention the relatives that I have in the area who could help defray much of the cost of living). Coming out of BYU, I wouldn’t have as good a chance of landing a Biglaw job, but it would still be possible, and even if it didn’t happen, I could still accomplish the goal that I am going into law school for in the first place.

It may sound like I’ve already made my decision, but I would like to hear what the blogosphere has to say before I put down my cold, hard cash and reserve my seat.

My view: do BYU. If you told me that your parents were picking up the tab, that would be one thing; but since you seem to be financing this, the situation is entirely different. What say you, Elie?

First of all, why is Michigan on your list? You have the faith discount at BYU, you want to work in Texas, are you looking at Michigan just because it has top-ten lakes? That’s dumb.

It’s harder to score Biglaw in Texas from BYU than UT. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that after you get your Godless Biglaw job that deflowers your soul way more than coffee, you’re going to wish you had about $15,000 in debt for your law school degree instead of $15,000 in debt for your law school truck. This is an easy one. Take the money.

Elie and I part ways on many subjects, ranging from politics to RACEISM™ to the value of a law degree, but in this case we agree. I am a huge prestige whore, but sometimes prestige is too costly. Go Cougars!

Readers, how would you advise these two prospective law students? Flip to the next page to vote in our polls, and express yourself in the comments.

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