Job Searches, Law Schools, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

Go To Law School — Seriously. Just Do A Few Things First.

With the number of LSAT takers dropping yet again, the law school class of 2017 is likely to reach a similar low. And there is no indication that the application freefall has stabilized. Regardless, just about everyone (except for this guy) agrees that law school is still either an extremely risky gamble or a complete a waste of time and money.

But for those who are determined to go to law school no matter what any rational, non-biased individual says, I want to help make your dream come true. So while I am waiting for future job interviews, I am going to again interrupt my Back In The Race programming to give the future lawyers some advice that I wish someone had given me when I was an idealistic pre-law student. This is not a joke. Nor am I going to use a clever pitch like “Yale or Fail.”

The next few weeks should be spent taking some proactive and reflective steps to ensure that you will attend the right school and leave with minimal debt. Keep reading to figure out how….

Do NOT Pay Full Tuition. No one should be paying full tuition to attend a non-prestigious law school — or any law school, for that matter. If you are, then you are the sucker in the law school game. You see, someone has to subsidize the rich, privileged white guy who got a full scholarship thanks to his army of tutors and trouble-free lifestyle. “Privileged Pierce” will probably do well academically, get a prestigious summer associate position, and live debt-free and happily ever after, working in Biglaw or in Lawprofland. You will also probably do well academically, but because you paid full sticker, you will have no choice but to take a Biglaw salary in order to service your massive student loan debt without being an indentured servant. If you don’t do well academically, then you will either be unemployed or take the average lawyer job that currently pays less than $62,000 per year on average. At that salary, prepare to live on the modern welfare known as IBR/PAYE and expect to make payments for at least 20 years.

Think About It…..For A Year. OK, so I didn’t say go to law school now. Unless you have been accepted to a very prestigious law school or have been offered full ride or a large tuition discount from the school(s) of your choice, you may benefit by waiting another year.

First of all, by waiting, you have a good chance of paying lower tuition next year. Because of declining enrollments, law schools are engaging in a price war. Since the beginning of the 2013 school year, four law schools have publicly announced across the board tuition reductions. And more schools are offering scholarships to potential students who would have been waitlisted five years ago. Because enrollment is likely to decrease next year, chances are that more law schools will publicly lower tuition or give even better scholarships next year.

Second, if your LSAT score is under 160, you should forget about law school and spend the next year working part time and preparing to retake the LSAT. Sorry, but if your LSAT score is under 160, a solid law school will probably not accept you, and the schools that do will demand that you pay full sticker price.

So what do you do for the next twelve months? I recommend working for a law firm — ideally one that practices in the area you are interested in — to get an idea as to how a law firm really operates. Alternatively, spend the year starting and running a business — preferably a service-related business like dog-walking, babysitting, or handyman, to name a few. The purpose of this is to understand how to run a business, which is important if you plan to start a solo practice or a small firm at some point in your career.

Check Out Alumni Profiles On LinkedIn And Get Their Advice. Recently, I went to LinkedIn and looked up the valedictorians and the super cum laude graduates at my fourth-tier unranked school. Three are in Biglaw. A few more work at respected regional firms. Others work for the government. And some have decent non-legal jobs. But I see a disturbingly high number of top graduates operating solo practices that may or may not be successful, working for small firms, or other non-legal jobs. The average alumni are mostly working for small firms, have solo practices, work for the family business, or are working non-legal jobs that I would not consider “corporate positions of distinction.”

I strongly suggest that you go to LinkedIn and look up the alumni of the schools you want to attend and see what they are doing. Don’t just focus on the top graduates. Take a look at what most of the average graduates are doing (or not doing) because it is very likely you’ll join their fate. Reach out to them ask about their experiences and whether it would be a good time to attend their alma mater. For my part, when a potential law student reaches out to me and asks me whether he or she should attend my school, I do not tell them they are making a mistake. I try to learn a little about them, explain to them what they should do, and be honest about the strong possibility of being unemployed after graduation.

Last-Minute Negotiation. Most law schools begin their curriculum in mid-August. It’s fairly late, but I am certain that most low-ranked schools are still recruiting students. I also suspect that some higher-ranked schools are keeping their options open and may accept a few stragglers. Since you still have one month left, use this time to get in touch with the admissions personnel of other law schools and ask if they are willing to consider your application. If you have multiple acceptance letters, you can either switch schools or negotiate a bigger tuition discount. If you don’t get the tuition discounts that you want, consider dropping out altogether and waiting another year.

So if you are dead set on going to law school, then at least plan to leave with maximum employment opportunities and minimum debt. This may require you to wait and walk away from a raw deal. Think of it this way: the ability to negotiate and advocate are crucial skills in the practice and business of law. So this is your chance to test your negotiation and advocacy skills. You may have bad facts on your side (average GPA or LSAT scores), but you also have good facts (less students applying, schools starting to lower tuition). So emphasize the good facts and find ways to address the bad ones. If you are able to score a free ride or a large tuition discount at a good school (based on your goals), then not only should you attend law school now, but you may also have what it takes to be a good lawyer.


Shannon Achimalbe was a former solo practitioner for five years before deciding to sell out and get back on the corporate ladder. Shannon can be reached at sachimalbe@excite.com.

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