Law Students

UPDATE: Based on reader feedback, we’ve added information for Pieper Bar Review and Marino Bar Review.

Congratulations 3Ls! The grind of law school exams is over, or soon will be. Now you get to study for the bar exam — which, for some reason, law school didn’t really prepare you for.

Most newly minted J.D.s will be heading straight from law school classes into bar exam prep classes. We assume you all have been pitched all year by bar prep companies touting their costs, features, and success rates. With everyone claiming to have the secret to passing the bar exam, how to choose?

Since the last time we visited this question, bar exam prep courses have proliferated, offering a range of prices, technological formats, and philosophies.

As we here at ATL are all about service journalism, we’ve distilled the information about the major bar prep providers into a handy guide. For those of you mulling over which course best fits your needs, the crucial analyzing variables are cost, format, guarantees, discounts, and pass rate. Nobody want to have to take the bar exam more than once, so this is a serious investment decision. After the jump, check out an “apples to apples” look at the major prep companies…

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As a writing trainer for dozens of the nation’s top law firms, I’ve learned first-hand where summer associates go wrong and how to help them succeed.

Here are ten tips:

1. Take a deep breath.

Despite the vagaries of the legal market, the basics haven’t changed: The partners want you to succeed. You wouldn’t have been hired unless you had the legal skills to handle your projects this summer. And unlike the economy, the way you write is entirely within your control.

2. Where am I going?

In this BlackBerry age, supervisors often forget to relay key information. Avoid such misconnects by getting answers to these five questions before you start: (1) What format do you want? (2) How long should the final document be? (3) How much time should I spend? (4) Can you point me to a document I can use as a model? and (5) What will you do with my project after I submit it?

3. Cover your . . . bases

Each time you get an assignment, send your supervisor an e-mail summing up your understanding of the project. Attorneys are text people, so seeing your write-up might help your supervisor steer you onto the right track before it’s too late.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

This is the third in a series of posts looking at how law schools in specific markets stack up based on the results of our ATL Insider Survey. Very few law schools are truly national institutions. Typically, the majority of graduates don’t stray too far from their alma maters, so the strongest network will be local, for local jobs. It’s to your advantage to go to school where you want to practice, sometimes even more so than going to a higher-ranked school.

In recent weeks, we’ve looked at our survey results pertaining to Boston and New York-area law schools. We examined how current law students rate their schools in terms of academics, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life.

Today we turn to Chicago. Which school was highest rated by its current students in all but one category?

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Law schools, properly understood, ought to be viewed as regional vocational schools. You will have to pass the bar exam for the state in which you want to practice, and a law school in that state, in theory at least, is more likely to prepare you for the specific content on the state bar. Typically, the majority of alumni don’t stray too far, so the strongest network will be local, for local jobs. It’s to your advantage to go to school where you want to practice, sometimes even more so than going to a higher-ranked school.

With this in mind, last week we looked at our ATL Insider Survey results pertaining to New York City-area law schools. We examined how current law students rate their schools in terms of academics, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life.

Today we turn to Boston. The results of our survey might surprise you….

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Apologies to the Saul Steinberg Foundation.

New York City is the logical starting point for this occasional series highlighting law schools in specific locales. New Yorkers’ self-regard is bloated enough to believe they are at the Center of the Universe and that everything that happens there is naturally interesting to everyone, everywhere. The ATL Insider Survey asks, among other things, current law students to rate how their schools are doing in terms of academics, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life.

After the jump, check out how the students at Columbia, NYU, NYLS, Hofstra, Fordham, St. John’s, CUNY, Seton Hall, Rutgers-Newark, and Brooklyn rate their institutions. Somehow we don’t have sufficient survey responses from Pace or Touro….

UPDATE (5:45 p.m.): Apologies to Cardozo Law School. You were mistakenly left out of the initial version of this post and we have revised it to include you.

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Alison Monahan shares some practical advice with associates.

When you show up for work at a law firm, you realize pretty quickly that there’s a lot to learn. Some things people will tell you, but there’s a lot of stuff no one’s going to tell you. Having been on both sides of the equation (as the one screwing things up, and the one getting annoyed with more junior people making my life difficult), here are a few things I learned along the way.

Ten Rules of Thumb for Law Firm Success

1. Don’t bring cases from the wrong jurisdiction. You remember Erie, right? If not, it’s time to review. There is very little that’s more annoying than giving a junior lawyer an assignment to find some case law, and having them come back with a state case, when you need a federal case, or vice versa. It’s one of those situations where you, as the assigning attorney, feel really confused. Did they not understand the assignment? Did they sleep through Civ Pro? Or do they just not care? None of these thoughts make me like you, or want to work with you again. Be sure you understand what you’re looking for, and resist the temptation to bring an irrelevant case, because you can’t find a relevant one.

2. On that note, no one cares how much effort you exerted. If you can’t find a case on point, just say that! If I ask what steps you took to search, feel free to tell me — in detail — so I won’t replicate your work. But do not go on about how many hours you spent, or how hard you looked. I don’t care. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure you’re doing the best you can. But, if you can’t find what I need, I’ll have to find it myself, so it’s best just to give me the bad news, and get out of the way.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

A couple weeks ago, we shared with you some of our survey data, which showed that, generally speaking, law students’ experiences with their schools degrade over time. The ATL Insider Survey asks law students and alumni to rate their schools in the areas of academic instruction, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life. When the ratings by first-year students are compared with those of third-years, the 3L scores are lower across the board, in all categories. In other words, the longer students are exposed to their schools, the lower their regard for the institution becomes. More equals worse.

We wondered whether or how this downward trajectory manifests itself after the students become alumni. After the jump, we compare the perceptions of students to those of graduates. The answer may surprise you, but probably not. Also, we identify the law schools where there is the greatest contrast between the views of current students and alumni — both negatively and positively….

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A 3L in a ‘law-and-blank’ class yesterday.

“One of the well-known facts about law school is it never took three years to do what we are doing; it took maybe two years at most, maybe a year-and-a-half,” Larry Kramer, the former dean of Stanford Law, said in a 2010 speech. The continuing existence of the third year of law school is generally held to be one of the basic structural defects in our current legal education model, alongside the contracted job market and soaring tuition. There have been efforts to address the problem, the latest being NYU’s announced overhaul of its third year curriculum.

Yet these attempts to redefine what the 3L year means appear to many like half-measures at best, “lipstick on a pig” at worst. As we noted back in November, Professor Bill Henderson of Indiana/Maurer has made a sweeping proposal that calls for a special new program for 3Ls by a coalition of willing law schools. The 3Ls would embark on a skills-based, teamwork-heavy course of study in partnership with law firms who agree to employ the students, albeit at a reduced rate. Also, there is a proposal currently before the New York Bar that would allow students to take the bar exam after two years. These students would not obtain a J.D. unless they return for their third year, but would be eligible for a bar card.

In assessing the NYU proposal (basically an increase in study abroad and specialty courses), Professor Kenneth Anderson argues that law schools have allowed educational incentives (i.e., learning to how to be a lawyer) and credentialing incentives (i.e., becoming an attractive job candidate) to drift apart: “The problem lies in how very, very unattractive we’ve institutionally made [students’] incentives – and the price tag attached to what is essentially a bet rather than investment. It’s a bet with many more bad payoffs than good ones.”

All the discussion and debate about the three-year law school model focuses, understandably, on the utility of that third year. We thought it would be interesting to have a look at our survey data to get a sense of how the experience of law students changes over time. The ATL Insider Survey asks law students and alumni to rate their schools in academic instruction, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life. We wondered how, if at all, these perceptions differ between 1Ls and 3Ls….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, with the second semester looming, Alison Monahan offers some practical advice for law students dealing with a particularly maddening type of professor.

At some point in your law school experience, you’re likely to encounter a professor who — brilliant though he or she may be — just isn’t that interested in discussing “the law.” Sure, they’ll go on for hours about their pet theory of justice, or an esoteric research problem they’re working on, but good luck getting them to explain how Rule 4(k)(2) works.

This can be a frustrating scenario. (After all, you are paying for LAW school.)

Chances are good they’re not going to change their teaching style (hooray, tenure), but you can develop some coping mechanisms.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center….

Paul Cravath does not approve of this post.

Light years away and in the distant future, perhaps some alien grad student in Defunct Planet Studies will stumble onto the ATL archives. He’ll conclude, not unreasonably, that the legal industry was a sort of oligopoly. That there were only a handful of firms: Skadden, Cravath, Latham, Quinn Emanuel, Tannebaum Weiss, and those few others that get such a disproportionate amount of our attention. And of course, there were only 14 real law schools.

This singular obsession with “prestige,” this mindset that the most elite firms and schools are the only worthy ones, is detached from the experiences of the vast majority of lawyers practicing at the 50,000 other firms and the students at the 180+ other law schools. Back in December, we had a little debate about the effect of prestige in the legal industry. In the spirit of the “prestige obsession is bad” side of that argument, we thought it would be worthwhile to see which firms and schools outside of the very top tiers are, according to insiders, great places to work or learn.

Over the course of 2012, we received close to 10,000 responses to our ATL Insider Survey, where lawyers rate their firms based on compensation, culture, morale, training, and culture, and students and alumni rate their schools based on academics, social life, clinical training, career services, and financial aid advising. Based on our survey, the most highly rated firms and schools also happened to among the most prestigious (e.g., Stanford, Davis Polk), but there is certainly not a correlation between prestige and insider rating.

After the jump, we’ll see which schools outside of the T14 and which firms outside the Vault 50 were rated the highest by their own people….

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