Career Center, Career Files, Law Schools, Pre-Law

Law School Scholarships & Grants: How to Finance Your Legal Education

Law school scholarships are the most important way you can fund your painfully expensive legal education. Law school grants are more rare and not much different than scholarships.

Otherwise, you will — as with most law students — fall back on law school loans to fund your education. Be very, very, very careful with this route. Let me say this in all caps and bold so you can hear me:

DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL WITHOUT A CLEAR PLAN TO FUND YOUR EDUCATION!!!

Sorry for shouting.

Look, I am not saying this for my health. If you are applying to law school with the hope that you will become rich, stop and think again. Think carefully.

You might do well and get one of those fancy $160,000-a-year associate positions at a big law firm.

But then again, you might not. You might end up in the bottom or (even harder to take) in the middle of your class, graduate without a job or one that pays just, say, $40,000, which is not a terrible salary but just not enough to survive AND make payments on your $200,000 in law school loans that you will pay for 10 years probably if you get a fancy $160K job, or that you will pay for the REST OF YOUR LIFE if you don’t get that fancy job.

Unless you have rich parents or get some law school scholarships to cover your very expensive law school tuition.

Then the pressure is off a bit. You don’t have to ace every class. You can relax a bit.

Law School Scholarships and the Pressure to Get Good Grades

No matter what you do, it is important to get good grades in law school. (And by the way, I do offer some tips on how to get good grades in law school.)

But the pressure is off a little bit — no, it’s off a lot — if you don’t have to pay for it.

And if you don’t have rich parents (I didn’t), then your best chance to reduce the pressure in law school is to get a scholarship.

Here’s your thought process. Or what it should be, in my mind:

  • Apply to the best law schools — that is, the best of the top ranked law schools — you can get into.
  • Apply to some other regional law schools that are not as highly ranked but still in the place where you think you would like to practice.
  • Apply for any and all scholarships offered by these schools and by institution unrelated to the schools that provide funding.
  • See what law school acceptances you get, and weigh your options carefully.
  • Your decision is easy if you get into a top ranked law school and get a full ride scholarship (but most of the top law schools don’t give out money. NYU Law School more than others but . . . well, more on that below.)
  • Your decision is also easy if you don’t get into any top ranked law schools and don’t get a scholarship at any of the lower ranked law school. You probably shouldn’t go unless you are absolutely committed to be a lawyer and you can’t wait another year or two to apply again.
  • The hard choice is if you get into a top ranked law school but are offered a substantial or full law school scholarships at lower ranked regional law schools. You have some thinking to do. You might, at a highly ranked school, be able to get a highly paid job to pay off your substantial loans, but you still have to do pretty well.

Law School Scholarships – Merit Based Awards Given by Top Ranked Law Schools

Some of the top ranked law schools give out merit-based scholarships. Consider these examples:

  • NYU Law School is one of the most generous. They give out full scholarships to the most promising law students who want to teach someday (Furman Scholarship), law students who want to do public interest law (the Root-Tilden Scholarship), law students who are the children of recent immigrants and the first to go to graduate school (An Bryce). Each of these requires a separate application and essays.
  • Duke Law School has the Mordecai Scholarship, a full-ride scholarship for 4 to 8 law students every year. You don’t need to do anything special; they consider every applicant for this scholarship.
  • The University of Texas School of Law in Austin offers the full range of merit-only and need-based scholarships. One of the great scholarships they offer is the Equal Justice Scholarship, which pays full tuition for one lucky and outstanding student who plans a career in public interest law.

Law School Scholarships from Independent Foundations

A number of independent, grant-making institutions give out merit-based scholarships that you can use to go to law school. The catch is that sometimes you need to apply before you know you want to go to law school.

  • The Truman Scholarship. You need to apply for this as an undergraduate, but it covers the expense of graduate school generally (not just law school). There is one Truman Scholar from every state every year.
  • The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans is a partial scholarship requires that you be the child of recent immigrants (like your parents were immigrants) or a recent immigrant yourself. Best part about this one is that you can apply for it while in law school. (Full disclosure: I applied for this one — my parents were immigrants — and I didn’t get it. Damn you, New Americans!!!)

However you end up paying for law school in the end, make sure you know what you’re doing!

Plan carefully, for both the best case (that you do well and get a high-paying job after law school) and for the worst case (that you don’t).

Mansfield J. Park, a pseudonym, is a tutor and consultant to law students and recent graduates alike. Manny went to a top 10 college and top 10 law school, graduating in the top 10 percent but not in the (real) top 10. He clerked a couple of times, never on the 10th Circuit, and worked at a top 10 law firm (by the AmLaw A-List, not Vault) for many years, but not 10. His recent tutoring students have done awesomely, like in the top 10 at top 10 schools. Seriously. Of his favorite numbers, 10 is not even in the top 10. Manny hates numerologists. You can email him at mansfield.j.park[AT]gmail[dot]com or visit his site on doing well in law school, Law School Hacker.

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