Friday, January 10, 2014

A $150,000 question: What should a 1L do after a bad/good first semester?

We at OTLSS, and scambloggers in general, tend to try to inform prospective law students about the pros and cons about attending law school.  However, earning a JD takes at least three years for most people, so we should target not only prospective law students on making rational choices but also continuing law students.

It's that dreaded time for current 1L's at law schools across America, as the shock of being graded on a harsh curve finally strikes.  Not only that, but there are other tricks that certain law schools have been guilty of playing, such as requiring spring semester tuition deposits before grades are given out in order to deter poorly-performing students from dropping out (as they don't know that they are performing poorly).

Once grades are revealed, however, and the shock sets in, certain rational courses of action are available for 1L's.  Here are the conventional options that one will invariably take.

1) Stay the course and finish off the year.
2) Consider dropping out, cutting all ties, and trying to get as much of the second semester tuition deposit back as able.
3) Stay the course, but pave the way for transferring by lining up letters of recommendations to open up more options

There are merits to all three options, depending on where a 1L lands on the curve and which school they attend  This post is intended for 1L's who need advice as well as a forum for others to offer their own.



1) Stay the course and finish off the year

This option is obviously what most 1L's decide to do, whether they are a full-ride student with no stipulations at Harvard (if such a sweet deal exists) to a bottom quarter student who is debt-financing their entire law school education at an expensive unranked law school (there are so many of these that it is unnecessary to point any fingers).

For the first hypothetical student, staying the course and finishing off the year is a no-brainer.  A Harvard law degree for close to free is an easy decision.

The second hypothetical student will be addressed in 2).

Other students who should definitely stay the course are those who have secure employment prospects outside of law school and who are taking an amount of debt that they are comfortable with.  Whether or not they should be comfortable with is besides the point, but to repeat an oft-quoted pearl of wisdom: a 1:1 ratio of starting annual income to total educational debt is ideal.

A more realistic example of someone who should stay the course is the following: someone with ties to a public defender's office (she worked there two years as a paralegal) attending a nearby local law school while living with her parents on a 75% tuition scholarship with a good standing stipulation.

It makes absolutely zero sense for her to do anything other than to finish law school there.  She has an almost guaranteed in with the PD's office for employment (at the very least will be able to intern there 1L year, be a student practitioner the next year and accumulate trial experience), and will have very low out-of-pocket costs.

To be quite honest, these two situations, and everything in between (such as the quintessential student going to work at their father's law firm), are the only two where I would unconditionally tell someone to finish off the year without making much of an effort to open up other options.  While it is always good to have more options to choose from, in some situations (however limited) it doesn't make sense to expend any energy creating options just to have ones you will end up not ever using.

2) Consider dropping out, cutting all ties, and trying to get as much of the second semester tuition deposit back as able

This is actually the most rational choice for many, if not most, of the median law students.  When legal education is talked in the abstract, an undue emphasis is placed on top 10% of the class, Ivy league schools, law review, and Big Law firms.

More realistic would be to talk about the median law student finishing their first semester.  Looking at the available data, the median law student after their first semester will look like this in 2.5 years:

*They are taking out six figures of toxic debt
*He or she is attending a law school that places between 45% and 55% of it's students in full-time long-term bar passage required jobs within 9 months of graduation (of course, some of these positions are graduates hanging their shingle)
*He or she is not on law review, does not have any financial aid, and ranks at around 50% of their class

A combination of optimism bias, inertia (which may include family pressure as well), and a refusal to take into consideration the sunk cost fallacy will prevent most of the median law students from taking the economically rational course of action after their first semester grades come in and find that they are at the median of the curve.

It's easy for us to point all of this out, but for a 1L who just has one semester's worth of grades, it is hard to see the full picture.  It's not hard to find stories about people increasing their test performance and increasing their GPA, and it is true that many firms or agencies hiring rising 2L's as interns aren't going to put a lot of weight on grades.  There will invariably be a lot of peer support to remain, and most professors would lend support for staying in as well and offer advice on how to do better in the Spring.

There has to be a point at which the odds of salvaging poor first semester grades are so remote, and the possibility of a good job outcome, even without regard to the heavy debt, where someone should definitely drop out, no questions asked.

Us scambloggers will probably differ at such a cutoff point, but erring in favor of staying in I would say bottom 1/3 should definitely do it, and the rest without a scholarship should at least consider it.  Those remaining who feel like the extra semester's worth of tuition is worth another try at improving their standing could take another crack at it, but many of these would be best served by dropping out after the second semester (ultimately it may have made more sense to save the second semester's worth of tuition, but I digress).

A final type of person to drop out is the person who hated their first semester of law school and isn't sure if they want to be a lawyer or not.  This type of person would be served best by dropping out.  No questions asked. If they discover an urge to become an attorney, then the school would be more than happy to start collecting student loan money from that person a year or two later.  Someone with a full-ride in this situation may be better served by staying with the condition that they put in extra out-of-class work in order to discern whether or not they want to work as a lawyer, if given the opportunity.

3) Stay the course, but pave the way for transferring by lining up letters of recommendations and querying other schools to open up more options

As a 1L, I considered this route after my first semester.  In the end I decided my circumstances and career goals (low cost of attendance and wanting to work at a prosecutor's office) wouldn't be served by trading up to a "better" school, which would've caused me to borrow significantly without an appreciable gain in employment opportunities.

Opening up options to transfer is what most people should do, if not receiving significant scholarship money, if they are serious about becoming a lawyer.  Since most law school tuition is so high, it is reasonable for someone who wants to become a lawyer to play the transfer game and move onto a school that would give them better odds for a good outcome.  Or, alternatively, could use the threat of transferring to wring more money from the school.

Transferring has several disadvantages that should not be discounted, such as relatively poorer OCI chances compared to students who are already at that school, only being able to write on to law review, and losing out on contacts and friends that have already been developed.  If the school one is considering transferring to does not have a statistically significant advantage in employment than the current one that they are at, transferring may not be worth it.  Someone on law review at the first school may have appreciably better outcomes than the median student at a second, higher-placing law school.

Scholarship students who want Big Law may be served by transferring up, if the school has a strong enough Big Law firm placement rate.  These students have saved a year's worth of tuition, and if the school they attend has juicy enough placement rates with BigLaw, they may have come out way ahead.  I seem to remember LawProf musing about something similar a couple years ago on ITLSS.

If we can draw a conclusion to the rational choices available to current 1L's at this point in their law school career, it is one that we know already: that the current law school model is broken and needs some serious fixes.  Perhaps for as many as 1/3 of all 1L's, the most rational choice is to drop out after the first semester, no questions asked.  Of the remaining students in such a fantasy world, where people act in their own best interests, 1/4 or 1/3 would be best served by dropping out after the end of the Spring semester.

Making law graduates more "practice ready" and slightly discounting tuition are not serious solutions, and betray a belief that the current downturn in law school applications is only temporary.  Recent LSAC data proves that assumption false, and we will see another year of a smaller incoming class.

If you know of any 1L's and you are have an inclination to give them a run-down of their options, and describe what a rational economic actor in their place would do, you may be able to save someone serious financial hardship and pain. 

89 comments:

  1. Not start in the first place.

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    1. They haven't learned.
      http://youtu.be/NHWjlCaIrQo

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  2. The harsh curve still exists in 2L and 3L and is something those contemplating staying should consider. If half of the bottom half of the 1L class drop out, a student at the 50th percentile after 1L if he or she performs similarly in 2L and 3L will actually end up at the 33rd percentile after the bottom falls out. It could even be lower if the 2L class adds higher-achieving transfers from schools lower in the food chain.

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  3. I'm not sure that the grading curve is necessarily harsh. Let's not use the word harsh to cover up the fact that most people in law school should never have been admitted in the first place.

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  4. I wish Antiro had been around to explain option #2 to me at the time. I needed some actual, clear-headed advice in a time of crisis, not the self-interested slop I got from law school.

    While it would not have been easy, I would have had a much better chance getting back to "normal" in my old career after only one semester of law school instead of six. It would have been more possible to explain it all. After three years (four before actually working again) my prior degrees and work experience had gone stale, so I had fewer options that when I started.

    Thanks for nothing, law school cartel! But the truth is out there and your time is coming, make no mistake.

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    1. I wish that someone had told me from the outset that people past their late twenties have very little hope of breaking into the legal "profession", even if they excel at a highly regarded law school.

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    2. Well, you guys told me about it, so maybe there's a good ending to this. I was sorely tempted to try law school in my forties, and still am to some degree. It looks better than what I'm doing right now, and it's not always easy to remember that it's mostly a fantasy, and almost certainly isn't open to me.

      So thanks for yet another warning. I mean that.

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    3. DON'T try law school in your forties. I (6:43) did that, excelled, published scholarship, got a federal clerkship—but still can't get a goddamn interview anywhere.

      Towards the end of my third year, the dean himself advised me to go back to the work that I had been doing before law school. He freely admitted that age-based discrimination would make it difficult indeed for me to work as a lawyer.

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    4. 5:43, how kind of the dean to mention that fact after your money was safely in the law school's bank account.

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    5. He followed up a couple of weeks later by forwarding an advertisement for a job in my former line of work—halfway across the country, no law degree required. I asked him whether he was proud of a law school that could only refer one of its top students to work far removed from law. He said that he was indeed very proud of the institution.

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    6. I'm trying to guess how that dean could be proud of his institution after dismissing you like that. Most likely he thought that an older applicant is flawed by definition, that you really weren't good enough for law school but they had bent over backwards to be fair to you, and you should just be grateful for their fine liberal arts education and the prestige of their law degree. All of which was, of course, worth far more than any debt you may have incurred.

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    7. Sadly, I believe 5:43's story. I was in my mid-30s when I graduated from lol scool, and I remember being summarily dismissed also.

      I had to go over to the undergrad computer science lab to do research and conduct my job search, as my "free" undergrad account I got along with lol school was still active. There was no room at the inn back in the law building, you see, and who wants to see a jobless 3L graduate hanging about?

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    8. He doesn't think of me as flawed; he just understands that age-based discrimination (not to mention its handmaiden class-based discrimination) is a reality in the legal "profession".

      He did say that I'd "eventually" find "something" involving law. Those words do not inspire great confidence.

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    9. With their guilty consciences, deans and professors feel a lot of pressure to end contact with any graduate who hasn't found a job. And if the fresh 1L students ever met a graduate without a job, they might drop out. Which brings us back to the subject of this thread...

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    10. Indeed, I'm just someone whom they'd prefer to forget. Last year this time, when the dean kept pressing me to go back to what I was doing before law school (which, incidentally, would be difficult at this point), I saw that he had in mind to stick me in a job—any job—so that he could wash his hands of me. From his point of view, talking me into giving up on law was better than having me create an embarrassment by continually advertising my inability to find work (or even get an interview) in the "profession".

      Well, as it happens, I'm unemployed anyway, and all but unemployable. Today I had my first interview since June—for an insurance company's call center. Over the weekend I applied to drive a delivery truck for FedEx and to hold down the front desk of a hotel during the night shift. Law firms won't consider me even as a temporary legal secretary, though I send my speeds in typing and shorthand. I'm running out of ideas.

      Honor list every semester. Editor of the flagship law review. Published legal scholarship. Multilingual. Years of experience in engineering and business.

      Also in my forties. And that's what damns me.

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  5. I’m always amazed that more students don’t drop out after first year. When first year grades come out and class rankings are established, the fix is in and the game is over. Once you get outside the elite schools, most employers won’t even look at your resume unless you are in the top quarter of your class. And by definition, three-quarters of the class won’t be in the top quarter. So for every winner, there must be three losers. Of course, some of those who don’t get top grades will be able to find jobs either through connections or luck. But they are the exception, not the rule. Based strictly on a cost/benefit basis, I’d estimate that at least half of all law students should cut their losses and drop out after first year.

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    1. This is where you are wrong. It bugs me that the scamblog movement makes it seem like the only worthwhile jobs are the big law jobs. There are thousands and thousands of small law firms in the country, and many of them are in need of legal help. One lawyer can only handle so many judicial proceedings. Most of these thousands of lawyers don't give a hoot about where somebody went to school or their ranking. They want somebody who is competent,will work hard, get along with clients, and assist in moving cases forward. They don't have to pay an arm and a leg. Just a reasonable, livable wage. Two years of such experience, and then the lawyer can open up his own shop or can maybe stay and grow with the small firm.

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    2. Great advice for 1993.

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    3. I don't know if I agree that small law pays enough over the long term to justify $100k+ in debt and three years of lost wages. Granted, I work in-house and don't know many small law types but they churn them out at my local toilet and the market seems flooded to me. Is there an accurate source of data on what solos and small shop lawyers make across the major metropolitan regions?

      I'm not casting aspersions, I just don't think the data will bear out your assertions. 45000 graduates for 28000 jobs is a number that cannot be denied.

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    4. I wasn't trying to say that the only worthwhile jobs are big law (though they may be the only ones that let you service 200 K in debt). I was trying to say that approximately 50% of all 1L's would be better off dropping out of law school after first year because the chances of them obtaining meaninful legal employment (whether in big law, mid law, small law, or govt.) are too remote to justify the time and expense associated with two more years of law school. Also, while I'm sure there are thousands and thousands of small law first in need of legal help, the ones that are in a position to pay a newly admitted attorney a decent salary are quite selective in whom they hire.

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    5. The scamblogs focus on big law jobs because those are some of the only legal jobs whose compensation justifies the cost of law school tuition. If you spend $150-200k on a law degree and get a small firm job paying $40-50k per year, does that sound like a good deal? Keep in mind that many, perhaps most, college graduates can get to that earning level without any graduate degree. Even if you enjoy law practice (statistically unlikely), paying off that law school debt on a small firm salary, and certainly on the "earnings" from a solo practice, will be difficult, to say the least.

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    6. @10:51:

      As a veteran of multiple small law firms, let me explain to you where you're mistaken:

      Small law firms (the <8 attorney, non-boutique variety) operate on the food brought in by 1-3 lead partners. The lead partner group will be responsible for, like, 90% of the business brought in. Doesn't matter if it's plaintiff, defense, criminal, consumer, corporate, whatever.

      In the associate role at these firms, it is very unlikely that you will develop your own business brand. There are a number of reasons for this, the two most important are that (1) you're not going to develop the relationships needed to build relationships that can sustain a law practice and (2) if you're not a lead dog, you aren't getting experience that you can sell to future customers or lateral law firms (except as an experienced grunt associate to do the same thing).

      The guys and gals who have successful solo practices now very rarely went into solo practice their 3rd year out of law school. Almost all of them started in larger firms or with government agencies, which allowed them to build up experience to sell and a book of business to go with it.

      Two years in a small law firm will in no way accomplish that.

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    7. " There are thousands and thousands of small law firms in the country, and many of them are in need of legal help. "

      Salaries for most law grads are going down. I agree that they *need* help, but they can't or won't pay for it.

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    8. " There are a number of reasons for this, the two most important are that (1) you're not going to develop the relationships needed to build relationships that can sustain a law practice and (2) if you're not a lead dog, you aren't getting experience that you can sell to future customers or lateral law firms (except as an experienced grunt associate to do the same thing)."

      And (3) the lead partner(s) do not want associates developing those relationships, because then the associates have a chance of starting up their own practices and taking clients with them. Or are better able to demand raises, under the threat of doing that.

      The obvious method is that the partners have the contacts, the associates do the work, and the associates remain in that support role for as long as they are with the firm.

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    9. Precisely. Firms run on a steady stream of ready-replenishing labor to do the grunt work, and yet be too young and too buried in details to make a run at having any meaningful relationship with a client. An eager 27-year old who's spent his entire life in schools isn't going to start making inroads on a client.

      The profession grew to accomodate this revolving door, and law schools did too. The employment statistics were misleading even in 1991 because while most people in the top half of a class at a 'good' (top half) law school would get some kind of job, these jobs were 2-4 year stints in big- and mid-law. The students who got the jobs worked them and ran their course. If diligent and lucky, they got hired or absorbed into small or micro law. A few could start their own shop, leaving commercial practice to do criminal/general civil/family/whatever law. That kind of worked in 1991, and any persons who got hosed kept their mouths shut and maintained their prestige.

      Things broke in 2008/09 when the front end of the revolving door jammed and fresh meat was no longer finding employment. Everyone thinks that is very bad, but that as soon as that "clears up," the sun will come out.... You hear it now. 2016 is gonna be a great year.

      The "front end" issue is merely the tip of the iceberg.

      Decades of two-year associateships have so over-flooded the market that law has now become a supplementary income for a spouse whose partner holds down a traditional job. Get all the experience and gray hair you want; there are far, far too many workers chasing a declining amount of work.

      This is the real 'scam', and it is nowhere near as prominently featured as it should be.

      Get into your Tier 2. Make top 20% of your class and make law review. Do OCI, get a good summer clerkship, do well, and then get an associateship. (Of course, all of this will happen for you, because you're specialer and smarter .... I get it).

      But you're still confronted with the very short shelf-life issue, and then the reality of having to launch a solo practice in a hopelessly flooded market and survive as adjunctive income to a working spouse.

      That's the scam.

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    10. The people who spout the "2-4 years and then open your own place!" need to do the math.

      Three 45-year old partners hire three 26 year old associates.

      In five years, they push all three out. There are now three 50-year old partners who hire three new 26 year old associates who are cheaper and don't think they're ready to start their own shop. There are now also three 31 year olds competing for the same share of business as the original shop. Work does not increase as the number of lawyers increases.

      Five years after that, there will be three 55 year old partners who hire three 26 year olds. There are now six (6) alumni of this firm elsewhere in law.

      It's simple math that the spit-out system only works if job opportunities expand as quickly as law graduate output. That has not happened for over 40 years. It will not happen again until law school output drops well below 20k, probably more like 15k.

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    11. "Great advice for 1993."

      Even in 1993, that wouldn't have been great advice. Somewhat less completely detached from reality than in 2014, but far from "great".

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  6. Let's look at the numbers. Consider the data we have been presented on this blog and others.
    Regardless of where one is in class ranking, it doesn't change the following:
    1. Currently only about 10-15% of law school graduates get starting jobs in biglaw (cite to Brian Tamanaha, Paul Campos, ABA, NALP statistics);
    2. Data from Citibank accounting (the major bank lender to biglaw) confirms that after 5 years, 80-85% of those who start in biglaw are no longer with their biglaw firm (cite to Citibank, Steven Harper's book The Lawyer Bubble and other sources);
    3. Data demonstrate that only about 10% or less of those who start in biglaw eventually make partner in a biglaw firm (cite to Citibank, Steven Harper's book The Lawyer Bubble);
    4. Data demonstrate that only about half of living holders of a JD degree are working as lawyers, and a large percentage of those are in solo practice making an uncertain amount of money per year.
    Regarding 1), being number 1 in your class does not guarantee you a job that at least initially makes a large student debt for a JD sensible. Regarding 2, a nasty little secret of the law business is that what appears to be the good starting jobs are designed to be short term because biglaw firms are pyramid schemes. Regarding 3, the chances of ever having a lucrative career in law are approximately equivalent to a snowball's chance you know where. Regarding 4, if you buy a JD degree you will enter a world of constant job insecurity for the remaining years you are able to work in a law job.

    Now after presenting some data, which not only law students but also prelaw advisors, ABA presidents, and the public awareness seem to completely ignore, I'll present some anecdotal stories from my 20 years in this business as follows:
    i) neither of the law review editors from my 2nd tier school with whom I dealt are still practicing law after 20 years; ii) I know multiple once biglaw partners who are now completely unemployed; iii) I know of more than one suicide from once apparently successful lawyers brought on at least in part because of the dismal job situation in the law business; iv) I know multiple JDs who hold other advanced degrees who are unemployed, including Stanford and Harvard law school graduates; v) I have yet to meet a single person who got a decent job outside working as a lawyer for which the JD was an advantage.

    Further, as to working conditions in law firms, especially biglaw firms, read "Way Worse than Being a Dentist" by Will Meyerhofer. As a veteran of more than one biglaw firm, I confirm that he is right on....unfortunately that is way they are. No sensible person would ever really want to work in such toxic environments.

    In view of the FACTS, THE DATA, THE THIRD PARTY AUDITED REPORTS, and my anecdotal evidence just reported, the odds are clearly stacked heavily against even those who get a good start in the law business. Anyone buying a JD today is extremely unlikely to have a long term, rewarding and lucrative career as a lawyer. Therefore, according to my analysis of the data available and in view of my experiences over two decades, I highly recommend that the vast majority of law students withdraw as soon as possible from law school in order to stop wasting money and find something worthwhile to do for which there might actually be some need or demand. The US cannot support half of the lawyers it already has. It certainly doesn't need another new one.

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    1. Every last word of 8:17 is true.

      Read it and re-read it. Then put together the rest of your life.

      Forget the law.

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    2. Agreed. Well stated. The only issue is whether prospective law students have the courage to accept these truths as fact or rather succumb to Special Snowflake Syndrome (SSS). All the information is right before your (lemmings') eyes in order to make a logical decision regarding law school. But if you want to play "see no evil, hear no evil ..." or if you just think we're all dream crushers, then you probably deserve to go to law school and learn the hard way. Some people just cannot be saved no matter how much we try.

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    3. 8:17 Anon, I have tried to locate the Citi report that has the BigLaw burnout rates and I found one report, located here: http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/CitiHildebrandt2013ClientAdvisory.pdf, but I'm not sure if that was the right one. If you see this and can find the Citi report that you read I would be interested in reading it.

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    4. As the original poster, I refer to Steven Harper's book "The Lawyer Bubble" as quoting the Citi report and as analyzing graduating classes from T14 schools to arrive at an approximation of how many graduates go on to make partner at a big law firm within the next decade or so. For those of us who have spent some years around biglaw it is ridiculous to even question these findings. We all know they are completely true. It is probably 85% or more attrition within 5 years now, and it is probably far less than 10% go on to make partner now. Remember, these are the statistics for the 10% or so who initially get a high paying job. These statistics demonstrate how crazy it is to go far into debt buying a law degree. It was crazy to do that 20 years ago as well, but the data was not available demonstrating that back then. In short, law school has been what most people would call a scam for at least 20 years!!

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    5. Also, the shocking and irresponsible increases in tuition over the last 20 years made law school a worse mistake than ever. They converted it from a clueless and pretentious scam to a deadly, unconscionable, soul-destroying scam.

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  7. I didn't have all of my first semester 1L grades until two weeks into the second semester.

    But I couldn't attend my second semester classes until I had my tuition paid in full. (in my case with 95% federal student loans.)

    When I finally got all of my first semester grades my GPA was 1.832 and I was placed on academic probation.

    So I pushed on thinking I would improve and after my second 1L semester my GPA was 1.963 and I remained on academic probation.

    With the help of two ridiculous joke elective classes in my third semester for which I received grades of A- and B+ along with my exercising my one time option to withdraw a poor grade in evidence I was able to pull my cumulative GPA up finally to a whopping 2.210 and I was finally off academic probation.

    Thereafter I had a lot of time and money invested and I avoided difficult classes like commercial paper because I knew I would likely get a poor grade.

    I graduated with a 2.118 GPA and the bar exam was overwhelming and I tried to cram and learn most of my 1L subject areas for the very first time.

    In the case of contracts I had to absolutely learn it for the first time, having received two D+ grades in my 1L year.

    I never did pass thje bar exam and was 100 points away from passing my first two attempts. I did narrow the margin down by my third attempt to maybe 55 points and by then I felt that if I ever did become a lawyer I would malpractice for sure and my confidence in my ability to be a lawyer was completely destroyed.

    I recall one classmate who was there taking the bar exam for the eighth time. 4 years after graduation.

    Also, Touro offered a "take your first year over" option, and I remember two students that did just that.



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    1. The trick of withholding 1L fall grades until you are after the tuition refund deadline is an old, slimy and effective trick used by law schools to rope you into paying for another semester. It's certainly unethical.

      That's why all 1Ls need to have their options mapped out well in advance of getting their grades so they can bail if they need to. For example, if your grades trickle in one by one, if you start getting C's, you should know to quit.
      I hope the 1Ls reading this now have the courage to know what they should do when the time comes to decide.

      LEMMINGS, the dice are loaded, the cards are stacked. The only winning option for most of you is to quit and take a $15,000 lesson from life.

      That's a story you CAN sell in a job interview.

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    2. So Painter, why didn't you take your first year over?

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    3. Didn't flunk out. Was on probation. That option was for those that would have been kicked out. They got another chance.

      I knew two students that flunked out, and one that quit after the first semester and another that quit after the first year.

      I also recall a few that had transferred out after the 1L year.

      BTW I am sober and hopefully making more sense now. Went through a helluva dry out/ withdrawal.

      Kids: If you have debt, don't drink over it. It is not a solution and you will only destroy yourself.

      Law is an unhappy profession for many, and I have seen and heard lawyers giving talks at alcoholics anonymous meetings with their family members in attendance and celebrating x many years of sobriety.

      They talked freely about how being a lawyer made them want to drink. The stress, the responsibility, the frustrations etc.

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  8. Great comment, 8:17 AM. The lying scum at my law school's career services office informed me that small and mid-sized firms don't care about grades. That probably has not ever been true, but in this awful market, it's certainly not true. If you're not in the top 25%, drop out now. Even if you're going to a T14, I would recommend dropping out if you're not in the top 25%. I know multiple T14 grads working doc review or low-paid law clerk gigs. Law school debt will destroy your life and ruin your entire working adulthood.

    Law school is essentially a loan origination scheme whereby law schools trade the dreams of young fools to banks in exchange for a lien on the students' earnings for 25 years. If you're reading this and thinking about going to law school, investigate another industry. I will regret going to law school until I'm dead.

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    1. Great comment. However your law school's career service office was correct; small and mid-sized law firms don't care about grades. That's because they are going to hire a desperate lateral who already has several years of experience. Or they are going to hire the clients' nephew. Either way, those firms don't care about grades and they certainly don't care about newly minted lawyers.

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  9. Recently, I ran into a person that I met during the Summer. Back then, he mentioned that he just finished his undergrad (STEM) and was planning to go to law school. Oh, hell no! I told him about this site and TTR, and that he should 'start' his law school research there. Anyway, when I asked him what he was doing, while he still hadn't found a decent job in STEM yet, he said he had no intent anymore to go into law. One!

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    Replies
    1. Good work!! Of course, you couldn't have done it without those Critical Thinking (TM) skills you learned in law school....

      Delete
  10. Every law student except those in Harvard, Yale and Stanford should quit now, assuming they're looking to parley law school into a paying career.

    The market is over flooded with 15+ year lawyers who cannot transition into another line of work.

    Quitting law school and reinventing yourself now is so much easier than it will be ten years from now.

    The whole question of should I stay presupposes a viable future for some lawyers. That optimism is unwarranted and flies in the face of facts.

    This blog is overly optimistic about employment prospects and unwittingly favorable to law schools.

    Yes. Things are that tight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are also a good number of Harvard, Yale and Stanford Law grads 15+ years out who have lost their jobs and cannot transition to other work. Gross lawyer oversupply is lawyer oversupply, and it affects Harvard, Yale and Stanford grads just like everyone else. Law is a risky business today.

      The oversupply of lawyers is acute. Because of the degree of lawyer oversupply, no law school will guarantee you a 70% or better shot at a career with a decent salary where you can work as long as you are willing and able and be to work within commuting distance of your family and earn as much as an experienced public school teacher in your community.

      I don't think the actual full-time permanent legal job employment rate for Harvard Law grads who are over 50 or 55 or 60 years of age is even 75%, from the lawyers I know. Once you are Lathamed from that first big law job, if you have 15+ years experience, it is not easy to get another job, Harvard Law degree notwithstanding, and even Harvard Law Review notwithstanding.

      Law is a risky business today. Not for anyone who does not say to themselves "I want to be a lawyer so much that I am willing to take the risk of long-term unemployment and underemployment." Unemployment and underemployment is happening to many 15+ year T3 law school grads today.

      Delete
    2. I confirm this is true. I know multiple unemployed T14 graduates including T3 graduates 15+ years out who are unemployed or have only some small gig on the side.

      Delete
  11. This post seems to be eliciting some especially raw, emotional responses from readers. I am sorry for all of the trouble that law school has caused you all, for what little that's worth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe it was better I crapped out of law rather than screw up someone else's life with my incompetence as their attorney. Really, my grades were terrible and I had no business in law school.

      The heart of the problem is the debt. One can never move on and cut the losses.

      And after also having invested three of the best years of a life and a lot of effort down a path that led to nowhere, it can destroy a soul.

      Many people write that their debt does not define them, but how can it not?

      Delete
    2. I did debt collection law for a pittance and the comment about debt is right. I'm not big-time devout religious, but the Bible says the Borrower is Slave to the Lender. What is the point of pursuing a field when all the financial benefits go to someone else?

      Delete
  12. Drop out IMMEDIATELY! No questions asked.

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  13. You can drop out of school. Or you can finish the three-yrs, get decent grades, get hired as an associate.,. And find out three years after graduation that you're hosed and will be forced to start your own small shop in a hopelessly saturated and shrinking market.

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  14. One other option: I finished at the low end of the top 20% after 1st semester. I knew it didn't look good for OCI. I actually transferred down to a lower tier school. Putting in the same effort, I ended up on law review, moot court travel team and finished ranked in the top 5. This led to a fed clerkship and a decent gov't career.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A career path that isn't open at this juncture...

      Delete
    2. The odds of getting a federal clerkship and decent government career after transferring DOWN in 2014 are so incredibly low, to even mention this as an "option" has to be some kind of tort.

      Delete
    3. Agreed.

      This ain't happening today, or ever again in the future. I just punched up one recent NYU grad slumming it at the NYC DA's office. And I'm sure that's not the only one. This also cuts down on the TTT grads' options for PSLF jobs. As I've long suspected, those jobs are now super-competitive because of the loan forgiveness after 10 years. Like everything else in law, it's all downward pressure with those at the top getting what's left of the cream. Want a PSLF job? So does everyone else now. Don't count on landing one.

      Delete
  15. Thane Messinger and I wrote about the benefits of dropping out in Con Law, and it's a perfect time for Antiro to bring it up. Great and timely post.

    "A final type of person to drop out is the person who hated their first semester of law school and isn't sure if they want to be a lawyer or not."

    This is very important advice, even if you're in the top 10%. If you hate law school, quit and find something you like. While the practice of law is not exactly like law school, you'll have a much better idea now about whether law is for you. And if not, there's no shame in saying you tried it, you found you didn't like it, and you want to do something else with your life. No shame whatsoever, and your future happy self will never once look back with regret.

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  16. The poster at 8;17 above is speaking the absolute truth.

    If the heavens opened and angels sung it, this message could not be purer.

    The truth is being spoken. Are you listening?

    Yeah. I get it. You'll soldier through law school and get the degree. School is all you've known. I get it.

    You may even like it. BUT the problem is that it will not place you in a career. If you're top 10% you'll maybe get a 2-3 yr associateship. After that you're on the street.

    Base your decision to quit on the fact that hyper over saturation has made the degree next to worthless for the young person.

    It would be a tragedy to like law school and endure a clerkship only to find the world had no use for any more lawyers.

    Love it or hate it, be somewhere else come Monday morning.

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  17. A lot of great comments in this thread.

    I would like to emphasize one point.

    DEBT - it's NON-DISCHARGABLE. It will bend and twist and in some cases almost destroy your life for 20+ years. Get out while you owe only the manageable sum of $15,000 - 20,000.


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  18. Antiro, great post but we need a flow chart.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Above, 10:51 AM says, "There are thousands and thousands of small law firms in the country, and many of them are in need of legal help. One lawyer can only handle so many judicial proceedings. Most of these thousands of lawyers don't give a hoot about where somebody went to school or their ranking. "

    While I do agree with the last sentence, I have trouble with the first sentence.

    Obviously, based on very clear stats, those thousands of small law firms in need of help are not actually taking any action to ameliorate their dire need. That says to me that, although they may be in need of help to keep up, they can't afford that help.

    That's why we see batstuff crazy things like a law firm advertising a $14K salary with no benes, having said advert gettting picked up and distributed as a serious offer (which it was) in the NE area schools, and learning that the firm was literally pummeled with resumes.

    That's sad.

    And while I fully agree with the rebuttals to 10:51 AM's post who mention that someone burdened by >100K in LS debt can't afford that small-law job anyway, that's not the point (in my humble opinion).

    The point is, those jobs don't actually exist. Not in numbers. Not even at $40K, or even at $30K.

    They're just not there.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Um, not trying to be provocative, but how did two separate JDP posts slip through? Have you (this blog) and he come to a new agreement?

    NB - his two posts here are relevant to the topic and content's fine with me. To be sure - not that you asked and I'm not trying to say I have any say here, if you know what I mean. I just don't want my first question above to be misconstrued as criticism. It's just a question.

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  21. Remember, law schools don't exist to provide jobs for their students. They exist to provide jobs for the deans and professors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ding Ding Ding!! We have a winner!!!

      One of the top 5 Comments of the Year for sure.

      Delete
    2. I cannot agree more. Most law school professors have never actually practiced law: they perhaps clerked for two years or carried a partner's briefcase for two years BUT they have never had real clients of their own, been lead attorney on litigated cases or been privy to running a real law practice. The professors have a great job: they are back in the school environment they love, they lecture maybe 10 hours per week (many using the same notes and jokes they have used for decades), have student assistants to grade papers and do research for them, etc. They are NOT about to risk their jobs by telling the truth.

      Delete
    3. Many law "professors" have never practised law in any way. Some have never even been called to a bar. I even know of one who has never studied law. His fat, arrogant ass didn't even know the difference between assault and battery.

      Delete
    4. Campos wrote a post at ITLSS about the credentials of law professors. Some substantial proportion of professors--I may not remember correctly, but I think it was 15% or so--don't even have law degrees. If that's the case, they were almost always hired on the basis of a PhD in another field. Of course, if they're going to publish on legal history, or jurisprudence, or judicial politics, or "The Open Road," then a PhD is much better preparation than a JD. That doesn't help their students find non-academic jobs, though.

      Delete
    5. Campos, on Sept. 10, 2011, cited statistics on the credentials of professors at top law schools. It turns out that about 5% of them have a PhD but no law degree.

      Delete
  22. 13 Jan (Monday) is the first day of the Spring semester at Indiana Tech Law. Do we know how many students are returning yet for another semester? How will we find out?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good question. Didn't they report having 32 students back in September? Their aptly styled page "Consumer Info" (http://law.indianatech.edu/admissions/consumerinfo/), prepared in October, now states that they have only 28. The median LSAT score of this group of "legal scholars" is 146, which is at the 30th percentile.

      I predict that three or four Indiana Tech–ites with, say, a 149 and a couple of A's to go with their shiny new pin will transfer to a toilet school with marginally more respectability, while a similar number drop out after a semester or two.

      Indiana Tech certainly isn't doing things on the cheap. I wonder how much it spends on landscaping and on the burnishing of its marble floors. Hell, it even has on staff a curator for its art collection.

      Delete
    2. The students there have been kept on a very tight leash about talking about Indiana Tech. I guess that's the first rule of ITLS: you don't talk about ITLS. I bet they have had plenty of brainwashing sessions from the Dean about how people say negative things because they are losers and want to destroy the school, "but we're not gonna let that happen, right! Bring it in...on three...go team!"

      If I was at that school I would run.

      Delete
    3. Indeed, the "students" at Indiana Tech must know that their skule is widely ridiculed and that knowledgeable people predict dire outcomes for just about everyone who is foolish enough to be lured into that toilet. Imagine the uncomfortable conversations:

      Concerned friend or relative: Are you sure that you made the right decision? People are saying that graduates of Indiana Tech won't be able to find work.

      Indiana Tech "student": Yes, but, well, the dean assures us that we're, uh, breaking new ground, and, um, besides, we, er, have our own innovative curriculum and…

      Which is why the scam-dean waxes messianic about the allegedly glorious mission of his pump-and-dump empire.

      Delete
    4. "The median LSAT score of this group of "legal scholars" is 146, which is at the 30th percentile."

      Is that the 30th percentile of admitted law students, or all which took the LSAT? If it's the latter............... :(

      "If I was at that school I would run."

      No, because if you were at that school you'd be a believer.

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    5. The thirtieth percentile of ALL who took the test.

      Yes, it's frightfully bad. And it's a damning indictment of Indiana Tech—and of the ABA, which makes this shit possible.

      Delete
  23. After 3 years of law school below the median this is the job you could fight for:
    Attorney Needed (Basking Ridge)
    NJ Licensed Attorney Needed
    Landlord/Tenant issues, court appearances and office paperwork, evictions, ect.
    Temp work, come to our office in Basking Ridge and work here.

    $20 per hour, minus lunch break.

    Please reply with your experience.

    • Location: Basking Ridge
    • Compensation: $20 per hour

    post id: 4281029000

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder how many people will apply.

      Delete
    2. From the comments here, I imagine these guys will be swamped with resumes. And not just from new graduates with poor academics. A new graduate from 90% of schools would count themselves lucky to land this.

      Delete
  24. This post and the comments afterwards are examples of the first-rate work this blog has done and continues to do. The points about the long-term structural economic problems facing anyone now attempting to begin and maintain a career practicing law are especially important, and not nearly emphasized enough (There is comparatively far too much focus on entry-level outcomes, for the predictable reason that the vast majority of the available data are about those outcomes).

    Great progress has been made and continues to be made in raising consciousness among prospective and current law students, law graduates and lawyers, and within law schools themselves, about the increasingly dysfunctional economics of the practice of law. This blog is an important part of that effort.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "The points about the long-term structural economic problems facing anyone now attempting to begin and maintain a career practicing law are especially important, and not nearly emphasized enough (There is comparatively far too much focus on entry-level outcomes, for the predictable reason that the vast majority of the available data are about those outcomes)."

      That sounds like a great idea for a post on Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Just saying.

      Delete
    2. It is actually a better post for lawyers who have held legal jobs outside of the law school sector and have seen how the legal job market works first hand.

      No one is disputing that legal work is good work and usually decent paying work if you can get it.

      The problems in the legal profession are not only extreme lawyer oversupply and price gouging by law schools that makes the cost of law school far greater than the return on the law degree for most lawyers and makes many lawyers debt slaves for much of their lives.

      The huge third problem in the legal profession is an economic system that brings many junior lawyers in and then throws a high percentage of them permanently out of legal work. The major law firms in the United States are an age pyramid that throws out older lawyers "to create opportunities for younger people." I have heard this said so many times by partners in major law firms as a rationale for "up or out" policies that put many people out of work, left with very expensive and useless law degrees. "Creating opportunities for younger lawyers" is also the reason that most 40 or 50 or 60 year old applicants from top law schools do not have a fireball's chance in heaven of landing an associate or counsel job at any 50+ lawyer firm in the United States.

      The problem with this is that in a profession with severe oversupply of labor, as in law, older lawyers simply are unemployed, underemployed and temping in very high numbers percentagewise. I do believe the numbers of unemployed and underemployed who are 15 or more years out of law school is significantly greater than the similar percentage published by law schools for first years.

      "Up or out" works indirectly as well as directly. The depositing of so many experienced highly credentialed 20 and 30 something lawyers on the market makes the push out the door that is ruining the careers of older lawyers all the more common and all the more career -ending because the supply and demand are unmatched.

      So my colleagues who are excellent lawyers with years of V10 law firm experience and degrees with honors or law review from Harvard and similar schools are spending their days at home idle combing the want ads and "networking" with anyone who might help - all with no success.

      Delete
    3. I couldn't agree more with Antiro and Paul Campos. Reporting on the initial 9 month employment statistics is a bit like that first story in the Washington Post back in June, 1972 that reported no more than that five men had been arrested in a break in at the Democratic National Convention headquarters at the Watergate. In short, the real story goes a whole lot deeper than those 9 month initial employment data.

      The initial employment data like that first story of the Watergate break in reveal that something is wrong and bad. However, the depth of just how wrong and how bad goes far deeper than the first report reveals. Further, the pathological system is spiraling out of control presently. Steven Harper writes about this in "The Lawyer Bubble."

      Thousands and tens of thousands of highly credentialed and excellent lawyers are being thrown aside and often cast into complete unemployment to maintain a pyramid scheme that creates great wealth for a very small number at the top. The 7 figure incomes at the equity partner level in biglaw are only supported by destroying an ever increasing number of those below the very top.

      Moreover, as a result of increased consolidation there are fewer small or mid sized law firms for those cast out to go to and keep on working. If this story ever gets told in truth, the applications to law school will further plummet as it will become totally apparent that the practice of law at least in large firms is a continuous tournament, not a profession.

      Delete
    4. Excellent and perceptive comment. The comparison to the initial Watergate report is exactly right. The problem extends throughout the system and reaches the highest levels.

      The "up or out" system is based on disposable lawyers. The lives and careers of tens of thousands of lawyers have been marred by this wasteful and irresponsible system. Frankly, our society makes more of an effort now to recycle or reuse plastic containers than it does young professionals.

      The revolving door 2-4 year associate ship --and the step after that-- should be receiving sharp focused attention from this blog.

      Five and ten year post graduation surveys would bring about entering classes of between three and seven, if accurately and meaningfully assembled.

      The long term prospect for a stable career wasn't there for most in 1994. It hasn't gotten any better since.

      Follow the money. Follow the graduates and their career tracks. You're spending a lot of time and money for a brief professional stint if you happen to be one of the lucky/diligent 20% who lands a job.

      Watergate had an 18 1/2 minute gap in a tape recording. I know of lawyers with 18 1/2 year stints of severe underemployment.

      Follow the futures.

      Delete
  25. If a student is bent on staying in school, there's probably never been a better time to threaten to transfer back to a cheaper in-state school. You could probably get another 5-7 grand knocked off your bill. Which isn't as good as dropping out, but at least it's less debt.

    It's kind of like when you call to cancel your cable package and they slash it in half to keep your business. The law schools aren't exactly in the strongest negotiating position right now....particularly with December LSATs bottoming out again.

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  26. Further to the excellent comment at 6:31 PM:

    http://works.bepress.com/david_barnhizer/88/

    "The issue of how best to do a legal education is being approached as if it were an intellectual and pedagogical question. Of course in a conceptual sense it is. But from a political and human perspective (law faculty, deans and lawyers) it is a self-interested situation in terms of how does this affect me? .......

    "If we were critiquing any system other than the one in which we work, law professors (as lawyers) would immediately evaluate that other system based on the effects of the inevitable sense of entitlement, privilege, self-interest, bias and resistance to change that affects any system. A central dynamic operating against real change in legal education is the very high level of individualized self-interest that characterizes the amazing job of the American law professor. This individualized self-interest produces a set of inchoate “work rules” that is at least as powerful as the work rules under which many labor unions operate. The rules allow the law professor unaccountable “space” to do whatever he or she desires in teaching, research, and external activity. This allows too many members of law faculties to treat their lucrative and privileged positions as a part-time job. As I suggest in this brief essay, very few beneficiaries of such a system voluntarily seek to alter its highly favorable terms of operation or are able to fully withstand the seductions of its privileges and perquisites. Most engage in convenient rationalizations that prevent real change because that would require them to lose the privileges and impose greater accountability and responsibility."

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    Replies
    1. That's a very good analysis by a professor who appears to have extensive practice experience.

      However, the logical construction "we...law professors (as lawyers)" excludes a majority of his colleagues and guarantees that his analysis will be ignored. Most law professors are NOT lawyers and consider themselves above the practice of law.

      Delete
    2. I'm reading through the paper and going to be posting an analysis of the work on Thursday.

      Delete
  27. Thanks, Antiro. I'm looking forward to reading your analysis.

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  28. BananaTelephoneRepairmanJanuary 13, 2014 at 12:53 PM

    In this economy even a banana telephone repairman has a hard time getting job interviews.

    ReplyDelete
  29. It's not the economy. It's years of overproduction of lawyers for an up or out pyramid. Thousands of lawyers have 20+ years invested and cannot afford to retire and can't be repurposed to do something else. The profession has come to a deadend.

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  30. I attended South Texas College of Law, bad grades, bad experience. I want to go back again and pass and show everyone I can do it, but at the moment, thinking about Baylor medical school, I had a lot of fellow students at South Texas College of law who were a bunch of liars and were just generally evil to each other, thankfully they were nice to me :/

    What do you guys think? I should do, Medical school or try again at south Texas college of law?

    My parents are both doctors, my sisters is attorney and her husband.

    If you read this & give a reply it would mean a lot :(

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    Replies
    1. I know it's been a long time, but on the oft-chance that you read this reply: it's impossible for us to help you without more information. Law school and med school is a huge undertaking that has to be measured against the direct and indirect costs associated with attending either.

      I recommend Top Law Schools forums for more detailed analysis.

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