Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Things I Wish I Had Known (The First of A Series)

After some discussion with my friend Mike over at Barely Legal, I made a list of things I wish I had known before going to law school. The list began to grow and grow, and branched out into categories. Now, I know that a lot of law bloggers are putting out books on law school (see, e.g., Kick Law School in the Nuts, forthcoming), and I'm sure theirs would all be better than mine if I ever wrote one. Which I'm not going to. I don't claim to be some kind of expert any more than any other law student who lived through it. I don't have all the answers, and honestly, I don't even have all the questions.

But what I do have, unfortunately, is a big ol' dirty, steaming pile of regrets and things I wish I had known and done differently. I also have all the time in the world these days to sit on my ass and think about how things might have been. So with no further ado, here is the first in a series of Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Went to Law School.

1. Where you go to college doesn't matter (unless you're shooting for a top 5 school). So go someplace fun for college, or wherever you get the most amount of scholarship money, or wherever your parents will pay for you to attend. Don't go someplace expensive that is known for having a low curve and boring, antisocial students (U Chicago and friends, I'm looking at you).

2. Your LSAT is the only thing that really matters (again, unless you're shooting for a top 5 school, or unless you have seriously crappy grades - below a 3.2). Study for your LSAT like you have never studied for anything before - maybe even take a couple months off and concentrate solely on it. Because as I learned the hard way, in admissions, it is the only thing that matters.

3. Some things that won't matter, despite your feelings that they should (and despite your college's law school counselor's insistence that they do):
* Your course selection does not matter. Don't think that just because you did a minor in a hard subject and got mediocre grades, they will notice that you did something that was difficult for you and persevered. Sure, it reflects an admirable character trait. You stuck it out - good for you. I hope your mom is proud, because they don't care at all. Take the easy A classes.
* Your major doesn't matter (unless you majored in hard sciences or engineering and are interested in patents). One might think that it would matter that you majored in a relatively difficult subject, say, econ as opposed to poli sci. Nope! The poli sci major with the slightly higher GPA is getting in over you.
* Your grades. They matter more than your course selection or major, because the GPA is reported in US News. But let's face it: you probably already have pretty good grades. Most people applying to law school do. Thus it really comes down, as I said, to the LSAT score. If you have very bad grades, then your LSAT is even more important for you than it is for everyone out there with a 3.6.

4. Many people will tell you to go to the school where you get the most money to minimize your debt. This can be good advice, but isn't always. If you get into a top-tier school with excellent employment data, but no scholarship, and a second-tier school with so-so employment data and a sizeable scholarship, your choice will have to depend on a couple of factors.
* You need to have a pretty good idea of what you want to do after law school. How is that possible, you ask? Well, oftentimes it isn't possible. But if you have always wanted to help the poor and you are pretty sure you can parlay your Peace Corps experience into a Legal Aid job, go with the scholarship. But if you are soulless and, like me, wanted to go to a big firm, make sure you go to that top-tier school. A scholarship is nice and all, but at second-tier schools, you're not getting a big firm job unless you are in the top 10% (see below). In fact, any firm job at all that pays more than government can be very hard to find from many second-tier schools.
* You also need to know what GPA is required to maintain your scholarship. It may be higher than you think, and it will often be easier to lose than you could ever imagine. I know a ton of people who came in with full scholarships, having gotten into better schools, and lost them after first year, sometimes by a matter of hundredths of a point. They will take it away from you and you will end up going into debt anyway - and have no good job prospects. And just because you sailed above a 3.5 at all times in college with little effort does NOT mean that you can keep a 3.2 in law school. Grades are often arbitrary. Smart people lose scholarships every year. It could happen to you.
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