Help me choose a school
March 10, 2009 2:50 PM   Subscribe

law school filter: Debt level vs. Prestige. What would you choose?

I'm choosing between two law schools to attend next year. I'm hoping the hivemind can help me weigh the options and help me decide.

One school is ranked in/near the top ten. However, if I attend I'll have to bear the full cost of admissions, leaving me about $180,000 in the hole. I realize that this school has stronger networks, gets people into top positions in government jobs, clerkships, etc. But $180k. yikes.

The second school is still quite good- it's ranked in the top 50- but doesn't have the national recognition the first school entails. However, their tuition is slightly lower and they've offered me some serious grant money. If I keep my grades up I can graduate with only 60-70k of debt.

About me: I don't want to work BigLaw. I'd be very happy doing some type of Public Interest type-law, and OK with having my own small practice (eventually). I would be VERY interested in landing a good clerkship out of school.

might be relevant: I don't like the location of the more prestigious school. I LOVE the location of the second school. I think my quality of life at the second school might be better than at the first.

Are there any lawyers out there who regret going to a top school? Anyone who has felt forced into working in a big, corporate mill by the economic burden of your student loans? Or is the name really worth it?
posted by HabeasCorpus to Education (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
About me: I don't want to work BigLaw. I'd be very happy doing some type of Public Interest type-law, and OK with having my own small practice (eventually). I would be VERY interested in landing a good clerkship out of school.

Then forget about prestige. I went to a decently prestigious law school (top 20). I currently have my own small practice (I employ one other attorney, and soon we will have a third) and in three-and-a-half years of having my own practice, I have found that where one went to law school is completely irrelevant. I could have gone to the urban, commuter law school in my town and would be doing just as well.

I enjoyed my law school experience a great deal --- it was very pleasant, with a nice location --- so I don't regret it. But as a professional and financial choice, I wish I had gone to a bargain-basement school.
posted by jayder at 2:55 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Take the top 10 school if you are serious about public interest law.

You will get better public interest work.

Who are you borrowing from? If you can get Federal loans (Grad PLUS) then your unpaid debt will be forgiven after 10 years of making income-based payments. If you are needing private alternative loans, then that's another story.

There is no guarantee you will do well in law school. You may lose the scholarship at the top 50 school. If you keep your grades up and graduate with 60-70k debt, well, you haven't done great. I would suggest a top 50 school if your graduating debt was significantly less.


Go to the best school you can. Top 15 or above is great. As long as you don't flunk out, you'll be fine. Don't let the 180k deter you IF IF IF you are serious about public interest work.
posted by abdulf at 2:55 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not a lawyer, but reading over your question, it seems to me that part of the reason to go with the more prestigious school would be the networking for top positions. But you also state that those kind of positions aren't really the ones you're aiming for, so this may not be a benefit you take advantage of to the nth degree. If you're more angling to do public work and eventually slide into your own practice, I would think that a lower debt load is more advantageous than being a graduate of "big school". Also it sounds like you'd have a much better overall experience going to the second school, so based on what you're telling us it sounds like the second school is a better choice.
posted by barc0001 at 2:58 PM on March 10, 2009


I don't really have much advice because I'm in an extremely similar situation and will be watching this thread.
There is a pretty big difference between top 10ish and top 50. Does the second school have a program you're particularly interested in?
As another person trying to make these sorts of decisions, and not as an expert, I've heard from others that if you want to do public interest, that it's better to graduate with less debt because the jobs you get out of school are not going to pay nearly as much as ones in private practice. But on the other hand, a lot of prestigious schools have great loan repayment assistance programs for people who go into public service.
Another factor is what you think your chances are of being high up in your class at either school. I've heard (again, don't hold me to it), that it's better, job placement-wise, to graduate near the top of your class at a less prestigious school than lower in the rankings of a "better" school.
I'm sure you've thought of these things already, but I figured it couldn't hurt to mention what I've heard in my digging around.
Good luck!
posted by fructose at 3:01 PM on March 10, 2009


If you're absolutely certain that you want to do public interest or small practice work in the area that the less prestigious law school is located, then you should probably go there. A few caveats though: First, you might change your mind about what you want to do once you get to law school, and T50 isn't going to serve you well if you do. Second, schools lower in the rankings tend to be highly regional, so you better want to work where it is. Third, it will be much more difficult to get a good clerkship out of a lower-ranked school.

Personally, I wouldn't take quality of life much into consideration because its only three years, it won't matter that much. Also keep in mind that depending on the type of public interest or government work, the job market can still be quite competitive. I would recommend contacting the career services department of both schools and asking for a list of where recent grads are employed.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 3:01 PM on March 10, 2009


Oh, and if it helps you put my advice in perspective, I'm a 3L at a T20 school about to graduate and go to BigLaw. When I entered law school I thought I wanted to be a constitutional law professor, I'm leaving as an employment litigator and couldn't be happier.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 3:04 PM on March 10, 2009


A good clerkship can make your public interest career and going to the top school will help with getting the clerkship. You only go to law school once, go to the better school.
posted by youcancallmeal at 3:04 PM on March 10, 2009


I went to a bargain basement school and now have my own practice. It would have been a complete and utter waste of money had I gone to a more prestigious school, because nobody ever asks or cares where I went.
posted by HotToddy at 3:13 PM on March 10, 2009


Be very careful about grants/scholarships that require you to maintain a GPA. You need to find out about the curve at the school. Also, ask how many people wind up keeping their scholarships. Some less reputable schools have been known to "section stack," offering scholarships to people and then putting them all in the same first year section, knowing that with the curve, a percentage of them will be mathematically eliminated from their scholarships for year 2 and 3. Law school is hard, and past performance is not indicative of future results, so even without section stacking, a GPA requirement near the median is not a guarantee.

I know (two) people who turned down full rides at top 25 schools to go to a top 10 school, both with the intention of going on to do public interest work. Neither one regrets it. (Then again, neither one has graduated yet, probably the better time to ask would be in a few years...) The more prestigious school may have a more generous LRAP program that forgives loans for those doing public interest work as well.

Point is: these questions are rarely as simple as $60k vs. $180k.
posted by JakeWalker at 3:17 PM on March 10, 2009


It is hard getting a clerkship at a school that ranks only in the top 50, unless all your ducks are in a row (you are at the top of your class, you have a professor on a mission to get you in, you are the EIC of the law review, you have a local judge who likes to hire from your school). And it's actually really competitive to get good public interest jobs. Your interests may also change over time and a top-10 school opens more doors.

Key: Many if not all top-10 schools have public interest loan repayment programs that are more scarce at the top-50 level, so you may not have the $180K debt load you're expecting.

I wouldn't go so much by the city the law school is in. I didn't apply to Yale because I was all like, New Haven? ew! Theoretical focus? ew! Biggest regret of my life. Your life is mostly indoors, inside your head, for that three years.

Quality of life during law school? Hee.
posted by *s at 3:23 PM on March 10, 2009


Look into the loan forgiveness program at the T10. For instance, at Michigan Law, there is a loan forgiveness program where the school will help pay back your eligible loans (which include private loans) if your job pays under a certain threshold. There's a sliding scale, and it can be any legal job that is not a clerkship -- it does not have to be public interest.

Otherwise, I second the advice above about: if you want to be in the area where the T50 is, go there. If you aren't sure where you want to end up, go with the T10. I went to Michigan, I work with lots of people who went to T50 (or even lower) law schools that are local, and the only difference between the two sets is the loan payments.

(FWIW, I turned down a scholarship from at t25 to stay at Michigan. I regret it once a month, when I pay my bills. But I wanted to stay in Ann Arbor, and I was chasing a boy, and those things worked out, so it's hard to regret it over all.)
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:27 PM on March 10, 2009


There are a lot of lawyers. (IANAL).

There are many fewer lawyers that went to prestigious schools.

If you have the chance to go to one, it's a chance you won't get again.

People pay attention to credentials... usually they require a minimum but admire something special. I know it seems silly, but the engineers I have worked with for years get points for their alma mater, even though the worst one I ever worked with went to a top engineering school and was just horrible.

Hiring decisions really do get made on the basis of credentials, sometimes, all other things being roughly equal. (It's the same reason it's so hard to compete for a job against someone who ALSO has a law degree.)

180k isn't a lot more than 80k in the grand scheme of things.
posted by FauxScot at 3:47 PM on March 10, 2009


For instance, at Michigan Law, there is a loan forgiveness program where the school will help pay back your eligible loans (which include private loans) if your job pays under a certain threshold. There's a sliding scale, and it can be any legal job that is not a clerkship -- it does not have to be public interest.

This is a great point. As a UM-Law grad, though, I should warn you that how this is interpreted can vary. They've refused to allow me to enter the loan forgiveness program on the grounds that teaching undergrad philosophy and philosophy of law on the strength of my JD isn't suitably "legal" in nature to justify admission to the program. So be careful and be sure to ask up front if you have any concerns whatsoever about your eligibility for debt relief/forgiveness programs at either school.

I'd be happy to say more about Tier-1 programs: I applied to all 10 and was accepted to all 10, so I had to make some really hard decisions re: funding, location, etc., too, so I've been there. Hit up me over me-mail if you need/want any further feedback. Good luck!
posted by joe lisboa at 3:49 PM on March 10, 2009


As someone who graduated law school with quite a lot of debt, I have to say: go to the less expensive school if it is in an area of the country where you would want to live. Although, really, where you go to school isn't as important as where you take the bar exam.

I went to a school in the top 50 and I have classmates who now practice in every state of the union and some in Europe, Asia and Australia. Many of my classmates went to BigLaw; even more went into public policy, etc.

I've worked on several projects with a large number of attorneys. I can say that there is a distinction between schools in the top 50 and those schools not in the top 50; but amongst the top 50 schools? I haven't seen it.

Knowing that your interest is public interest law, which traditionally doesn't pay all that well, I'd think you're better off incurring less debt.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 4:25 PM on March 10, 2009


I don't think there's a one-answer-fits-all to this question. I'd definitely check out *in detail* the loan repayment plan from the top 10 school.

When I went to school, I picked a top 15/20 school over a top 5 school due to location and the extreme difference in price between the two schools (one was about a third the price of the other). I also liked the location of the 15/20 school much much more.

I can't argue with my rationale then, and my debt was paid off pretty easily. I do public interest law, and haven't felt that my choice really created a barrier, and I haven't had to deal with $$ problems or the bureaucracy of loan repayment.

On the other hand, now, if for some reason there was law-school-part-two for mid-career people, I would probably enjoy the perks of a top 5 school. But it didn't matter to me then.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:35 PM on March 10, 2009


Go to the higher-ranked school. This was not always an easy answer. But with income-based repayment, it is.

As long as you keep all your loans federal (Stafford + GradPLUS), you'll be eligible for IBR which will cap your total loan payments at 15% of your monthly discretionary income. If you spend ten years in public interest, the debt will be entirely wiped out. Otherwise, it's gone after 25 years.

Public defenders and some legal aid programs are less prestige-conscious than big firms. But many of the big public interest organizations place a lot of emphasis on clerkships and school rank and all the traditional indicia of prestige. You'll have a much better shot at these places coming from a T-10 school.
posted by ewiar at 4:56 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Public interest hiring folks, from what little I know of them, are NOTORIOUS prestige snobs. Even worse than BigLaw or other corporate gigs. There aren't as many positions available, and lots of folks want them.

Go to the better school.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:10 PM on March 10, 2009


If you can get in a top five law school, and wish to work in NY or DC or for some tony firm, go to the prestigious school. Otherwise go to the school where you intend to live and practice, so you can make contacts before you graduate.
posted by culturemaven at 5:22 PM on March 10, 2009


Public interest jobs are incredibly competitive, even if you go to a top five school. (Admittedly, much harder if you don't.) If you choose the higher-ranked school, be prepared for the possibility that you still might not be able to land a public interest job. Are you willing to work at BigLaw while you pay off your loans? Are you willing to live frugally while paying off your loans if you go to a smaller firm?

Neither of those are necessarily negative outcomes - just consider whether they would be right for you.
posted by AV at 6:27 PM on March 10, 2009


Lots of very good advice so far. So for the length, but I wanted to chime on a few things:

I would be VERY interested in landing a good clerkship out of school.

If that is the most important or a very important factor, absolutely go to the highest ranked school you can. Federal and good state clerkships are competitive no matter your school, but you will be at a severe disadvantage from schools ranked even in the lower portion of the "first tier."

Law school tuition costs have risen so dramatically in the last five years that this calculus is really different than it used to be. The only rule that's the same as it used to be is go to school where you ultimately want to practice and settle.[1] Used to be, someone like you was a good candidate for a good state school - whether your state has one and you pay in-state tuition or you pay out-of-state tuition at one near where you want to practice, which is still much lower than private tuition. Now, even in-state tuition is barely a bargain (and sometimes even not at all) and out-of-state tuition at most places is pretty much the same as private tuition, so state schools are no longer much of a bargain. Tuition has gone up at public universities generally, and much more so at their law schools. I think that totally sucks, and I just wanted to point out how much it sucks that state legislatures have more or less stopped funding public law schools on the assumption that all those rich lawyer kids shouldn't get any money from the states.

The big hole in this is that you are leaving out how you feel about all private law between "Biglaw" and solo practice. The majority of private lawyers work in small or medium size firms. Who know how it will be when you get out, but a lot of these firms pay quite well and train you well. Not $160k to start, but maybe 2/3 of the local Biglaw starting salary or so. Do you not want to do any private work other than solo?

Unless you are pretty sure that you will be able to keep your grades up, you should not count on that grant money from the lower-ranked school. But, unless the clerkship factor sways you, it sounds like the lower-ranked school is the right one for you.

Are there any lawyers out there who regret going to a top school? Anyone who has felt forced into working in a big, corporate mill by the economic burden of your student loans?

Yeah, I know tons of people like this. To the first question, it's often because they took on all the debt thinking that they would be able to land a job that pays them a bunch of money and ultimately didn't. And I work with a lot of the people in the second question, although they mostly pay off enough after a few years that they get out if they really hate it. I also had lot of classmates who thought that they were that sure that they wanted to do public interest law[2], but none of that group remained doing to low salary stuff (which is most of it) if they were the sole or main breadwinner for a family. Whether they were men or women, if stayed at a low-paying job and they wanted to have kids, they ended up either finding someone to support them, used family money to live or simply didn't have kids. Fact is, you can't really support a family while making $35k a year with those kinds of loan payments (even with loan forgiveness) unless you are willing to live like a pauper. I knew many people who thought that they would ultimately be willing to do this, and none of them actually ultimately did.

Tough choices. Good luck.

[1] Only exceptions to this rule are maybe a handful or so of truly national schools, but one really knows how the economy or the legal industry are going to look in, say 4 years when you come out, so I'm not sure that exception is as true as it used to be, either.

[2] For the purposes of this statement, assume that I am referring only to the lower-paying public interest jobs (which is most of them). There are certainly also some public law jobs that pay pretty well. Some of them are pretty state-specific (some states, for example, fund their public defenders pretty well - starting at $60k or more), whereas some of them are going to require some sort of connection, luck or demonstrable high credentials. I agree with the other posters that the hiring for these jobs is quite competitive - likely because there are many people from highly-ranked law schools who want to practice public interest law and the relatively low salaries do not prevent them from doing so.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 6:31 PM on March 10, 2009


t10 student here. I was going to chime in and say that you should investigate the loan forgiveness options your school might offer. Some schools have pretty generous packages. I think the general advice you're going to get is to go to the best school you can. It will definitely help later with clerkships and jobs.

That said, I think quality of life is really important because law school, if you've not heard, is not always such a fun time. And if you're wanting to practice near the t50 geographically, it might not be a bad choice.
posted by soonertbone at 6:42 PM on March 10, 2009


I don't want to sound too shrill, but holy fuck, have you seen what is going on in the law right now? Entire firms are shutting down. Other firms are laying people off by the hundreds. All of these poor souls are hitting the streets, looking for work. They are not getting re-hired at big firms. It's just not going to happen (some of the really sad cases are layoffs of kids in their first or second year--that's a total career killer; game over). Regardless of what you want to practice, there are going to be many lawyers lining up to eat your lunch.

And don't kid yourself that getting a good job in public interest is not difficult. It's hard, even in the good times. Don't forget that a lot of PI jobs are funded by grants and donations, etc., which are drying up now that the economy is sunk. Even the public law jobs funded by the interest on IOLTA accounts are getting fucked, because rates are so low. There is going to be a lot of competition, not as many jobs, low pay etc. And clerking, at least at the federal level, is highly competitive, but it's the federal gigs that build a career, IMHO.

So, in the strongest terms possible, I urge you to go to the higher ranked school, for the love of god. If you are not comfortable with the debt load or the forgiveness program, just don't go to law school. Honestly, even in good times, I think going to a school not in the top 20 is a really losing proposition, and now it makes absolutely no sense. Think about it--you can leave school with 180K in debt and a great chance at having the career you want, or leave school with 60K in debt and no job. Also, I know you don't want to work at a big firm, but everyone sells their soul for a couple of years. Think about it--if you do go big for two years, you'll have made nearly $400K. Live frugally, and you can make a serious dent on the private portion of your loans (don't bother paying back the federal loans early--rates are really low).

Full disclosure: went to a T5 school, practice in Big Law.

And a last piece of unsolicited advice: to a not insignificant degree, much of your future career is built on the foundations you lay in your first year. To wit: Your first semester grades are the basis for getting a 1L job. Your first year grades and the writing competition get you onto a journal. Your first year grades, journal gig and 1L job get you your 2L job (usually interviews are at the end of your 1L summer). If you go to a private firm, it is generally your 2L job where you will start your career after graduating. If you go public, that 2L job (i.e., with a federal district court judge, etc), will be instrumental in getting your post grad job. Either way, that job starts the career you may have for the next 40 years. As a result, I highly recommend studying all the damn time for the first year. 2L and 3L years don't matter as much. All of this is easier if you are coming from the higher-ranked school, too. Quality of life is bunk for the first year; just suck it up, take your ulcer medication and get the grades. Ease up on the throttle later.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:47 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


... and that's precisely what's wrong with legal education in the US, but whatever ...
posted by joe lisboa at 8:30 PM on March 10, 2009


Guys and Gals,

Thank you for your quick and informative responses.

I researched the loan forgiveness program at the T10 school, and it seems quite reasonable. The T50 school has nothing comparable. And although it is embarrassing to admit, I did not realize that federal PLUS loan debt was dischargeable after 10 years of public service work (can we can keep my lack of due diligence on the DL for any future employers out there?).

I also appreciate the candor that everyone- from BigLaw workers to those self-employed, has brought to the table. I haven't made a choice yet (I'm visiting each school before I decide), but I can tell you this post will make a good guidepoint for navigating these issues.

Iknowizbirfmark: I did leave out a big hole. I said I would be happy being a solo lawyer, but I know that takes years of experience and networking in the local market. I would be very content spending my time building this experience in smaller firms, so long as they provided me with hands-on, substantive work and a good learning environment.

Admiral Haddock: The only thing I KNOW I don't want to do in BigLaw is corporate transactional work. I spent two years as a paralegal in a group documenting financial transactions. It was boring; we worked primarily off of a set of pre-written documents that were altered for each transaction. It seemed like a form of torture for the associates who had been doing it for years and years. I'm also worried that if I worked in BigLaw litigation, they would stick me with document review for two straight years. I work in a DA's office, and I feel like I'm doing more substantive work right now than I would be doing as a first year associate.

I don't have an issue with BigLaw per se, but I'm concerned that once I go into it, I'll be stuck with a skill set designed for complex legal issues, and it will be a skill set that won't be easily transferable to a smaller practice. Thoughts?
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:32 PM on March 10, 2009


Working in Big Law is a right of passage, for good and for bad. One thing you might keep in mind is that firms often offer great training, which is worthwhile, b/c law school is not really training for actually being a lawyer. Ideally, law school should be one year (two, tops) and you could learn the basics of torts, contracts, procedure, etc., and then apprentice with a firm to round out your training. I found much of law school to be a waste of time (and joe lisboa is totally right--the entire system is busted). The main reason to go, of course, is the money, which is obscene. But, as you yourself have seen, it is not an easy life.

Do keep an open mind in law school--I know MANY people who came in wanting to do pro bono work and ended up being balls to the wall corporate sharks, and some (not as many) who wanted to be sharks, and left public defenders. All it takes is one class to make you love or hate an area of law, and then your whole life changes.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:04 PM on March 10, 2009


Oh, and your closing question answers itself, I think: do you want to be the attorney who cut his/her teeth on "complex legal problems" and then moved to a smaller (more straightforward) practice? Or the attorney who started off on the simple matters? It's always easier to move from the greater to the lesser; the other direction, not so much.

Remember, too, that all big firms have pro bono programs, and generally give billable hours credit for legal work for pro bono clients.

It's not all shelf work.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:19 PM on March 10, 2009


Keep in mind that your interests may well change over the course of law school as opportunities open up for you. Those opportunities will be far more plentiful if you're at a top law school. Good jobs are hard to come by - the U.S. graduates a lot of lawyers each year. You want as much of a leg up on your fellow graduates as possible, and this includes for public interest law. There are lots of very smart people who want to do public interest stuff - and there are fewer sources of revenue to create jobs in that sector, so the market is tight.

The other thing is that your fellow students can be immensely important to your education - a good peer group pushes you to excel, and you make connections that will last a lifetime. Yes, it will be more money (maybe even with the forgiveness program), but money invested in education tends to pay itself back big time. It opens doors you can't even imagine now.

I think, not to be too dramatic about it, that you would regret for the rest of your life not going to the better school. I think this would be especially true if you could see, through God's eye, what your life would have been if you'd had the opportunities for clerkships and jobs open to you that were not available at the lower-ranked school.

FWIW, I'm a Canadian law student.
posted by Dasein at 12:40 AM on March 11, 2009


I just want to chime in agreeing with the majority view here: prestige is better than reduced debt. There are way too many law school grads out there competing for far to few jobs. That means that potential employers are looking at every turn for ways to cut down the number of potential applicants. So resumes matter, and the most important item on your resume is the school you attended. It makes sense: potential employers are happy to let the law school admission people make the first cut for them.

One exception to this general rule would be for the top-ranked (by grades) applicants from a second-tier school. Employers do pay extra attention to about the top 1% from those schools. However, law school grading is very quirky, and I don't think anyone would tell you that that you are more likely to get better grades in a top fifty school than in a top ten school.

Please note, as several people commented, that clerkship jobs are the most competitive jobs out there; there are only a handful of state supreme court or federal court clerkship out there, and every single law school graduate wants one. To get then, you will need a top school and top grades (and law review wouldn't hurt).

Granted, the increased debt sucks, but I think you will find that it is money well spent. And, in answer to your question about being "stuck" in Biglaw, that should not be a concern. Biglaw is an odd animal; it thrives by having a large associate pool feeding into a much smaller partner pool. So it expects that there will be a lot of attrition as the associates become more senior. That can be a horrible situation if you want to stay in the system, but has distinct advantages for someone in your position. You can work in it for a few years, taking advantage to the income and training in the practice of law (which you will not get in law school), and leave without any real stigma attached. In fact, Biglaw tends to be very helpful in assisting in placement as it would like to have its exiting associates become future customers.

And who knows, you might find out that you like Biglaw. The low-level work you describe only lasts so long and you end up doing some of the most intellectually stimulating law out there.
posted by rtimmel at 9:51 AM on March 11, 2009


I had to make a similar decision about 7 years ago and opted to go to the top-10ish school and take on the extra debt. Like you, my main interest was to do public interest work after graduation, and likewise, I was interested in a clerkship. A couple of my observations:

1. The debt I took on severely constrained my immediate job choices. There is no chance I could have taken some positions I was interested in - non-profit jobs for smaller organizations, work for local or some state government agencies - because of my loans (about $2000 a month), regardless of loan forgiveness. Our loan forgiveness program would have only covered about 65% of my outstanding loan debt, federal loan forgiveness programs were of little use since the vast majority of my loans were private, and it did not cover clerkships or non-legal public interest jobs.

2. I clerked immediately after law school for a federal judge. With no loan forgiveness and an entry-level federal salary, I had to go into loan forbearance during my clerkship. It was tough financially and definitely influenced my decision to go into a large law firm immediately after the clerkship. I hated the large law firm. I now work for the federal government and absolutely love it.

3. Many people I went to law school entered with the hope of going into public interest work immediately after graduation. Four years out of law school, about 90% still work at a large law firm. Most went that route due to large debt loads and the relative scarcity of public interest jobs.

4. The folks I know that did go into public interest jobs right after graduation tended to have some previous experience with the organization (e.g. summer or school-year internship). My experience is that it is fairly easy to get an unpaid internship with a public interest organization because there is a huge need for labor. If you're good, you may be able to get your foot in the door for a full-time gig, regardless of the ranking of your law school.

5. I think geography is important when attempting to consider future job prospects between your two school choices. If the top-50 law school in the city you really like has strong local alumni connections, your job prospects may be significantly better than you may otherwise think. Also, top-10 schools may all place fairly well in major metropolitan areas (NYC, DC mainly) regardless of where the law school is actually located, but it may not give you a significant leg up over local law school grads in smaller markets that appreciate connections to a particular region.

6. If I had to do it over, I'm not sure what I would do. The debt is a huge dea and I would think very carefully about taking such a huge amount on, especially in light of the fact that the private law firm jobs that were abundant a few years ago may be dwindling. Also, make sure you really understand your school's loan forgiveness programs. Many have limits that will severely contrain your choices.

Best of luck. Feel free to Mefi mail me for any more discussion.
posted by buddha9090 at 7:31 PM on March 11, 2009


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