Will I get into a top-tier law school?
May 26, 2009 7:09 PM   Subscribe

I am a Biomedical Engineering major at Duke University with a low GPA (3.1) but have yet to take the LSAT. I am interested in IP law and was wondering what law schools I could get into based on different LSAT scores that I might get. Also, I was charged with a minor in possession of alcohol that was taken off my record without conviction. How much will this affect my admission potential?
posted by jbh26 to Education (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a biased opinion -- MSU College of Law (East Lansing, MI) might be accessible. It has a pretty fresh IP program with a good deal of participation and professors who specialize in IP and international IP. That being said, it's in the third tier and bar passage rates haven't increased as I was led to believe. >(

Here's some general advice -- study hard for the LSAT. Grades really aren't everything in law school admission, but the LSAT is big. MSU, for one, bases full tuition scholarships off of a combination of undergraduate GPA and LSAT; a really high LSAT score could make up the difference for a mid-range GPA and get you somewhere. I think schools frequently combine LSAT, GPA and other factors, so if you get an 80 or 90% on the LSAT, you could conceivably make it into a second or first tier.

About the MIP -- read everything very carefully. It's possible that if it was expunged you won't *have* to list it; you could always err on the side of caution and include it with a paragraph in your admission letter about having learned your lesson and all that.
posted by motsque at 7:17 PM on May 26, 2009

lawschoolnumbers.com will give you data from schools about their class's median GPA and LSAT scores. Also availabe is self-reported data from students for this application cycle, which can give you a more complete picture of who gets in where. Since law school admissions is almost entirely a numbers game, if and only if your numbers seem to fit, you will probably get into a particular school.

hourumd.com is a handy calculator that compiles data from lawschoolnumbers, and gives you an approximation of your chances for admission. It seems to be a bit optimistic, but overall helpful for a quick and dirty estimate.

Your GPA is a bit lower than average for top 50 schools, but the good news is is that at almost every school, your LSAT score is weighed much more heavily than GPA. It's completely impossible to say where you might get in without an LSAT score. Harvard, Stanford and Yale will all be almost impossible regardless of your LSAT score with your GPA unfortunately, unless you have something extremely unusual and compelling in your application. Everything else is possible with a great LSAT. Take it seriously, good luck!
posted by bluejayk at 7:17 PM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Unless you are looking at a national- level law school (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Michigan, etc), one approach is to go to law school in the state in which you want to practice. Different states have different bars and the schools in those states will (or should) teach to the bar of that state. Thus, go to school in the state where you want to practice so that you have a better chance of passing the bar.

If that is your projected path, then you can get statistics on the various schools in the state in which you want to practice and determine which schools you have the most likelihood of getting into. If you want to go to a more prestigious law school (again, the first tier schools that are allow for a much broader geographic job search) I would recommend doing very well on the LSAT and getting your grades up a little. Competition is going to be fierce, particularly now.

As for your charge, each school's application will differ in terms of what you have to disclose. However, if you are required to disclose this and you don't, that could be an issue later on when you try to gain admission to a bar.

Whatever you decide, I strongly recommend that if you don't already have very good writing skills that you hone those now. Lawyering, even of the patent variety, is all about writing. Best of luck!
posted by Leezie at 7:22 PM on May 26, 2009

I would use this GPA/LSAT index calculator from the Law School Admission Council (maker of the LSAT)

Your GPA is a bit low, but I hear they are a bit more forgiving for people with non-traditional pre-law majors (sciences, engineering, etc.) than for those with majors like history, government, etc. YMMV

I believe what you have to disclose as terms of legal issues is at least partially based on the state the law school is in's bar moral fitness section, but I'm not 100% sure if that's true across the board.
posted by ishotjr at 7:28 PM on May 26, 2009

Disclose fully and you'll be fine.

I never got my posession as a minor conviction taken off and it didn't affect me.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:49 PM on May 26, 2009

Different states have different bars and the schools in those states will (or should) teach to the bar of that state. Thus, go to school in the state where you want to practice so that you have a better chance of passing the bar.

You have to go MUCH farther down in the rankings before the schools start teaching to the bar exam in any meaningful way and, really, that's probably for the best.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:55 PM on May 26, 2009

Yes, study hard for the LSAT, then look at those grids on the abovementioned websites and figure out where to apply.

It really is a test that you can improve on greatly by knowing the sort of questions they ask and drilling yourself to get it down to the right times.
posted by Happydaz at 8:30 PM on May 26, 2009

I got into Georgetown (off the wait-list) with an ugly 3.0 from Yale (a few real doozies on the transcript) and a 175 LSAT. Obviously, the LSAT saved my ass. The fact that your undergrad is Duke helps with your low GPA, as does your major (as others have indicated). But you're gonna need a killer LSAT score to have a chance at the national schools. Have you taken any practice tests? What did you score? If not, take one this weekend (under real conditions - do NOT half-ass it) to see where you stand.

However, my advice is to go to whichever school will give you the most money. (Well, my real advice is not to go to law school at all, but MeMail me if you really want to talk about that.) A couple of lower-ranked schools offered me a bunch of money, and I regret not taking them up on it. Having $150K+ in debt is a truly miserable thing. BIGLAW jobs are miserable (I know - I had one) and getting scarcer as the industry moves away from the insanity of billing out first-year attorneys at $300+ an hour to do doc review. So paying off a ton of loans is going to be very challenging.

Even if you do get a sizable scholarship, you'll still need loans just to live, and of course there's the opportunity cost of not working for three years. But it's better, as I say, than $150K in loans.

I would suggest looking at schools in cities where you know you'd want to settle. I knew I'd be coming back to New York no matter what, and here, schools like Fordham, Cardozo and Brooklyn have good reps, even if they aren't well-known nationally. Most big cities have similarly-situated schools which would be pretty thrilled to get a Duke grad with a good LSAT score.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:59 PM on May 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Duke's career counseling may be able to give you some guidance, but you know your own abilities better. Take practice LSAT's, identify your strengths, and drill, drill, drill.

Generally speaking, though, for future employers, a shiny law school name with little in the way of IP curriculum trumps a low ranked law school with a developed IP curriculum. If you'd like to practice anywhere but the area right around Michigan State, I really wouldn't think about MSU as anything but a far backup choice, and even then, only if they offered a really competitive tuition aid package.

Different states have different bars and the schools in those states will (or should) teach to the bar of that state. Thus, go to school in the state where you want to practice so that you have a better chance of passing the bar.

If you're smart enough to keep a 3.1 in biomedical engineering at Duke, you're smart enough to pass any Bar in the country solely by taking (and studying in the recommended amounts) the Barbri course. Remember, the Bar isn't a test like the SAT's or the LSAT's. It's a competency exam, not an achievement or ability exam. The pass numbers of even the most difficult states, like CA and NY, are depressed by people who are on try number 4 despite working two full time jobs or never learning the lawyerly thought process or just being really, really, really bad at reading comprehension.

Also, you may want to consider whether the 3.1 is low for law schools in general, or whether it's low for your major, at your school. For each applicant, law schools get a report that normalizes your GPA to that of people at your school and people at your major at your school.

Finally, if you're interested in IP law and really enjoyed your major, but find yourself mehhhhhhh about some of the aspects of the practice of law, with your background, you might look into becoming a patent agent. It's IP law, and it would use your biomedical engineering background to a 23940823498x greater degree than being an IP lawyer.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:11 PM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

you might look into becoming a patent agent. It's IP law, and it would use your biomedical engineering background to a 23940823498x greater degree than being an IP lawyer.

You'd also make 23940823498x more money (well, ok, maybe not THAT much more, but lots more) than being a general practice lawyer.

My guess is as long as you're in the 160s or 170s on your LSAT you will be fine and get into a very respectable school.

I know of lawyers running around my state with felonies on their records. Your prior arrest is trivial. Don't worry!
posted by falconred at 10:19 PM on May 26, 2009

Regarding joyce's last paragraph, the patent field is more or less divided into two groups: prosecutors and litigators. Plenty of lawyers become full-time prosecutors - ie, you draft patents and try to convince the patent office to grant `em. I can't imagine that the life of a patent lawyer is all that different from a (non-lawyer) patent agent except that you have a law degree, can charge more, and are probably regarded as being more of an expert (at least on the legal side of things).

Other folks (including the few of us who have tried to make it in this area without science or engineering degrees, because you can't take the patent bar without one) become litigators. Some people do both. With your engineering degree, you'd have all options open to you, though depending on the sort of firm you wind up at, you might be steered toward prosecution because of the degree.

I agree with everything else joyce said. Study your ass off for the LSATs. No matter how high you score on your first practice test (which you should take without studying anything first), aim higher. Don't worry about a law school's IP curriculum unless you are choosing between equally ranked schools which are giving you equal scholarship offers - I can't imagine an employer caring about this, as long as you take patent law (which every school will offer).

When I was studying for the bar (New York, said to be one of the very hardest, and I'm sure it is), I calculated that the passage rate for first-time, native English speakers who attended ABA-accredited law schools was over 90%. In other words, it's just as joyce said - the numbers get driven down by folks who are probably in a different boat than you are. So, don't even think about the bar, or schools which "teach to the bar." If you can get through law school, you can pass the bar. It's sucky, it's horrible, in fact it's the worst thing I ever voluntarily did to myself, but you'll pass.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:28 PM on May 26, 2009

And yeah, as falconred said, don't sweat the arrest. You probably want to err on the side of disclosing it on your apps if you aren't sure (do they even ask questions like this?), but unless you are applying to Liberty University School of Law, I can't imagine any school dinging you because of something like that.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:31 PM on May 26, 2009

I had a 2.9 in political science from a university not known for rigorous social science/humanities programs. My LSAT, good but not 175 good, got me wait listed at a couple top 25 schools (but not top 14 or whatever the super elite is considered) and plucked off the list at one of them just before classes started.

The Advice when I was applying was to go to the highest ranked school you could get in to, as your increased earning potential would alleviate any extra debt incurred turning down the scholarships at "lessor" schools. However sound that may have been five or six years ago, I agree with Conrad C o'D o'D above. If Harvard, Yale, and any of the other very top schools will have you, go. If the choice is between paying full fare at a 20-something school and going for cheap or free at a second or third tier in a desirable (to you) market, take the money, learn the law, and build your career on your own terms.

Have a look at the WSJ law blog archives for discussion on associate salaries at the top firms. They aren't predicted to stay at the current astronomical rates, and once the first domino falls.... At the same time, you've got tons of new college grads and young professionals looking for someplace to wait out the current downturn by ducking into law school. joyceanmachine makes a good argument re looking in to patent agent work.

Disclose the MIP. It won't hurt you.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:06 PM on May 26, 2009

Unless you are very sure you don't want to pursue the highest levels of law practice (Big Law firms, federal government work), you need to crush the LSAT and make it into one of the top schools. This is something that you should think very hard about before you start school - once you start at a top law school, you're not going to be able to get out of the field quickly if you decide you don't like it, given the astronomical cost of tuition at the top schools. Deciding where to go based on how much scholarship the schools give you is fine if you just want to be a patent prosecutor, but if you have real, long-term ambitions of doing Big Things in the law, you'd be making things much harder on yourself for what is, over the long run, not that much money.
posted by sinfony at 11:09 PM on May 26, 2009

Here's the thing. Unless you're at one of a very, very few highest tier schools or a lowest tier schools, what matters is not where you went but how well you did there. Law firms look at the following on resumes: class rank/percentile and whether you're on law review. Tied for a very distant third are whether you were on a moot court team and what school you went to. In most cases they just look at the rank/percentile because if it isn't up to snuff they just throw the rest of the application out.

Where you could go all depends on your LSAT score and what you consider 'top tier.' Strictly going by the US News rankings, you'd stand a good chance of getting into, say, Washington University in St. Louis if you scored about a 168 or higher. In my opinion, though, a top tier school is one that enables its graduates to basically write their own ticket. That's really only true of (some) of the Ivies plus Stanford and the University of Chicago, again, in my opinion. It's definitely not true of Wash U, where you'll only get a law firm job if you're in the top third of the class and most likely only if you're in the top quarter.

So, my advice is to study like mad for the LSAT, including investing in a prep course. Then, see what schools offer you or are extremely likely to offer you either a full scholarship or something close to it. Then, pick the one that you will do very well at. This may mean picking the worst school that offered you a good scholarship, so long as that school still has a few shreds of respectability. Remember, you don't just need to get into a school: you need to be better than the majority of your classmates, preferably better than the vast majority.

In general, undergraduate GPA is a pretty good predictor of law school GPA, whereas the LSAT is not. If you got a 3.1 at Duke, you will probably not do well enough in law school to get a law firm job straight out of school, which probably means working for the patent office for a few years. If you're able to dramatically change your study habits and work ethic, you just might pull it off, though.

In the final analysis, I'd say law school is a mug's game for all but the very brightest, hardest working students, especially those that can also work a room at a recruitment or networking event. Not counting students that are well-connected from the start, of course. In all likelihood you'd be better of being an engineer.
posted by jedicus at 6:14 AM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

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