The decision to attend law school is a big one, especially considering the debt that often accumulates during law school. The prospect of debt often leads students to ask whether they should attend a highly-ranked school that does not offer a scholarship, or a lesser-know institution that provides a full scholarship.
Today, we’re excited to welcome Ian E. Scott, who will attempt to answer this very important question.
Ian is a Harvard Law School graduate, a lawyer, and the author of Law School Lowdown: Secrets of Success from the Application Process to Landing Your First Job. (Read on for a chance to get a free copy.) Welcome, Ian!
Law School debt is one of the most significant issues that face current and prospective law students and some can select an option where they would avoid debt.
Full Ride, or Full Tuition?
For example, I have a friend that I attended Harvard Law School with who also had offers from lower ranked schools with full-ride scholarships. She ended up going to Harvard and now wonders if she made the right decision because she has over $200,000 of law school debt and ended up going to a big firm at least in part because of financial pressure.
Did she make the right decision? My first thought is that she did make the correct decision, but the correct answer really depends on what an individual is looking for.
When discussing this topic on LinkedIn, a recent law school graduate had a different view and commented”
“I was in a similar situation as your friend — I could either attend a higher ranked school, or I could go to a second-tier law school on a full scholarship. I decided on the scholarship, and looking back, it was by far the best decision.
Graduating in the top percentages of my class, with almost no law school debt, has opened up many more doors to me. I’ve found that recruiters, even at top firms, look first at my class rank and law review membership, and only secondarily at the school from which I graduated.
If anyone else is struggling with this decision, my personal recommendation is to choose the scholarship option.”
This graduate made a good point and the point is particularly valid if you do well at a lower ranked school. Like my friend who ended up going to Harvard, there are many people who accept jobs at big law firms because of their student debt and these students may have decided on something else if they did not have substantial debt.
That being said, I still lean towards the notion that my friend made the correct decision by going to Harvard and incurring debt.
What To Think About When Deciding on a School
A few things you should keep in mind when deciding:
- In my opinion, you will get a similar legal education in most schools and this opinion is based on attending both a second and first tier law school. At the end of the day the curriculums are similar and there are good and bad professors in every school. I did not note a significant difference in the instruction or the quality of education in the first and second tier schools that I attended and the students were bright at both schools.
- While the quality of education is similar in a first and second tier school, there will be a significant difference in the opportunities you will be afforded and this could impact your income potential and choices. For some though, income potential may not be important and some may just want to become lawyers. For example, when I started law school at Brooklyn Law School on a part-time basis, I did not intend to practice law full-time as I had a lucrative banking job. As such, I was not as interested in a top school. In fact, when I first applied to law school, I could have attended a part-time program in a school ranked much higher than Brooklyn but I selected Brooklyn as I liked Brooklyn’s public interest program.
- If you do seek a particular job though, rankings are important and here is an example to illustrate the difference between first and second tier schools even though I was in the top 5% at Brooklyn. When I was at Brooklyn Law School and awaiting a decision from Harvard regarding my transfer, I started the On-Campus Interview (OCI) process at Brooklyn Law School. I submitted my resume and high first year grades to Cleary Gottlieb and I was not selected for an interview. (They picked 25 people to interview and I was not one of them). Shortly after the process started at Brooklyn, I was accepted at Harvard and started their OCI process in September. Through the process at Harvard, I was granted interviews at all of the big name Wall Street firms (firms were not permitted to refuse interviews and Harvard dictated who the firms interviewed) and received 12 job offers. Most notably, I received and accepted a job offer from Cleary Gottleib who did not even select me to interview at Brooklyn Law School. In my case, the firm I worked at after law school is a direct result of going to a top tier school so for me it definitely made a difference. This of course is only relevant though if you have a desire to work in a large firm.
If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt though that the thing that is important to you is the learning process and the idea of becoming a lawyer, you may not want to shell out over $200,000 when you could get scholarships and pay nothing.
Also, if you are a top student in a second tier school, you will be afforded opportunities. The problem really occurs when you are not in the top 10 or 15 percent.
I cannot help but think though that if this profession is going to be your future, it is better to have as many opportunities available to you as you can even if this means incurring a bit of debt. You can always make more money to pay off the debt and graduating from a top school will put you in a position to be able to make lots of money.
In terms of deciding where to go to law school, I personally would not be guided by incurring debt but it is a personal choice that is really up to you.
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Thanks, Ian! Definitely a tough call, and one many people struggle with.
This summary is one of many law school admission helpful tips in the new book Law School Lowdown: Secrets of Success from the Application Process to Landing the First Job (Barron’s Publishing).
I have a limited number of copies of Ian’s book to give away. For a chance at a copy, leave a comment below telling us what offer you would choose and why. (And make sure you use your real email address so we can get in touch with you!)
More about Ian:
Ian E. Scott is a Harvard Law School graduate, a lawyer, and the author of Law School Lowdown: Secrets of Success from the Application Process to Landing Your First Job, a comprehensive law school guide that contains important tips regarding law school admission and finding a job.
Ian worked as a corporate litigator in the law firm Cleary Gottlieb and currently runs his own law firm Scott Legal Services, P.C. specializing in Immigration Law & New Business set-up. He is also author of the blog Law School Success Tips and has been published/featured by Forbes, the New York State Bar Association, Bloomberg, Barron’s, LexisNexis, Lawyerist, The Student Appeal Journal and other journals.
Looking for more advice about debt and whether you should go to law school? Check out these posts:
- Don’t Go to Law School Just Because You’re Good at the LSAT
- Struggling With Your Student Loan Debt?
- 5 Non-Obvious Ways Law School Loan Debt Will Impact Your Life
- Prelaws: 10 Things to Do While You Wait
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