Don’t Go to Law School Just Because You’re Good at the LSAT

Nathan FoxSince LSAT scores were released yesterday, this seemed like a good time to check in with Nathan Fox, founder of Fox Test Prep, who went to law school for a terrible reason. Namely, a high LSAT score.

Here’s Nathan, with a cautionary tale for everyone who got (seemingly) good news yesterday.

As an expert in LSAT and law school admissions, I have a quick thought experiment for you.

Which One Should Go to Law School?

Who do you think is a better candidate for law school?

  • Student A: Graduate of San Francisco City and San Francisco State. Good grades, probably could have been better but she worked her way through school. Tests have always come hard to her. She’s worked for the last five years as a certified paralegal, and three years before that as a legal secretary. She’s passionate about the work that her firm does. Her boss would love to hire her as an associate after law school, but the LSAT looks like an almost-insurmountable obstacle. She started LSAT class with a 139, stifled some tears, and almost quit on the spot. But she stuck with it, and has worked her way up to 150 over the past eight weeks. The sections still seem impossible to finish in 35 minutes, especially the Logic Games. And the harder games and LR questions might as well be written in Portuguese. At least the easier questions are starting to make a bit more sense… she practices every morning on her train ride to work, and sneaks in a bit more practice after putting the kids to bed. Every day it becomes a tiny bit clearer, but she feels like she’s fighting an uphill battle.
  • Student B: National Merit Scholar from UC Davis. Majored in business, because he didn’t know what else to do. Then got an M.B.A. for the same reason. Résumé lists a series of jobs in a variety of industries, all of which he hated. Decided last month that maybe law would be a good next step, since school has always been easy, even if his grades have always been poor. He doesn’t know any lawyers, and he’s not sure what he wants to do with his life, but everyone says “you can do anything with a J.D.”… so even if he doesn’t decide to be a lawyer, he figures he’ll be well-positioned to do something else. Picked up an LSAT book and scored 169 on his first practice test. Everything seems simple, except maybe the Logic Games. Quickly improves on the Games, with brief practice sessions between beer-fueled Mario Kart marathons with his buddies.

I’ve taught hundreds of students in my career teaching LSAT. So who do you think I think is a better candidate for law school? Student A, with her 150 LSAT? Obviously Student B with his 165, right?

My Answer

Depends what you’re asking. If you’re asking who will get in to a better school, with less effort, then the answer is definitely Student B. But if you’re asking who should go to law school, then fuck no… I’ll take Student A every time.

Here’s why:

  • Student A isn’t going to have an easy time of it, but law isn’t for those who want it easy. At least she actually knows what lawyers do–she’s worked in the field–and she still wants to do it. She’s not going to be shocked by the workload, or bored by the topics, in law school. Sure, the LSAT is a pretty big hurdle. But she’s made it to 150, so she’s already in a range where some law school, somewhere, will accept her. And she’ll continue to improve. Nothing will stop her, since she’s genuinely passionate about her chosen career.
  • But why am I so skeptical about Student B? Well, that’s because I’m Student B.

After business school, Powerscore hired me (over the telephone) to teach GMAT classes in San Francisco. But they had more need for LSAT teachers, so they paid me to take that test as well. I needed a “99th percentile score,” which meant a 173 or 174. I prepped briefly, and it came easy to me. After half-assedly practicing the Games for a month or so, I scored 179 on the February, 2007 LSAT. Without ever meeting another human being from Powerscore, I started teaching Powerscore’s LSAT classes.

And then I made the worst financial decision of my life: I let my students talk me into attending law school.

“Nathan, you’re so good at the LSAT… you’d make an amazing lawyer!”

I wasn’t interested. Law seemed boring to me.

“But Nathan, with a 179 you’ll get in everywhere you apply… I’d kill for that score!”

True, at least it would be easy to apply.

“And Nathan, even if you don’t want to be a lawyer, it will be valuable knowledge for whatever else you want to pursue!”

So I went to law school. And, predictably, I hated every minute of it.

My 179 Experience of Law School

I was bored, literally, to tears. All of these people really want to be lawyers! They actually find this stuff interesting! OMG I really don’t want to be a lawyer. I should have dropped out, but I stuck with it.

By my second year, I was being treated for depression. My grades sucked. I rarely did the reading assignments and frequently skipped classes. In my third year, I had a class with a mandatory attendance policy. So I wrote the professor and asked for a waiver on the grounds that I didn’t get anything out of attending class. The professor was offended, but granted the waiver nonetheless. I graduated with grades slightly below the middle of my class, and I learned almost nothing along the way.

I didn’t attend my graduation, because 1) I hate graduations and 2) I wasn’t proud of my “accomplishment.” UC Hastings mailed me my diploma in a crappy cardboard sleeve. It’s still in that sleeve, in my closet. I’d mail the diploma back to them, but I doubt they’d forgive my $160,000 in law school loans.

Looking back, I was a complete sucker.

Where Did I Go Wrong?

Let’s look at the arguments for law school once again:

  1. You’re so good at the LSAT… you’d make an amazing lawyer! No, no, I wouldn’t. I would be the world’s shittiest lawyer. The LSAT tests English and logic, and I’m great at both of those. But even if those skills are necessary in order to be a good lawyer, they are by no means sufficient. Lots of other factors are at least as important. For example, lawyers tend to be superexcited nerds about the law. Law bores me. Lawyers are extremely hard workers… I’m extremely lazy. Lawyers are willing to give up everything else in life in order to pursue their careers. My priorities are 1) my fiancé, 2) golf, and 3) a tie between work and video games, with a slight edge toward the video games. I am not a lawyer.
  2. With a 179 you’ll get in everywhere you apply… I’d kill for that score! True, I got in everywhere I applied. And true, there are probably students out there that would spill blood for my 179. But since when did we decide to do things on the grounds that they’re easy? “Hey, there’s a dumpster with an open lid… It would be so easy to jump right in there. Let’s do it!” And since when did we decide to do things on the grounds that other people want to do them? “Hey, remember that douchey nightclub with terrible music? The one that made us want to kill ourselves when we got dragged there two years ago? There’s a two-hour wait to get in, but we have VIP passes. Let’s go!”
  3. Even if you don’t want to be a lawyer, it will be valuable knowledge for whatever else you want to pursue! Bullshit. You could say the same about an M.D., couldn’t you? “Even if you don’t want to be a doctor, the knowledge will be so helpful for whatever else you want to do.” Fine, but even if that’s true, it’s a stupid reason to spend 10 years and a zillion dollars. Med school is for doctors. Guess what? Law school is for lawyers. Law school is like learning a language that’s only understood by other lawyers. The skills don’t generalize to the rest of your life… it’s a super-arcane system of rules and magic words that apply only to legal practice. If you don’t want to be a lawyer, you’re wasting your time and money.

Students also ask me “but isn’t your legal knowledge helpful for your business?” Short answer: Not at all. I learned exactly two things about business in law school. 1) Avoid litigation at all costs, because everyone loses when people sue each other. And 2) If you do need a lawyer, you’re going to have to hire an expert, even if you, yourself, are a lawyer. How is that helpful? That’s exactly what I would have done before law school!

Now, I’m not saying law school isn’t right for you. But I am saying that law school wasn’t right for me, despite my 99.9th percentile LSAT score.

  • If you don’t know what lawyers do, then you need to figure that out before you go to law school.
  • And if you do know what lawyers do, and don’t want to do that, then you simply shouldn’t go, no matter how high you score on the LSAT.

You’ll probably hate it, and you’ll definitely dig yourself a huge financial hole.

Here’s a quick test: Do you know the name of a lawyer whose job and life you would love to have after graduation? If not, then you’re not ready for law school.

On the other hand, if you know exactly what kind of lawyer you want to be, and you can’t stop dreaming of it — if you can’t imagine any other life for yourself — then you should chase that dream no matter how low your current LSAT score. The LSAT is an imminently learnable test, and I’ve seen plenty of people improve their score by 20 points or more. Drop me a line at fox.edit@gmail.com, or call me at 415-518-0630, and I’ll show you how easy it can be.

Thanks, Nathan!

— – —

Nathan Fox is the owner and sole LSAT instructor at Fox Test Prep. He is the author of five top-rated LSAT books. He offers an online LSAT class, a live LSAT class in San Francisco, and private LSAT tutoring in person and via Skype.

 

Read on:

Learn more about Fox Test Prep in this interview: LSAT Prep Options: Fox Test Prep.

Or check out some other ways to figure out if law school’s right for you:

Or just go to Should You Go to Law School? for the whole enchilada.

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Comments

  1. Ha! I can relate to your post. As I was nearing the end of college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do now that I was all growed up. I always vaguely considered law, so I took the LSAT. I scored in the 99th percentile and was seduced by the idea of a top school and access to a lucrative, stable career. Well, two weeks into my first semester, I was bored out of mind. I got reckless with laziness, half hoping to flunk out. I didn’t study at all for finals–no outlining, nothing–but still did well. Damn, that meant I’d have to actually make the deliberate choice to leave. And I did. After agonizing and postponing, I finally chose to leave at the end of my first year. Some people ask me if I regret leaving, but I don’t. I only regret going in the first place! Now I’m doing what I really love–teaching–and am using my logic love on the side by tutoring the LSAT part-time. People, listen to this man! Only go to law school if you’re certain you want to be a lawyer.

  2. I am a Professor/Attorney and Author of LSAT test prep books with over fifteen years of LSAT tutoring experience. When I took the LSAT I couldn’t afford a tutor or test prep. I spent hundreds of hours pouring over the material to find patterns and a system that would work in the time given. Over the years I perfected the system that I created while studying for the test. Realizing that timing was such an important element of the test, I created a system for the timing aspect as well. Since no two students are alike, I teach my system according to your specific learning style. I assign homework nightly and teach you how to figure out the mistakes you are making and correct such mistakes. I also provide a day of the test strategy that is specific to your testing needs. I may be reached at 561-255-3850 or check out my website for more information and references from former students. http://lsattutor.webs.com/

  3. Thank you for writing this, I am 100% student A. I have worked my butt off in school and know exactly what I want in life-to be a tax attorney. I’ve worked a job (sometimes two) all through college, and now I am working part time as a corporate acountant while I finish my last year. I got a 150 on my first LSAT go around and I’m taking it again in September. I’ve been studying for months, I’d give anything to get atleast a 160. I’m not trying to get into Harvard okay? (because honestly I can’t afford it) I have a 4.0 gpa, I just hope they can see through my average LSAT score because I am terrible at this test.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post! I’m sure you’ll do well if you keep following what seems to be a genuine and well-considered passion for tax law. Do try to get into the 160s though, since that will open up a lot more doors and put you in serious contention for scholarship money. It’s a very learnable test!

  4. Facefaceface says:

    How on earth did you walk out of Hastings with over 150k in debt when you went in with a 175+ and I’m assuming something above a 2.0. That makes no sense.

    • Yeah, tell me about it! Unfortunately I had a really low uGPA; 2.6 if I’m recalling correctly. Hastings’ information sheet at the time published the LSAT and GPA ranges for the full class, and I was on there twice: Once with the highest LSAT score, and again for the lowest GPA. Unfortunately, that combo wasn’t good enough for scholarship money, at least at the time. In hindsight, I should have taken a scholarship offer from some other school.

      • So you were the proverbial – mythical super splitter . Btw great LSAT scores! Hat’s off to you dude!

        Btw, not to sound presumptuous, but what Law Schools did you apply to?

        And again hypothetical question – today can any candidate with similar GPA and LSAT combo have a chance at T20 or T30 schools? Please help…

        • I stupidly only applied to Hastings, USF, and Golden Gate because I was living in San Francisco at the time, and wanted to be able to ride my bike to work. This was an incredibly dumb way to pick a law school.

          Check the LSAC’s LSAT-GPA Calculator to play with different numbers and see what types of schools might admit you with any particular LSAT/GPA combination.

          Good luck!

Trackbacks

  1. […] instilled in me a love of tax law—far from it—but I did take two more tax classes from her. I never should have been in law school in the first place, since I never really wanted to be a lawyer. It was an unhappy time. But Professor Field made me […]

  2. […] in me a love of tax law””far from it””but I did take two more tax classes from her. I never should have been in law school in the first place, since I never really wanted to be a lawyer. It was an unhappy time. But Professor Field made me […]

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