Why Now Might be the Perfect Time to Go to Law School

Nathan FoxThink you want to be a lawyer? There’s no avoiding the consensus decision that you’re probably making a bad choice. But is that really true? Nathan Fox, LSAT guru and non-practicing lawyer, is here to argue that now might actually be the perfect time to apply!

Welcome back, Nathan.

Is Law School a Reasonable Investment?

Considering law school? Congratulations! I’m sure your mom is thrilled. But before you get too caught up in the excitement, let’s talk a little bit about the investment you’re making. By the time you add up tuition, books, and living expenses for three years, this venture is going to run you about 150 grand. (Or more. I graduated from UC Hastings with $160,000 in debt, even though I worked all the way through school.)

Remember that you are going to be on the hook for those student loans. Not your mom.

So, as excited as mom may be, you need to think deeply about this decision before diving in.

Indulge me a brief thought experiment. Let’s imagine you had $150,000 to invest. Or, more realistically, let’s imagine you were going to borrow $150,000 and invest it. (That’s what you’re doing when you go to law school.) But let’s pretend you weren’t going to law school. Let’s pretend you were going to invest in something else.

You have two choices:

Investment #1

Shitter, Inc. (SHTR) is a high-flying social media company that allows you to instantly post your thoughts, whereabouts, choice of entree, and current digestive status online for the world to see. It’s all the rage on the news, and it seems like everyone’s obsessed with following and being followed. Nobody’s sure how the company will make money, but everybody’s sure they will. SHTR is the hot initial public offering of the season, and even Grandma plans to put a slice of her retirement savings into this can’t-miss investment. Simply put, everyone agrees that SHTR is the shit.

Can't miss investment

Investment #2

Peruvian Flute Bands LLC (PERU) is a low-tech alliance of local entertainers that play crappy music at local malls and tourist attractions. Nobody seems to like them, but their costs are very low. Somehow, each band sells enough CDs that they walk away with a couple hundred bucks a day. Nobody likes them, yet they’re constantly expanding.

Mall Band

(I’m going to get back to law school in a minute, I swear to God. Bear with me for just another minute.)

You’ve got two choices, and you have to dump the entire (borrowed) $150,000 into one company or the other. So which is it going to be? The “can’t-miss” tech titan that everyone loves and looks poised to take over the world? Or the annoying ragtag band of entertainers that everyone hates, yet somehow makes bank?

Most people would choose SHTR, but that’s exactly why a wise investor would probably choose PERU. A quote from one of my heroes, Warren Buffett:

“Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.”

The basic concept is this: If everyone agrees that an investment is a great idea, then there are no more buyers left in the market and the investment is probably poised to take a fall. Conversely, if everyone agrees than an investment sucks, then there are no sellers left in the market, and the investment is probably ripe to make big gains.

Buffett doesn’t care about keeping up appearances, and he’ll pick substance over style ever time. He’s looking for value… he wants to buy low and sell high.

One way to find bargains is to look where nobody else is looking.

If the choices are PERU (a profitable company that nobody’s excited about) and SHTR (an unprofitable company that everyone, even Grandma, wants a piece of), Warren would choose PERU every time. This is known as contrarianism.

The Perfect Time to Apply to Law School?

OK, now let’s get back to the law school decision. Over the past few years, and especially this year, it’s become highly in vogue to badmouth law school. (If this comes as a surprise to you, click herehere, or here.) Law school applications have been in dramatic decline for the past few years, with no end to the slide in sight.

And this is exactly why now might be the perfect time to apply.

Last week, I was at the UC Berkeley Legal Studies department, and I saw this incredible table:

In 2004, there were 319 Berkeley grads who applied to law school. In 2012, there were only 103! New graduates are running, as fast as possible, away from law school.

Should you follow the herd? You should, if you don’t really want to be a lawyer. But if you really do want to be a lawyer, there is no better time. Be greedy when others are fearful.

Sorry for the crappy photograph, but look down that table a few more lines:

IMG_1265

1) Acceptance rate is up, from 79% to 85%.

2) Average LSAT score for accepted candidates is down, from 165 to 160.

3) Average GPA for accepted candidates is down, from 3.66 to 3.49

This table doesn’t include data on scholarships, but anecdotal evidence from my students who applied last cycle is that it’s become very easy to get scholarship money, and it’s also become easier to get into great schools. Schools are desperately competing for a shrinking pool of applicants, and they’ve been forced to lower their standards as they do so. It’s a buyer’s market for JDs.

Last cycle, I had:

  • One student take the LSAT for his second time, score a 168 (disappointing for him… his practice tests were higher) and be admitted to Harvard.
  • Another student take the LSAT for her third time, score a 169 (also disappointing) and be admitted to Stanford.
  • Several students get full- or near-full scholarship offers to schools across the country with LSAT scores in the 150s.

Of course, you shouldn’t buy just because it’s a buyer’s market. (Don’t load up on dog turds just because they’re on sale.)

Do not go to law school on a whim.

If you don’t know any lawyers, or if you do know lawyers but think you’d kill yourself doing what they do, then don’t go to law school. And as I’ve written on this site before, I especially don’t think you should go to law school just because you’re good at the LSAT.

I spend a lot of time trying to talk people out of law school; I figure if I can talk you out of it, then you weren’t meant to go in the first place. (Note from Alison: I totally agree!)

However, some of you are meant to be lawyers. If you do know lawyers and you do want to do what they do every day, then law school is the only way to get there. In recent history, there’s been no better time to go.

— – —
Thanks, Nathan!

Nathan Fox is the founder of Fox LSAT Prep in San Francisco. You can learn more about Fox LSAT Prep here. Nathan is also the author of Cheating the LSAT and four other LSAT books.

He has an irreverent LSAT blog, and an even more irreverent online LSAT class. (First 15 hours:  FREE!) You can find Nathan on Shitter, er, Twitter, @nfox. You could also just call him, 415-518-0630, or email him, fox.edit@gmail.com. Seriously. He’s an LSAT nerd, and he’d love the opportunity to help.

Read On:

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Image credits: rising stocks and awesome band.

Think Nathan is totally wrong? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


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Comments

  1. This post is awesome. Thanks for the kind of encouragement. I’ve been thinking a lot about law school recently and if I should invest all my time and money that I don’t have (take out the loans). If I didn’t go to law school I don’t know what I would do with my life. Its what I want to do more than anything else and I can’t really see me doing anything else for my life. Its hard to make the decision to take on the debt, move away from my fiance and family, and struggle the next three years for what most people have told me I’ll never find a job. Recently my internship boss sat me down however and showed me something, she said that law school will try and push you into big law but the real need is going to be in the courts and small bar associations. She pulled out the composite of our local county bar and counted out of the 40 lawyers and judges only 6 were under the age of 40. In a few years these older bar members are going to be retiring and these small counties are going to be in need of lawyers as the current lawyers move into judge positions. I just want to pass on encouragement that if you want to be a lawyer and want to go to law school not to let ney sayers get in the way.

    • There is actually predicted to be a need for rural lawyers, so if you’re open to that it can be a good option! Many rural solos will be looking to sell their practices, too, and some of them are apparently willing to train a replacement for a few years, which seems kind of ideal, if you’re into that type of lifestyle. Here’s an article on the topic, which makes the point that you still have to be careful about your debt load, since rural salaries tend to be lower.

      But it’s definitely an interesting option, if you’re not a city person!

  2. Shelby VanHoose says:

    I like the words of encouragement! I too did not receive a high LSAT score, although not anywhere near the 168 mentioned in the post. I am worried about applying with my lower school but have decided that I must try even if I do not get in. Being a lawyer is one of the things I feel very strongly about and have a passion for. Giving up is not an option, although sometimes it is tempting. Thank you for the post and the hopefulness of getting into a law school!

  3. http://www.law.berkeley.edu/37.htm says the median LSAT is 167, and the 25th percentile is 166.

    I’m not sure how a mean of 160 would be reached with those numbers.

  4. Hey Ryan, the 160 on the photograph is the average LSAT for Berkeley undergrads who applied and were accepted to law schools across the country in 2012, not the average accepted LSAT for Boalt, which obviously would be much higher. Hope that makes it make sense!

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