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mirifique's avatar

What's the verdict on attending a third-tier law school?

Asked by mirifique (1511 points ) May 26th, 2009

The conventional wisdom 2–3 years ago (e.g., the Wall Street Journal law blog, various blogs, advice from law students, etc.) appeared to be that if you went a to third tier law school, you’d need to dramatically lower your expectations in terms of starting salary (i.e., get comfortable with $(40—)50–60k instead of $90–100k) and job prospects (i.e., rely more on networking through clerkships than on-campus recruiters; take temporary contract review jobs for a while). A year ago, as “BigLaw” firms started to lay off thousands of associates, conventional wisdom seemed to hold that if you have any other career prospects, you should look to those before turning to law school. This question aims to gather conventional wisdom and speculation from law applicants, students, and graduates alike, specifically as such wisdom and speculation pertains to the general (acknowledging that one’s prospects will vary according to grades, connections, etc.) career prospects of a third-tier law school graduate. I’m also interested in how current law school applicants and students are taking the current economic situation into consideration and what their decision-making process is like, as well as how and what recent law grads are doing job-wise right now.

For a bit of background, I am several years out of college, highly interested in the law and legal practice having worked as a paralegal, and am re-considering law school once again after a long bout of worrying the debt accumulation would worsen my life forever. For those who wonder if I actually want to be an attorney, I can see myself feeling intelligent, productive, and stimulated (“happy” seems too simple as a descriptor) as an attorney. At this point I am considering attending a 3rd tier school night program so as to lessen the overall debt load by 1/3.

I’m hoping for thoughtful, fact-based, reasoned answers regarding this extremely life-altering decision from anyone with current and direct experience or knowledge, rather than emotional or panicked outbursts/rants which I have found on other websites and blogs in response to this question.

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10 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

I can tell you that from what little I hear (personal anecdote, not a broad-based survey), the outlook is pretty grim for this year’s crop of law school grads, at least in the short term. Many firms are not even acknowledging applications. Many have laid people off, and some have closed. People who are getting hired or even just getting interviews are mostly those who have connections and are using them.

Field of specialty might make a difference. A school could be third-tier overall and yet be highly rated for a given specialty. Have you chosen one?

ronfox's avatar

If you really want to be a lawyer, I recommend you go to a law school that does not cost much (aren’t tiers based on the USNews which is bogus since it does not rank law schools based on whcih law sschools best prepare you for the practice of law) rely on work with private attorneys to teach you how to practice law and market and promote yourself to those in Small Firms and Solos who practice in your chosen area.

I also suggest you read these two articles Overcomings Law School’s Defects http://www.ronaldwfox.com/lawyer-attorney-1391386.html and A Must Read if You are Considering or Planning to go to law school http://www.lawyersatisfactionblog.com/prelaw-advice/

All that is important is that you make an informed decision.

f4a's avatar

what does “third-tier” law school mean? im sorry if im not answering your question… got curious though. thats why i asked.

GMO's avatar

third tier refers to the ranking system as dictated by US News & World Report, which holds weight within the legal community. that said, i would be very cautious in attending a 3rd tier school. as jeruba mentioned you may have an advantage based on your specialty—like tax, bankruptcy, and patent prosecution is still hiring—but if you care to be a general practitioner or commercial litigator—1st preference will be given to experienced Tier 1 grades down the line to law students. thus, you will be quite low on the totem pole.

also, i can value your desire in wanting to pursue a legal career. yet, many enthusiasts often do not know what it entails. do your homework, lawyers are one of the most depressed and professionally unhappy group out there.

ronfox's avatar

While the evidence is anecdotal, it seems that the most unhappy lawyers are precisely those who were in Tier 1 who were “preferred” by large law firms. As Groucho Marx might have said, why would you want to go to a place that erroneously thinks you have little to offer.

Those preference rules don’t apply if you want to work with a few lawyers in a firm of 5 or less lawyers. They want to know whether you are prepared to practice and whether you have a commitment to what they do.

Preference has NO applicability if you want to start your own practice, does it?

So, again, the key is not to worry about irrelevant “Tier” stuff. Go to any law school and devote three years working for a variety of lawyers in a range of settings, learn to practice law in the area that appeals to you, do what you have to do to graduate from the law school and pass the bar, and get out and enjoy life as professional, which means having autonomy, being skilled in a trade and getting satisfaction helping folks who need your help.

kimigen's avatar

I graduate from law school a year ago, passed the bar, and just found a job this week. There is a great deal to be said about going law school today and how the legal field is changing for us new grads.

First of all, if you go to a tier three school you do need to lower your salary expectation. Of course there are the exceptions, the students who end up with the big firm big money jobs, but the rule tends to hold true that a lower tier equals a lower salary…at first. Over the years the pay scale may even out more.

Also, lower ranked schools do tend to be less connected to their alumni than say NYU, who has a 100% employment rate. This means that you will likely be doing a lot of the job hunting on your own.

However, the benefits to a lower ranked school exist. I think schools that are not first tier tend to be more innovative since they are trying to increase their ranking. The are constantly trying to do more and do it better. It can be an exciting environment to learn in. Also,he students are different than at a tier 1 or even tier 2 school. The lower tiers, from my experience, have more students who are the first lawyers in their families. There is less of a legacy of entitlement and more students just trying to make something more of their lives for their communities and families.

As far as cost goes, that is something you have to figure out on your own. I didn’t know anything when I went to law school. I had no concept of student debt. Today I have a shitload of debt but I also love what I do. Was it worth it? I think so.

Best of luck! And remember, supplements are just that, they do not replace doing your homework!

kimigen's avatar

Oh and two more things. One, if you can get into a tier one or two, go there.

Two, the jobs future for grads is changing. Lots of firms are closing their doors and laying off associates but there is a lot contract work out there too. I think in three or four years most new grads will start out being independent contractors.

shila's avatar

I WENT TO A 4TH TIER LAW SCHOOL AND I MAKE $ 113,000 A YR AT 36 YRS OLD. This is all nonsense, really. My family is full of engineers, doctors, professors, etc, all professional and super smart for generations. Little lawyers but my aunt was a millionaire attorney in the Carribean. What matters is how well you get along with people and how hard you work for clients. Also being aggressive really helps. My school really prepared me for the practice of law, I find that I am more well rounded and social than attorneys in the higher tier schools.

Additionally, I graduated with honors from a top tier undergraduate school. So I am just a really really bad standardized test taker. The LSAT gave me a headache, with the multiple choice and games. Arggg , I hated that exam. So naturally I did not do well. But I have a ton of clients and I can talk and persuade folks. Multiple choice exams always trick me but I know my work and the law.

Several of my classmates at my 4th tier law school had mothers and fathers who were attorneys, and one had a mom who was a judge.

Utah_Accident_Attorney's avatar

Having attended a third-tier law school, McGeorge School of Law, I can tell you that once you get in with a firm, get some experience and make a name for yourself, it really doesn’t matter where you went to law school. Of course, you won’t make as much money in the beginning. It’s funny, but I don’t even know where most of my colleagues went to school. I do know who has done well for themselves in the legal community.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

If you love the law then you are not going to be happy doing anything else. Get your law degree with as little resulting debt as you can. In my home town, which is the largest city in the state, there is a private law school that is not associated with a college or university and has evening classes. It is considered a tougher road than any of the university-associated law schools. In this city the most successful attorneys and many of the judges attended this law school. The tuition is extremely low. When you get out of school, if you aren’t offered and accept an associate position in a firm you can take appointed cases in criminal and family courts. You become known by the judges and other attorneys and eventually can succeed in a solo shop or you’ll find another attorney to partner with. The important thing is that you know what you want to do. Do you know how uncommon that is? Go for it. Yes, big firms are trimming down their numbers of associates, but the amount of legal work is not going down.

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