This article is going to be chock-full of tough love. It may be controversial, and some of you will disagree, but this needs to be said.
Sometimes when I mention to people that I’m going to law school, I get a lot of congratulations and “Wow, you must be really smart!” I think a lot of people conflate law school admissions with medical school and other grad school admissions. In the U.S., getting into any medical school is a great feat, and one that warrants celebration. Regarding law school, the truth is there are plenty of schools out there that are more than willing to take your money. A lot of these schools are predatory in nature, as they do not have your best interests in mind.
You probably hear a lot about the importance of law school rankings. While rankings should not be the be-all and end-all of your law school choice, they do give you an indication of the caliber of the school. Pay closer attention to unranked schools and schools ranked 100 higher to make sure you are making a wise investment.
Bar passage and employment rates
When considering a law school, you want to pick a school with high bar passage rates and good employment outcomes. You may be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to this school! You want to make sure you will get your money’s worth when you graduate.
Arizona Summit Law School is an unranked school. Only 26.5% of their students pass the bar on their first try. That is cause for concern. Another unranked school, WMU – Thomas M. Cooley School of Law has shockingly low employment rates. Out of the 352 graduates of the class of 2017, only 111 of them are working as lawyers. No one wants to shell out the money for law school to have a less than 1 in 3 chance of becoming a lawyer after graduation. Both of these schools have been in trouble with the American Bar Association in recent years, and have been at risk of losing their ABA accreditation.
Law schools are required to report their bar passage and employment rates to the ABA. You can click here to check any schools’ stats.
Congrats, you got a scholarship to law school! Sounds peachy, right? Make sure you read the fine print. A lot of law school scholarships are conditional, meaning you have to maintain a certain GPA to keep it. Say the GPA requirement is a 3.0. If you were a great student in undergrad, a 3.0 may seem easy to maintain. However, law school is a whole other ballgame, and a lot of schools purposely rig the grading system so that many of their students will lose their scholarships after the first year. Yikes!
Scholarship retention rates are an ABA-required disclosure, so you can check to see what percentage of students actually keep their scholarships. Also, talk to the school! You may be able to negotiate away the conditions of your scholarship.
The numbers don’t lie
Perhaps you know a middle-aged attorney who went to an unranked school and is doing great! She’s the managing partner of a firm and drives a Lexus. You want her life! If she had success going to an unranked school, you can too!
It’s important to keep in mind that older attorneys’ experiences will likely not be your experience. There was a huge boom in the demand for lawyers in the 1980s. Recent law school grads had no problem finding high-paying jobs. However, the market has since become saturated, and it is a lot harder for freshly-minted lawyers to get jobs. Therefore, put more stock in a school’s current statistics, as opposed to individuals’ anecdotal experiences.
Law school is a huge investment, so choose wisely. I want all law school applicants to go into this process with their eyes open. Don’t let yourself get scammed out of $200,000.