Juris Doctorate (law school)

Law School Grades versus the Grade of Your Law School, Which is More Important?

As a prospective student, one of the hardest choices you have to make is which law school you will choose for enrollment.  While you naturally want to make sure the school you choose has the faculty and course selections you are looking for, how are you going to choose amongst the schools that meet those criteria?  The instinctive choice, one would think, would be to choose the school with a higher ranking.  Higher rankings open more doors, right?  And if “C’s get degrees,” what need is there to worry about taking  a hit to your GPA if it means you get a degree from one of the top schools in the country?

Not so, say two law professors. UCLA law professor Richard Sander and Brooklyn law professor Jane Yakowitz argue that the “eliteness” of your degree doesn’t matter as much as your GPA. When it comes to predicting career success, they say, it’s all about the grades.  So, while C’s may get degrees, it’s the A’s that get what pays, if you will.  My first reaction to this, not being part of an elite law school myself, was: “Excellent!”


Choose your law school by the height and quality of its towering spires. 

My second thought was: “Wait … what?”

But before I can get to the major problem this study leaves untouched, for the uninitiated let me provide a quick bit about law school grading– which is vastly different than anything you experienced in your undergraduate studies.


(1): Nobody Fails Law School

Seriously.  Of course, like JET, every law school’s grading situation is ESID.  But, even with bare minimum effort, at law school you are guaranteed a C average.  Once you are in, it would take a far more concerted effort to fail — requiring you to get things blatantly incorrect on exams and plagiarize your papers to truly fail out of law school.

(2): Most Law Students Don’t Have an A-Average

Unlike your undergraduate years, a well-concerted effort in law school is no guarantee of an A. The undergraduate system rightly rewards hard work: put forth the effort and show mastery of the material and you will get an A, if your understanding is a little off, you might hope for a B. Law school, however, grades on a curve.  This is assuming your law school even has grades, but again, ESID on that. Most law schools set a curve where a few number of people walk away with A/A-, a glut of people walk away in the B range, and a few unfortunate souls get a C.  If you do walk away with a C, there is a slight chance that your grade may actually go up, retroactively, with inflation, but that’s a risky strategy not worth banking on. Moreover, because the whole system is curved, the law school grades aren’t a measure of competence or material mastery, but a competitive comparison of where you stack up against your classmates.

Add to that the fact that most people at any given law school are within the same LSAT range, and that means that if you go to a law school within you LSAT range score, you are competing against a couple hundred clones of yourself for a very finite number of As.

(3): Most Employers Know Both (1) and (2)

And hire accordingly.  Of course, one C on a transcript can easily be explained as an outlier and dismissed if the rest of your transcript shines accordingly– but a host of  C’s on a law school transcript will likely raise a red flag to potential employers.

But really, do grades outweigh eliteness?  Is it really advisable to take that lower ranked law school instead of that shiny Harvard or Yale law degree?

It seems that the study runs a great risk of being misunderstood.  Perhaps there is a correlation between GPA and the amount law graduates end up earning in the long run (which is what the study maintains), but the study doesn’t speak to your actual job prospects in the lower ranking schools as opposed to the elite schools.  The ability to earn more money with a great GPA from a lower ranked school is meaningless if you don’t have a starting salary to develop that from.

Certain employers, moreover, knowingly discriminate by eliteness of school. If you’re an Ohio State law student, for example, you can pretty much count out a Supreme Court clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Scalia.

My point is simple: a higher GPA at a lower ranked school might net you more money at some point, but it’s still the elite named law school degree that will open doors.  And, in an economy where the doors to the legal profession are few and narrow, the edge of eliteness cannot really be understated.  Of course, in an era where even the elite law students are begging for work on Craigslist, my guess is as probably good (or bad) as any.

Resume Advice from the Top 14


So far, so good.

A legal education is, in the end, a ranking obsessed education.  Are you in a Top 14 school or aren’t you?  Are you on the main journal or some secondary topic law journal?  Are you in the top 10% of your class or not?  I could go on and on.  It’s not fun, and most students don’t like it, but it is the unfortunate way of life in legal education.

For some reason, the rankings Gods have decided to loan hallowed status to the Top 14 ranked schools in the nation.  Why fourteen?  Nobody knows.  What everyone does know is that it must really piss school School #15 off.

With On-Campus interviews looming — it’s time to see what the Top Fourteen law schools have out there for resume enhancement:

(1) Yale Law School has its breakdown of resume writing, albeit aimed at alumni, here.

(2) Harvard Law has a page covering resumes, cover letters, interviews, and more: here.

(3) Stanford has a long .pdf file on resume writing here.

(4) Columbia gets it done in three paragraphs, here.

(5), (6) University of Chicago only offers resume advice to prospective students, and NYU offers more than a few resumes for legal academic careers.  Fueling the Law School Tuition Bubble a bit, perhaps?

(7) UC Berkeley doesn’t have their resume tips out for the public eye.

(8) University of Pennsylvania has some sample resumes and writing tips up for grabs.  (Note: The writing tips never loaded properly for me either).

(9) University of Michigan has it’s sample resumes right long with its sample everything else.

(10) University of Virginia’s public resume samples are aimed at those seeking public service.

(11) Duke offers some straightforward advice here.

(12) Northwestern’s resume guide is off limits to non-students / non-alums.

(13) Cornell has an example third-year law student resume on display.

(14) Georgetown has its resume pointers here.

Law School and Lawyer Population Density

One of the most important, if not the most important decision in choosing law school, is choosing where to go.  This includes not only which law school, but also which state you want to go to, and possibly the state in which you’re going to want to sit for the bar.

This site, also prepared by a former JET, breaks all that down in great detail — not only which states have the most number of law schools / state, but which ones should be overpopulated, if not overrun by, lawyers.

See The Charge of the Juris Doctor Brigade, available here.

Legal Interviewing: Aim to Talk 80% of the Time

A recent ABA Journal printed the advice of a legal recruiter out of New Jersey, remarking that the law student sitting in for an on-campus interview should seek to speak for approximately 80% of the time.  The rest of the article gives fairly common interview advice (research the firm you are interviewing for, have all of your materials with you including resume, transcript, and writing sample).  The “80/20 Rule” may not be set in stone, but I think is a factor for something else: to make yourself memorable (in a good way) during the interview.  And you definitely cannot do that if you don’t contribute enough.

The article is available here.

Networking: Creative Approaches

JET is a rewarding experience for a number of reasons– it exposes you to culture and language beyond your own.  It teaches you adaptability.  It teaches you how to deal with being completely unaware of the nuances of the situation around you and yet still able to navigate around it.  What it doesn’t do however, is help your personal network.  And, the longer you’re on JET, the more damage it potentially does.  In the meantime, your future law school classmates are networking and meeting with the people who will be vital in helping them find legal employment.  I was on JET for three years  — and by the time I left Japan many of my U.S. contacts had gone cold and my network consisted almost exclusively of fellow JETs, rice farmers, and ramen chefs.

This wasn’t the strongest foundation upon which to build a legal career or mount a legal job search in economically tough times.  If you’re going to be doing law school right after JET, I am confident you will have the adaptability and the thick skin to handle the rigors of law school.  Where you’ll need to play catch up with the rest of your class is in expanding your network.

You’ll also have to do most of this work on your own.  Law school does little to develop your personal networking skills, especially if you’re looking to play yourself into the Japanese market.  It offers some opportunities, but aside from Career Counselors telling you: “Go out and network,” the actual advising you can take from them is near nil.  I remember sitting down with Career Services to discuss local Japanese businesses that might take interns in-house.  I got names of two major companies in the area, and that was all.  No contact information, no names, addresses, or alumni.  All I got from the CSO was just a cursory “Try here, and here.”  Better than nothing, but certainly not enough to even have a starting place to really expand my network, let alone seek some kind of employment.

But then I saw something that gave me an idea.  Back in February I came across this interesting article, that documented the blatant networking failure of a job-searching third year law student.  Not only was his cover letter over the top, but the law firm he thought he had contacted turned out not to be a law firm at all, but an IT consulting firm.  A chain of bitter, snarky emails later, the third year walks away with nothing, embarrassed by the experience.  The whole thing is worth a read, but this language from the consulting firm from the tail end of their interaction is particularly pertinent:

So now, stop and think: what if, instead of the reply you wrote below, you had said, “Sorry for the misunderstanding—but since you clearly work with lawyers, can you think of any who might be interested in hiring me?” That could have led to a few exchanges between us as to what areas of law interest you the most, and that would have probably led to me either giving you some specific contacts at specific law firms (probably pre-vetted by me) or, better yet, having me forward your e-mail on to those specific contacts.

There are three lessons I took away from this episode:

(1) Make sure you know where your cover letters and resumes are going;

(2) If you get an email back that is not the glowing response you expected, don’t get snarky even if you want to and they deserve it; and

(3) Most importantly, think about networking outside of just contacting lawyers.

It took me awhile to come up with #3, but once it hit me that if that third year student had handled his mistake differently, he could have walked away with names, contact information, and maybe job prospects, I thought I’d give it a try. I did a Google search of: accounting, Japanese business, and the area I live in, and came up with a number of hits.  Amongst the hits included an accounting firm that claimed to do quite a lot of accounting business with Japanese companies in the area. I sent out a short, inquisitive email expecting nothing, or at most an “I’m not a lawyer, go away.”


Creative networking looks just like this.

I got much more than that. After a short email exchange, an accountant and I agreed to meet after he finished tax season and I finished final exams. After meeting last week for lunch, I walked away with a new great contact and a master list of the literally 180 Japanese businesses in the area, complete with addresses and contact information.

Long story short: Networking outside of attorney channels can work for you, if you do it right.

Law School as an Investment

While the following article makes an interesting analogy to the law school investment as a Rule 10b-5 securities violation, this article is just as important to prospective students because it has all of the numbers of the current legal employment market, including: the number of graduating law students landing jobs, starting salaries, and the number of firms hiring out there to help make an informed decision on whether or not the trials, tribulations, and tremendous cost of law school are worthwhile.  Definitely worth a look.

The article can be found at AdamSmithEsq.com

Prospectives, “You may want to reconsider.”

A newly published article out of the American Bar Association features ABA Chariman for the commission studying the impact of the economic downturn on the legal profession entreating potential law students to think twice before going after a law degree.

ABA Journal article found here.

Full WSJ article found here.

A Bit On the LSAT

This isn’t really a “How to Get Into Law School” Site, there are certainly plenty of those out there.

My LSAT pointers are fairly simple:

1) Study early, study often.  I knew when I was renewing for my third year of JET that, after my third year, I wanted to go to law school.  On the same day I renewed for my third year, I purchased and LSAT study book on Amazon, got onto LSAC – and figured out the registration deadlines and dates for the June LSAT.

2) Negotiate the time off with your boss so you can take the test – keep an eye on your available nenkyuu.

TempleUJapan.jpg3) There is currently one LSAT location in Japan.  I was under the impression when I started this post that there were two: one in Okinawa and one in Tokyo (Kawasaki-shi).  According to LSAC, the current testing location for Japan is at Temple University’s Tokyo Campus.

4) Depending on the amount of nenkyuu you have, I’d suggest getting to Tokyo at least one day early for the test, if not two, and making sure you give yourself time to go through a practice test while there, before you head in to take the real deal.

5) Take the LSAT seriously.  It’s going to determine both the schools that are open to you, as well as the potential amount of scholarship money you’ll be eligible for.  At the end of the day, it is just a test – but it’s a serious test, with serious implications.  My first LSAT was during my senior year of undergrad.  I studied poorly, I didn’t sleep well the night before, and I didn’t perform to my expectations.  I took the LSAT again, three years later, while on JET.  I studied hard, made a real effort to understand the problems, the test taking strategy, and to think out my plans for getting down to Tokyo/getting to the test site well ahead of time.  My LSAT score actually went up by 10 points.

As an aside, outfits like Kaplan do offer LSAT classes in Japan, but if you were in uber-Inaka Tohoku like I was, chances are these courses will be nothing more than an impractical tease.

There are plenty of potential law students willing to offer LSAT advice, though, and just a cursory Google search should produce all the guidance you’ve ever wanted to hear about taking the LSAT, whether from law school forums or from self-proclaimed LSAT gurus offering pointers over YouTube.

Here’s just a taste:

Top Law Schools Forum

NALP Conference: Resume Advice

It’s finals time now, so things are going to be slow here for the next couple of weeks. Last week, however, was the NALP Conference in Puerto Rico– and Above the Law produced the following summary of legal resume advice that’s worth reading through.

Of particular concern to former JETs should be the tidbits about overall resume length and the weight your language ability will ultimately have on your resume. At the end of the day, it may make aiming for that 1kyuu (or N1, as it’s called now) or JETRO exam certification worth it.

Social Networking and the Legal Market: Sites

The internet is amazing.  The same thing that ten years ago brought us an obnoxious site of dancing hamster .gifs now places everything, from free academic lectures to dioramas made of Peeps, in immediate access to anyone who can find a computer.  What could be freer than that?

But the free range information consumption that is the internet is a double-edged sword.  For anyone looking to enter a tight and competitive employment market, especially one that requires the applicant to project maturity and professionalism, the Internet is as much jolly good fun as it is Big Brother.  Employers actively data-mine social networking sites and anywhere else on the internet in search of anything that might mark you off their short-list of interviewees.  The internet doesn’t remember your grades or contributions to your community.  It does remember that time you got drunk and had someone stick a gun to your head, though.  Or that time you somehow ended up putting on make-up and dressing as Tinkerbell.  And the Internet doesn’t care if you’re law student or a judge — if the dirt is out there, it’s out there for life.

And that’s really only a sliver of how social networking is changing the search for legal employment, the attorney-client relationship, and the entirety of the professional legal environment.

Fortunately, The LinkedInLawyer is following all these trends.

See also, Social Media Law Student.