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Getting into a Top Law School

LazyKidLazyKid - Posts: 758 Member
edited December 2012 in Cornell University
Hey guys. I decided to create this thread after I got some private messages from some current Cornellians, Cornell applicants, and even others from other colleges inquiring me about the procedure of law school admissions. In fact, during my stay at Cornell, I ran into a fair share of students who seemed to be quite clueless about law school admissions, not to mention the legal industry and what kind of working conditions entail practicing law as an attorney. I remember one guy who was in my stats class who was applying to law school and wanted to become a lawyer because he thought that being a lawyer was cool, after watching the show 'Boston Legal'.

I am a recent Cornell alumnus who will be heading to a top 6 law school either next year or the year after. I also interned at two of major law firms during my Cornell career as an assistant and had chances to meet a lot of lawyers and was able to see what kind of cases these lawyers worked on and what kind of working conditions they were exposed to. The most redundant question I get from others is along the like: "Will going to Cornell for undergraduate give me an edge when I apply to Harvard Law School?", or "Which college should I go in order to get into Yale or Stanford Law?" In fact, over the years, I've seen many posters on this board and people in real life pondering this exact question. Well, although I do not work for law school admissions, I know enough about the process to confirm that attending certain undergraduate institution is of very minor importance when getting into a top law school. Hence, I really wish that no body will apply/matriculate at a certain institution for the specific intent of boosting his/her chances at X/Y/Z law school. Where you go to undergrad does not matter very much at all.

I remember one poster who thought that sending her daughter to a certain top college, including Cornell, would boost her daughter's chance at Harvard or Yale Law. When I expressed my disagreement, she stated that one of the reasons she would like her daughter to attend Cornell was because a fair number of Cornell alums constituted the student body at Harvard Law School. However, one should note that: 1) students at top colleges are smarter/ more talented than others at 'average' schools, hence resulting in more numbers of students with high LSAT score, 2) students at top colleges may be more brand-conscious about academic pedigree, since they are already at top schools and they appreciate going to top academic institutions and as a result, more from top colleges apply to top law schools, 3) students at top colleges may be more inclined towards careers in law and more from top schools apply to top law schools.

Law school admissions are very heavily dependent on your LSAT score. From my observation, I would say that LSAT score is about 60%, and GPA about 35% of the game for law school admissions. I've seen many, many people (including two of my brothers) who got into top law schools with very mediocre GPA, but high LSAT score. Usually, schools such as University of Virginia, Northwestern, Georgetown, and Cornell are known to be 'splitter-friendly' law schools within T-14, which means that they tend to accept a lot of students with low GPA/ high LSAT combo. My roommate got into 3 of top 14 law schools despite having a 3.0 GPA, but he had a 172 LSAT score. My brother got into 4 of top 14 law schools with 3.1 GPA/172 LSAT. However, I've never heard of anyone who successfully got into a top law school with a high GPA/ low LSAT combo.

One advice I would give to current Cornell students pondering the possibility of law school is not to be overly concerned/consumed with the thought of getting into a top law school. Work hard, but really try to enjoy your time at college. Looking back, I think the biggest mistake one can make is to design your college experience as a stepping stone to get into X,Y,Z law school. Explore many courses that my interest you and challenge you. Do not be so overly stressed about the grades. And, make sure to hang out with friends and have as much as fun you can. Remember that you do not need to get 4.0 GPA to get into a top law school, since LSAT is far more important. And, you do not have to give up your dreams of a top law school because you happen to have a low or mediocre GPA at Cornell. Trust me, LSAT is the king of law school admissions universe. Now, granted, you won't get into Harvard/ Yale Law with 3.0 GPA, but you can expect to get into lower T-14 law schools with high LSAT/low GPA combo.

Another advice I would give to Cornell students and any others pondering the possibility of law school is to re-think about going to law school in the first place, and try to ask yourself why you would like to become a lawyer. I've met many people, including students at Cornell, who seemed to hold onto the belief that most lawyers make a ton of cash and do very sexy work much like what the guys from 'Boston Legal' or "Legally Blonde" happen to do. I can tell you that practicing law at a big law firm is nothing like that, but you can expect to work 80 hours a week on average, and the hours are very unpredictable. Many associates at top law firms constantly complain of intense hours and stress they get from their work, as in some weeks, they can work over 100 hours a week drafting boring briefs, memos, and fixing/moving commas here and there on 'deals' and clients' 'cases'.

And, if you are intending to go into a career in law just to make $$$, look elsewhere. I specifically know of 6 friends of mine from Cornell who decided to go to law school specifically because of the six figure starting salary that big law firms promise to first year associates, while not knowing much about the legal profession or the working conditions involved with working for a law firm. First of all, the legal industry is in a lot of trouble. Many say that the legal industry may not fully recover to the level of pre-2008 year crash anytime soon. There are literally Harvard Law grads who are straight up unemployed. This country is heavily saturated with tons of lawyers, and you can expect to face an intense battle and competition just to make it to that big law firm that pays you six figures starting out. I'd say that if you can't get into a top 10-14 law school, forget about going to a law school since the the odds of landing a legal job that even pays 50k a year is not too good out of law schools ranked below top 20. There are many, many unemployed lawyers who would give up their left arm to work at a law firm paying 60-70k a year.

Second, even if you successfully make it to a top 10 law school and get that top NYC BigLaw firm job, you have to know that all big law firms have leveraged "up or out" policy. This means that law firms usually give you about 7-8 years to work as an associate, and if you don't make partner after those years, they kick you out. Most lawyers at Big law firms never make partner and take jobs at small law firms or as in-house attorneys at corporations, with huge pay cut. Most lawyers who transition out to work at corporations away from Big Law firms usually take 40-50% pay cut and they usually get anywhere from 100-150k a year, after several years of big law firm experience. While this salary is very respectable, it is no where what would consider 'balling', not to mention that this level of salary is very much attainable in many other jobs and industries after some years of experience. Hence, my point that one should not just go to law school specifically to make a lot of $$$.

Third, you have to realize going to a law school entails much financial investment and opportunity cost. You could be working for those three years and making money and building your resume/ experience. And, you'd be spending close to 200k for your three years of law school, unless you score big merit scholarship money. Even if you land a top law firm job, you wouldn't be 'living it big' due to intense debt load and the high cost of living in NYC. (By the way, most big corporate law firm jobs are in NYC)

Fourth, the retention rate at big law firms is notorious. Many lawyers can't handle all that stress and working 80-90 hours a week, with very demanding partners/ clients who demand you devote much of your waking moments and your soul to your work. Law is a service-profession, and there is a reason why top law firms pay you high salary: they work you hard. Really, really, hard. Even if you are making a lot of money, if you are miserable with your job, would you be happy? My older brother works at a top NYC law firm handling corporate M&A, and he estimates that around 10% of first year lawyers left their law firm within just one year, and around 30% voluntarily quit their stint at their law firms after 3 years, many taking much less paying jobs with better hours and reduced stress, such as government attorney jobs or small law firm jobs.

Lastly, I am not suggesting that nobody should go to law school. But, law school is a major financial and time investment. Make sure to ask yourself if you really want to be a lawyer, and for what reasons. My suggestion is to ask some current lawyers, or even have an internship at a major law firm to figure out if this is for you. There are notable positives of being a lawyer: if you enjoy thinking critically about certain issues with logic, enjoy doing research, enjoy interacting with clients, enjoy reading/writing, etc, maybe law is the right career for you. But, my suggestion would be that, as college students, be open minded about different career possibilities and never lock yourself with the idea of only becoming a lawyer. Even before you start preparing for LSAT exam, you should examine yourself to see if the career in law is a right fit for you. Remember, the career in law is not easy, although it can be rewarding for those who are there for right reasons.
Post edited by LazyKid on

Replies to: Getting into a Top Law School

  • CaliDayDreamerCaliDayDreamer Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    I really like how you went into detail with this post, as you seem to know a lot about this process would you mind offering up some advice? I am currently in my fourth year of college at a state school in California, I spent the last 4 years changing my major to be honest the only reason I choose one this year is because I am a fourth year without a major. The major I choose fell in the category of social science so I know that after I graduate I will have a harder time finding a job making decent money. When it's all set and done I'll be graduating school with a GPA anywhere from a 3.0 - 3.3, I read that you said that your brother graduated with a 3.1 and got into 4 really good schools but he also had a really good LSAT score. If you don't mind me asking did he attend a ivy league college like you or a university or state school, also what was the rank of the schools he got into? Are we talking top 30 or higher? What was his major and did he do any extra curricularse that made him stand out in the application process?

    Besides this there is a part of me that is thinking of majoring in Economics and working for one or two years then applying to law school. The only thing is I'm quite sure I won't graduate with even a 3.0 at that point and even though that scares me as far as wanting to return to law school later on and not getting into one the thought of graduating with a major in a social science that would make practically nothing just to maybe get into a decent law school is more terrifying especially if I realize that I don't want to go to law school right away.

    Any thoughts, suggestions, ideas would be much appreciated.
  • nd09nd09 Registered User Posts: 497 Member
    You need to be honest with yourself, a 3.0 is very weak even at UC-Berkeley for a T14 law school. Study for the LSAT and see where you stand. You'd probably need in the 172+ range to have even a remotely realistic chance of cracking a T14 and 172+ is in the 99th percentile.
  • AxelrodAxelrod Registered User Posts: 663 Member
    LazyKid: Love your post. Nothing lazy about it, although, even with a brother or two in the profession, your post contains a few "differences of opinion".
    DELETE: the last part (#3) of your third paragraph as it is untrue--unless you have the stats to show otherwise.
    Suggesting that splitters can be admitted to T-14 law schools requires a bit of explanation. For example, Northwestern almost requires post-undergraduate work experience & is more lenient toward low GPAs for engineering majors, but not for humanities majors.
    There are several other clarifications needed--especially the part about lasting 7 to 8 years in biglaw as an associate; it's more like 3 to, maybe, 5 years.
    Also, law school is not just a major financial & time investment, one needs to consider opportunity cost.
    Sorry, but I'm going to leave the rest undone as I'm a bit tired.
  • NYULawyerNYULawyer Registered User Posts: 302 Member
    Regarding splitters and college GPA - it absolutely helps to have as high of GPA as possible. You can get into Georgetown Law with 3.1 GPA and 172 LSAT. But, you will have to pay sticker price to attend with that kind of stats.

    If you had 3.8 GPA and 172 LSAT, chances are Georgetown Law will give you near full scholarship to attend. That's easily 150-200k difference.
    There are several other clarifications needed--especially the part about lasting 7 to 8 years in biglaw as an associate; it's more like 3 to, maybe, 5 years.

    This. Although most large law firms claim to give 8 years to associates who don't make partner, that has largely changed in this economy. Pre-crash, most associates were allowed to stay at their firms (biglaw) for at least 7-8 years, provided they didn't screw up things badly. If they didn't make parter after that period, they were asked to leave.

    In this economy, it's totally buyer's market, and Biglaw firms are much less patient with their employees than they used to be. Nowadays, law firms get bombed with resumes with people with insane credentials for entry level and lateral associate positions. In 2006, Yale Law students used to look down on Biglaw firms and thought anything below Federal clerkship was beneath them. Nowadays, Biglaw firms have their noses up against Yale Law kids. Things have changed.

    Due to the fact that there are so many qualified people competing for much reduced slots at Biglaw firms, most law firms nowadays will gladly help you out the door in just 1-2 years after you start, if you underperform or not bill enough hours. I know several people from my law school who were asked to leave their firms within 1 year of starting at their law firms.

    The general consensus is that making partner at a large law firm in NYC is basically impossible nowadays, unless you manage to build a large book of business while you are an associate and are insanely skilled at office politics. At NYC Biglaw, partner to associate ratio is something like 50:1. It's a highly leveraged model. Most people go into Biglaw with the mindset of exit-options from day one.
  • NYULawyerNYULawyer Registered User Posts: 302 Member
    For example, Northwestern almost requires post-undergraduate work experience & is more lenient toward low GPAs for engineering majors, but not for humanities majors.

    Although Northwestern Law strongly prefers few years of work experience from applicants, they are not particularly selective about the caliber of the work experience in question.

    I know people who got into Northwestern Law with work experiences as a waitress, janitor, and elementary school English class substitute teacher.

    Disagreed that law schools don't admit people with low GPA's due to being humanities majors. Law schools don't care what major you were in college. 3.0 GPA in basket weaving = 3.0 GPA in electrical engineering, in front of law school admissions people. (which I find to be ridiculous)

    My friend was a film studies major in college, had 3.1 GPA, and got into Northwestern Law.
This discussion has been closed.