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.