Law School Advice for High School Students

@collegemom3717: Citing one year of data does not establish a trend. If I may ask, what is your source for that one year of data at Harvard, Penn & Yale ?

I am not convinced that work experience is helpful with respect to law school admissions. I also think that it is incorrect to assume that just because a student is not a K-JD that the intervening year was primarily about work experience. I suspect that those who delay entrance into law school for a year do so primarily to prepare for & to boost their SAT score. Additionally, any “recent trend” may be an anomaly due to the recent dramatic decrease in law school applications for a period of years as poor employment prospects & huge law school student loan debt made headlines repeatedly.

@oldfort: In your daughter’s case, work experience seems to have been a factor especially since it was probably the Southern District of New York. Admittedly, internships / externships at US Attorney’s office is relevant work experience. The US Attorney & the Ass’t US Attorneys in the Southern District of New York may have relationships with Columbia & NYU.

Law schools buy LSAT scores. While probably true with respect to Georgetown in your daughter’s case, not so for NYU & Columbia which is unusual.

P.S. I think the OP understands the process as illustrated in the original post which started this thread.

With respect to any benefit or preference for work experience by elite (T-14) law schools in the admissions process, I would not count one or two years between undergraduate school & law school as “work experience” since it is probably due primarily to prepping for the LSAT & compiling one’s law school admissions material for law school applications.

MBA (Master of Business Administration) programs prefer work experience to the extent that it is almost a requirement. For elite MBA programs the preferred amount of work experience ranges from 2 years to 5 years. Almost all elite MBA programs clearly state that work experience is a significant factor in the admissions decision. And it goes well beyond any type of work experience as elite MBA programs show a strong preference for certain types of jobs & employers.

Work experience can be a bit dangerous for one planning on law school. Law school & the practice of law focus on analytical thinking skills. Any job that teaches certainty is unlikely to be good preparation for law school & the practice of law.

P.S. Correction. In post #20 above, line 6, I meant “LSAT”, not “SAT”.

Another reason that there is scant relevant work that would prepare one for law school & the practice of law is that engaging in such relevant work is illegal for one not a member of a state bar. (An exception is in the area of patent law. Real estate is another area where the practice of law is permitted for non-lawyers.) Not so for those targeting graduate business schools.

We’ve been watching that trend up close for the last 4 or 5 years, as our kids / friends kids / kids friends go through this process, @Publisher. The data cited comes from the individual universities websites.

As for being able to get relevant work experience, I know first hand that many law firms in NYC & DC have junior positions which are specifically for 1-2 years post-undergrad. You are hired with the explicit understanding that you are leaving in 1-2 years, presumably for law school, but there is no potential to stay on either way. I know many, many young adults doing exactly that right now, most of whom are indeed studying for the LSAT as well (at night) and either saving for law school and/or paying down college debt ahead of law school (because the hours are long but the pay is generous). In the meantime, they are getting hands-on experience in a law firm.

@collegemom3717: I am familiar with paralegal positions at major law firms in Wash DC & in NYC which ask for a 2 year commitment. Same for SDNY US Attorney’s office.

Paralegal work rarely, if ever, involves analytical thought. While being a paralegal does expose one to a law firm environment, it does not necessarily prepare one for law school or the practice of law (unless a litigation paralegal who is required to spend substantial time at a trial–which is rare). Granted that some areas of law require little more than repetitive measures and for those type of positions (real estate closing attorney, for example, as well as routine divorce & child custody matters & some immigration matters) and for those areas paralegal work is relevant to the actual practice of law in that area / specialty.

A family member considered working for the Appellate Division of the US Attorney’s Office for the SDNY reviewing & translating testimony & documents for appeal. This would have been helpful work experience. Also considered a 2 year paralegal position at a top Wash DC law firm immediately after finishing undergraduate school. All paralegals were from very elite undergraduate colleges & universities. Most paralegals planning on law school. Highly doubtful that this type of work experience would be a significant factor for law school admissions. Much better for one to spend a year or two raising one’s LSAT score.

P.S. For the practice areas which involve minimal analytical thought & are largely repetitive form filling positions, some state bars have and/or are in the process of authorizing paralegals to perform & file & sign off on these forms.

@collegemom3717 : The last 4 or 5 years are the years to which I was referring in my post #20 second paragraph.

If I may ask, are you watching because you are a parent with a student planning on attending law school ?

P.S. Your reference to “junior positions” at law firms for recent college grads reminds me that we have discussed this a few months ago in another thread.

Other than for maturity purposes or for improving one’s LSAT score, there is very little benefit in delaying one’s entrance into law school for “work experience”.

I am following the work-before-law-school or do-not-work-before-law-school debate with interest.

From the statistics at top law schools that show fewer than 20% of successful applicants coming in straight from college, it gives the appearance, whether false or true, that some work or other study or real-world experience before law school is preferred by law school admissions committees.

On the one hand, if you know you want to go to law school, working first seems to put your plans on hold.

On the other hand, working in between college and law school also lets you earn money to pay for law school, and, if 80% of your fellow students are not coming straight from college, avoids your being one of the youngest people in the class.

To be clear:

  1. I agree with all of the posters who have pointed to the primacy of LSAT scores in law school admissions, and I am not saying that either experience or the LoRs from that experience will matter until the LSAT and GPA cuts have been made.


  1. Based on data from the law schools themselves, there has been a trend over the last number of years to a higher % of successful T14 applicants having had a gap of 1-2+ years between college and law school

Your posts seem to be saying that:

=> the primary thing that applicants are doing in the intervening time is studying for the LSAT and working up their applications;

=> any job that “teaches certainty” is “dangerous” because it compromises the ability to think analytically

=> a reason that there is “scant” relevant work available to potential law students is that it is illegal to do relevant work before being qualified as a lawyer

=> “paralegal” work rarely involves analytical thought (and by implication is not useful)

=> working in a law firm does not “prepare” the potential law student for either law school or the practice of law (and by implication is not relevant or useful)

IMO, it is highly unlikely that anything like a majority of the people who are taking a year or two between undergrad and law school are not also in some form of paid employment, and that working in a law firm is an entirely reasonable option. It pays well, it puts you into an environment that you may be aiming to work in, they often offer summer associate jobs once you are in law school, and you are around your peers as you study/prep.

IME the students in those paralegal-type jobs do indeed do a lot of low level work- as do the recent grads at the equivalent firms pre-MBA (nb, I also know more than a few young people in the top consulting and IB firms- ask any 1st year management consultant how many power point presentations they have put together - a job that any good admin person could do.That is the nature of ladders). But they ALSO do some more interesting work. In the law firms there can be attending client meetings, hearings, etc. They draft documents (which are then finalized / approved by qualified people).The research they do can be interesting and even useful, not just mindless rote work.

When it’s the decided minority that do not have some distance between undergrad and top law schools, it seems unlikely that it is a disadvantage to have had some work experience.

@publisher I have a collegekid at PennLaw now, another collgekid who got right up to the edge and then went another direction (MBB), a sibling in BigLaw, and retired lawyer parent. :slight_smile:

Or pay off undergraduate debt before piling on law school debt.

It certainly is/can be, and it becomes obvious at several schools (see the 3 publics in the T14) who have made numbers available in the past. Some schools are just into greater gender diversity. Moreover, Big Law in particular is looking for more female associates, and since law grads getting a job is part of USNews ranking, it becomes something that AdComs care about on the margin. In other words, a guy and gal with same stats…

…also gives you one more semester of hopefully all A’s to boost that GPA in search of merit money.

While working after college may or may not help in the law school application process(see discussion above), it is never “dangerous” to one’s subsequent legal career. My law school classmates included engineers, nurses, teachers, social workers, college athletes(who admitted this was basically their major, not their classwork), and several who graduated from college and then worked construction trades.
Other than dangerous jobs, which are physically dangerous, it isn’t dangerous to work before attending law school. Such a statement must have been made from someone who has never practiced law.

Just reviewed about a dozen law school websites. All have an average age ranging from age 23 to as high as age 26 (Northwestern which strongly prefers post undergraduate work experience). All of the schools showed a majority of matriculants as being out of undergraduate school for at least one year with the majority of those delaying law school for one to two years.

About 10% of matriculants to elite law schools have graduate degrees. Many in accounting or finance–possibly due to the 150 hour CPA licensing requirement enacted by almost all 50 states.

Only Vanderbilt law detailed the types of jobs held prior to matriculation. “Belly dancer” was one such job. Most in the legal or public service fields. 56% of Vanderbilt law matriculants did not come straight from undergraduate school.

Unclear as to whether those who delay one to two years–the vast majority of the non-K-JD law school matriculants–benefit significantly in law school admissions from any work experience. My guess is that those students who take just a year off after undergraduate school, do so to increase LSAT score, compile law school apps, or recover from undergraduate burnout, but not primarily to work.

Although not perfect, law school numbers website is useful to gauge how few with above median numbers get rejected by a particular law school. Yale & Stanford are small law schools & always ranked among the top three law schools in the country so they do not offer good insights. In my opinion, best to examine law school numbers website for schools such as Columbia, Penn, NYU, Michigan, Virginia, Duke, Cornell, Georgetown. My position is that applicants with above median numbers for LSAT & GPA will be admitted regardless of work experience.

So @collegemom3717 is correct about the majority of matriculants to top 14 law schools having work experience. But it is still unclear as to what extent work experience helps one’s law school application to a T-14 law school. If it does help, it is a factor well behind one’s LSAT score & undergraduate GPA.

Checking law school numbers website for law schools ranked #4 through #19 (excluding the top 3 = Yale, Stanford & Harvard) help to see how applicants with above median LSAT scores & undergraduate GPAs fared in the admissions process. While clearly imperfect, I suspect that the vast majority of those reporting above median numbers were accepted.

as an aside, having nothing to do with admissions per se, methinks having a year or two of life experiences can only make law school itself a little more ‘real’ or class discussion meaningful. It makes a whole lot more sense to be discussing say, landlord-tenant rights, after one has been paying rent out of pocket for a year or two.

It should be no surprise that top law schools are starting to prefer work experience (over none); top MBA programs have preferred/required work experience for years. Work experience likely also helps in law grads getting jobs.

Certainly regulatory work experience helps for those seeking a career in administrative law. Working for the IRS can be helpful to those wishing to pursue a career tax attorney. Same for securities law & experience working for the SEC (securities & exchange commission).

Real life experience helps with family law matters (divorce & child custody) and real estate whether landlord-tenant issues or purchase & sale of real estate.

I suppose we could list several more areas of real life experience which might benefit one in the basics. However, very few jobs require the type of analytical analysis required of first year law students. The LSAT is used by law schools to measure this ability.

But work experience is not necessary for law school admission or for the practice of law.

The recent dramatic downturn in law school applications has led, thankfully, to the closure of a few law schools. It has also led law schools to search for new applicants. As part of that effort many law schools now accept the GRE (graduate record exam) in lieu of the LSAT (law school admissions test). Law schools understood that the years of negative publicity about the soaring cost of law school combined with the lack of positions for new attorneys meant that past applicants are now pursuing graduate degrees in other areas. Most graduate programs require or accept the GRE. So some law schools in pursuit of stopping the decline of applications announced that they would accept the GRE instead of the LSAT.

Since this thread is titled “Law School Advice for High School Students”, many may not understand the importance of one’s first year law school grades in the context of employment opportunities.

Recruiting for the highest paying & most selective positions in law is based primarily on one’s grades from their first year of law school. Law review membership, if not based solely on a writing competition, is often impacted by one’s first year grades–such as automatic membership for top 5% of class based on first year grades or for qualifying status to be eligible to compete in the write on competition for law review.

Interviewing & law review can differ by law school. There is no one uniform practice. However, one’s first year grades & class rank often come into play at the overwhelming majority of law schools.

The LSAT was designed to predict how applicants would do during their first year of law school.

I would like to recruiting process at my kid’s school. It may help OP’s kid make her decision between all of those schools.

For the first round, all law firms participating in their recruiting would have to interview every student who wants an interview with them. The interview is usually around 20 min. For students without stellar grades, they could try to impress employers during the interview. After that, the students would list firms they are most interested in, and the firms would also do the same. They would match up the next round of interviews based on the firms’ preference and the students’. My kid said students would need to be strategic with the list based on the grades (and the first round of interviews)- reach, match, safety. If you are familiar with sorority rush - it is very similar. The difference here is law firms can reach out to some candidates to let them know if they don’t get matched up (done by computer), they could still schedule interviews outside of it.

Based on my kid’s conversation with her friends at Georgetown, their interview process is more traditional. Students would submit their applications and firms would decide who they want to interview. Her friend said students with best grades would get all the interviews, which makes the first year grades a lot more important.

OP’s kid may want to find out each law school’s job placement and recruiting process before making a decision.

There are a few comments in my original post which I should probably correct or expand on.

The conventional wisdom is that where you go to undergraduate does not matter for law school admissions. On Friday I joined my daughter at NYU’s admitted student days just because she had a little anxiety getting around NYC. NYU included in the handouts to prospective students a program with the names of all individuals attending and their undergraduate institution. After looking at this program I no longer feel confident that elite law schools don’t care where you went to undergrad. Out of a group of perhaps 150 admitted students only about 5 had attended public universities and the balance had all attended schools like Yale, Harvard, U.Chicago, Williams, Swarthmore - basically about 90% of admitted students had attended a top 20 university or a highly selective liberal arts college. Granted this was just NYU law on one admitted students day but I have no reason to believe that other T6 law schools are more egalitarian. This is just one data point but it looked more like an all Ivy League reunion than a broad cross section of colleges

The other observation or thing for prospective law students to realize is that the admissions decision, scholarship negotiation, seat deposit timing is not as neat and orderly as you might experience with undergraduate admissions. For undergrad admissions all colleges must release their decisions by April 1st and students have until May 1st to make their decision. In some cases students have to make seat deposits at law schools they’ve been admitted to without even knowing whether or not they will be admitted to law schools like Stanford that (at least this year) released decisions very late. I’m sure some students negotiate undergraduate scholarship offers but for law school this seems to be the norm and the distinction between merit and financial aid is a bit hazy.

Right now my daughter has 2 weeks to decide between Columbia, NYU, and Duke while she rides out the U.Chicago and Harvard wait-lists. The decision boils down to fit vs. prestige vs. cost of attendance.

Any advice any of you might have would be greatly appreciated.

We went through this last spring, @Wje9164be - and this part of trading off offers while waiting for others is a nightmare (which we were not really prepared for, though luckily collegekid was a bit better informed than we were). Very surprised that the usual big public Us (eg, UVa, UNC-CH, UMi, UIUC, UCB, UCLA, even UMd-CP, UT-A types) weren’t represented. I am pretty sure that I know some Va/NC kids who had NYU on their lists this year- but I would have to check.

At least your daughter has some super choices!

[qutoe]This is just one data point but it looked more like an all Ivy League reunion than a broad cross section of colleges…


Keep repeating: correlation is not causation. Any top grad/professional school is always going to be over-represented by the Ivy+ group since the Ivy+ group selects for only top test takers. Such undergrads will naturally do well on the LSAT.

On NYU’s webpage from a couple of years ago, notes that that class was represented by 138 colleges. Clearly, that goes way beyond the Ivy+ group.

Depends on her goals & your family wealth. I have to assume that Duke is offering the best money right now, and CN not so much. My son’s good friend from undergrad paid sticker at NYU because he could. My son, otoh, turned down NYU at sticker and took big merit money from lower in the food chain. Both ended up in Big Law in NYC.