Widener Law: Should I Attended a Dreaded T4 Law School?

Sometimes I look at my site statistics to see who is reading what. To borrow a line from Ken at Popehat, you can bare your soul to the internet and write articles you think are important, but people don’t always read them. On other hand, if you use “snort my taint” you’ll get a whole bunch of people reading your blog. Heh.

In any case, I see that I get a lot of people coming here by making inquiries about Widener Law, T4, etc.

I started at Widener Law in 2005 and ended up transferring to Temple Law after completing my 1L. Naturally, some of have said “You transferred to the higher ranked school! It had to be better! Jordan, you’re a prestige whore!”

Well, I’m gonna lay the truth down on you…

I transferred to Temple because I didn’t like living in Wilmington; I wanted to live in Philadelphia. Plus, my wife was accepted to graduate school at Temple the year I transferred. It had nothing to do with going to a T1 or a T4. Temple was also a little cheaper, even though Widener had awarded me a nice scholarship. I had applied to two schools – Temple and Penn, both because they were in the city. Penn rejected me, which in hindsight, I’m happy about because elite law schools aren’t cheap.

In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter where you go to law school unless your heart is set on getting a job in BIGLAW and becoming a partner, you want to be a law professor, or you want to be a Supreme Court Justice. (If that’s your goal, go to Harvard.) However, I’m sure you’ve read, but no law school can guarantee you a job in BIGLAW. Personally, I just wanted to be a lawyer, so where I went to school didn’t matter as long as I could sit for the bar exam.

For everyone else, I’m still of the opinion that it doesn’t matter where you go to law school – T1 or T4. 95% of the time I don’t even know where my colleagues went to school.

Now, I’m glad that I graduated from Temple Law. We have a great football program, and I had a great experience during the two years I spent at Temple Law. Temple’s career office was also top notch, and very innovative about matching law students with smaller law firms that might not participate in OCI programs. But believe it or not, I’m also glad I started at Widener. Widener offered a top notch legal education. I don’t think transferring affected my job prospects one way or another, either. I think employers after 1L looked at my grades from Widener and work experience more than the fact I was at a T1 school. I never felt “held back” because US News & World Report thought Widener should be ranked “lower” than other regional Philly schools.

What I particularly liked about Widener is that they have the moxy to fail people out. I’m still friends with many people who failed out, and they’re usually the first ones to say “I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer.” It’s hard to make the cut at Widener, and because of that, I think they create damn good lawyers. If you don’t fail out after 1L at Widener, I’m confident that you’re not a total moron, because it wasn’t easy.

Without going into detail, consider law school admission criteria: college grades (where you get points just for participating unlike law school), LSAT scores (a purely objective multiple choice test, compared to tests in law school exams which are subjective and test your ability to communicate clearly), and the “strength” of a person’s college undergraduate institution (whatever that means). US News & World Report obviously takes into account how “competitive” admission is when ranking a law school. However, none of what they measure have anything to do with practicing law. The practice of law requires critical thinking, tenacity, ability to think on one’s feet, thick skin, public speaking skills, organization, attention to detail, and a whole bunch of other stuff that has nothing to do with the law school admission criteria.

So, at the very least, I’m not surprised that Widener Law exceeded expectations for passing the bar, because the LSAT is a terrible indicator about a person’s legal acumen.

In my experience, smaller law firms will actually take a regional graduate over someone from a higher ranked school. For example, at my first job, the partners said their biggest hesitation was that I appeared to be too “Philadelphia based” to want to truly commit to a small firm in the suburbs. James said something along the lines of “Lawyers will ultimately practice near where they live. I’d be shocked if Jordan wasn’t back in Philadelphia within two years.” At the time, I didn’t think James knew what he was talking about (a running theme here). However, I convinced them it was okay because I grew up in the suburbs. Three years later, James was absolutely right. I grew tired of commuting to the ‘burbs and I wasn’t willing to move away from the city. Most of my contacts were in Philly, and they didn’t always like the idea of hiring a suburban firm. In my opinion, a suburban based law firm will probably be better off hiring someone with ties to the area for that reason. When I left my suburban firm to work for a firm in Center City Philadelphia, one of the reasons they hired me is because I was so “Philly based.” I have contacts in the area, own a house in the city, and didn’t appear to be a flight risk. They didn’t care about my grades or where I went to law school – it was based on experience, the interview, what I could bring to the table, etc.

When I started my own practice, I relied heavily on my local contacts, family, and friends for business. Shockingly, none of my clients have ever asked where I went to law school and how US News and World Reports feels about it. If anything, I’m glad I didn’t spend my life going to private schools setting me up for an “elite” law school, because I can relate to a wide variety of people.

Something else to consider: not a lot of people get into BIGLAW, perhaps 10% of a graduating class. Of those who do, the majority of them do not make partner. There is a good chance you’ll be in “small law” (even if you start in BIGLAW). Most lawyers end up working for a small law firm, a government agency, or hanging a shingle. While an “elite law school” may be important for partnership at BIGLAW, the reality is it probably won’t apply to you. In addition, if you have clients, I doubt any law firm will care where you went to school. Even if you’re with a firm and want to make partner, would you rather promote the guy who brings in $1,000,000 a year of business, or the guy who went to a fancy law school? No brainer here. A lot more goes into what you’ll do, and who you will do it with, than what Tier US News & World Report places your law school in.

So, my advice is this if you’re worried about going to a “low ranked” law school: go to a law school in an area of the country where you want to live. For example, don’t go to American University, knowing you want to work in Philadelphia, just because it’s “ranked higher” than Temple. On the other hand, don’t go to Temple if you’re dead set on working in Hawaii. (wish I would have thought of that seven years ago…)

Try and keep your debt minimal, and to keep your grades up.

Try and get substantive work experience at a law firm, even if it’s not a “prestigious” one. Nothing will scare a small law firm more than “Um, what is a Complaint? What are interrogatories?” Try to learn some basics of litigation so you don’t give the impression that you’ll be a time sink of training. (Don’t worry, you will be. I clerked all through law school and still didn’t know jack coming.) Working will also help you generate contacts in the industry who will refer work to you.

Make as many contacts as you can that are other lawyers if you’re worried about finding a job. One example – when I left my first firm, I had a hand in hiring my replacement. (at a small firm, you’ll do everything). We put an ad on Craigslist and got too many resumes to sort through. I called around and asked Leo if he knew anyone good who was looking. Leo said he did, and eventually my former firm hired that person based on Leo’s recommendation. Networking is random like that. If you know enough people and ask around, there’s a chance something might just fall in your lap. And get this — my former firm didn’t care where the new hire went to law school, just that they were likable, enthusiastic, and interested in their work. Didn’t even ask for a transcript. (and they didn’t ask for a transcript when I started there in 2008). Shocking, I know.

The practice of law is a marathon, not a sprint. You could make six figures right out of the gate and get laid off. You could start out in small law making $35k a year and then land a huge personal injury case. You might start in family law and then switch to commercial litigation at some point. Ultimately, I firmly believe that one’s career is decided by reputation. Not by law school.

On the same note, don’t go to law school because you think it’s a ticket to easy money right out of the gate. Don’t whine that your law school tricked you into going, either. Those who graduate from a T4 and pass the bar exam are still called “lawyer”. What you do with that is entirely up to you. It takes many years to develop a lucrative practice where good clients will pay you big bucks to represent them. Anyone who thought otherwise chose to fool themselves.

If you’re curious, most of my friends from Widener Law are gainfully employed in the legal profession. Same with my friends from Temple Law. Most of the weird or annoying people are not.

Finally, this might shock you, but most real lawyers don’t even follow US News & World Report law school rankings. I can’t even tell you where my own law school is currently ranked. I have a general idea of where the local law schools fall, and they’re all pretty much the same to me. However, I couldn’t tell you what tier most out of state law schools are in, except maybe Harvard and Cooley. Law school rankings are stuff that students talk discuss frequently. Lawyers, not so much.

So, that’s my two cents. I don’t think graduates of Temple, Rutgers, or Villanova graduates have a huge advantage over Widener graduates just  because of US News & World Report’s rankings. I can tell you that you’ll get a good legal education at Widener. What you do with it, well, that falls on you.

17 Responses to Widener Law: Should I Attended a Dreaded T4 Law School?

  1. NA says:

    Great post, Jordan.

  2. LupeG says:

    Attending a 4 tier school is not a smart decision, but now, attending any law school is risky. There are too many lawyers and not enough jobs to go around. Our society does not need more lawyers. Also, there is no real reason to spend three years in school with over one hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt, just to get a job that pays $35K. I earned more than that as an administrative assistant! Good luck to everyone with their job search. You will need all the help you can get.

  3. TOM says:

    Thanks Jordan. I will be attending Widener this fall (unless I get into Drexel). All of my friends who are lawyers say the exact thing you said in regards to law school and hiring. Thanks again!

  4. Dan says:

    Jordan, this really puts things into perspective. There are many people (especially online) who hold both viewpoints on law school. That is, attending a T4 is like a death sentence. And on the contrary, as long as you pass the bar, whatever. However, few people identify themselves as actual, practicing attorneys. I am leaning heavily towards Widener but am considering Temple as an option. Things seem clearer after reading this. Thank you.

  5. Dan says:

    I stumbled on this post by accident actually. I just found out I was accepted into Widener and of course the first thing I did was look up its ranking because I knew it wasn’t regarded as highly as the other schools around the Philadelphia area. I’m glad I saw this and I appreciate the post. Definitely put things into perspective. Thanks for the input Jordan. It will go a long way with me.

  6. EJJ says:

    Thank you for this post. To be honest with you I’m debating on law school and Widener has offered something which I am possibly interested in. I’m in DC and want to attend a school outside of the city as I don’t want to the distractions of work life and school. I know the commute will put stress on my mentally, physically and financially but I’m willing to take the chance.

    Currently, I’m looking at Widener and University of Baltimore. I will hopefully make a decision in the next month but have truly enjoyed reading this. It is an honest perspective that you rarely see, especially with talking about a school that isn’t Tier 1.

    The scary part is that I find the majority of the folks who attack schools like Widener as evil because they automatically try to set folks up for failure because you don’t fit into their mold. But everyone doesn’t want to be a SCOTUS Judge or be on the highest court in their state. Likewise, everyone doesn’t get into the law to make a million dollars.

    Keep up the good work and much continued success.

  7. sam_v says:

    Hi Jordan, so I just came across your article as I was searching for information regarding Widener! I know you posted this years ago, but was hoping you could help me with a few questions. I recently got into Widener with a scholarship, however I’m still very unsure of what I want to do. I really want to be in Philly, but got denied from Drexel and Temple, I was wondering if you could give me an advice on transferring after your first year. I’m really torn about going to Widener..and I would most likely want to to transfer to a school in either Philly (preferably Temple) or a school in NJ (Rutgers or Seton Hall). Are the requirements of transferring into difficult into Temple? My other option was taking a gap year, retaking my LSAT’s and hoping to get into a better school. Do you have an advice? Anything would help!!

    • Sam – this is my opinion. If you’ve got your heart set on biglaw, get into the best law school you can. You’ve got a better chance of getting into a large law firm from Temple, Rutgers, and perhaps even Drexel. If your heart is set on billing hours and servicing institutional clients, by all means follow the “traditional” path. Get into the best law school, do law review, and do scholarly prestigious things.

      However, if you want to be a lawyer who represents clients, it doesn’t matter where you go. Appalachian, Cooley, Widener, etc. I have never had a client come into my office and ask about where I went to law school. Not even institutional ones. All clients care about is if you have the knowledge and experience to help them. Not how fancy your degree is, not how good your LSAT was, or whether you were on moot court. Spend your time clerking for lawyers and judges; getting all the practical experience you can while in law school. Build a network of attorneys who might need help with overflow work.

      I got a great education at Widener. I also met many good friends at Widener, who I am still close with personally and professionally. If I had stayed at Widener, rather than transfer to Temple, I would be doing exactly the same thing I am doing now.

      The biggest noticeable difference between Temple and Widener for me was basing my life in Philadelphia. Going to Temple allowed me to get involved with my local civic associations. Six years after graduating, I have a niche practice in zoning and representing community organizations. Not because the degree is better, but because I moved to Fishtown so I could ride my bike to class.

      Make sense? Call me if you want to talk.

  8. Frank says:

    I must say I enjoyed reading this. You make s lot of good points its up to the student to learn no matter where he or she goes and a slacker in Harvard is not as valuable as a great knowledgable student from a less school. A lawyer is a lawyer and the way he carries or sells himself is the kind of lawyer people will think they are. Thank you im just starting my path to get to law school and I have years to go but I’m a marine vet and a sales marketing manager I have a plan for when I graduate one day. If you can email me Id like to pick your brain a lot more

  9. Leigh says:

    Just wanted to thank you for this insight! I am currently decided between Widener and Villanova. Widener was significantly more generous with scholarship money but I’ve been held back by the fact that it isn’t ranked like Villanova and Temple (where I was wait listed). Decisions, decisions…but this helps a lot!

  10. Nichelle says:

    Hi, I’m 20 years old and a senior in college. I took the LSAT once and scored a 152 and my GPA is a 3.0. I just sent out my law school apps a few weeks ago, even though I started the applications last October, due to problems with the transcript release service at my university. I’m trying to decide whether to go to Widener Law School this fall, go to Drexel law school, or retake the LSAT which could allow me to get into Temple Law School or Northeastern Law School. I’m very conflicted over what to do because I the only person I know who went to law school is my professor and everyone I talk to gives me different advice. Basically, I read your article and am wondering if you think this still applies in 2016? My biggest interest is in international law and human rights law or in being a public defender. I don’t plan on making a lot of money but don’t know how much I should let that hinder which school I go to. I also am worried about taking off a year of school in hopes of getting into a better school. However, I keep hearing that it’s impossible for lawyers to get jobs and that the longer I wait, the harder it will be to even get into law school, and I’m very concerned. I have two weeks before I have to make a decision and pay my deposit and I’m very, very concerned. Please, I know this is a long ramble, but if you have any advice, I’d appreciate so much if you’d share it.

    • 1. Don’t take on any student debt, especially if you want to go into a field that doesn’t pay a lot of money. Debt will hinder you for the rest of your life. Less debt beats better school.

      2. It doesn’t really matter where you go to law school unless you want to be a US Supreme Court Justice or partner at in biglaw (which still doesn’t matter all that much). It’s pretty much “Ivy League and everywhere else.” Beyond that, clients don’t care what US News and World Report thinks of your law degree, and most of us actual attorneys don’t either. I know many Widener grads who are partners in big firms or very successful. I also know Ivy League guys who do doc review.

      Where you go to law school is a teeny tiny fraction of where your legal career will go. Focus more on developing meaningful relationships, contacts, interests, etc.

      Out of all those options, I would go to Temple simply because it’s the cheapest. If you have a scholarship to Widener ad really want to be a lawyer, go there.

      Also, there’s no rush to go to law school. Consider taking a year off and doing some soul searching instead of rushing into it all. What’s the hurry?

  11. Jasmine says:

    Hi Jordan. I recently was accepted into Widener TAP program where I am going to be taking law classes and hopefully do well to be accepted into the law school in the fall. I mainly took this route simply because I dont do well on standardized test and did not want to take the LSAT again. In my mindset, just get in, excel so you can get in. I would like to transfer to Temple. Can you give me some insight on what your standing was at Widener to transfer schools? Were you at the top of your class? And what advice can you provide for me to prepare for transferring (connections, recommendations, grades,etc.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I just want to say I am happy I found this article. I will be a law student at Widener Commonwealth in the fall and up until about two days ago I could not decide whether to go to Rutgers or Widener. I wanted to go to Rutgers because it has a better ranking and reputation than Widener. The cost of both schools came out to be the same (maybe a few hundred off)- so it was difficult to base my decision on cost alone. I posted my issue on TLS, but those comments were not at all helpful. I ending up chosing Widener after talking to my brother, who is also an attorney, and has told me over and over again exactly what you have said above. He graudated from Penn State Dickinson, has contacts in the Harrisburg area and has already connected me with a paid internship. I’m thinking I may also transfer to a different school after 1L – possibly Dickinson. My LSAT just wasn’t good enough to get in initially, even with a 3.8 GPA.

    I also got into Drexel and Villanova (unfortunately not Temple) – but the cost of both didn’t make sense for me.

    Thanks again!!

  13. Widener Grad says:

    Hey – I thought I would add my experience in case it is helpful. I choose Widener Delaware over Temple and Villanova (where I was also accepted) because they offered me a full scholarship. In some ways, I don’t regret my decision. I got a job at one of the “big” law firms in Delaware which was my goal all along. Sometimes I wonder if the reason why I didn’t go further (I got flushed out of the system by year 5) was because no one saw a reason to back a T4 graduate. It is an up or out system. I believe NALP or ABA has statistics that over 60% of associates don’t make it past year 5. In some ways, going to Widener was the best decision because now I’m not stuck with a ton of debt when the degree didn’t sustain me for very long. Maybe an expensive degree would have gotten me a couple of more years. Who knows. I know a UVA grad who got flushed out at year 2. Bottom line, it’s a tough decision. But you can’t dismiss the benefits of going to Widener simply because of rank.

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