Some Actual Questions To Ask Yourself Before Deciding To Go To Law School, By A Non-Ivy League Lawyer

June 23, 2013
"Your honor, with all due respect, it is getting dangerously close to happy hour."

“Your honor, I went to a better law school than my less prestigious opposing counsel, so clearly my argument is better”, said no lawyer ever.

I graduated from a T2 law school (Temple Law) in 2008, after transferring from Widener (a T4 law school).Β I have been practicing law for five years now.

In law school, I clerked for a Superior Court judge, and then for aΒ large law firm. When I graduated, I worked for a small firm in suburban Pennsylvania. After three years, I left and worked for a mid-sized law firm for a year, where I still work as Of Counsel. Sort of on a whim,Β I left the firm in 2012 and started “The Fishtown Lawyers” along with Leo, which is what I do now.

So far, I am very happy with my career. It’s been fun, interesting, and rewarding. My mortgage remains paid, and I will probably take a vacation to somewhere nice this year.

However, I’ve read on the internet that law is the worst profession in the world, everyone is unemployed, and the only people making money are the ones who went to the best law schools in the country, got the best grades, and are now working for large law firms.

That is what they call the “law school scam” apparently.

As you might imagine, the questions I get from prospective law students normally go like this: “If I get into X school, and get Y GPA, what are my chances of getting into biglaw? I’ll at least be able to get a shot in mid-law if I don’t get biglaw with that GPA, right?”

Almost all the questions involve their chances of getting into biglaw, and what will guarantee them that job.

While I appreciate where you are coming from, those aren’t really the right questions. Or at least the important ones, if you are considering law school.

Where you go to law school is a very tiny aspect of how your career as a lawyer will go. It’s certainly not the most important one.

Here are a few questions I would ask myself before going to law school, and selecting a law school…

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Perspective: My First Law Job

April 28, 2012

Thank God! I had just finished my first year of law school at WidenerΒ in 2006.Β The experience could only be described as strange…

Admittedly, I had no idea what lawyers did on a regular basis. I had only met small town lawyers in my neighborhood. Most of them seemed pretty interesting. My view of lawyers was shaped by John Grisham novels, Law and Order, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and A Civil Action. Law seemed like a pretty interesting profession. My goal was to get intoΒ prosecution, and then maybe become a criminal defense lawyer. That sounded cool.

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

February 22, 2012

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 greatΒ 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.Β 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.Β 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 wereΒ 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.Β 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 moneyΒ right out of the gate.Β 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 foolΒ 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 Β 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.

Widener Law Gets Sued for “Law School Scam” in Silly Lawsuit by Whiny Graduates

February 2, 2012

Clients Do Not Know the Difference Between T1 and T4

As some of you know, I started out at Widener Law before transferring to Temple Law. Β I’ll be the first one to tell you that I got a top notch legal education at Widener, despite the school being ranked a Tier 4. (Whatever that means.) Today I was surprised to learn that my sort of alma mater is getting sued for allegedly misleading students because of they way they report employment data.

According to the lawsuit, several students were led to believe that they were guaranteed some sort of high paid job in the legal profession when they graduated. Β Once they enrolled in law school, they continued to believe they were guaranteed a high paying job, despite seeing how difficult it was to obtain legal employment each summer. (except, of course, the students who were too busy partying abroad studying abroad) Β They also complain that the schools had the audacity to give them part time jobsΒ after graduation while they were looking for meaningful legal employment. Oh, the horror…

I have always been grateful to Widener Law. I was not exactly a stellar undergraduate student, and my LSAT score was a 149 and a 150. According to some, I was the kid who “shouldn’t go to law school.” However, Widener was willing to take a chance on me. I will always be grateful to Widener for accepting me with poor my credentials, and giving me many opportunities to show what I was capable of.

Now, when I accepted at Widener, I didn’t have a great vision for what my legal career was going to look like. Β I had always assumed I would be a self employed solo practitioner or maybe a prosecutor. It didn’t really matter. I just knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and I had no expectations of what I would be paid.

I did well my first year of law school and it landed me a good job. Where at? Ruby TuesdayΒ in the Concord Mall.

Later in the summer I managed to find employment working for a solo practitioner, who is still a dear friend of mine. Β I would work for the solo practitioner making $18 an hour during the week and then wait tables on the weekends. Β I had it made. Β It was enough cash to live off of, and I was getting paid to learn how to practice law on someone else’s buck. Sometimes I wondered who got the better end of the deal – me or the solo. While many would balk at making under $20 an hour in the legal profession, consider this: Β a few years down the road, the solo practitioner still sends me work he is too busy to handle. He is also always willing to lend me an ear when I have a tough problem, career questions, marriage issues, or anything else. Often establishing a relationship is more valuable than the immediate money you make. Although I made some money working for the solo over the summer, the real “value” would not pan out until years later.

Which gets me to my point. I never once walked into my career office and said “How much can I expect to make when I get my law license?” That seemed like a stupid question. First, let’s say I had landed that biglaw job making $130k right out of the door. What if I only kept it a year? What if I got laid off, and then didn’t have a skillset that translated into smaller legal markets? Β Second, what if I continued working for the solo practitioner making $18h/r, and then came across a big personal injury case and got a huge generation fee on it? Β Third, what if I didn’t make much money out of the gate, but a few years down the line my practice had grown and the phone was ringing? Β The question of how much money to expect, at least to me, seemed like something that just couldn’t be answered. The question would be akin to “Will I like my job?” or “How much will I work?” Well, that depends on a lot of different things, and the answer can change over time…

For anyone who wants to sue their law school, this is my opinion: law is a profession. It’s not a ticket to easy money. You can’t expect your law school to tell you how much money you’re going to make because no one can answer that question. It will change over time, and much of it will be based on your ability to perfect your craft, generate clients, run a business, and add value to those you serve.

Why not use your time productively? Instead of wasting your time in a lawsuit against your school, why not spend that time getting better at being a lawyer? The practice of law is a marathon, not a sprint.

UPDATE: Β A copy of the Complaint against Widener Law can be found here.

The plaintiffs are John Harnish, Justin Schluth, Edward J. Gilson, III, Robert Klein, and Robert McFayden. Β They claim that had they “been aware that WLSβ€Ÿs reported placement rates included temporary and part-timeΒ employment and/or employment for which a JD was not required or preferred, [they] would haveΒ elected to either pay less to WLS or perhaps not attend the school at all.”

According to the Complaint, Harnish is a bartender. Β Schluth is unemployed. Gilson opened his own firm. (Edward J. Gilson, IIIΒ maintains an office at 8001 Roosevelt Blvd. Β Edward J. Gilson, Jr. also maintains an office at the same address.)Β Klein is working for the federal government in a non-legal capacity. McFayden works for a management company in a non-legal position.

They are asking for “the partial restitution and disgorgement of tuition monies remitted to [Widener Law School], Β totaling $75 million, which is the difference between the inflated tuition paid by Class Β members based on the material misrepresentations that approximately 90-95 percent Β of graduates are employed within nine months of graduation and the true value of a Β WLS degree”, in addition to damages, attorneys fees, and punitive damages. Β They are also asking for “injunctive relief ordering that WLS retains unrelated, independent third-parties toΒ audit and verify post-graduate employment data and salary information.”

Stay tuned…