More Unusual Than Cruel: Getting In (Law School, Part 2)


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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55 Responses

  1. Avatar Michelle Togut says:

    OMG–what a brilliant parody of the typical logical games question (that was a parody, wasn’t it?) and the essay question cracked me up. Logical games were my Achilles Heel so, of course, when I took the LSAT, I got an extra experimental section of logical games.

    The rest of your piece rings true. I think my stepson did the math with grades + LSAT score, decided the math didn’t work in favor of his getting into an elite school, changed his major from history back to economics, and decided to pursue accounting. That and he hates to write. If someone hates to write, law is not an ideal career choice.Report

    • Avatar Michelle Togut says:

      My husband, a longtime software developer, loved the logical games section. He tried to help me understand how to quickly and accurately work them out to no avail. To me, they were complete mind f**k.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        I always did well with logic games. It was I think the reasoning section that got me the first time.

        Also the essay portion is relatively speaking, worthless. From what I understand most schools use your personal statement as a proxy for a writing section rather than actually checking the contents of your LSAT essay.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    E, of course.Report

  3. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    “At a party, you are required to give a toast that will conclude with you drinking a glass of a beverage. The only beverage choices available are mineral water to which has been added a small amount of pasteurized urine harvested from a gravid alpaca, or a Coors Light. Both are served at the same temperature and both will have the same health effects upon you after consumption. You must drink after giving the toast. Explain in an essay of approximately 500 words which of these two beverages you will select, and why.”

    Trick question.

    Both beverages are the same!

    Stanford Law here I come!Report

    • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

      I’m not sure what that alpaca ever did to you, but that was cold.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        I’d go for the Coors Light, because it’s tasteless, therefore there will be no unpleasant aftertaste. Also, I can’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach without pain, and it’s theoretically possible that the other, ah, ‘beverage’ could contain a non-zero micropercentage of alcohol.Report

  4. Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

    Since my undergrad majors were math and philosophy, do I take those Wiki numbers and average them or do I just add them together?Report

  5. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I suppose this is more for Part IV but the debates I hear now are that people should not go to law school unless they get into a Top 5, Top 10, Top 15, and maybe Top 50 law school for the generous.

    My law school was good. I loved my law school, classmates, and professors. We have been around for a long-time. In a more sane universe, we would just be a well-respected regional law school in Northern California. Maybe we would be well-respected in the entire state or Pacific Northwest Region.

    We were Tier II for my entire time at the school but recently took a serious knock.

    I did not apply to any Top 10 schools. My one reach was Cardozo at number 40 something.Report

    • The impression I’ve always gotten – and continue to get – is that there still is very much a place for the regional law school as long as you’re willing to forgo some of the biggest national law firms and recognize that going to a regional law school means that you’re likely to wind up having to get a job in that region when you’ve graduated. A Temple law degree may not carry much weight in Chicago or even New York, but to my knowledge it still carries plenty of weight in and around Philadelphia.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I know someone who is a partner in an NYC firm with a Temple degree but NY is such a large market that there are going to be a lot of exceptions.

        I never wanted to do biglaw or work at the national defense firms for a variety of reason.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        I went to a Tier II Law School in Chicago and went on to get legal jobs in Los Angeles. Still, my degree would have carried more weight had we remained in Chicago. If you want to practice big firm law, your best bet is an elite school, but being at the top of your class at a Tier II school can still get you there. It’s just somewhat more challenging in today’s climate.

        I actually enjoyed law school but, by then, I didn’t have to worry about dating.Report

    • Avatar Gaelen says:

      First, my hat’s off to the author on the hypo’s, well done sir.

      As a current law student, there is way to much advice given as hard and fast rules rather than as factors to consider on an individual basis. Why you want to go, what you want to do, where you want to work, price of your tuition, and where you get in are all relevant factors that people should consider, giving greater weight to one or the other based on the individual situation.

      Burt’s first post is probably the most important. Too many of my classmates either didn’t think about what being a lawyer would entail, or thought they would get jobs doing international human rights law or something.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I appreciate that individual situations may vary. Understanding the rule rather than the exception is important, though, and most people aren’t as special and unique as they flatter themselves that they are.Report

        • Avatar Gaelen says:

          But I am a unique snowflake 🙂

          I was responding to ND’s list of rules, ie. only T14, only top 20 or 30 etc., which I have heard numerous times, and which I find to be bad advice. So while, “if you get into a top 3 or T14 school, you should go,” is good general advice, every prospective student really needs weigh those factors to truly make an informed decision.

          I take it is sort of a continuation of your first post. Students need to think carefully about what they want to do, how they can do it, and whether the options they have allow them to answer the two previous questions in the affirmative.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            Those aren’t my list of rules. My law school was T100. If I followed those rules, I should not have attended.Report

            • Avatar Gaelen says:

              Sorry, didn’t mean to imply they were. I should have said “responding the list of rules ND mentioned in his comment.”Report

  6. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Though I think it helps to prove my point that liberal arts and humanities majors had higher scores than pre-law majors on the LSAT on average.Report

  7. Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

    What’s your thoughts on debt vs. prestige? With my LSAT, grades, and personal history, I think I’m looking at either a T-15 school (I’ve got deferred admission to UT) with a significant amount of debt, or a T-100 school (Saint Louis University, Seattle University, etc.) on a full or near full ride. Which course would you suggest?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      If you get in to Yale, go to Yale. Whatever it takes to make that happen.

      Think twice about spending similar amounts of money to get a J.D. from Al’s School of Law and Bowling Lanes.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        In your shoes, if I wanted to practice law, I’d go to UT (I assume you mean Texas, not Tennessee, although if you intend to live in Tennessee permanently then it would probably be best to get your J.D. in Knoxville).Report

        • Avatar Griff says:

          I disagree, or at least I don’t necessarily agree. In general it is always better to go to a better school (whether you get called snobby or not, facts are facts). But if your choice is between a higher-ranked school (besides Yale) with $200k in debt at the end of the line, vs. a solid regional school in the region where you want to live and a full ride, I would take the latter. That much debt really does take an enormous toll on you.Report

          • Avatar Barry says:

            Double and triple check on the ‘full ride’. One of the nasty things mentioned in the scamblogs is that they are dependent on class standing (unsurprising), but also that schools will do things like put the scholarship students in the same section, so that forced rank grading in each section makes it almost impossible for all but a small proportion to keep their scholarship after the first year.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            I’ve practiced law in Tennessee. If what you want to do is attract clients, a credible case can be made that a degree from University of Tennessee is more valuable than a degree from Harvard. It marks you as part of the “in crowd.”

            Of course, there’s still Biglaw to do in Tennessee and law school prestige still matters in that stratum of the universe.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        This is my philosophy as well. People call me snobby for it.Report

  8. Avatar Peter says:

    Half Sigma’s written quite a bit about law school, and his view is that there are only 14 that matter at all. In descending order of prestige they are Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, NYU, Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, Duke, Northwestern, Cornell, UC Berkeley, and Georgetown. He points out that the gap between no. 14 Georgetown and whatever school is in 15th place is far greater than the Yale-Georgetown gap.

    He said that the one exception to the Top 14-or-bust rule is that going to the law school at a state’s flagship university *may* be an acceptable option if you are certain that you want to work in that state and are willing to give up the chance of ever working anywhere else.Report

    • Avatar Gaelen says:

      This is the kind of ‘rule’ that drives me up a wall.

      How about if a student has to pay full tuition at Berkeley v. free (or almost free) ride at UC Hastings? How about full freight at Gtown or Cornell v. heavily discounted Mid Tier I or good Tier II in the area you want to practice? And this isn’t even getting into the personal situation and goals for your legal career that could sway you one way or the other.

      This is the kind of thinking that led one of my former classmates to transfer to Gtown, paying full tuition, rather than finish her free ride at my state flagship school. And she wanted to come back to the SAME CITY after graduation. She is now going to be taking out over 100k for only slightly better career prospects.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        “How about if a student has to pay full tuition at Berkeley v. free (or almost free) ride at UC Hastings? ”

        What are the job outcomes at UC Hastings? What percentage got full-time permanent bar passage-required jobs? What was the salary range for that group?Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          There is something to be said for graduating with less debt at the price of less prestige. In order to get to a place where that sort of bargain makes sense, you need to know in advance that you’re going to eschew the possibility of Biglaw and instead do what NewDealer calls “real person law” in a comment below and concurrently accept the lower compensation and often greater levels of administrative headache which are inherent in that sort of career. I’m aiming my talk at undergraduates or others similarly-situated, to take the stars out of their eyes and let them see reality — which I say again, is not a bad picture, just not one nearly as pretty as they might have hoped for.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I am going to disagree with this as well.

      T14 matters for what? For any legal placing or just placing at a big corporate law firm?

      I graduated law school from a Tier II school in 2011. This was one of the worst years for the crisis. Many of my classmates did have trouble finding jobs and many are not working in legal jobs but many others are. We are not working at big firms though. Many of my friends are working as Public Defenders, District Attorneys, Legal Aid (these are all paid positions) or at small to medium sized firms in the Bay Area. So there are still jobs to be had for one T14 lawyers.

      Saying T14 or nothing will just mean a lot of corporate lawyers and not lawyers for the more ordinary aspects of the law: Family/Divorce, Torts/Personal Injury, Criminal Defense, Immigration, Bankruptcy, etc.

      The attitude quite frankly is snobby.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      I don’t know if that’s necessarily true for a lot of schools. The gap between UCLA/UTexas and Georgetown is definitely smaller than between Yale-Georgetown, especially when you’re comparing faculty quality(and having dealt with the admissions process for both tiers of the T3 vs. T14, I can vouch that there’s definitely a huge gap between the T3 and T14-15ish.)

      That said it’s really highly dependent on what field you want to study, for something esoteric like National Security Law, going to Yale isn’t going to help you nearly as much as going to a place with a specific focus and a handful of top professors in that field.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        “That said it’s really highly dependent on what field you want to study, for something esoteric like National Security Law, going to Yale isn’t going to help you nearly as much as going to a place with a specific focus and a handful of top professors in that field.”

        On of the things mentioned in ‘Dont’ Go to Law School, Unless…….’ is that for a lot of niche or ‘exotic’ fields, they hire pretty much from the elites schools, and train on the job. The top ranked ‘International Sports Law’ program at some misc. schools is only top ranked because the elite schools don’t *need* to have such a pseudo-program.Report

        • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

          This, of course, is true of all programs, not just law. The reason your local A&M school has a great program in, like, package engineering is because the elite schools just teach you the principles of engineering, which you can then use for package design if your employer needs that.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

          This is true of really niche fields, but it’s not so true when we’re talking fields that do require a certain underpinning in expertise and are as much academic training as they are full time law programs. NSL is one, international law and admiralty law are a couple others. Sometimes IP law falls under this, but there’s boutique firms that can train you in that area, so it’s not as much as one.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          This is true for niche fields.

          However for the most part*, graduates from elite schools do not become plaintiff’s lawyers, family/divorce lawyers, bankruptcy lawyers, worker’s comp, labor, immigration lawyers, etc. Fields that LeeEsq called “real person law” in another comment. In my experience many graduates of elite law schools look down upon these fields.

          *There are exceptions of course. Elite law schools are still large enough to have a diverse interest in their student body but in my experience many want to practice corporate/transactional law and see everything else as being a bit vulgar.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            This is roughly true. Some become litigators, but they tend to become Biglaw litigators, doing Big Litigation for Big Money.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              I love plaintiff’s law.

              The hours are often fairly sane because the work is done on a contingency basis (sometimes you need to stay late but rarely biglaw late), you are helping real people with real problems (I always wanted to work with individuals), small firm culture can be very nice.

              Plus if you do it right and make partner, a contigency fee can be very lucrative if lucre matters.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              Also some law schools have different specialties.

              My school attracted a lot of rah rah social justice types and encouraged it. Plus traditionally, a lot of people who went to be lawyers for the government in a variety of capacities (not just crim)Report

  9. Avatar N.Elias.Kelly says:

    Bang on parody of the LSATs.

    I am in the process of taking an LSAT course, and am so far pretty happy with it. I am sure it varies from instructor to instructor, but my course has so far given me some decent help on how to break down the questions, especially with regards to the structure of the logical reasoning section. I took the LSATs once before, did pretty well, but I know nothing about formal logic and having someone explain how to diagram the basic conditions is really helping me. Like I said though, I can see this really varying from course to course and instructor to instructor.

    As far as dating goes, I always tell college students that hobbies are where it’s at for romance. Find a club with a social atmosphere you like (at least as, maybe more important than what the club is actually about) and you will find companionship of whatever kind you are looking for.

    I will say, it heartens me to see that your advice matches the information I got from people in the career advice office of my Alma Mater. Where you get in is the most important thing in your career and that is all about the LSAT. Honestly, they barely mention the writing portion of the application, I think under the general idea that if you need them to explain essays to you then you are not cut-out for Law School. Instead it is all about The Test.

    However, I will say that the most interesting piece of application advice I received was to have my application in as close to the beginning of the application period as possible. The reasoning that I was given for this is that even the best schools are still playing the numbers game. If you don’t have the best numbers then you need to appear as little of a burden on their stats as possible. So apply early and wow them with personal stuff, while they still have plenty of empty slots to fill with 4.0s and 180s. Not sure how much it can help, but it was definitely an angle I hadn’t heard or considered before.

    Thanks a lot for writing this, as an aspiring Law Applicant this series is a really great read, both the posts and the comments.Report

  10. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I’m tempted to do a corollary to all this talking about how much it sucks to be an international student applying to law school. My undergraduate grades were okay (let’s say low end of a 3x average) while my LSAT scores were basically phenomenal (not meant as a brag) but basically every school I got admitted to assumed I’d somehow be able to cover loans and the like without any institutional support. Needless to say this doesn’t happen for international students, where banks are very reluctant to hand out loans unless you have Bill Gates as a co-signer, and this became a major sticking point when I was negotiating. (FYI, it’s also why I wound up doing a master’s program first and foremost due to the paucity of funding opportunities for a 1L)Report

  11. Avatar Barry says:

    BTW, Burt isn’t quite right on “To gain admission to law school in the United States, in almost every case you will need an undergraduate degree from a credible four-year university backed by grades demonstrating at least the potential for academic excellence.”.

    There are a bunch of schools which are bottom-feeders, and more so now that applicant counts are dropping like a rock. However, looooooooooooooooong before getting down to those schools, the (real lawyer) job prospects are down well below 50%. Which is important to those with only decent grades and LSAT scores, because there are a lot of schools which will be happy to take your $150K or $250K, in return for a miserable chance at a law career.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I’m not even paying attention to the these sorts of schools. Go with ABA accreditation, or go home. As I’ll show tomorrow, even the ABA schools aren’t offering a product that in today’s environment is hugely useful for obtaining employment.Report

  12. Avatar Barry says:

    Ah, UC Hastings (

    46.3% of getting a full-time long-term legal job (not counting solo practitioners, which means ‘couldn’t find a job). Note that this would include jobs in a ‘firm’ with only a couple of ‘partners’, which probably means two or three new grads without a job sharing an office and getting some letterhead stationary.

    For Berkeley, that percentage is 85.9%.Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      Now, if one actually gets a three year full-ride, that might be a toss-up. But what percentage of students who get a full-ride keep it for all three years?Report

      • Avatar Gaelen says:

        Those employment numbers are worse than I would have thought. For comparison to Berkekely I was just looking for a reasonably ranked school in the Bay area, assuming that one would have better than even odds of getting a job.Report

        • Avatar Barry says:

          Really, the whole message of the scamblogs is that the employment outcomes (% getting a real lawyer job and the actual salary ranges) is far worse than people think.
          People think of law school like a regular professional school (med, dental, engineering, etc.), and it’s really a cash cow horror story. One is better off thinking of law school as like those ‘technical instititutes’ advertised on bad TV.Report

          • My impression with medical schools at least is that getting in “somewhere” is the goal. If you want “regular doctor” MD, avoid DO or Caribbean schools.

            Obviously, most people would prefer to attend Johns Hopkins over Big State State U, particularly if they plan on impressing patients at their clinics/private practice, but in terms of both the quality of education you will receive and the quality of students admitted, there is negligible difference between say the University of Nebraska and Yale.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Stay tuned. We’ll be getting on this in part 4.Report