Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

WSJ: How Law Students Can Cut Debt, Boost Job Prospects

Interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal:  How to Cut Debt, Boost Job Prospects From Law School, by Amir Efrati:

[H]ow can a prospective student choose a school that offers the best chance of landing a good job?  [R]eing strictly on widely publicized rankings can be a mistake, experts say. "If you go to a school ranked 35th or 40th over one that's ranked 70th or 80th, you are by no means substantially increasing your chances of landing a high-paying job," says Bill Henderson, a law professor at Indiana University-Bloomington who studies the legal job market. For one thing, the talent pool at a higher-ranked school is generally deeper, making it harder to perform better than your classmates -- a must if you want a chance at a big-firm job.

For students aiming for the private sector, here are some tips to help identify the law schools that will provide the best job opportunities and do the least damage to your bank account.

  • Consider an in-state public law school:  Unless you've been accepted at a nationally recognized top-tier school, where getting a job is easier regardless of your grades, think hard about minimizing cost.
  • Be a big fish:  If your law-school admissions test score doesn't qualify you for admittance at the top 20 to 30 schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report in its annual law-school rankings and your goal is a high-paying law-firm job after graduation, consider going to the school where you will get the biggest tuition discount and where you will be among the top incoming students.
  • Ask about on-campus recruiting:  Many employers consider only the top-ranking students, based on their first-year grades, for interviews for the summer-associate jobs that are the path to full-time employment upon graduation. Ask the school and second-year students what percentage of the class gets interviews with the big law firms that offer the highest starting salaries.
  • Look for transfer opportunities:  Another perk for big fish: Elite schools are increasingly plucking the best students from lower-ranked schools.
  • Check alternative law-school rankings: Rankings published by U.S. News are dominant in the industry, but they reveal few details about graduates' employment prospects. Some schools greatly outperform their U.S. News rank in placing students at the highest-paying firms or in prestigious federal appeals-court clerkships. A handful of alternative rankings have proliferated online in recent years to satisfy the growing demand for measuring employment outcomes of law graduates. Brian Leiter, a law professor at University of Texas-Austin, for example, posts lists ranging from Supreme Court clerkship placement to the scholarly reputation of schools. In the spring, Prof. Henderson of Indiana and another law professor are expected to publish a new ranking in the legal trade publication National Law Journal showing what percentage of a school's class got jobs at the nation's 250 largest law firms.
  • Scrutinize schools' data on graduate employment:  Most law schools try to keep track of where their graduates end up and what their salaries are, but some schools are more forthright than others.
  • Think about location: Unless a school is nationally recognized, it's tough to take its degree to firms on the other side of the country.

Bill has a detailed follow-up on his Empirical Legal Studies blog.  And check out the comments on Amir's post on the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog:  Law Blog News You Can Use:  How to Get a BigLaw Job.

Update:  The ABA Journal has more in Picking a Law School? Be Cheap and a Big Fish, by Debra Cassens Weiss.

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