Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Choosing a Law School by Rank

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(This article is an adaptation of my interview on LSAT Blog, and is further elaborated in Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.)

Choosing the right law school is not as easy as it seems.  One tool that applicants rely on heavily is law school rankings.  While this method can be easier to do side-by-side comparisons, the reliability of some of these rankings have been called into question as law schools have found ways to boost scores in ways that may not be accurate.  Regardless, some employers use law school rankings when deciding between candidates.  Your goal is to be hired upon graduation, so you can use the rankings to help you decide, but further digging and research are always recommended.  Here are a few tips regarding law school rankings.
Law school rankings are important for employment rather than education since the material you learn is mostly the same between each of the ABA-accredited schools.  Recently, Harvard came out with a study that 96% of their 2012 graduates were employed, while at the national level only 65% of 2012 law grads were employed (and this includes the underemployed).  Clearly reputation of a school can affect your chances of employment upon graduation.   Employment also greatly depends on grades and class rank.  For example, if a particular “Biglaw” employer will consider a top-25% graduate of Harvard, they might seriously consider only a top-10% graduate of law school #25, and maybe only top-5% from law school #50.
Schools that are highly ranked usually come with a hefty price tag and, because most students are clamoring to get in the doors, will offer fewer scholarships, while lower-ranked schools use scholarships and lower tuition as an incentive for students to enroll.  If a school is offering a good scholarship and is only a few notches lower than another school you’ve been accepted to, then chances are the reputation won’t make much of a difference and you might as well get the same education for a better price (although this may not always be true if you qualify for in-state tuition at the higher-ranked school).  However, if the ranks greatly differ, then there should be other factors you consider such as in-state tuition, cost-of-living, the school’s reported employment, and location.

The end goal is employment, and statistically the 4th-tier schools are partially 4th-tier because their students struggle to get employed.  While these schools will likely be the cheapest options, this is a time where you may not want to look at price and scholarship deals.  Instead, look to other factors such as location.  Is this school in an area where there is a demand for lawyers?  Does it have a competing law school with a higher rank in the area?  Those who bombed the LSAT, but otherwise do really well in school may consider a 4th-tier school as a spring board to transfer and trade-up to a better school after the first year.  Still, transferring is difficult and can affect your rank, deduct some of your credits (affecting your graduation date and course load), and may eliminate possibilities like law review, moot court, honors/awards, and scholarships.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Game of Loans: Decreasing Your Student Debt Before You Graduate

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(This article is an adaptation of my guest post on, and is further elaborated upon in Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.)

Are you worried about graduating, about finding a job, about repaying your debt?  Welcome to 2013.  Finances are in the forefront of every student’s mind and should be.  Tuition expenses are steadily rising, government interest rates waver between each administration, and the job market continues on shaky ground.  Rest assured, you can decrease the burden of debt before you even graduate – yes, before!  If you can work hard, keep organized, and implement some (or all) of these tips, then you can definitely make your student loan debt much more manageable upon graduation.

1.      Avoid borrowing loans altogether.  Scour the internet, local and state organizations, your parents’ employers, and corporations, anything you can do to find scholarships.  Then apply for all of the ones you qualify for.  Joining the military is also an option that many don’t consider.  The military can offer partial and sometimes full tuition assistance among other benefits.  And, as some employers give preference to the military, can be the difference in acquiring a job or not in this market.
2.      Graduate early.  Take the full credit load every semester if the tuition is a flat rate (every school is different, so check the policies).  Also, use your summers wisely and do an internship that will give you course credit (and maybe some spending money) as well as experience and references!
3.      Pay attention to your loan agreements.  Apply for subsidized loans and other need-based loans that will usually cover part or all of the interest payments while you are in school. Shop around for the lowest interest rates. Keep your documents organized, and be aware of your repayment schedule to avoid late fees.  Know your options to make repayment manageable to avoid fees and default.
4.      Negotiate tuition fees.  Schools have some fees that are negotiable.  Fees that are automatically put into your tuition bill, such as gym membership and athletic tickets, can sometimes be opted out of and removed from the bill.  Check with your financial aid office and discuss these options.
5.      Get a job.  If you can handle working while in school (make sure you are able to maintain a high GPA to open up employment options upon graduation), then get a job…maybe two.  Colleges offer Resident Advisors (RA) and work study programs that are flexible with school hours and offers benefits – reduced housing expenses and free meals for RAs – or payment to pay for educational expenses.  If you get a job off of campus, you can also use your income to pay for educational expenses, decreasing the amount you may be inclined to borrow.
6.      PAY YOUR INTEREST!  Most student loans have compound interest, which means, if you don’t pay your interest, it adds on to the total amount owed and the next time you are charged interest, the payment is based on the new total.  This can quickly add up!  You will maintain the original balance owed and will pay less over the life of the loan if you make your interest payments during school.
7.      Budget.  Keep track of your spending for a month or a semester and create a budget.  Review your spending and determine what areas you can cut back in.  Do you really need the $7 Starbucks coffee or the newest iPhone?  Can you buy used books or eBooks for lower prices?  Have you been flashing your student ID as much as possible to get all the discounts on food, entertainment, and transportation possible?  There are free apps available that can easily keep track of your budgeting for you or there is always Excel Spreadsheet.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

5 Ways to Save Money Applying to Law School

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(This article is an adaptation of my guest post on, and is further elaborated upon in Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.)

For most undergrad students money is already stretched pretty thin.  How are you supposed to come up with the funds for all of these law school applications?  It’s important to avoid borrowing more student loans if you can.  What if you don’t get accepted to law school or decide later that you don’t want to go?  You could be paying off that extra debt (plus interest) for a few years without anything to show for it.  A little bit of planning, squirreling away income, and following the next few tips will allow you to apply to law school financially stress-free and maybe even debt-free.

1.   Create a timetable.  Be aware of your Law School Admission Test (LSAT) deadlines, application deadlines, recommendation letters, waiver deadlines, and forms and other materials you have to put together for your application.  With these dates, also jot down the costs to cover each one and tally it up.  Start saving and scrimping so that you can cover these costs – basically, budget.
2.     Search for waivers.  Many law schools waive the application fee if you apply electronically or early. However, don’t apply to the school solely for the waiver.  Do your research; narrow your list of schools; and then if they offer a waiver, make sure that you apply by the deadline to receive it.  Also, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) has a waiver for those with “absolute inability to pay for the LSAT and other essential application services.”  If you believe you qualify, the waivers cover nearly all the costs for the application process (some schools will also waive application fees if LSAC granted your waiver).
3.     Freebies.  The costs of LSAT prep courses and personal statement assistance can add up.  If you are a very good self-studier, you can find many free practice LSAT exams on the LSAC website, on helpful blogs such as LSAT Blog, in your school library or political science/pre-law departments, and some prep courses offer free trials of their services.  When it comes to assistance with your personal statement, trusted mentors who know what law schools are looking for and personal statement workshops offered by the career office or on-campus programs can be the most helpful resources and are a nominal price or free.
4.    Shop around.  Maybe your personal study habits aren’t great and you would prefer to use an LSAT prep course.  There are many reputable courses to choose from.  Compare prices and use the free trials to find the best, most cost-efficient program for you.
5.   Use your time wisely.  You will need to build up your résumé for your application and for your references to review, not to mention to help you stand out among the other applicants. Participation in debate clubs and undergraduate mock trials will be significant uses of your time.  Look into activities such as pre-law societies and clubs that support areas of law in which you are interested in for establishing your career.  Pay attention to membership fees and reason the price with quality.  If you can find a worthwhile internship that also pays, go for it!  It’s the perfect trifecta – résumé booster, actual experience, and an income!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

5 Questions to Ask Before Applying to Law School

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(This article is an adaptation of my guest post on, and is further elaborated upon in Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.)

Too often students apply to law school in hopes of a six-figure salary or to evade a sour job market without doing enough self-reflection and research.  It is too costly of a mistake to make this decision lightly.  Ask yourself the following questions and do the research – it’s worth it! 

1.    WHY do you want to be an attorney?  False notions of what it means to be an attorney can lead to extreme job dissatisfaction.  Prevent that from happening by doing a little bit of research.  Perform basic research online.  Speak to an attorney.  Shadow an attorney, even if for a few hours.  These low-cost (even free) steps will help you clarify your intentions.
2.     Should YOU be an attorney?  Not only do you have to consider your ability to undertake the tasks performed by an attorney, but you must also determine if you can handle law school.  How you do in law school will determine what opportunities in law practice are available to you.  You can find many affordable eBooks on what it’s like to attend law school as well as what it’s like to be an attorney (or check out free options at your library).  If you live near a law school, sit in on a class and talk to students.
3.   What TYPE of lawyer do you want to become?  Litigator or transactional attorney?  Big firm or small firm or solo?  Private or public?  Learning about each of these general categories is the key to whether you want to do that kind of work and live that lifestyle.  This research can be used to plan the most effective (and cost effective) way to get to your end goal. 
4.     Is a law degree NECESSARY?  Why take on an enormous amount of student debt if you don’t have to?  For example, maybe after answering the first three questions you’ve learned you aren’t so keen on law school anymore, but you liked the real estate work you saw an attorney do when you shadowed.  In real estate, there are some positions that allow you to do title searches and prepare transfer documents much like some attorneys would do.  Acquiring a realtor’s license costs much less than law school, takes less time, and, if you have the right personality in the right market, can be quite lucrative.
5.    Is NOW the right time?  You should evaluate the current legal job market, your current employment, and where you are in your personal life.  If you have an income, can you pay for law school so you can borrow fewer loans or not take on student debt at all?  Will a law degree advance your career goals or hinder them?  Again, self-reflection and a little bit of research can get you on the right track for your future, whether law school is in that picture or not.