Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

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WesternLawGirl
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Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby WesternLawGirl » Sun Dec 11, 2005 1:51 am

As a current 3L able to reflect on my own legal education, I can tell you that the top ranked schools are not necessarily worth the money. I recommend going to a lower ranked school, enjoying the scholarship money, and working your butt off. If you graduate from a mediocre school at the top of your class, I guarantee that you will be better off than if you graduate in the middle of the pack at a top law school. Your ego will be less bruised, your wallet will be fatter, and your job prospects will be way better. If you can suck up your pride for a little while, the choice to attend a lower ranked school will pay off in spades. Trust me.

I went to a top-10 undergraduate institution, a number-one ranked graduate program, and I am currently at a top-50 law school in my home state. Many of my friends went to law schools like Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, Georgetown, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, USC, Michigan, Northwestern, Cornell, George Washington, you name it. Thus, I really feel like I have some great fodder for comparison.

While I had some serious doubts at first, I've had a fine experience at my top-50 school. (Remember, we all use the same books and we all read the same cases.) Sure my law school professors aren't famous like Larry Tribe, but they know my name, and even better, they come over to my house for parties. While in law school, I've built some real relationships with some great people, and not everyone can say that. Most of my professors are just starting out in their careers, and they are full of energy and enthusiasm for teaching, which is great for me, as a student.

Instead of going through law school feeling like a mediocre moron, I have enjoyed being the very top of my class and receiving numerous awards and honors, including being the editor of the school's primary journal. Stuff like that matters when you apply for jobs. Employers take notice. I have an appellate clerkship and a job at one of the nation's best law firms lined up for when I graduate in May.

My experience isn’t unique, either. In the last few years, my school has placed people in impressive judicial clerkships and at notable law firms like Davis Polk, Kirkland & Ellis, Foley & Lardner, Skadden, Latham, and OMM. These people -- who all graduated from my top-50 law school -- are doing MUCH better than a lot of the Harvard and Yale students I know. For instance, one of my law school colleagues is working for one of the two best litigation firms in New York, while one of my HLS friends is still unemployed. They graduated the same year. Another friend of mine who turned down a top-3 school to attend a top-30 school is working at Cravath in New York. My friend who went to the best school in the Midwest is still looking for work. Last I checked, and I’m not exaggerating, he was delivering pizza.

Sure, Harvard and some of the other top schools offer some amazing opportunities. But they also rely a lot on cache to get you to pay those tuition dollars. Keep in mind, cache wears thin in a profession that lives by the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mantra. Harvard gets you a foot in the door, but so does graduating Order of the Coif from a top-fifty law school. Harvard grads get fired just like everybody else.

I don’t mean to be too idealistic. My experience doesn’t apply if you want to work in academia, unless you do something to distinguish yourself later in your career. And every now and then you’re going to meet snobs who think you’re not as good as they are because you didn’t finish as a mediocre law student from an amazing institution. Remember, however, the old saying that cream rises to the top. (It’s an old saying for a reason.) If you have the brains, the work ethic, the talent, the personality and the hustle to be great, it’s going to happen regardless of the school you pick.

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Ken
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Top Law Schools - Ranking is not everything

Postby Ken » Mon Dec 12, 2005 2:23 am

I wanted to thank Western Law Girl for this excellent post regarding her experience and success that she garnered, even though not attending a top 10 law school (although being in a top 50 law school is impressive in its own right). So much emphasis is placed upon rankings, such as the US News Law school rankings, that applicants forget that there is no objective best school, but instead applicants should look for the best school to fit their individual criteria.

The path taken by Western Law Girl, which resulted in scholarship money and then academic accolades and now excellent career prospects, is illustrative of the many routes one can take to get the most fulfilling legal education and career possible. Indeed, most top law schools are very competitive, filled with students who excelled in their college careers but now face issues competing against fellow students who are equally as bright and fighting for finite honors.

I am particularly fond of public law schools if one is an in-state resident, as is the case for Western Law Girl. For example, if one is a resident of Texas and wishes to say in Texas, the University of Texas Law School is the clear choice to consider, with excellent academics and a sterling in-state reputation. Within Texas, there are more opportunities for UT Law School grads (from loyal alumni) than there are for graduates of other top law schools. Additionally, in-state tuition allows for lower debt levels, freeing one to make the career choices one desires rather than have them dictated by monetary concerns and paying off large student loans.

Applicants place so much stress upon themselves (and I admit I was guilty of this as well) to get into the top 20 law schools, but in the end what law school is really best for you may be one that is not as highly ranked but instead offers a multitude of other attractive factors that make it an overall better choice.

While applicants do need to factor in the national reputation of the law school they will attend, realize that what really matters is the reputation of your law school in the locale where you want to practice law. Consequently, what may be your best bet is a strong regional school that has given you a large scholarship and where you will likely graduate at the top of your class. Or perhaps being in the middle of your class at Harvard Law School is more fulfilling.

The key is to realize that there is no objectively best choice and really focus upon your individual goals and desires and determine what law school is best for you by matching these goals and desires with what a school offers, not merely how it ranks.

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rdlnl11
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Postby rdlnl11 » Sun Jan 14, 2007 7:22 pm

bump

Scotty
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Postby Scotty » Sun Jan 14, 2007 8:19 pm

I'd also like to chime with an agreement here but I'd be more cautious about following it to the letter. I'd say that someone in a fairly respectable position (esp HYS) in a top law school class has similar opportunities to those who graduate high up in a lower ranked schools class.

I think this advice would definitely help for people who think they would struggle in a top law school. I currently attend Cambridge University law school and I found the style of teaching etc a bit more of a struggle than most and even though I do well at most things here, the exams don't show my best side and I don't have a great class position.

Luckily that doesn't matter too much as the grade I got was reasonable and since I'm heading to a different country (USA) where I didn't get asked my class rank in 4 out of 5 choices so the name open doors for me but that's not the case in applying to USA employers from a US university.

The bottom line is that it's probably not worth scraping in by the skin of your teeth to a university where you're gonna be near the bottom - Unless you can handle it (I'm pretty happy with my situation but some would dwell on it too much) it's not the happiest time in your life. It's far more fun to be the high achiever in a slightly less good place with equal job prospects at the end.

typical1L
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Postby typical1L » Sun Jan 14, 2007 9:35 pm

I'm wondering, OP, if you feel that going to a top 10 school for undergrad was worth the money? Or did you get scholarship money there as well? I'd rather go to a cheap in-state school for undergrad (as I have) and go into debt for law school than vice versa


You read my mind... I'm 'paying' very low in-state tuition at a public school (actually, full scholarship plus stipend), and law school is probably going to cost me a lot. I much prefer this scenario to the opposite, since it seems that no one cares where you went to undergrad and what law school you attend directly affects your earning potential.

I don't necessarily agree with Scotty that top students from a middling school have similar prospects to mediocre students at a better school, though - when comparing T14 to T1 or T2, the name does mean a lot. Also, it's sort of hard to stay in the top 5% even at a T2 unless you work very hard - even for people who get in the mid-170s on the LSAT, it's probably not that easy.

EE2JD
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Postby EE2JD » Sun Jan 14, 2007 10:25 pm

How about this twist on the conversation... I have read arguments for the "best school possible" in that you do a significant amount of learning from conversations with other students. Better school equals better fellow students.

What do you all think of this? Perhaps some input from those with experience would be good.

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chris0805
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Postby chris0805 » Sun Jan 14, 2007 11:18 pm

I think the point about learning from your other students is an important point to consider. I am currently getting a master's at public institution which I won't name. When I came to visit, it was apparent that my scores were "overqualified" and that I was an attractive candidate. It feels good to be at or close to the top in your class/department, but it gets unchallenging and dull very very fast. I'd rather have student rip apart my argument than tell me how smart I am to think of an answer.

Bright students are often even more important to a class dynamic than bright professors. This does not mean that you can't get bright students at a top 50, but I think it's realistic to assume that the best and the brightest will often be found and the top ranked schools.

I also question how indicative the stories of top school kids not getting jobs are to the larger trends. I know a lot of schools boast employment rates close to or over 97 or 98 %. From my understanding that represents full time legal employment though I could be mistaken.

patentlaw
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Postby patentlaw » Mon Jan 15, 2007 12:31 am

I think you definitely should weigh the cost of schools versus their rankings, and if you have a substantial scholarship and do well at a lower rank school you will have many of the same opportunities available to you. However, I also think grades and LSAT don't always correspond to your performance in school. While Western may have ended up doing extremely well, it's not always the person coming in with the best credentials who performs the best in the end. Basically, you can't count on being at the top of the class. Everyone comes in thinking that they will work hard and be at the top, so just take into consideration that you may or may not end up at the top, so you can't necessarily count on it in your calculations.

EE2JD
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Postby EE2JD » Mon Jan 15, 2007 12:51 am

patentlaw, you make a great point about assuming you can place highly in your class at a lower rank school. As an engineer changing fields I have plenty of confidence in my ability to understand complex problems and such. However, aside from my PS, I can't remember the last time I wrote an essay. I'm sure my writing ability will return as I begin using that side of my brain again, but will that be in time for 1st semester exams? In other words, I'm very confident in my ability to learn, but not as confident in getting top grades right away in law school. From what I've heard, the lower ranked the school is, the tougher the grading scale. Getting into Texas has eased my mind a bit, getting into Boalt would do so even more.

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letylyf
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Postby letylyf » Mon Jan 15, 2007 2:40 am

I think the logic in the original post is flawed because the poster assumed (s)he would do "mediocre" at a top law school. I mean, thinking you won't be able to succeed in a better ranked law school when you're at the top of the pack in your current law school just sounds odd to me. Why sell yourself short? Set your standards high.

I agree with the above posts. I am confident the guy who delivers pizza now would still be delivering pizza no matter where he went to school - examples of successful people from lower law schools and unsuccessful people from top law schools are just that, random examples that have no correlation with the particular schools these people attended - they just say a lot about the particular person.

I think you should always carefully consider a scholarship, even if it's not from the top ranked law school that let you in, but not because you think you won't get a job coming out of the top ranked school!

Scotty
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Postby Scotty » Mon Jan 15, 2007 10:45 am

There are no idiots at Harvard, and SOMEONE has to graduate at the bottom. It's just a fact. Not everyone can be in the top 10%.

You're right and that is a fact but it's all about impressions and guesses on the part of any potential employers.

The top of the class at a T14 can always create the impression that they would have succeeded anywhere - We know how unfair admissions are at the top schools, you put yourself in the right range and the rest is down to luck. The bottom at the top schools however can create the impression that they only scraped in and would have been better suited at another university.

That's perhaps unfair but I think is what goes on in people's minds.

Someone did some research on how hard people work to get the top grades in England. To get the top grade at Cambridge students usually do about twice the amount of work as those who get top grades are mid-range institutions. It's why a semi-good grade at Cambridge (/HYS) gets about the same recognition as a top grade at other universities.

patentlaw
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Postby patentlaw » Mon Jan 15, 2007 10:59 am

EE - Offtopic but I understand your feeling exactly. I went in to law school after a few years of working in the industry and my undergrad didn't exactly prepare me for writing essays and the amount of reading I would have to do. It was a big adjustment, and I actually went to a professor and asked for some extra help in the beginning, I think it had been something like 7-8 years since I had written an essay. In the end I did fine but my first semester gpa was my lowest and it just improved from there.

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El_Gallo
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby El_Gallo » Fri Jul 16, 2010 7:15 pm

I notice that this thread has been dead for a few years. Anybody want to weigh in if WesternLawGirl's advice is still applicable in the current economy?

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bk1
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby bk1 » Fri Jul 16, 2010 7:21 pm

El_Gallo wrote:I notice that this thread has been dead for a few years. Anybody want to weigh in if WesternLawGirl's advice is still applicable in the current economy?


While you should have just started a new thread (a few months old is fine, necroing after years is ridic), I will respond.

I only read the OP, but the problem with her reasoning is that she assumes finishing at the top of a lower school is equal in chance to finishing median at a top school, which it is not.

el jefe
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby el jefe » Fri Jul 16, 2010 8:28 pm

bk1 wrote:I only read the OP, but the problem with her reasoning is that she assumes finishing at the top of a lower school is equal in chance to finishing median at a top school, which it is not.


Yea....not completely equal....but.....I mean wouldn't one assume that keeping all things equal across the board (your work ethic, talent and shit), however, increasing the amount of real competition (people with higher gpa's and lsat's) would actually decrease ur chances of looking as great (i mean u will blend in probably, not place as high because you will no longer be extraordinary)?

I mean if I am playing basketball with a bunch of 1st graders I would look, not only retarded, but like Lebron James. But if I then played with people with the same if not better talent and work ethic as me, wouldn't I come off as average? Bad analogy i know.

And lets put the lsat reasoning stuff aside this once. I mean doesn't this sound right? Remember I don't know anything I just assume a lot of stuff.

Voyager
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby Voyager » Fri Jul 16, 2010 9:29 pm

el jefe wrote:
bk1 wrote:I only read the OP, but the problem with her reasoning is that she assumes finishing at the top of a lower school is equal in chance to finishing median at a top school, which it is not.


Yea....not completely equal....but.....I mean wouldn't one assume that keeping all things equal across the board (your work ethic, talent and shit), however, increasing the amount of real competition (people with higher gpa's and lsat's) would actually decrease ur chances of looking as great (i mean u will blend in probably, not place as high because you will no longer be extraordinary)?

I mean if I am playing basketball with a bunch of 1st graders I would look, not only retarded, but like Lebron James. But if I then played with people with the same if not better talent and work ethic as me, wouldn't I come off as average? Bad analogy i know.

And lets put the lsat reasoning stuff aside this once. I mean doesn't this sound right? Remember I don't know anything I just assume a lot of stuff.


It's just difficult to say how you will stack up against your classmates. Betting you will be in the top 10% of the class seems foolhardy... everyone in those schools (hell, in all schools) is scared as crap right now.

The problem is that if you DON'T make top 10%, ITE will ruin you.

Meanwhile, median at Columbia still handily gets you biglaw... in fact, you currently just have not be in the bottom 20% or so of the class.

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Undergradut
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby Undergradut » Fri Jul 16, 2010 9:44 pm

Betting you will be in the top 10% of the class seems foolhardy


If you just pick an incoming T-50 1L at random, then it'd be foolhardy to bet he/she will be in the top 10%.

Is it foolhardy, though, to make the bet when you know the incoming 1L has a track record (GPA, LSAT, etc..) that is just as good as that of a Columbia incoming 1L? This is the relevant question.

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bk1
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby bk1 » Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:14 pm

Undergradut wrote:If you just pick an incoming T-50 1L at random, then it'd be foolhardy to bet he/she will be in the top 10%.

Is it foolhardy, though, to make the bet when you know the incoming 1L has a track record (GPA, LSAT, etc..) that is just as good as that of a Columbia incoming 1L? This is the relevant question.


LSAT and GPA are not good enough predictors to bank on being top 10% imo.

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dogmatic slumber
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby dogmatic slumber » Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:26 pm

Undergradut wrote:
Betting you will be in the top 10% of the class seems foolhardy


If you just pick an incoming T-50 1L at random, then it'd be foolhardy to bet he/she will be in the top 10%.

Is it foolhardy, though, to make the bet when you know the incoming 1L has a track record (GPA, LSAT, etc..) that is just as good as that of a Columbia incoming 1L? This is the relevant question.


I'm sure in extreme cases (like the basketball analogy above--LeBron preparing to square off against first-graders--or someone with CLS stats going to Cooley) there's some predictive value there. But what I'm struck by is how WesternLawGirl's sentiments *ITE* seem more applicable to schools just outside the T14 (UCLA, Vandy, USC, etc.), and there's not that much statistical difference between the average T20 student and the average CLS student. The GPAs are close, and the LSAT gap is what, 5-7 points? Maybe the CLS-quality student would have a slight leg up on exams all else being equal, but I wouldn't bet on it. That's why taking the money at a T20 right now is arguably an even bigger gamble than paying sticker at CLS: regardless of how much smaller your debt load will be, it's basically top-10% or bust if you want Biglaw, and I think it would be quite foolhardy to assume that CLS-worthy stats make a student significantly more likely to get that ranking.

As for whatever school WesternLawGirl went to, probably safe to say it's not generating comparable success stories ITE. More like top-1% or bust.

lebroniousjames
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby lebroniousjames » Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:35 pm

dogmatic slumber wrote:
Undergradut wrote:
Betting you will be in the top 10% of the class seems foolhardy


If you just pick an incoming T-50 1L at random, then it'd be foolhardy to bet he/she will be in the top 10%.

Is it foolhardy, though, to make the bet when you know the incoming 1L has a track record (GPA, LSAT, etc..) that is just as good as that of a Columbia incoming 1L? This is the relevant question.


I'm sure in extreme cases (like the basketball analogy above--LeBron preparing to square off against first-graders--or someone with CLS stats going to Cooley) there's some predictive value there. But what I'm struck by is how WesternLawGirl's sentiments *ITE* seem more applicable to schools just outside the T14 (UCLA, Vandy, USC, etc.), and there's not that much statistical difference between the average T20 student and the average CLS student. The GPAs are close, and the LSAT gap is what, 5-7 points? Maybe the CLS-quality student would have a slight leg up on exams all else being equal, but I wouldn't bet on it. That's why taking the money at a T20 right now is arguably an even bigger gamble than paying sticker at CLS: regardless of how much smaller your debt load will be, it's basically top-10% or bust if you want Biglaw, and I think it would be quite foolhardy to assume that CLS-worthy stats make a student significantly more likely to get that ranking.

As for whatever school WesternLawGirl went to, probably safe to say it's not generating comparable success stories ITE. More like top-1% or bust.



*assumption "BigLaw=NLJ250

T20 schools like BC/BU/GW/Fordham placed +30% in BigLaw in 2009. After that the drop off becomes fairly steep, but I don't think a "10% or bust" generalization fits for certain T20 schools. That figure is probably more accurate in the 40-60 range

Voyager
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby Voyager » Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:42 pm

lebroniousjames wrote:
dogmatic slumber wrote:
Undergradut wrote:
Betting you will be in the top 10% of the class seems foolhardy


If you just pick an incoming T-50 1L at random, then it'd be foolhardy to bet he/she will be in the top 10%.

Is it foolhardy, though, to make the bet when you know the incoming 1L has a track record (GPA, LSAT, etc..) that is just as good as that of a Columbia incoming 1L? This is the relevant question.


I'm sure in extreme cases (like the basketball analogy above--LeBron preparing to square off against first-graders--or someone with CLS stats going to Cooley) there's some predictive value there. But what I'm struck by is how WesternLawGirl's sentiments *ITE* seem more applicable to schools just outside the T14 (UCLA, Vandy, USC, etc.), and there's not that much statistical difference between the average T20 student and the average CLS student. The GPAs are close, and the LSAT gap is what, 5-7 points? Maybe the CLS-quality student would have a slight leg up on exams all else being equal, but I wouldn't bet on it. That's why taking the money at a T20 right now is arguably an even bigger gamble than paying sticker at CLS: regardless of how much smaller your debt load will be, it's basically top-10% or bust if you want Biglaw, and I think it would be quite foolhardy to assume that CLS-worthy stats make a student significantly more likely to get that ranking.

As for whatever school WesternLawGirl went to, probably safe to say it's not generating comparable success stories ITE. More like top-1% or bust.



*assumption "BigLaw=NLJ250

T20 schools like BC/BU/GW/Fordham placed +30% in BigLaw in 2009. After that the drop off becomes fairly steep, but I don't think a "10% or bust" generalization fits for certain T20 schools. That figure is probably more accurate in the 40-60 range


Dude. times are rough out there. My understanding is that schools in the low T-14 are only getting 30% of their class shots at 160k...

lebroniousjames
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby lebroniousjames » Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:45 pm

but i do agree with your logic that someone should not assume that because he or she scored a couple points higher on LSAT it will offer much in the way of a likelihood to place higher at a marginally lower ranked school; accordingly, it is very tough when playing odds to turn down the highest ranked school if you are looking to play the big law game

lebroniousjames
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby lebroniousjames » Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:49 pm

Dude. times are rough out there. My understanding is that schools in the low T-14 are only getting 30% of their class shots at 160k...[/quote]


I can't refute your speculation, although the +30% figure for those schools comes from the 2010 NLJ data. But as I mentioned, NLJ 250 might not fit the 160k/intro definition of BigLaw

Voyager
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby Voyager » Fri Jul 16, 2010 11:00 pm

lebroniousjames wrote:Dude. times are rough out there. My understanding is that schools in the low T-14 are only getting 30% of their class shots at 160k...



I can't refute your speculation, although the +30% figure for those schools comes from the 2010 NLJ data. But as I mentioned, NLJ 250 might not fit the 160k/intro definition of BigLaw[/quote]

Well... I'm not exactly speculating. Go check out abovethelaw. T14 schools are desperately trying to find places for their students... and I assure you that those kids would be ECSTATIC about any NLJ250 firm...

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mallard
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Re: Save Your Money: Top Ranked Schools Aren't Worth It

Postby mallard » Fri Jul 16, 2010 11:00 pm

lebronius, can you link us?

Also, none of the schools you listed (well, maybe GW?) are in the T20.




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