Sanity Check - Is law school a good idea for me?

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Lizard_Man

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Sanity Check - Is law school a good idea for me?

Postby Lizard_Man » Mon Aug 27, 2018 10:46 pm

I’ve been a landman for the past five years. I spend much of my time reading conveyances, operating agreements, probate/district court proceedings, etc. and preparing ownership reports. Over my short career I’ve managed to impress the right people, resulting in quick pay raises and a good deal of autonomy. I’m currently managing projects at a small land brokerage, and pulling in $425/day, which is above average pay for a 5 year field landman IMO. I also collect a head-rate for every subordinate landman on my projects. Annual gross 1099 comes out around 110-120k typically.

The most a field landman could expect to make is likely around $500-$550/day. With my network I could probably secure an in-house position with an operator at some point making similar take-home, although salary seems to vary quite a bit between companies. Also, earning potential tends to taper off around $180k for senior in-house landmen. An executive role could outstrip that, with added equity sharing in some cases.

All of that to say: is it foolish of me to consider leaving this job to pursue a JD? And further, is it foolish of me to think that my background and network would help me land a good job as an oil and gas attorney?

My thinking is:
Worst Case: Can’t land a good job after law school, go back to the field landman gig. Make around $100k with limited room for advancement.

Best Case: land a job with a reputable firm doing oil and gas work, gain some interesting experience outside of title examination. Make similar money at the outset, but with much greater potential for advancement and high earning.

I suppose I’m kind of viewing the JD as a next step in this career as opposed to an outright career change. Does this seem accurate? Is it conceivable for my earning potential as a practicing attorney to outpace the career path I’m currently on?

I feel like my career experience has given me the start of a decent toolkit for a career as an attorney. It’s also given me some perspective on the day-to-day drudgery that many lawyers warn about: long days spent toiling over boring documents, billing hours to demanding and unappreciative clients, etc. I’ve dealt with similar conditions in my career so far, and have not only tolerated it but really enjoyed it. I don’t know if I’m overstating the relationship between my line of work and the actual practice of law, but it doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch based on my limited experience.

At this point I have my sights set on UH, SMU, and Baylor. With a reach to UT and some T50s that place well in Texas.

Also giving consideration to lower tier Texas schools depending on $$$. Many of the Title Attorneys I work with who have JDs from TAMU, Tech, St. Mary’s appear to have done very well for themselves and all seem very satisfied with their work. Although my goal is to branch out from title and I get the sense that these schools may not provide that opportunity.

I’m 100% debt-free and not considering paying full sticker at any institution.

I’m wondering if my outlook is foolishly optimistic here, would a JD really be an upward career move at this point?

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totesTheGoat

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Re: Sanity Check - Is law school a good idea for me?

Postby totesTheGoat » Tue Aug 28, 2018 8:45 am

All of that to say: is it foolish of me to consider leaving this job to pursue a JD? And further, is it foolish of me to think that my background and network would help me land a good job as an oil and gas attorney?


Do you like your job? The opportunity cost for going to law school for you is enormous. $300k+ in lost salary plus any costs associated with law school (tuition, room and board, bar prep class, etc.). However, if you really don't like your current work and you really like the work that the oil and gas attorneys do, perhaps it's worth it for you.

If you're doing it mainly for the pay raise, I think you're going to be disappointed. The schools you're looking at don't place all that many graduates into $190k oil and gas jobs, and the few that get such a nice outcome are usually working in biglaw. If you were to go in-house directly out of law school (which is quite a feat itself), you'd probably be looking at $150k max, and a more likely range of $85-110k. You have unique experience that may raise your odds and improve your outcome, but you need to be prepared for graduating into a $60k job or graduating into a bust year for oil and gas and not being able to find a job in that area.

If UT, SMU, UH, and Baylor are within reach, shoot for them (in that order). Unless A&M has substantially improved since I was in TX (2016), avoid it like the plague. Tech and St. Mary's should be last resort schools.

If you haven't come across the "law school transparency" site yet, do a quick internet search for it and look at the data for each of the schools you're contemplating. You'll get a good feel for how much each school costs and what the job outcomes look like.

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Pneumonia

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Re: Sanity Check - Is law school a good idea for me?

Postby Pneumonia » Tue Aug 28, 2018 10:34 am

You aren't crazy to be considering law school, but I agree that you should think hard before leaving your current job. Your net income will go up this year under the new tax plan. On the other hand, 120k as a contractor is still quite a bit less than the same amount as a w-2'd employee (assuming you're on your own for insurance, retirement, etc.).

In your shoes and with your goals, I don't think I'd settle for anything less than UT or SMU/UH with a great scholarship.

QContinuum

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Re: Sanity Check - Is law school a good idea for me?

Postby QContinuum » Tue Aug 28, 2018 10:54 am

totes has great advice. OP, given how well your current job pays, I think BigLaw's your only shot at making more as a lawyer. Consider whether you even want BigLaw, and if so, your odds at landing BigLaw from the schools you're considering. Even at UT, far and away the best school in Texas, the estimated placement into BigLaw is only 44%. You'd likely be able to outperform that stat given your WE and connections, but BigLaw's still far from a guarantee.

Further, the majority of BigLawyers don't stay in BigLaw for more than a few years. Typically 50% leave after 4 years or so. BigLawyers who go in-house typically take a large pay cut to do so (in exchange for much better hours).

All in all, you should only attend law school if you're really passionate about practicing law. Don't do it merely because you dislike your current job or because you think it's a shortcut to riches.



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