Non trad admissions questions re: grad school, waffling

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Non trad admissions questions re: grad school, waffling

Postby InvisibleMan88 » Mon Oct 27, 2014 7:06 pm

Hi all,

Long time lurker and admirer of the TLS community. I'm in my head about the admissions process on a few particular questions, and I'd value your advice, if you have a moment. I'm an odd duck in this process, though I'm sure these topics have been written about before (if so, please point me in the right direction, as I've had some trouble finding relevant perspective). Here's where I stand:

3 years out of undergrad
3.9 GPA at a large public, honors thesis, work experience through college in advocacy and marketing
1.5 years marketing experience post college, fairly accomplished in small biz setting
Dual applied to law and graduate school two years ago (using my second LSAT score): got good offers in both (full ride top 20 law), WL at most of T14, chose graduate school
Expected to graduate with MA in humanities field from top 10 program next spring, currently a doctoral student in said program
In good standing in grad school, 4.0. Have been an active member of the community, leadership in the department, community service, taken classes crosslisted with law school, directed an academic program for a summer camp on the side, pursuing research that lines up with legal interest
Three letters of rec still loaded in LSAC from my previous cycle, all from my undergrad, dated 2011
Three LSAT scores: 163 (June 11), 167 (Oct 2012), 172 (June 2014)

My story is complicated. I'm a professional waffler: two years ago I dual applied to law and graduate school. Had good offers from both, took the PhD route. Since then, I've had a good experience in graduate school, but I have serious reservations about finishing the degree, and especially the job market to follow (which makes the legal market look positively fertile). That said, without the right offer in law school (namely some $ from a T14), I am willing to finish the doctoral degree. My questions, therefore, are about how to make the transition from doctoral program to law school intelligently, and with the best possible outcome in the law admissions process. I'm considering applying in the next week or two, or waiting three-five years until after the doctoral degree.

Obviously I'm a non traditional applicant, and someone who needs to make a good case why law school is right for me this time around (when it wasn't last time). When I apply, I'll be writing an addendum addressing both the multiple LSATs and especially my graduate experience. Assuming I accomplish that tricky rhetorical task, however, and make a compelling case for myself as a law applicant, I want to know the following:

1. How much benefit would I derive in the application process from getting recommendations from professors in my graduate department, rather than merely relying on my three year old undergraduate reccs? Do I need to get a recc or two from graduate school profs as evidence of my "burning the ships?" This question is really about commitment: asking for recommendations to law is tantamount to doctoral program suicide, as far as I can tell. To ask for new reccs is to commit myself to taking a law offer next year.

2. What's the distinction between a PhD and an MA in the eyes of an admissions committee? My understanding is that the PhD will suggest a level of teaching experience, professionalism, and research acumen that the MA will not, and potentially set me up for certain career paths (professorial). On the other hand, waiting until I receive the PhD (3-4 more years), would mean rebuilding my application around my research (not a bad thing), and waiting 3-4 years to begin a very difficult career that I feel ready and excited for now (1L at 31 sounds like a real challenge). My dissertation will, feasibly, offer a rationale for law school, but there's a fair bit of risk in sticking it out to make that case.

3. If I do stick out the PhD with the intention of going to law afterwards, what steps should I take to best position myself for that move? Writing a dissertation that speaks in some ways to my legal interests, cultivating recommenders, and perhaps building resume experience outside the academy in the legal field would be my thoughts here. Any others?

Thanks very much for your perspective.

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Re: Non trad admissions questions re: grad school, waffling

Postby banjo » Mon Oct 27, 2014 7:55 pm

I was in your shoes a few years ago and have PM'd with several people about this exact situation. You are far from alone.

Let's start with the advantages of finishing your PhD. You might be able to build an impressive "legal academic" resume, which could net you acceptances at HYS, a Furman at NYU, a Hamilton, a Ruby (if it's still around), or another named scholarship. You might also do really well in law school, publish, and have an above-average shot at becoming a law professor.

The downside is that there's a chance you'll end up in the same spot you would have been in had you started law school next year. Maybe you simply perform according to your numbers. Maybe you go to law school but decide to go to a firm. Or maybe you gun for legal academia and just get unlucky. There's a chance you would have wasted the 3-4 years you spent living on a graduate student stipend finishing your PhD. If you took an academic fellowship after law school, there's even a chance you'll be 35 and still looking for work.

In my case, I decided to drop out without finishing a PhD. I figured that even if I set myself up for legal academia, the chances were far too remote that I'd actually get a position, especially with declining enrollments, and in the process of gunning for academia I might lose opportunities to practice law. Like you, I also didn't want to go through 1L when I'm even older.

As for your specific questions:

(1) Yes, I think you should get updated recommendation letters before applying to law school, including from your graduate school professors.

(2) A PhD is valuable to the extent that you can sell yourself as a professor. Law schools benefit greatly by having their alums become professors at other law schools.

(3) I think you have the right idea here. I do think that a PhD on your resume might hurt a little at OCI. People might see you as uncommitted to the drudgery of firm work. This is just an impression I got going through OCI this year--there's a certain disdain/dismissiveness towards super-theoretical humanities education.

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