What's So Great About Biglaw?

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luckyirish13

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What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby luckyirish13 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 10:16 am

Hi everyone! I'm new to the forums but I'm getting ready to apply to law schools for the 2018 cycle. One thing I see in most answers people give here is that you need to go to a t14 school to maximize your chance at getting into a large law firm. This is apparently the dream for the vast majority of people here, but I don't really see the appeal.

From what I can tell, Biglaw requires you to work ridiculous hours, be on call at basically all times, work as a low level grunt with no real tasks except paperwork for the first several years, navigate complex office politics often beset by poor management, and deal with a lack of job security due to high turnover. That all sounds miserable. Add to that the fact that most Biglaw is representing corporate interests and managing their financial acquisitions, mergers and the like, it doesn't even sound satisfying from an emotional perspective. Granted the salary sounds nice, but what good is a lot of money if you don't have time or energy to use it?

All this is to say, why exactly do people want to get into a big law firm? Is there something I'm missing here? And if big law isn't really the goal, then what is the harm of applying to a tier 2 or regional school that would land you with a satisfying though lesser paying job down the road?

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby nick417 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 10:30 am

Because you make a lot of money and have lots of student loans to pay off. (we noticed that as First Year Associates, we make more per year than the District Attorney of the city (in a top 10 metropolitan location). Or if you do not have student loans, really easy way to bank a lot of $$$ for early retirement.

Because the exit options from Biglaw are better than other jobs (it kind of boosts your resume)

Because not everything about Biglaw sucks; if your firm is pro bono friendly you can actually work cases like a real lawyer while making premium money.

Because not everyone you work with sucks (probably a 50/50 split).


Finally: I love the attitude that I want to be a lawyer but I do not want to work a lot. That is an oxymoron. A majority of the jobs in the legal profession require 40+ hours per week. If you are going to work long hours, might as well be making $150K plus.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby UVA2B » Sun Mar 26, 2017 10:32 am

People advocate for Biglaw mainly because the pay and exit options are best there. Add on to that the exorbitant cost of going to law school generally, and it becomes immediately clear most law school graduates need that level of pay to cover their debt in going to law school.

It's no secret Biglaw life tries/eats nearly everyone's soul who goes into it, but life-crippling debt on $45k is the alternative in many instances. Does that sound better to you?

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby cavalier1138 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 10:34 am

Most 0Ls just see the paycheck and go temporarily insane. Just kidding. Kind of.

The reality is that a lot of competitive, desirable long-term careers end up wanting/needing biglaw experience. Want to work as an AUSA in a competitive district? They want 3-5 years biglaw and probably a clerkship. Want to work in-house for a highly regarded company? They want biglaw experience. And, of course, want to pay off six figures of debt without starving? Realistically, you can only do it on a biglaw salary.

In terms of the harm done by going with a strong regional school (I really don't see any benefit to settling for a T2): there really isn't any, unless you're taking on debt to go there. It's fine to not want to do biglaw for life; barely anyone who becomes an associate wants that. But attorney salaries are bimodal. You're either making $45-60k starting salary, or you're making $180k starting salary. So if you take on $100k+ debt from your flagship state school without going for biglaw, you'll still be able to get a decent job; you just won't be able to pay off your loans.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby TLSModBot » Sun Mar 26, 2017 10:41 am

If we're looking at Biglaw vs. other professions outside of legal practice, Biglaw allows non-creative, risk-averse people to make a really good salary ($180K in major markets) right out of school.

When we're talking about Biglaw vs. other legal jobs, A. the pay is the best thing going, B. many people incur significant debt in school and Biglaw helps pay that off, C. people think they're the exception and that Biglaw won't be so bad for them, and D. some small subset of people actually like their Biglaw jobs. I'm less than a year in, but my hours aren't too bad and I love the people and work that I do. Ask me again in a year and my opinion might have drastically changed.

There are major downsides to Biglaw, which are well covered here. Like any profession, don't go to grad school unless you have an idea what you want in your career and have looked into what path others have taken to get there.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby TLSModBot » Sun Mar 26, 2017 10:48 am

Also on the 'emotionally filling' thing; I think there are people who need some kind of deep moral/meaningfulness satisfaction from their job and there are others who find that meaning regardless of the job. Good luck getting external validation at 99% of jobs available to non-Ivys lacking family wealth and connections. As someone who does M&A specialist work for big corporations, I think it's super interesting learning about new industries and how they work. That's primarily where I get a lot of my satisfaction; one month it's oil&gas sub-segments, another it's satellite technology, the next it's medical devices. There are just so many companies doing mergers and joint ventures that there is an infinite education in what products exist out there.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby luckyirish13 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 11:41 am

Thanks for the responses everyone. For the most part it does really seem that the advantage of Big Law comes down to money/prestige, as well as the assumption that one has to go into big law to cover for massive student debt. But I don't think that assumption is necessarily correct, if one uses an LRAP program or a full ride scholarship to a regional school.

Perhaps my situation is different from others, so I'll describe my thought process.

I currently work as a researcher for a public interest law firm that fights against government overreach. I find this extremely satisfying because I can get excited about the work I do and the good I believe I am accomplishing. That is worth more to me than a huge salary, especially if that salary comes at the expense of my work-life balance. The main advantage I have with my current job is that I know I can come out of law school and have a job waiting for me right here, and since it's public interest, it would be covered by an LRAP assuming I go to a school that has a decent LRAP program.

For this reason, Notre Dame is my top option. They're a top 25 school and have great name recognition. I love the campus, I love the history, I love that they're conservative (controversial I know but at least for me that's a plus) and honestly, I love that they have a strong sports program. I believe I would enjoy going to Notre Dame more than Yale or Harvard or somewhere like that, and I would enjoy the opportunity to root for Notre Dame on Saturday's for the rest of my life. That's an intangible that goes beyond money imo.

I could pay for Notre Dame using their strong LRAP program, as long as I work in public interest law (which I already have a great connection with) so I'd essentially have gotten a law degree for free, and I'd be set up to work in a field I care about.

Another option would be to pick a regional law school like University of the Pacific (which I almost certainly would get a full ride at) They're actually a very highly respected institution here in Northern California so I would get easy pickings of a job back with my current employer or any other law firm in Sacramento. Plus with a full ride scholarship, I'd get a free law degree and lose nothing.

Now I do want to keep my options open, so I'd prefer a place with national recognition like Notre Dame so I can then have the option of a mid-level law firm or Big Law. But I'm not really worried about a t14 since I'm not desperately trying to land a position with Big Law. So all this comes back to the main question. Is there something else I'm missing out on by not focusing on Big Law? Or is it just money?

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby TheSpanishMain » Sun Mar 26, 2017 11:49 am

luckyirish13 wrote:So all this comes back to the main question is there something else I'm missing out on by not focusing on Big Law? Or is it just money?


Exit options. As others have mentioned, there are some jobs where BigLaw experience is considered a necessary rung on the ladder, at least most of the time. The other advantage that BigLaw offers is that the hiring process is relatively defined and systematic. With smaller firms, it's much more about networking and it can be hit or miss.

But yeah, if your long term goals don't require BigLaw experience, then there's no reason you must do it. I did a summer associate gig at a DC BigLaw firm, did fine and got an offer, and decided not to go back as an associate. I'm very comfortable with that decision.

Just remember, when you talk about free law degrees, you'll still be losing your income for three years, and you'll have to cover your living expenses somehow.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby sublime » Sun Mar 26, 2017 11:52 am

Also, neither of the schools you mention are nearly as respected as you think they are. See https://www.lstreports.com/schools/pacific/

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby UVA2B » Sun Mar 26, 2017 11:54 am

If you have a guaranteed (read: they've offered me a position already at the firm for following graduation) that is covered by a school's LRAP, then it's reasonable to do that. Might want to make sure whether the LRAP is tied to PSLF, which is arguably at question in this administration (I lean toward doubting it'll go away, but there have been discussions about it, IIRC). If so, that's just one thing to consider.

Not many go to law school with a guaranteed job following graduation, and if you don't really have that, I'd just point out it's a huge assumption that the PI org will bring you back in another capacity following graduation just because you worked for them previously. Not saying it can't happen, just make sure you know what's on the table of you go in assuming that.

But if the job is guaranteed, and it's covered under LRAP, have at it. If not, you have to consider cost and employment prospects at every school you're considering. The calculus doesn't change whether you want Biglaw or not. Figure out the job you want, how much that job will pay you, what your chances of getting that job are from that school, and how you're going to pay off the debt you incur at that school. If it makes financial sense, have at it, and good luck.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby nunumaster » Sun Mar 26, 2017 11:55 am

Retake the LSAT.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby cavalier1138 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 12:04 pm

Just FYI, OP: an LRAP program that caps you at $12,000 annually is not "strong" unless you already had a good scholarship.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby TheSpanishMain » Sun Mar 26, 2017 12:09 pm

And before you quit your job and uproot your life for law school, make sure that job waiting for you is real, not a vague "I'm sure we could find you something" type deal. A lot can change in three years. Budgets shrink, supervisors move on, etc.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby stego » Sun Mar 26, 2017 12:13 pm

Another advantage of big law is that they give job offers to people who are still in law school. Some other jobs want to wait to hire people until after they've passed the bar.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby luckyirish13 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 12:22 pm

sublime wrote:Also, neither of the schools you mention are nearly as respected as you think they are. See https://www.lstreports.com/schools/pacific/
Right, but in Sacramento their hiring percentage is actually better than most t14's. They have very little scope outside of Northern California, but they are great as long as you want to work here. Everybody in Sacramento knows of McGeorge. And Notre Dame is #20, which is perfectly fine by me. Also their LRAP is capped at 65,000, which is what my current firm offers to first year associates so it would work well.

@SpanishMain, yeah covering for lost income will be a task. Hopefully my current employer will let me keep researching from afar. I can do it even if I'm not in the office so that would be ideal, to keep working while in school.
@UVA2B that's good advice. I'll check with the schools I apply to and see if their LRAP's are tied to PSLF. And yeah I do think I would have a job all but guaranteed with my current organization.

Oh I forgot to mention my third consideration would be Northwestern. Assuming I hit the LSAT where I think I can, I could apply Early Decision to Northwestern. They like taking people with a few years of job experience, which I have, so I would have a strong chance of getting in, and they give full rides to their Early Decision accepted applicants. A full ride to Northwestern would be great, but it's a bit of a pickle because I wouldn't pick Northwestern over Notre Dame, which would make early decision a bad choice. But I also wouldn't want Northwestern in the first place unless they gave me a full ride and Notre Dame didn't... and the full ride only comes from Early Decision.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby TFALAWL » Sun Mar 26, 2017 12:22 pm

cavalier1138 wrote:Most 0Ls just see the paycheck and go temporarily insane. Just kidding. Kind of.

The reality is that a lot of competitive, desirable long-term careers end up wanting/needing biglaw experience. Want to work as an AUSA in a competitive district? They want 3-5 years biglaw and probably a clerkship. Want to work in-house for a highly regarded company? They want biglaw experience. And, of course, want to pay off six figures of debt without starving? Realistically, you can only do it on a biglaw salary.

In terms of the harm done by going with a strong regional school (I really don't see any benefit to settling for a T2): there really isn't any, unless you're taking on debt to go there. It's fine to not want to do biglaw for life; barely anyone who becomes an associate wants that. But attorney salaries are bimodal. You're either making $45-60k starting salary, or you're making $180k starting salary. So if you take on $100k+ debt from your flagship state school without going for biglaw, you'll still be able to get a decent job; you just won't be able to pay off your loans.



Well said.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby nick417 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 12:26 pm

I really don't understand where this thread is going? (1) more money, (2) exit options, (3) prestige, (4) working with big clients, (5) pro bono opportunities. These are all good reasons why people go into big law. Also, big law takes the best law students in the country so you tend to be working with good legal minds (if you believe law school success is correlated with real world lawyering success).

But I find it comical that this question comes up frequently. Like there are overwhelming options for law grads that pay good money. Because it is easy to land that $80-$110K legal job right out of law school that lets you work 40 hours a week like a normal person. Graduates from my law school (non T-14): either making 40-60K or 140K plus, not really much in the middle.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby cavalier1138 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 12:32 pm

luckyirish13 wrote:Right, but in Sacramento their hiring percentage is actually better than most t14's. They have very little scope outside of Northern California, but they are great as long as you want to work here. Everybody in Sacramento knows of McGeorge. And Notre Dame is #20, which is perfectly fine by me. Also their LRAP is capped at 65,000, which is what my current firm offers to first year associates so it would work well.


When I said "capped", I meant that according to their site, ND caps their annual LRAP payments at $12,000 a year. Without a significant scholarship, you will not be paying under $12,000 a year on your loans.

Anyway, you can't rely on "everybody in Sacramento" knowing a school's name, just on their actual employment statistics. No one at McGeorge is getting hired outside of Northern California, so no, their hiring percentage in that region is not better than the T14. Also, ditto to everyone else's concerns: it sounds like you have a really good feeling about working for your current org after school, not a firm job offer. That means you can't afford to compromise on school quality/price on the assumption that you will get that offer.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby luckyirish13 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 12:42 pm

nick417 wrote:I really don't understand where this thread is going? (1) more money, (2) exit options, (3) prestige, (4) working with big clients, (5) pro bono opportunities. These are all good reasons why people go into big law. Also, big law takes the best law students in the country so you tend to be working with good legal minds (if you believe law school success is correlated with real world lawyering success).

But I find it comical that this question comes up frequently. Like there are overwhelming options for law grads that pay good money. Because it is easy to land that $80-$110K legal job right out of law school that lets you work 40 hours a week like a normal person. Graduates from my law school (non T-14): either you're either making 40-60K or 140K plus, not really much in the middle.
Mainly then, this is just about benefit calculations.

I don't personally see prestige/big clients as particularly interesting. Others might and that's fine but it doesn't weigh into my calculations.

So we have long hours vs big salary. The hours cancel the benefit of the salary to me since I wouldn't want to do a job without work life balance. Others might but not me.

Pro bono work vs. satisfying work. At best this is a wash, but at a public interest firm you do more actual "pro bono" work on interesting cases.

It is true that working at a big law firm is a resume booster, but so is working at a well known public interest firm.

So ultimately, this thread mostly confirms what I initially thought. The impact calculus may vary from person to person, but at least for me, I don't see the advantage of focusing primarily on Big Law. This is important as I try to determine which schools to prioritize.

@Cavalier: Oh I see what you mean. Yes I would have to make sure that my loans remain below a $12,000 annual payment, but that should be manageable. And yes, I would have to make sure to get a "yes we will have a position for you after law school" answer from our CEO, which I think would be a no brainer for him but certainly best to have it said.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby Johann » Sun Mar 26, 2017 1:05 pm

a lot of money. if you dont have a family and want to devote yourself to a career, its a good spot.
biglaw is tolerable for a time. but a career in biglaw and prioritizing family is almost impossible. (obviously family isnt for everyone) but usually family is what pulls people out of biglaw. tough to be there for a kid throughout their life (emotionally and the all the events in their life) in biglaw - let alone 2 or more.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby Easterbork » Sun Mar 26, 2017 1:08 pm

luckyirish13 wrote:
nick417 wrote:I really don't understand where this thread is going? (1) more money, (2) exit options, (3) prestige, (4) working with big clients, (5) pro bono opportunities. These are all good reasons why people go into big law. Also, big law takes the best law students in the country so you tend to be working with good legal minds (if you believe law school success is correlated with real world lawyering success).

But I find it comical that this question comes up frequently. Like there are overwhelming options for law grads that pay good money. Because it is easy to land that $80-$110K legal job right out of law school that lets you work 40 hours a week like a normal person. Graduates from my law school (non T-14): either you're either making 40-60K or 140K plus, not really much in the middle.
Mainly then, this is just about benefit calculations.

I don't personally see prestige/big clients as particularly interesting. Others might and that's fine but it doesn't weigh into my calculations.

So we have long hours vs big salary. The hours cancel the benefit of the salary to me since I wouldn't want to do a job without work life balance. Others might but not me.

Pro bono work vs. satisfying work. At best this is a wash, but at a public interest firm you do more actual "pro bono" work on interesting cases.

It is true that working at a big law firm is a resume booster, but so is working at a well known public interest firm.

So ultimately, this thread mostly confirms what I initially thought. The impact calculus may vary from person to person, but at least for me, I don't see the advantage of focusing primarily on Big Law. This is important as I try to determine which schools to prioritize.

@Cavalier: Oh I see what you mean. Yes I would have to make sure that my loans remain below a $12,000 annual payment, but that should be manageable. And yes, I would have to make sure to get a "yes we will have a position for you after law school" answer from our CEO, which I think would be a no brainer for him but certainly best to have it said.


You're right that big law isn't for anyone, but you're probably trying to justify going to a school that has bad employment outcomes for whatever reason. Good big law placement correlates with good job placement in general. There are plenty of terrible small law jobs out there that are just as stressful and unrewarding that law grads clamor for. Everybody at southwest state school of law isn't a ADA or whatever "meaningful" job you want.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby Johann » Sun Mar 26, 2017 1:11 pm

luckyirish13 wrote:Thanks for the responses everyone. For the most part it does really seem that the advantage of Big Law comes down to money/prestige, as well as the assumption that one has to go into big law to cover for massive student debt. But I don't think that assumption is necessarily correct, if one uses an LRAP program or a full ride scholarship to a regional school.

Perhaps my situation is different from others, so I'll describe my thought process.

I currently work as a researcher for a public interest law firm that fights against government overreach. I find this extremely satisfying because I can get excited about the work I do and the good I believe I am accomplishing. That is worth more to me than a huge salary, especially if that salary comes at the expense of my work-life balance. The main advantage I have with my current job is that I know I can come out of law school and have a job waiting for me right here, and since it's public interest, it would be covered by an LRAP assuming I go to a school that has a decent LRAP program.

For this reason, Notre Dame is my top option. They're a top 25 school and have great name recognition. I love the campus, I love the history, I love that they're conservative (controversial I know but at least for me that's a plus) and honestly, I love that they have a strong sports program. I believe I would enjoy going to Notre Dame more than Yale or Harvard or somewhere like that, and I would enjoy the opportunity to root for Notre Dame on Saturday's for the rest of my life. That's an intangible that goes beyond money imo.

I could pay for Notre Dame using their strong LRAP program, as long as I work in public interest law (which I already have a great connection with) so I'd essentially have gotten a law degree for free, and I'd be set up to work in a field I care about.

Another option would be to pick a regional law school like University of the Pacific (which I almost certainly would get a full ride at) They're actually a very highly respected institution here in Northern California so I would get easy pickings of a job back with my current employer or any other law firm in Sacramento. Plus with a full ride scholarship, I'd get a free law degree and lose nothing.

Now I do want to keep my options open, so I'd prefer a place with national recognition like Notre Dame so I can then have the option of a mid-level law firm or Big Law. But I'm not really worried about a t14 since I'm not desperately trying to land a position with Big Law. So all this comes back to the main question. Is there something else I'm missing out on by not focusing on Big Law? Or is it just money?


a lot of T14 schools actually have the best non-profit connections as well. if youre already connected to the place you want to work, it doesnt matter. if your goal is anything but biglaw, and youre going to use LRAP/PSLF, might as well just rack up the debt since you aren't the one paying it off. if youve looked into notre dame's employment stats and understand the public interest and govt career options coming out, sure its a fine school.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby Johann » Sun Mar 26, 2017 1:17 pm

luckyirish13 wrote:
@Cavalier: Oh I see what you mean. Yes I would have to make sure that my loans remain below a $12,000 annual payment, but that should be manageable. And yes, I would have to make sure to get a "yes we will have a position for you after law school" answer from our CEO, which I think would be a no brainer for him but certainly best to have it said.


im not 100% sure about how LRAP and PSLF work together, but PSLF PAYE would cap your loan payments to well below $12,000 per year. A 65k salary is about $3,500/year on PAYE. A $100,000 salary would still be below $12,000 annual loan payments.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby cavalier1138 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 1:28 pm

JohannDeMann wrote:
luckyirish13 wrote:
@Cavalier: Oh I see what you mean. Yes I would have to make sure that my loans remain below a $12,000 annual payment, but that should be manageable. And yes, I would have to make sure to get a "yes we will have a position for you after law school" answer from our CEO, which I think would be a no brainer for him but certainly best to have it said.


im not 100% sure about how LRAP and PSLF work together, but PSLF PAYE would cap your loan payments to well below $12,000 per year. A 65k salary is about $3,500/year on PAYE. A $100,000 salary would still be below $12,000 annual loan payments.


The ND plan OP's referring to does not appear to use PSLF.

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Re: What's So Great About Biglaw?

Postby luckyirish13 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 1:38 pm

JohannDeMann wrote:a lot of money. if you dont have a family and want to devote yourself to a career, its a good spot.
biglaw is tolerable for a time. but a career in biglaw and prioritizing family is almost impossible. (obviously family isnt for everyone) but usually family is what pulls people out of biglaw. tough to be there for a kid throughout their life (emotionally and the all the events in their life) in biglaw - let alone 2 or more.
Well I'm gonna marry the most beautiful girl in the world (she's in your avatar) and then I'll need some time at home of course ;). Jk but I certainly do need time outside of work, especially since I do hope to one day raise a family.

For me the main reason I was asking was because I already know that Notre Dame is where I want to go to school, but then it was a question of if it was the appropriate place for me to go to "law school" if that makes sense. Everything about me is drawn to Notre Dame, but the only thing giving me pause is that it's not a t14 and it's biglaw percentage is lower than some. So I needed to establish if that was a factor big enough to prevent me from trying to go there. If I wanted to get into Big Law, it's decent, though not elite. Northwestern would be a better bet for me on that front, but since Big Law probably isn't really for me, maybe Notre Dame is.

Also I do expect I would get some scholarship $$$ out of ND, and maybe even a full fellowship, (I have softs that would make me a prime candidate for a full ride fellowship they offer) so the money thing will most likely be manageable.



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