@UTLaw: I was accepted to U of H with a nice scholarship. How is their reputation in the area? How do you think their placement is? I think I could get into UT if I wait and reapply next year, but I think it would cost substantially more, and I'm not sold on BigLaw.
Also - how is the Houston legal market doing?
(My goal is civil litigation defense/trial lawyer.)
U of H Law Center has a really good rep in Texas along with SMU. Baylor doesn't have as much luster. If you go through the attorney rosters of the big firms in Texas, you will see them littered with U of H and SMU grads. They are mostly filled with Texas grads, but U of H and SMU make a strong showing in their respective cities with biglaw firms. I've yet to personally see a Baylor grad on the roster at a big Texas firm. That doesn't mean that none exist. I have just yet to see one.
If biglaw is not a must have for you than U of H is a pretty good choice. You still have to do very well. My brother's best friend went to SMU. He said that one had to be in the top quarter just to get a firm job. I assume the cut off was for a smaller midlaw firm, but I don't know for sure. It may have been for any firm job. SMU and U of H seem to be pretty comparable. So you have to do very well. That being said, U of H has a great rep in the city.
The Houston non biglaw market seems to value experience above all else. The economy made it this way because it used to not be this way. It kind of sucks, especially when you know you are a better litigator than most of the attorneys at a given firm, but don't have the years experience they want. Midlaw in Houston might as well be biglaw. It's very competitive. That was even how it was before the economy went bad. The same thing is true for midlaw firms in Austin because many Texas grads want to stay in Austin. The Dallas market seems to be easier to penetrate. But you must have Dallas ties to do so if you aren't going biglaw. In one of my interviews with a midlaw firm in Dallas, the guy talked the entire time about how much he hated Dallas because he was from Houston. I tried to lie and say I had a girlfriend that lived in Dallas, but he wasn't buying it. Needless to say, they weren't convinced I wanted to be in Dallas and did not give me the job.
But U of H is loved in the Houston market. I just don't know anything about their placement numbers. I do know that if you do very well, you will get a biglaw or midlaw job in Houston. One thing that helps you get midlaw jobs after law school is clerking for a state trial judge. If you want to litigate, find a way to clerk for a TRIAL judge. Once you get this experience, you will become more employable. Also, try working at the Harris County DA's office or the attorney general's office if you also want to become a litigator, but don't land a firm job right after law school. You might not want to practice in those areas long term, but you get invaluable trial experience. And that trial experience makes you even more employable. There are plenty of big small firms. These are firms that have about 20+ attorneys. These firms actually do defense work for smaller corporations. These are primarily the corporations I sue. The point is that these firms are small enough to where you will get in the court room very early, within the first year of your employment. But you have to have better courtroom skills, the smaller the firm. I would say that midlaw firms care about grades and smallLaw firms care about your skills as a litigator, provided you have them. It won't be like biglaw where you may never see a courtroom even if you wanted. Litigators seem to be more valuable to midlaw and smallLaw firms because they are a rare find and they need them.
And whatever you do, and this is the most important piece of advice for a law student who does not want to go biglaw and is open to litigating. TRY OUT FOR ONE OF THE LAW SCHOOL'S INTERSCHOLASTIC MOCK TRIAL TEAMS! There should be a few and try out as soon as you are eligible. Do not settle for the in school competitions. Those won't teach you a thing.
Trial law is all about practice and studying the ways of litigation in the courtroom. There is an art to cross examination and direct examination. And you have to really be comfortable in your own skin to nail a closing argument! You need to be comfortable speaking. But before you can get there, you HAVE to know what you're doing. Also, take the rules of evidence. This is imperative. It will be an elective you can take second year. To be good in the courtroom, you have to know your rules of evidence backwards and forwards. And you have to know both federal and Texas rules. You never know what court you may end up in.
The Houston legal market is doing pretty well because Houston has not been hit as hard by the recession as everyone else.
All in all, I'm glad you want to be a trial lawyer. We are a rare breed, but we are a valuable breed!