Pleasantly surprised and confused.. (Texas A&M)

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cav900

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Pleasantly surprised and confused.. (Texas A&M)

Post by cav900 » Wed Dec 23, 2020 12:48 pm

I am a splitter with a 164 LSAT and a 2.9 gpa. I'm also 31 years old so perhaps a bit of an unordinary applicant.

Texas A & M just offered me roughly $41,000 a year over 3 years and while I'm happy with that I'm also sort of confused.

I applied to 23 or 24 schools because of my being a splitter and this is the second school I've heard back from so far. A & M as well as SMU Dedman are towards the top of my list because I have a close friend living in the Dallas Ft. Worth are and there is a church I would like to be apart of there. I also wouldn't mind practicing in Texas (although I hear their bar exam is a bit tough).

I'm somewhat confused by this offer from A & M because I absolutely can't tell how good their law school actually is. I've seen reports that their employment rate is 77% after 10 months and another that says their rate is 80% neither of which really impresses me. (I've also seen that for example.. Penn St. law has an employment rate of 81% but then I read online that their employment rate is like 47% from an online forum... very confusing). Again.. I'm worried about the employment rate at A&M. Of course if they upped their offer to full tuition it wouldn't worry much. Also wondering if my age at graduation (which will be... like 35 I think) will help me alot in landing a job. I should add that I would like to somehow break into criminal defense shortly after law school. I don't suspect that's easy for anyone after they graduate. I AM NOT CONCERNED WITH MY WAGES AFTER LAW SCHOOL.. I AM FAR MORE CONCERNED WITH MINIMIZING DEBT ACCRUED DURING LAW SCHOOL.

In conclusion, I'm hoping for some feedback on A & M. I've read that they were ranked as low as #111 and as high as #60.. (what the hell?!). It would be great if I could potentially leverage this offer theyv'e made with SMU Dedman for a killer scholarship from them but I haven't heard back from them yet.

nixy

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Re: Pleasantly surprised and confused.. (Texas A&M)

Post by nixy » Wed Dec 23, 2020 3:56 pm

Go to lawschooltransparency.com and look at their school report for Texas A&M. You can compare them with other schools as well.

Keep in mind that not all employment stats are created equal and people may use different categories of employment when comparing schools. Employment in national law firms (500+ attorneys or so?) or in federal clerkships are good proxies for employment strength. If a lot of a school's grads are working in firms of 2-10 people, that's worrying - it may be exactly what many of those grads wanted to do, but it's generally much less lucrative/involves much less sophisticated work. Not absolutely always, but quite often. So an overall employment statistic of 80% sounds great on its face, but if 5% of those positions are in national firms, 3% are federal clerkships, 10% are government, and 60+% are in small firms, that's a very different kind of outcome than overall employment of 80% with 65% in national firms, 12% in federal clerkships, and 3% in everything else (to make up an exaggerated example).

(On its face, an 80% employment rate is pretty good; Harvard's employment rate is 85.7%. But where those grads are going to be employed probably differs a lot from where A&M grads are employed. Harvard is also more likely to have people going on to further graduate education, i.e. who weren't even looking for post-grad jobs, than A&M.)

As an aside, criminal defense is not actually that hard to get into, because there's a pretty constant demand, and a lot of criminal defense gigs are less prestige-focused - with a few exceptions, you don't need a fancy pedigree or especially high grades. If you take all the opportunities you can in law school to get in-court experience/criminal law experience, and intern as much as you can, you have a decent shot of going into the field after graduation. The most common outcome for new grads, though, is working as a public defender, which is great experience but often pays badly and grinds you down through huge caseloads (not everywhere, but a lot of places). If you want to do private criminal defense, you will be best served working as a public defender to start, then going solo once you have experience (or, frankly, working as a prosecutor for a while too - there are a lot of private criminal defense attorneys who worked as prosecutors, it helps a lot for both attracting clients and navigating the system. However, many public defenders' offices are not interested in people who have worked as prosecutors, so you'd likely want to do PD then prosecutor, if you went that route).

cav900

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Re: Pleasantly surprised and confused.. (Texas A&M)

Post by cav900 » Wed Dec 23, 2020 6:04 pm

Thanks alot for your feedback. That website seems pretty reliable. After comparing A&M to SMU and Nebraska I've found that A&M actually ranks highest for public interest. In fact, I think about 20% of their grads go into public interest. Perhaps that is a good sign.

I am a bit surprised to hear you say that it isn't tough to get into a public defender role. Maybe someone told me it was hard to be a defense lawyer because they thought I was talking about private practice?

If I have my heart set on starting as a public advocate does the amount of federal clerkships and big firm employed grads matter hardly at all? Perhaps I should have mentioned I'm considering the idea of one day becoming a judge (don't mean to sound audacious... it's a dream though).

nixy

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Re: Pleasantly surprised and confused.. (Texas A&M)

Post by nixy » Wed Dec 23, 2020 6:31 pm

I don't want to mislead and suggest any legal job is easy to get, but I don't think criminal defense is that bad. It's not a good fallback for someone who wanted a big firm job and didn't get it and was looking for a backup, because public defender offices will look for evidence of commitment to the cause, but again, most offices aren't school/grades snobs.

(Caveat: if you were talking to your friend in Texas, my (vague) understanding is that Texas has very few public defender offices, and instead relies a lot on private counsel taking appointments from the state to represent criminal defendants. I don't know exactly how that plays out, but it may be that it's tougher to get an entry-level position there, as usually to get private appointments you have to have a certain amount of experience to begin with. So my generalization may not hold everywhere.)

The bigfirm/fed clerkship numbers are a good proxy for employment options generally - if a school can place people well in what are considered the most selective jobs, that translates into other employment as well. But I do think they matter less if you want to be a public defender - look instead at goverment/public interest placement. Going somewhere cheap is probably a higher priority for you than for others (unless you end up at a school with an excellent LRAP program for public interest jobs, but I doubt A&M is one of those - it's usually just the very top schools). IBR and PSLF make it a lot easier to take a low-paying job out of school, but it's even better if you just avoid debt to begin with.

The other thing is that public defense work is often very regional. There are programs that hire from across the country (Colorado, Bronx Defenders, Miami? Look through the pertinent legal employment threads for more info, I'm not an expert here), but a lot of public defender offices hire locally. So where you go to school can make a difference. If you get a lot of great hands-on experience during school, you can take that to one of the nationally-hiring programs, but also working in your local office and getting to know people and making a good impression is a great way to get hired for after graduation. So especially if you're looking at regional schools, look at where people get hired and consider where you want to practice after you graduate. The nationally hiring offices are going to be more competitive, generally speaking, not necessarily on grades/school but on other factors that go into being a good PD, so you should probably be prepared to work where you go to school.

(As for becoming a judge... that's way too far down the road to really consider at this point. A lot of states elect judges and that's more based on your ability as a politician than as a lawyer. States that appoint judges may have a little more gatekeeping for legal ability but your chance of success still depends a LOT on who you know and who's doing the appointing. Anecdotally, criminal defense lawyers traditionally have a harder time getting to be judges b/c the job's unpopular with a lot of the public, but it will really depend more on you and what kind of place you've created for yourself in a given community. I mean, yes, going to, say, Harvard will place you in a network of incredibly successful, influential people, which can be helpful. But what you do and who you get to know after you graduate will be more important for becoming a judge than where you go to school.)

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Pneumonia

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Re: Pleasantly surprised and confused.. (Texas A&M)

Post by Pneumonia » Wed Dec 23, 2020 8:09 pm

A&M's reputation is improving quickly within the Texas market. Not saying it will be a solid Top-50 program by the time you graduate, but that is absolutely what they are going for. And unlike most other schools, they have the money to make that happen. They are trying to buy your LSAT score to improve their rankings. All schools try to do that, but few schools of A&M's current rank have the money. If UCI--which is not even top 5 in CA overall, and only maybe top 5 law school in CA--can buy their way into the T30 within a decade, so can A&M. They want to be competing with UT. And unlike UCI, there are a bunch of A&M undergrad + UT law grads in biglaw who would love to see their alma mater start competing in the legal market.

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cav900

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Re: Pleasantly surprised and confused.. (Texas A&M)

Post by cav900 » Wed Dec 23, 2020 11:50 pm

I really appreciate all the feedback. I'll have to call some "legal types" in the Dallas- Ft. Worth area to ask about how Texas handles criminal defense (whether much of it is handled by private attorneys vs. public defenders). I applied to a ton of other schools like Illinois, Ohio St. and some that I find very enticing like Washington & Lee as well as Wake Forest. I'm sort of hoping I get a monstrous offer from one or two more schools so I can negotiate a bit with A&M. We'll see how things go...

Thanks again,

CanadianWolf

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Re: Pleasantly surprised and confused.. (Texas A&M)

Post by CanadianWolf » Mon Feb 22, 2021 1:45 pm

Getting hired as a PD is quite competitive. Competition appears to be based primarily on commitment rather than with respect to grades or educational pedigree.

Best to avoid student loan debt.

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hookem7

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Re: Pleasantly surprised and confused.. (Texas A&M)

Post by hookem7 » Tue Mar 02, 2021 2:37 pm

All the schools you mention in your post are regional, so you need to take a serious accounting of where you want to live post-graduation. The vast majority of Penn St grads will work in PA, Nebraska grads in NE, etc.

Strongly disagree with the notion that A&M is close to becoming relevant in Texas. They will eventually pass Tech but thats more of a indictment of Tech than an endorsement of A&M.

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