Dear Ken - advice for the wise to become even wiser

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Dear Ken - advice for the wise to become even wiser

Post by Ken » Thu Oct 25, 2007 11:57 pm

Dear Ken,

I am a female ’07 graduate of a top public university and have a BS in Chemical Engineering. I am very interested in eventually making my way to law school and using my technical background to specialize in the IP area of law. My UGPA is a 3.88 and I just took the September LSAT and earned a 167. I held leadership positions in college and earned some recognition through national awards granted by engineering professional societies. I toyed with canceling my LSAT score before making the decision to take a chance and wait to find out. The 167 is below the 170+ I have been scoring on recent prep tests. I am just starting to get the applications so I will not have them in until late December.

I am currently working for a chemical company in research and development. I would love to be in contention for admission to schools like Berkeley, Northwestern, Duke, Chicago, Texas, or even Stanford. Right now these seem to be long shots. Questions I have:

Shall I retake the LSAT?

Shall I apply this year or wait a year?

Will I likely get in to any of these top law schools?


Anxiously Awaiting

Dear Anxiously Awaiting,

The answers to your questions are yes, yes, and yes.

I recommend that you retake the LSAT since the majority of law schools now take the highest LSAT score vs. averaging scores which they did in the past. Thus, there is little downside to retaking the LSAT besides the time commitment required. But as a former LSAT instructor, I can say that just overcoming the jitters of the first time you took the test can result in a several point bump up. However, getting your applications in as early as possible is also a large plus so make sure to get your applications in ASAP and if you get your applications in by November your applications will likely be about ready to be reviewed when your new score comes out.

Apply this year as your numbers are quite strong, particularly when you throw in your soft factors. This year application volume is down about 7%, likely due to the strong economy. If the economy gets weaker in the next year applications will likely go back up. And if you do not get in to the law schools to which you want this year, just reapply next year with the pluses of getting your applications in earlier, having your 2nd LSAT score immediately available and also have more work experience which many law schools seek.

Along these lines, certain law schools such as Northwestern and Boalt really favor those with work experience so I anticipate that you will fare well there. Also, Boalt focuses more on GPA and soft factors than LSAT, so it is also a good school to apply to coupled with their being the best school in intellectual property law. You will likely get in to several of the schools you mention.

Best of luck, but you will not need luck if you focus on retaking the LSAT and getting your applications in as early as possible.


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Uncertain about law school

Post by Ken » Fri Oct 26, 2007 1:18 am

TLS readers, I wanted to share some of my responses to questions I have recently received and responded to. I am styling this blog as a "Dear Abby" advice column. To state the obvious, no one knows what is better for their lives than oneself, but sometimes it is beneficial to hear another's opinion, which is what I am providing in this blog. Note that I have changed screen names to provide anonymity.

Dear Ken,

The good news is that I have a 3.65 GPA and a 175 LSAT score. The bad news is that I am uncertain if law school is for me as I am attracted to the intellectual rigor of law school but fear that the long hours of law practice will turn me off. Do you think law school is the right choice for me?

-Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed and Confused,

You are not alone in questioning whether law school is the right path for you. Many who are about to or just graduated from college do not know what they want to do for the rest of their lives and law school is an attractive and prestigious option that allows for a very lucrative career. However, there are several reasons why there is such a high level of dissatisfaction amongst lawyers, such as the profession being very stressful and quite demanding of one's time.

For those who are certain that they want to attend law school and be lawyers the choice is simple. But for the many that are uncertain, I think an analysis of where they fit in the following questions helps determine if law school is the best fit. In your individual case, I think law school is a good option.

Questions to consider:

1) How strong of a law school will you be going to?

In your instance, you have a good GPA and an excellent LSAT score. Thus, you will almost certainly get in to several top law schools. This import of this goes beyond the obvious fact that the more prestigious of a law school one attends the more options they have upon graduation. It also determines how transferable your education is. At a top law school they teach you legal theory and expand your mind by exploring law from several different perspectives (At Berkeley's Boalt Hall I not only took classes in Law & Economics, but one in Law & Anthropology). The top law schools presume that you will easily pass the bar and thus focus on the higher end materials that sharpen your thought process and have lessons that can be applied to many fields. Thus, if you leave law for business development (a lot of corporate attorneys end up in business positions) you still have a very portable skill set that is in demand beyond just the legal field.

Conversely, if you attend a law school that is a tier 4 law school, most of their graduates have concerns about passing the bar and their time in law school is really geared towards learning the actual rules of law (which is what is tested on the bar exam) and not the theory. Thus, what one learns is very factual and not of great worth in other fields. So not only does a less prestigious law school provide fewer options upon graduation, but the education itself is tailored to a different end, passing the bar, not exploring theory.

Another plus of a top law school is that you have options around the nation. Thus, one can attend Duke in Durham, North Carolina but get a job in New York or LA. If you attend a less renowned school, your best opportunities are in that local area where you will have alumni connections (so attend a law school where you like that location).

This in no way is meant to lessen the worth of someone considering a tier 4 law school, but if one is indecisive on whether to attend law school or not, I recommend giving it more thought before attending a tier 4 school vs. a top law school.

2) What is the cost involved?

Many law schools now have tuition hovering around $40K a year. Throw in room, board and books and you are at $55K per year. That is $165K per year in cost, not factoring in the lost wages over those 3 years.

But those who have a strong public law school in their state (CA, VA, TX, MI, etc.) greatly benefit by lower, in-state tuition. If one is indecisive in whether to attend law school, the lower cost of a public law school is a huge plus for a lack of large student loans will allow you to quickly leave the field of law when desired. In your message you mentioned that you are a resident of Texas, so I highly recommend that you apply there because they have such cheap in-state tuition.

3) What is more impressive, your LSAT score or your GPA? (This is a rare question, so bear with me until the end).

In your case, your LSAT score of a 175 is much stronger than your GPA. This will allow you to get in to a better law school than one would anticipate with a 3.65. Getting in to an excellent law school such as Northwestern (which loves high LSAT scores) will make good use of your LSAT. If your LSAT score were a 155 and a drag on our GPA then I would say that your LSAT score is actually hindering you, not helping you.

For if you do not attend law school your great LSAT score will forever be lost as you will not put it on your resume. Conversely, if someone had a 4.0 but a 150 LSAT score, if they do not go to law school they can always trumpet their 4.0, but if they go to only a good but not great law school, it will lessen the impact of their perfect GPA.

Everyone cares about the last school one attended. So if one went to Harvard but did very poorly and ends up at Cooley Law School, the value of the Harvard degree plummets.

So if the law school that one gets accepted to is quite a bit better than your undergraduate institution, then going to law school is appealing. And of course having a very strong LSAT score increases that likelihood.

To conclude, even with your uncertainty I think law school is a good option for you.

For those reading this, know that it is hard and rare to be fully certain that law school and the law profession are a perfect fit. Thus, some hesitation and uncertainty is to be expected and nothing to fear.

But for those who are quite uncertain and do not get in to their desired law school, consider reevaluating and possibly 1) be a paralegal to get a better sense of the practice of law; or 2) do informational interviews of attorneys to get a sense of whether you would like what they do; or 3) take a year off and work in another field and possibly reapply or go a totally separate route.

Hopefully this has been helpful. Cheers,


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Advice when applying to law school

Post by Ken » Mon Jan 07, 2008 2:20 am

I thought I would share some advice on applying to law school by sharing some of the things that I did well and also poorly when I applied to law school. I hope you can learn not only from this website, but also from my own personal successes and mistakes that formed my law school journey.

I was accepted to every top law school to which I applied. My perfect trade record resulted from my doing 4 things well: 1) having an upward grade trend; 2) taking a logic class to prepare me for the LSAT; 3) focus heavily upon the LSAT; and 4) visiting each of the law schools that I was accepted at to ensure that I chose the right one.

Law schools love an upward grade trend. This conveys that your academic focus is on the rise and that you can adequately handle the rigor of upper-division classes. In my first two years of college I had a 3.20. Realizing that this would not suffice to get in to the law schools that I wanted to attend I completely changed my study habits (began sitting in the front row, studied consistently instead of cramming, etc.) so that my GPA skyrocketed to a 3.90 in my final two years. Although I only graduated with a 3.55, law schools recognized that I was performing at a much higher level and my acceptances reflected this. Thus, work very hard if you are still in school for law schools will focus heavily on whether your GPA is trending upward or downward.

Taking a logic class is a free LSAT preparation class. The hardest section on the LSAT for most students is the games section. However, by taking a logic class in college (generally offered as an introductory philosophy class titled “Critical Thinking” or “Introductory Logic) you will be familiar with and well prepared for the analytical reasoning required by the games section. Additionally, most classes will go over deductive reasoning, beneficial for the two Arguments sections as well. Taking this class will greatly benefit you when you begin studying for the LSAT.

Focus heavily upon your LSAT. With a good but not great GPA, I knew I needed a strong LSAT score to get in to the best law schools. Yet, everyone should dedicate themselves to mastering the LSAT, for when a 4-hour test means as much or more in your admissions than 4 years in college, this demands a diligent focus. I took one summer off and focused solely on the LSAT (not a luxury everyone has, but dedicate as much time as you can). Through doing this, I was able to raise my score to a 173 (99%) and I know you too will have great results if you can find the time.

Personally visit the law schools you are deciding upon. To many applicants merely go to the highest ranked law school that they get in to. This is a recipe for dissatisfaction, for do not solely consider an objective ranking but focus instead upon your subjective desires. Merely use the rankings as one part of your analysis, but ideally visit every law school you are seriously considering for you will find that the legal education and experience provided by each one varies greatly. After my personal visits, I found that I loved U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law and was turned off by the competitive environment offered by Columbia and Chicago. Only you can determine what is the best law school for you. If you cannot personally visit the law schools then read profiles on every law school you are thinking of attending.

I created this website mainly because of the many errors I made when applying in the hopes that others, armed with more knowledge, would not make these same mistakes. My greatest mistakes were not getting rejected, applying to late in the cycle, and having my personal statement read like a resume.

Get rejected from several law schools. It is with embarrassment when I mention that I did not get denied from any of the law schools to which I applied. The reason is that the law school application process is like skiing (and like life), in that if you did not fall you were not trying hard enough. Mainly out of modesty, I did not apply to the three icons of the legal world. While a likely outcome is that I would have been rejected from all three, it would be nice to know for certain, as you can never predict how an admissions officer will react to your file.

Apply Early! The main reason I did not apply to Harvard or Stanford is that I took the December LSAT and thus did not receive my 173 until my applications were in the mail. I mistakenly thought law schools would want to see one more semesters worth of strong grades from me whereas in reality by applying in late December my application came along with thousands of others. Every admissions officer I speak to touts the advantages of applying early.

Make your personal statement truly personal. One of the reasons I have written such as extensive article on writing personal statements is that my personal statement was terrible. I made the classic mistake of having my statement being a narrative resume, just recounting the academic highlights of my last few years. Through a compelling thematic essay, your personal statement should focus upon your unique attributes and what distinct qualities you will be bringing to law school.

Thankfully, I was accepted to my school of choice (U.C. Berkeley Boalt Hall is very hard to turn down with in-state tuition and knowing that I wanted to practice in California). However, the entire law school application process was very stressful due to the lack of information out there so I welcome you to this community and wish you success in finding the best law school for you and then getting accepted.

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Re: T14 with no money vs. Full-ride at a T50+

Post by Ken » Sat Feb 16, 2008 12:16 am

I frequently get messages from site readers debating between going to a top 14 law school with no money versus a full-ride at a law school outside of the top 50. What is the best route is dependent upon one's goals for the law degree and upon entering the legal profession. However, for the majority of applicants I think it is better to attend the best law school possible.

The advantages of graduating from law school debt free are that upon graduation one is able to still pursue their ideals, which may include public interest law or other lower paying but fulfilling jobs. If an applicant is quite confident that this is what their desires will remain then graduating debt free by taking the full-ride from the law school outside of the top 50 is likely the better route. Keeping ideals intact is much easier without large loans, for many law students enter with their ideals and leave as corporate attorneys due in large part to pay off student loans.

However, for the majority of people who enter top law schools and plan to work for a major law firm and make large salaries, going to the top 14 law school is the better route. While a scholarship worth $100,000 seems like a staggering amount of money to most applicants, it seems like a smaller number when many recent graduates of top law schools now start at $160,000 in New York firms and at top firms in other coastal cities. Graduating from a top law school opens many doors and takes a lot of the pressure off, for even those in the middle of their class have several attractive options to choose from.

What law school you attended will be important for your entire life (but definitely less so as you climb the firm ladder, but also a talking point). Investing in a great law school is an investment in your future earnings and opportunities and is a wise investment that pays lifelong dividends.

Note that I recommend going to the better law school versus the free ride only when the difference in schools is great, but if it is close such as Georgetown vs. full scholarship at George Washington or Harvard vs. full scholarship at Columbia (Hamilton), then it is a very tough choice that may now favor taking the full ride.

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Re: Dear Ken - advice for the wise to become even wiser

Post by Ken » Sun Mar 16, 2008 11:55 pm

Debating between taking a scholarship at a lower ranked school vs. no money at a higher ranked school is an enjoyable debate many of you are making right now. In general, I am in favor of taking the scholarship if you will still be at a top law school but not in favor of taking the scholarship if it takes you out of attending a top law school. For example, those who get a full-ride to Columbia (Hamilton) often choose between this and Harvard. If the plan is to join a big law firm, I say take the money. For academia, then it is more of a debate (but then less debt is even more valuable so perhaps Columbia wins again).

For those who debate between attending a top 15 law school vs. a top 25-40 law school with money, then I am more inclined to say pay for the better school and better options. For example, I had a friend who choose a full-ride to Loyola in LA vs. UCLA and they regret their decision to this day. Simply put, options do decline heavily from UCLA to Loyola.

Below is a message I provided to someone choosing between a nearly $100K scholarship at Northwestern (which is generous with scholarships) vs. NYU.

Congrats on having such great options. NYU is an amazing law school that you should be proud to have been accepted to. Without money from elsewhere, I would say attend NYU over any other law school outside of HYS.

That being said, nearly $100K from Northwestern is very attractive. While obviously the choice is yours, I would recommend taking the money and going to Northwestern. It is also a very strong program that has national placement so working in NYC will not be an issue at all coming from Northwestern.

You obviously are very bright to have these options, the only 2 things to think about beyond what you already are debating include:

1) You do not pay taxes on the scholarship. So in terms of what its equal would be in salary is more likely $150,000 or so (depending on what state you are living in and state income tax, but a good ball park figure). This point favors Northwestern.

2) Put the money in terms of future earnings and not present earnings. If you work at a NYU firm you will likely be making $160K or so per year starting out. Thus, this puts the number above in perspective, vs. how much you are making now, which obviously is lower then post law school. This point favors NYU.

I do not want anyone to leave a top law school for money (such as going to Fordham vs. NYU), but to still go to a top law school and get a large scholarship, I say go for it.

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Re: Dear Ken - advice for the wise to become even wiser

Post by Ken » Fri Mar 28, 2008 11:38 pm

Obviously, with the 2009 US News rankings coming out a lot of people are reexamining their choice and also cheering for any jumps by their school of choice or bemoaning any drops. I was obviously pleased to see UC Berkeley at #6, a new high for them (they were #7 when I accepted 10 years ago but have dropped lower before their recent surge). Regarding the rankings, I received an excellent question from Sockpuppet that I wanted to address:

So, since you've been out of school for a while, and since you went to a school which saw a rather historic rankings jump this year, it seems you're a good candidate for this question. Until 2008, only one Top 6 school had ever been bumped out of the Top 6 (NYU, which lost out to Michigan briefly in 1991 - 1992). Berkeley is only the second school ever to break into the Top 6, and in the process of doing so made Chicago only the second school to ever drop out of the Top 6.

It seems clear that the rankings jump will have a dramatic effect on Berkeley's yield for at least this cycle and the next. My question is, in big picture, real world terms, how does this or will this affect you personally as an alumnus? Will this have a noticeable impact on any aspect of your career, or will it cause or allow you to do anything different? Would it actually come up in job interviews, like, "Hey, you went to Berkeley, they're really moving up this year!" Or will you get a slightly larger bonus this year, as your employer becomes concerned about you leaving for greener pastures? And if it doesn't have much effect on you as an alumnus, do you think it will make a big difference in the prospects of current and entering students?

Or will it, in the end, be more like your college's football team going on an unheard of winning streak, or taking home a national championship or something? In other words, is it a really fun thing that everybody will get really excited about and go on wild drinking binges over, but that won't really change much for anybody on Monday morning? And regardless of what effect the new ranking might have on you, will this inspire you to write a noticeably larger check come donation time at the end of the year? (This, after all, seems like one of the biggest benefits which the school might expect as a result of the move).

Well, the rankings have only been out for a few days so perhaps the effect of Berkeley's rise may not fully be felt. However, I did notice that walking down the street woman were ogling me more than even when I had a new puppy. I was approached at my law firm and told that they were not only going to promote me, but that my name was going to be added to the firm's venerated name to add more prestige. Our firm recently fired a U. of Chicago grad, for given their drop in the rankings coupled with his being on the margin, it was seen as better to just quietly let him go. I am kidding about all of this of course.

But overall, I think movement in law school rankings is less important to alumni then it is to prospective students who are very focused on the number of the school at which they will attend. Once one is out of law school for over a decade, where one attended law school is of less import and it is more about being a rainmaker (bringing in clients), which is often correlated more to social skills then a school's prestige.

That being said, I do think attending a prestigious law school is of great import at the start for it opens up many doors. As importantly, it is actually less stressful to attend a top law school then a Tier 3 law school for almost everyone at a top law school gets a job that is exciting and pays well (or is a fulfilling public interest job).

Thus, to be aware of the rankings and the impact they will have upon one's options after graduation is wise. Yet to be beholden to the rankings and let small changes in rank order totally change where one is attending would be short sighted.

I instead would focus on those schools that are highly ranked and also offer a great quality of life such as Stanford, Berkeley, Virginia, etc. Conversely, I would tend to avoid schools that offer great academics but in my opinion do not offer a strong quality of life, such as the U. of Chicago. Note that I have always admired the U. of Chicago, which was actually #4 when I applied and has an amazing law and economics program, but I ruled them out after visiting the campus and seeing the depressed students.

The second part of your question was also excellent, how will this impact Berkeley over time. Clearly, there will be a short-term boost in admissions as this year will likely have a high yield rate (as the rankings boost may result in many choosing Berkeley over NYU or Penn) and next year will probably have more applications. Hopefully, Berkeley will be able to translate this into a long-term progression as the new Dean (Edley) has done an excellent job in raising money and morale and is focused on making Berkeley a top 5 law school. Whether this can be achieved is debatable for this can either be a launching point for more fundraising and consequently more prestige as money buys quality professors and students, or perhaps just a short-term maximum that is an outlying blip.

Great question. I think I partially address it, but in reality only time will tell. For the moment, I am amazingly excited and proud of Berkeley. I am a proponent of excellence in public schools and I like to see not only Berkeley, but also Michigan, UVA, UCLA and Texas fare well when they can.

One self-serving thought that is meant to be a joke - now that TLS is the #1 pre-law site out there (based on traffic data via Google), perhaps my showcasing how great Berkeley is helped with their rise.

Sorry about that comment, but delusions of grandeur have been popping in my head since the new rankings came out :lol:

I have the pleasure to be,

Kenneth Jack DeLeon the I

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