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Advice from Public Defenders

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 07, 2007 12:45 pm

Condensed from: --LinkRemoved--
What advice would the PDs (or the the prosecutors, for that matter) have for someone now applying to law school who intends to go into public defense?
Ex-Fed wrote:If you can afford it, look for summer jobs at PD's offices, or else judicial externships. (Summer jobs at City Attorney or DA offices would be good learning experiences, but in my experience, at that stage of your career they don't help much getting you in the door of their opposites).

Take all the clinical stuff in criminal law that you can. I learned far more in my clinical experiences than in classrooms. So every student program at a PD's office is a good opportunity.

Learn evidence cold.

Take every trial advocacy course you can.
PD in Florida wrote:Don't rack up a lot of law school debt, if you can help it. If you do, you might be forced to take a high-paying, but professionally unsatisfying job.

Being a PD is not glamorous. Your only glory will come inside the courtroom; and most of the time it will be a private glory. On the other hand, if your idea of success and happiness includes much more than that, you may want to reconsider.

Do a clinic. Intern at a PD office or State Attorney office. You'll get a real sense of what it's like in the trenches before you finally decide to make a career of it.

In your second or third year of law school, make sure to take classes on police practices, 4th/5th/6th amendment. You will encounter those legal issues every single day as a PD. If you love that area of the law, you will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is.
Chris_t wrote:People lie. a lot.

The truth will not out, contrary to popular belief.

OK seriously. . .the best advice I can give you is this: You are married to the facts. Cases rise and fall on facts, not on your legal acumen or your rhetorical brilliance. Just try to do your best with what you have, and you'll do OK.
Public_Defender wrote:Get a good generalist's education in law school. You never know when that corporate law (responsibility for a group), contract (plea), insurance (restitution), commercial transactions (bad check) doctrine will come in handy. Also, understanding civil procedure is critical for handling declaratory judgments and writs. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Do take elective criminal procedure classes, but don't forget to get a broad legal education when you have the chance. You have the rest of your life to take criminal law continuing education classes. You only have three years to get a broad understanding of the law.

It does make sense to get involved with criminal law clinics, but not for the substance. First, the people who hire PD's look for dedication in addition to competence. Second, you will learn whether you enjoy the work and the people you have to deal with. Third, it gives you a network of references.

All hiring is local. So, if you want to get a job in a specific city, call them and ask how they hire. I know one office that only hires entry-level people through a program at a local law school. If that's the office you want to work in, you've picked your law school.

And I agree that finances are critical. Keep an eye on your student debt. There is a new federal program on debt forgiveness that could help, but less debt means more flexibility.

If you can get one of those high paying big firm jobs, think about taking it for a couple of years. You will learn a lot, and if you are careful with money (live like a PD, except for the big firm wardrobe), you will be able to pay off a bunch of your loans and start some savings. During that time, get connected with the local defense bar.
And of course:
Some Advice From Your Public Defender
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Best of Mark Bennett

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 07, 2007 12:53 pm

From the web log Defending People, by Houston criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett:

Jury Argument in Criminal Cases ... cases.html

How to Become a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

Becoming a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer II ... fense.html

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Can I become a lawyer and still have a life?

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 07, 2007 12:55 pm

In case I want to have babies soon, I'd like to make sure that there actually are some jobs for lawyers that do not involve extremely demanding hours. 50 hours would be a max. 35 would be ideal when the kiddos are small.
Public interest and government are pretty much your only reliable options for this. An internship mentor once told me that this is the reason that almost all of the lawyers who wind up in non-profit public interest agencies are women and guys who want to actually know their kids. Start thinking early (like now) about your job search if you want this as a serious option, because it takes a bit of work.

You also need a solid plan for dealing with the $$$ problem. The new Federal LRAP program makes that much easier than it has ever been before, but you still need to think through how you are going to make $120k debt and a $36k salary play nicely together. It can be done, but that also takes planning, especially with kids in the future. And you need to make sure your spouse is on board with you going through the torture and expense of law school to land that dream job that pays you 3/4 of what the pizza delivery guy makes in a good year. Federal jobs and some big cities pay more, and are that much harder to get, of course. If you get into the government or a big non-profit with an employee union like Legal Aid in New York, then you can actually do pretty well over time. The scales go over $80k after five years or so at the best places.

You have to plan ahead and make the most of all the intern and volunteer openings that you will find in school, in order to land a good job after you graduate. And it takes some nerve to stick with your search all the way through 3L, when your classmates already have guaranteed firm jobs coming back from 2L summer. But keep in mind that nobody will ever find a job through OCI ever again after your 2L year. Learning to conduct a real job search while you are in school will put you way ahead of the game when you get five years out and want to make your next career move. Harvard OPIA's Serving the Public: A Job Search Guide is the bible for those who want to break into public interest work. It does a great job breaking down the field by practice areas, types of work, and types of employers. And it has the definitive catalog of known public interest employers, their hiring practices, and contact information. They have a companion international volume of the guide also. ... ations.php
I was wondering if there is a textbook definition for public interest law. I've been doing a little reading and it seems like a remarkably fluid concept. I'm assuming there is a more concrete definition that doing something that benefits society, which would be a very hard concept to nail down. Does the law community have a generally accepted set of boundaries for careers in this field?
Pro Bono = Working for Free
Public Sector = Working for the Government
Indigent Defense = Working for the Poor
Impact Litigation = Working for Change

Public Interest = All of the Above

Public interest is a broad and ambiguous term. It refers to almost anything which is not paid representation of private clients with the aim of making a profit for your firm.
If there are lower paying private sector jobs, I would take those too.
There are plenty of $40k private sector jobs. But the catch is that you get 1/5th the pay for 9/10ths of the hours. Maybe you have to bill 2,000 instead of 2,200, but it's more or less the same punishing schedule and tedious work for a hell of a lot less money. The government and non-profit jobs are really the only ones that can offer a consistent 9-5 or 8-2 schedule that will work with your life ... unless you are in a job with trial work. There's a reason they call it "trial," and it's because when you are in one, you are working flat out in court or in your head twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week until it ends. You will be no good to anyone the entire time. That there is no avoiding that no matter who you work for. But you could try to stick with transactional work. And some agencies only counsel and prepare pleadings for clients who go in pro. per. If you can avoid representing people, then the workload is much more predictable and contained. Areas like property, benefits, and family law are better for that, as opposed to those like criminal which are almost all litigation.
There are some 'Lifestyle' firms that are starting to pop up. One in San Francisco, Hanson Bridgett, pays $120,000 ($40,000 less than the going rate) but only requires 1800 billable hours, which will equate to about 45 hours/week for 50 weeks every year. You're not going to get much less than that these days.
The lifestyle firms seem to be a growing trend, and if you do the right sort of work, then they can provide you with a true 35 hour week. But if you read about them you find that the catch is they only employ attorneys with five to eight years in at a big firm job, so that they have the needed experience to bill out at an honest $150 per hour for every hour they clock. They don't have the resources or the sort of clients that would allow them to work new attorneys for five years just to get them in billable shape. The model only works because they're free riding on the massive training expense that all of those Big Law clients have eaten to turn new associates into working attorneys.
Plenty of law firms, including the one I work for (a pretty big one), offer part-time schedules for their attorneys. I'd have to double check, but I think as low as 1500 hrs/yr is still eligible for benefits and eventually becoming partner. Obviously it'll take you longer to become partner that way, but I'd say it's a reasonable trade-off if you want to know your kids.
That's 1,500 billable hours, so what would you figure is the usual productivity for attorneys on the part time track? If you wanted to work a consistent 35 hour per week schedule, then that leaves you with only one hour per day to spare -- every other minute has to be solid billable. Is that realistic? If you work at 50 - 80% efficiency, then 1,500 billable hours seems like it could still mean anywhere between 38 and 60 hours per week. Also, do lawyers on this schedule get consistent daily and weekly hours for the most part, or do they just get a break in the total hours for the year? It can make a difference whether your weeks are 35/35/35 or 20/65/20.
1500 hours is about 3/4 of a normal load and the pay cut is proportionate.

I don't know anyone who actually does it so can't speak to how well it works out in practice. The percentage of your daily work hours that are billable depends a lot on the individual and on their practice, but I would say one hour of non-billable activity per day would be reasonably attainable--you eat lunch at your desk, right?

Consistent numbers of hours also depends on your practice. I can only speak to my area (patent law). Generally patent prosecution is predictable (you usually know about deadlines well in advance) whereas litigation is unpredictable and highly variable, e.g. it's not uncommon for people doing litigation to unexpectedly have to work late or even all night.

Bottom line is, I think one could make it work. Just have to find the right firm and the right practice area.
Fair enough.
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How do I deal with $100k debt on a $40k salary?

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 07, 2007 12:55 pm

It doesn't take much math to figure out that $100,000 in debt and $40k in salary equals major pain. If you want to go into public interest work, then dealing with the cost of law school will be your biggest problem, and you need to deal with it now, before you commit to a school. If you do not have a solid plan for how you will handle the debt vs. income problem going in, then the chances that you will go into public interest work when you graduate are next to zero. You simply will not be able to afford to work for a low salary. And even if they have no interest in the public interest, many new lawyers will wind up working at low paying jobs in the private sector, because of the tough job market. But they will still have the same $1,000+ loan payments to make every month.

Many schools now advertise that they have a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) to help their graduates deal with the crushing debt load that their students will assume in order to pay for school. But you need to ask some probing questions and get some hard numbers from any school which you plan to depend on for LRAP funding. You need to know a lot more than the nominal benefit formulas that most put forth. Make sure you ask how many people applied, how many qualified for the full program benefit based on their income, how many were paid the full program benefit for which they were eligible, and how much that benefit was for them in dollar terms.

Another big issue can be whether schools cover all loans, or only "need-based" ones as determined by some institutional formula. Also look carefully at what assets are included and excluded in the eligibility formula. Often the formulas sound great, until you find out that they expect you to sell your house, exhaust every dime of your personal savings, and pony up your entire 401k balance before they will kick anything in, or that the school only paid out 10% of their scheduled benefit last year due to lack of funds.

Only a handful of schools -- mainly in the Top 14 -- seem to have large enough endowments to fully fund useful LRAP programs today. Some of the top programs out there are those offered by Berkeley, Georgetown, and Virginia. Georgetown's is a model of rationality and full disclosure in the extensive guides and worksheets they put forth on their criteria and benefit formulas. Virginia's is dead simple, generous enough to be useful, and notable for its complete lack of asset based tests. Berkeley's is one of the best -- simple, generous, with no asset tests and with a high income ceiling.

Penn, Duke, Cornell, and Northwestern seem to have decent formulas, but they leave a lot of open questions on the details, at least in the pages on their web site. Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Michigan have generous schedules, with the big catch that they only cover "need-based" loans. Given their merciless definitions of need, this could set you up for an ugly surprise after graduation if you do not have a clear understanding of how your assessed need relates to their LRAP payouts.

Also consider that the new Federal LRAP program created by the 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act could make school LRAPs largely obsolete. It provides for an Income Based Repayment option which limits your payments to 15% of any gross income you earn in excess of 150% of the federal poverty level. And if you work in public interest, government service, or for any 501(c)(3), then they will write off your entire remaining balance after ten years (120 payments).

Even if you don't go into public service, you still get the same IBR formula if you have a low income, and you get full forgiveness after twenty-five years. The formula also gives you decent benefits even with a relatively high income, cutting your payments from $1,800 to $1,000 on $150k debt, even if you have a gross household income as high as $100k, for instance. It phases out around $160k in gross income. If you have to live on $36k, then you'll be paying less than $300 per month -- about 1/6 of the standard payment.

And the nicest thing about the Federal LRAP, especially for those with things like mortgages, kids, and retirement to deal with: IBR payment schedules are based only on your current taxable income after you graduate and start repayment -- no asset contributions, no past or future income formulas, and no "need-based" evaluations of your debt. This program also applies to all federally guaranteed student loan debt, not just loans taken for law school. And those with private loans or who have been out of school for a while can consolidate into a federal direct loan to get the same benefits as new graduates will starting next year. ... id=1014622

The only kicker with the Federal LRAP is that, under today's tax laws, the full amount of any loan balance forgiven would be treated and taxed as regular income in the year of forgiveness. But Congress will doubtless fix this to make the forgiveness non-taxable within the very near future -- well before anyone would have to face the problem of paying a $150k tax bill on a $36k salary.
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How many people apply?

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 07, 2007 12:58 pm

Does anyone know how many people take the lsat each year/testing so we could calculate the # of peeps at each score?
LSAC gives about 140,000 tests each year. You can't compute an exact number of takers, but they do say that they had 30,000 repeat takers for the year of their released study of repeat taker results. Assuming around 100,000 is close enough for any arguments worth making on the numbers.

About 84,000 applied last year (down from 87,000 the year before), and of those only about 2 in 3 (around 56,000) will get in to even one school. Around 46,000 will matriculate, and nearly all -- 44 to 45,000 in most classes -- will graduate.


At each level it seems most reasonable to assume that you are looking at the upper end of the distribution from the prior stage. By the time you get to graduation day, that means you are probably, nationwide, seeing more or less just those people who managed to score above the median on the LSAT at the time they applied.

In round numbers, you can expect for every 100,000 applicants:

Code: Select all

100       179+
300       175-178
800       172-174
1,000     170-171
6,900     164-169
30,100    154-163
Compare those numbers to the total number of seats at schools in different tiers, and it becomes easy to see why your odds are what they are at any given level.

Code: Select all

1-3       918
4-6     1,024
7-14    2,472
T1-2   20,503
T3-4   22,499
Now the questions is: How many of those let's say 2000 that score a 170+ also have a 3.75+ GPA, because the latter is also nearly somewhat essential for the T3.
A quick search on LSN for people with >171 / >1.0, excluding URM, Int'l, and Multiple LSAT takers, gives 367 for last cycle. Those with >171 / >3.74 are 172, so about 46%. For the 170-171 range, the numbers are 90 / 214, or around 42%. If we assume that 45% is in the ballpark, then it seems like the T3 can fill their classes 60% just from those with 172+ / 3.75+ numbers. URM admits account for about 7% of seats, so maybe subtract 60-65 from the remaining ~375. That leaves in round numbers about 300 seats for maybe 500 candidates in the 170-171 / 3.75+ category to fight over.
Is the number of applications going up or down?
For Fall 2007 the total volume was down about 15% from the peak of 98,700 applications for Fall 2004, and it was closer to the Fall 2001 level than any of the previous five years.

The reason it's not any easier to get into top schools and their numbers are not slipping is that they have been shrinking class sizes and raising tuition to compensate for the declining volume. The total number of seats in all law schools is about the same now as it was in 2003 (-243 out of ~46,000). But there has been a huge shift of available seats downward through the tiers:

Tier 1/2: -1,481
Tier 3/4: +1,238

This is due to top schools contracting their class sizes and Tier 3/4 schools growing them. Tier 4 alone ballooned by nearly 2,000 seats, due mainly to the more than 1,000 added by a wave of new provisional schools.


It seems hard to say what will happen this year. The economy is not getting any better, but publicity like the Wall Street Journal article also may be turning some people off to the old ideas of the JD as a license to print money and law as the profession of last resort for liberal arts majors. It may be flat from Fall 2007 to Fall 2008, but we may see a surge for Fall 2009 if the job market goes into the toilet again this year.
Has Berkeley weakened its GPA standards or is this year just an anomaly so far? 2 people already have gotten in with ~3.6/~170 out of state. Based on last year's stats, I thought this was pretty much impossible.

Deloggio wrote:Application volumes are dropping.

You probably think I'm joking, given that they've been dropping for the past three years. But this is the first year anyone admitted that they dropped at their own law school.

Medians will stay the same nonetheless.

The 15% decline in applications (from 98,700 in 2007 to 83,500 in 2007) had left law schools scrambling to maintain their LSAT scores, which are so important to USNews ranking. Despite the enormous decline, schools found ways to keep their LSAT scores high.

The difference will be offset by reporting higher LSAT scores instead of averaging.

Using the highest of multiple LSAT scores has the potential to raise the median LSAT score by a point or even two. Some schools already mentioned this increase to me. As apps decline this year, the one or two point decline in LSAT scores will be offset by the one or two point increase caused by taking the higher score. So I project that median LSAT scores will stay the same for another year.

There will be even more competition for top schools.

As doomsayers point to the vast gulf between top end salaries and lesser pay rates, the push to be in the top end will be ever higher. Let's face it, no matter what people say about pro bono work and changing the world, everyone wants at least the opportunity to be in the elite group.

More people will take the LSAT multiple times.

In my November 5 debrief, I mentioned that law schools are already suggesting retaking as the answer to "How can I get into your school?" With so many law schools taking the higher of multiple scores, the commonest question from the admissions officers in New York to prospective applicants was "when are you retaking?"

More people will scrambler to achieve a higher score. Most will only achieve the 2 to 4 point increase that LSAC calls the normal improvement when retaking. A few people will achieve the miraculous 10 point leap that will propel them to a higher rank altogether, but most will stay in the same range, perhaps moving off a wait list or two. The small increases in score will offset declining application volumes for another year or two.

--LinkRemoved-- (11/17/07)
With declining volume, it's clear how LSAT medians can remain the same: schools shrinking classes, raising tuition, and reporting highest rather than average scores; everyone retaking for +2 points.

But schools and applicants have no similar tactics for gaming GPA numbers. Other than long term trends like grade inflation, nothing much can change the overall distribution of GPA in the applicant pool or the number of candidates with any given GPA. People can't retake college a second or third time during the cycle to get a 0.20 increase in their GPA, and there will be no one-time pop from switching to "highest" vs. "average."

So it seems reasonable to assume that we may see some slippage in reported GPA numbers with a large enough decline in application volume, even as LSAT percentiles stay the same or even increase.
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How many is too many?

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 07, 2007 12:59 pm

At how many applications do you really need to stop? I'm just wondering.... I have, quite a few....and yet, I'm seriously worried about my prospects...
Well, anything over twenty starts to seem a little silly. At that point you're already hitting up more than 1 in 10 schools in the entire country. If you've covered a good spread in the ranks, then more than thirteen or so will not really add much to your odds.

If you have unusual factors (being international, URM, or a splitter would count, for instance ...) then you can take multiple schools as more or less independent random trials of your odds. A binomial distribution calculator will give you the probability of getting at least 1 acceptance, given N schools and P probability of success.

For instance, given odds of 1 in 3 (0.33) across six schools, you would have about a 91% chance of at least one acceptance. Given chances of 0.25, your odds are still over 80%. The binomial distribution probably fits less well given very tiny odds (say less than 1 in 5), since it will take a very unusual profile to make a cut like 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 at most schools.

Even at odds of 1 in 5 (0.20), you're looking at a 95% chance of at least one acceptance with only thirteen schools. Over thirteen and you hit the point of diminishing returns quickly.

To use that, put in number of schools for N. Enter your average chance of acceptance as P (in decimal form). Look at the number given under P in the first line of the output table. Subtract that from 1.00 to get your probability of one or more acceptances, given the parameters you entered. Of course you can only apply an average chance of acceptance to a group of schools where you have similar chances of acceptance (the results will be less reliable if you average across a dozen schools where your chances range from 0.20 to 0.80, for instance).
Is it true? I thought I read someone saying that one might well get into all the schools, and none of them, and this calculation might not really work. Or does it work for URM, internationals and people with special soft factors?
It's a better fit for people with odd factors that different schools are likely to view in different ways. Split numbers are the most obvious one. Most applicants with ordinary numbers and nothing else special can not do much to change their odds by applying to more schools. They're getting in or not getting in, pretty much where their chances of acceptance suggest. Weirdos have more to gain from buying lots of lottery tickets.
Not very good advice if you are looking to go to school cheaply or for free. If, like me, you are solely interested in a quality education on some type of scholarship, then you should apply to lots and lots of schools. As many as you can afford my fellow applicants.
Actually, if you are talking about $$$ based on "merit," then that is even less random than simple acceptance. You can easily predict that only your safest safety schools will offer you significant amounts of money (ones where your chances are 70-80% or higher). This is because schools only use these dollars to attract students above their range, who they know will have options at higher ranked schools with no money.

You need no more than three safety schools to guarantee at least one acceptance (if they're true safeties, then you'll get into all three, unless one decides to dump you on a waitlist to see if you're really interested). No more than five will guarantee that you will see whatever money your numbers are good for. You can apply to more if you want, but you'll just get the same offers over and over. At schools where your chances fall closer to 50/50, there won't be any $$$ on the table no matter how many you hit up.


Assume these rough categories of schools based on the LSAC calculator chance of acceptance for your numbers:

<25% Hard Reach
<50% Reach
<75% Target
>75% Safety

If you want a high risk, high reach approach and can cope with months of waitlist hell, then pick out three hard reaches, five reaches, three targets, and two safeties. If money is an issue and you want to be sure of having somewhere to go in the fall, then go with two reaches, four targets, and two safeties.

Applying to the entire Top 14 makes sense for people whose numbers put them somewhere in range for those schools, especially if you are a 75/25 splitter at some of them. Applying to between 8 and 13 schools spread over the ranks from 20-60, or 40-80, or whatever range gives you the right balance of reaches, targets, and safeties, will give you as good a chance as you are going to get.

Keep in mind that you do have opportunity costs here, if cost is a factor. If you get the LSAC fee waiver and it's all free, then of course do whatever amuses you. Otherwise, say you choose a high reach list of thirteen schools, as suggested above. Rather than dumping another grand on thirteen more applications for little or no effect, save $1,000 for travel expenses to visit and interview in person at the top choices that decide to waitlist you. That might actually get you a pleasant surprise somewhere.

Applying to more than thirteen or fifteen schools just won't change your overall odds much. You'll just get more and more of the same results. If you don't like the way your chances look or the way your cycle winds up, then remember that there are a few things anyone can do to get a material change in their odds:

1) Apply early (complete by 11/15, the universal EA deadline, is a good benchmark). This means you need everything but dean's certification letters in the bag by October 1 at the latest. Some schools accept as early as 9/1. Be first through the door everywhere that you can.

2) Prep 'til you puke and take the LSAT again. Aim for at least 10 pts above your first cold diagnostic, or five points over your last official score. Some people manage 20 points over their first cold score. Take the LSAT in February rather than June if you want a chance to repeat.

3) Apply to public schools in the state where you live, especially if they have hard and aggressive residency quotas, like UW (might even be worth it for some to move to the state with their favorite public school).

Beyond that, you might not make a huge change, but you could make some change in your chances by taking a year or four off and doing a tour with AmeriCORPS, Peace Corps, a mission of your faith, the Army, or in some other public service role that lights your fire. Or keep your regular job and put in one or two days a week as an intern or volunteer with a local charity or direct service agency. Or start your own service or advocacy mission from nothing.

Or do something you never thought you could do; something that will take from six months to two years to achieve or master: run a marathon, learn to fight with your fists, run for office ... whatever. Learn something you didn't know about yourself or the world. It may not help you like ten points on the LSAT would help you, but it might change your whole perspective toward law school, and that could change the whole perspective law schools have on you.
Your 20% chance of getting in to each individual university, 86% chance of getting into at least one (1- .8^10) with 10 applications, is very flawed. That 20% chance is causal, not probabilistic...
Hence my statements above that this approach breaks down at lower odds, and that it gives the best guesses for those with strange factors that schools will likely view in different and random ways -- URM, splitter, international, etc. These are the candidates who can not predict which schools will find something to love about them. For the majority of people with straight numbers and routine soft factors, covering a reasonable number of schools across a broad range of chances makes sense, and covering boatloads of schools does nothing.

And no matter what your factors, my main point was that even under the most favorable assumption -- that it is a totally random process -- applying to thirty schools certainly will not double your chances compared to fifteen. At the most you get a small boost in overall success for a huge expense in additional work and application fees. If you have a conventional profile, then it makes even less sense to apply at more than eight to thirteen schools, because more tickets buy you no better chances at all.

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How much do my college major and pedigree matter?

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 07, 2007 1:00 pm

How are engineering GPA's treated by schools? Is my 3.3 from a top engineering school considered comparable to a 3.5-6 from the equivelent college? Some deans have stated that they give a tangible advantage to engineering students (Dean Tom, from Berkeley, said he gives .2-.3 extra, for example) and the average GPA in my engineering school is 3.21 compared to 3.55 from the college (with the engineering school having higher sat scores and lsat scores). Are the numbers actually adjusted, or do the Deans just say that and go and pad their numbers anyway?
That I can not answer in specific terms, other than to refer to what you already stated: Some schools say they add a few tenths to the GPA of people with certain majors. You would have to rely on any public statements you have from specific law school deans to put any hard numbers on this.

I can suggest, however, that all law schools probably use some form of GPA scaling to correct for the wide variance in grading policies and student body academic indexes between different schools. Richard Sander from UCLA produced the only published details that I have seen on how one school's formula works. It seems reasonable to assume that the rest of them use some variant of this approach:

Richard Sander: More on the National Grade

I am not sure whether they apply a similar system of looking at LSAT means for students in different majors in order to correct their GPAs. It seems that they could, but it also seems like a lot of work. They may do it once every few years and then come up with a generic bonus that they feel is in the ballpark. Or they may just have some intuitive figure that they feel matches their past experience with admitted students from different majors.

If you look at the distribution of LSAT scores and GPAs from a couple of very different schools, then you can come up with some rough equivalences between their grading scales. Harvard and Penn State, for instance:
Harvard University

Percentage Distribution of LSAT

95 & Up 52
90-94 16
85-89 9
80-84 6
75-79 4
70-74 3
65-69 2
60-64 2
55-59 2
50-54 1
45-49 1
40-45 1
0-39 0

Percentage Distribution of GPAs

4.00 & Up 0
3.80-3.99 11
3.60-3.79 24
3.40-3.59 25
3.20-3.39 19
3.00-3.19 12
2.80-2.99 6
2.60-2.79 2
2.40-2.59 1
2.20-2.39 1
0.00-2.19 0
Pennsylvania State University

Percentage Distribution of LSAT

95 & Up 5
90-94 5
85-89 6
80-84 6
75-79 6
70-74 7
65-69 5
60-64 6
55-59 6
50-54 5
45-49 6
40-44 6
35-39 5
30-34 5
25-29 5
20-24 5
0-19 12

Percentage Distribution of GPAs

4.00 & Up 1
3.80-3.99 12
3.60-3.79 18
3.40-3.59 18
3.20-3.39 16
3.00-3.19 14
2.80-2.99 10
2.60-2.79 5
2.40-2.59 3
2.20-2.39 2
2.00-2.19 1
0.00-1.80 0
More than half of applicants from Harvard scored at the 95th percentile or above on the LSAT. And around 60% have a GPA of 3.40 or higher. At Penn State, only 5% scored in the 95th percentile, and the top 12% have GPAs of at least 3.80. This suggests roughly that a GPA of 3.50 at Harvard might get a "National Grade" of 950. But at Penn State you would need something above a 3.80, maybe ~3.90, to get a National Grade of 950.

If our guesses are accurate, then this suggests that a Harvard applicant with a 170/3.5 would have roughly the same academic index number for the purpose of admission to UCLA as a Penn State candidate with a 170/3.90. Since UCLA's system implies that a roughly 0.40 credit on your GPA accrues from attending Harvard vs. Penn State, it seems reasonable to take Dean Tom at his word when he says that he assigns a bonus in the same realm (0.20 - 0.30) to those who took harder grading or more competitive majors, such as engineering.

Harvard Law School no longer publishes the number of matriculating students from each university. But the data from their 2006-2007 class is still knocking around out there on So we have the percentile breakdowns above, the HLS 1L alma mater demographics, and LSAC's published data on number of applicants from different colleges. The data show some obvious features, to say the least, but they are too disconnected to develop any hard conclusions. Make of them what you like. ... lleges.php
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Should I write an addendum?

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 07, 2007 1:00 pm

HELP!!! My GPA is really low because I had mono my junior year, and then my cat died, and then the earth opened up and a lake of fire poured out and it swallowed up my five-hundred page honors thesis on the day I was supposed to present it to my advisement committee. The B+ that I got on the thesis was my only grade in four years that was not an A, and if it weren't for that I'd have a 4.0 instead of this crappy 3.98. Should I write an addendum?
An academic addendum makes sense if: 1) You have to explain a number that is a serious liability; 2) The reasons for your sorry record are not obvious from the rest of your package; and 3) You can point to some other higher number as an alternative indicator of your ability. Unless all of those conditions hold, forget the addendum and just let the record speak for itself.

You have three goals in any addendum: 1) State the facts; 2) Tell what you learned or how you got over the problem; 3) Assure the reader that it will not happen again. The main thing you need to make clear is how you solved whatever problem you had, and what you did to ensure you will not face similar problems in law school. Focus on what you learned from your mistakes or what you did to overcome your problems.

Disciplinary and criminal addenda are needed for their own reasons. The only safe rule on these is: When in doubt, disclose. If it's anything other than a traffic ticket, and you're asking the question whether you should disclose it, then you should. Keep in mind when writing any addendum that the more you write, the worse it will seem, so keep it short. Two paragraphs can cover most issues, and almost none require more than a page.
I scored very low on the LSAT, and I want to write an addendum explaining that I am a poor standardized test taker and include my SAT scores to prove my point.
This only works if you have a high college GPA to show that the SAT was not a valid predictor of your performance. And you still need to give some plausible reason that is beyond your control for your poor test scores. Just saying that you are not good at tests does not get you anywhere. If you have a language barrier or a diagnosed learning or cognitive disorder, then you can make a decent argument. If your GPA in college was not so great, then that would mean that your low SAT score in fact correlates well with your low grades. An addendum based on a weak argument will do more harm than good, and you are better off just taking your chances with whatever numbers you have.

The same applies to an addendum related to a low cumulative GPA. You need a higher number to point to as an alternative -- in most cases your GPA in later years, or after taking time off from school and returning. If you have a strong LSAT score, then a GPA addendum will make more sense, since you have that as an alternative in addition to any upward trend in your grades over time. A very high LSAT can cover a multitude of sins. If you don't have a higher GPA to point to, then you have no real basis for writing an addendum.

You also have a better shot with schools where either your GPA or your LSAT is above the median or 75th percentile, because at least then you have one reportable number that makes you attractive to them. Some schools may even see a 75/25 splitter as a cheap date, since they can buy that person's higher number with a simple acceptance, rather than having to offer merit $$$ as they would to a candidate with both numbers at the top of their range. If you just have one lousy number and one great one, with no good explanation or alternative record to distinguish the lower number, then just apply to a wide range of reach, target, and safety schools and hope that some of them will want your assets bad enough to overlook your liabilities.

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How hard is it to transfer?

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 07, 2007 1:01 pm

I just was curious about how hard it is to transfer to different law schools?? When schools are looking at transfers do they only accept students in their 75% GPA range?? Do they still look at LSATs??
The Yahoo! transferapps group has a database which lists the stats, schools applied to, and results for many members of the group for each of the past three cycles. The group is open to anyone despite its topic, and they have a lot of collected statistics, plus the message archive that you can search. A few schools such as Berkeley and Georgetown are often thought of as more "transfer friendly," since they tend to take 30-100 each year, rather than 3-10, like Stanford and others.

Some schools, such as Harvard, are rumored to want you to have been at least in range as a freshman, and rarely accept people on the basis of law school grades alone. Most will focus almost entirely on your class rank, awards, and accomplishments during 1L. Some that accept transfers only rarely want to see really compelling personal qualities or reasons why they should want you and why you want them. If you want to transfer up a full tier, or from T1 into the Top 14, or from anywhere into HYS, then you need to wind up in at least the top 10% of your class for 1L -- top 5% for the best odds. In the single digits by ordinal rank would be ideal.

A high LSAT / low GPA candidate might be a little better off, but it really all comes down to just murdering those 1L classes, getting a CALI or three, and racking up all of the honors and other neat factors that you have time for. Grades must come first above all. Besides your GPA and rank, your prospects will depend more on what level of school you are coming from than your pre-law numbers. The higher up you start, the higher you will be able to reach as a transfer. T14 to HYS, T1 to T14, and T3/4 to T2/1 are all plausible. T4 to T14 becomes less likely even with stellar numbers.

The process itself can be a big pain, because you have to go through the whole application cycle again in the space of a few weeks around the end of 1L. You need a whole new personal statement, and often will have to write at length about why you want to transfer to a specific school. You also need at least two new letters of recommendation from 1L professors. All decisions are made between the time you take finals and around the end of July, more or less, and trying to get your original school to release your grades on time seems to be the biggest stress for some people. But if your numbers truly did not predict your actual performance, and if you do your part in 1L, then you can get great results from it.
I also wonder if transferring is largely regional. For example, If I go to NYLS, would I have a better shot at transferring into Fordham, Cornell, etc than transferring back to Texas or Northwestern or Georgetown, etc? And vice versa, if I go to Tulsa or South Texas would I have a better shot at Texas than at other schools? Is it even possible to transfer from T3/4 to T20 (without being #1....and even in that case)?
Some schools want to see that you have compelling personal reasons in terms or geography or a specialty or something to transfer there. Duke and Stanford might be like this, because they take so few people as a rule. Others like Georgetown, Berkeley, and maybe even Harvard just assume that it's for the obvious reason, or they really don't care why. It might make the transfer easier on you if it does not involve a move, but being close does not seem to affect your odds one way or the other at most target schools. The more transfers a school takes, the less likely that anything besides 1L grades will matter.
Is there any information out there on how many transfer applicants there are to a school? I.E. Georgetown had 100 transfer in, but if there were 800 apps as opposed to 150 apps it would make a big difference.
You might assume transfer admissions are less competitive because the applicant pools are tiny (around 100 for most schools, no more than 1,000 at any) and number accepted can be significant (as many as 100 each year at Georgetown). But you're competing almost exclusively with the most motivated and best performing other 1Ls in the country, and the number of seats to be had is small. You should choose transfer targets based mainly on numbers accepted and schools that appeal most to you. Ranking in the top 5% vs. 10% will have a much bigger impact on your chances than their total application volume. Your 1L grades are the only thing you can really control anyway, so just do the best you can.
Anyone have research/evidence that re-applying is neutral or even a benefit?
It all depends on what has changed. You might speculate that if you are borderline at a school and get rejected, having applied as a freshman admit might show your desire to attend if you wind up in a strong position to apply as a transfer. It's not like a previous rejection will help your odds as a transfer. But hammering 1L at another school will definitely count as a big positive change in your package, and having applied before might serve as a tie breaker between you and your numbers twin who didn't bother.
So what do you think is better if you don't get into a target school: go to a safety school for a year and transfer or get some work experience for a year or two and reapply?
You would usually consider this in terms of reaches and targets. If your targets are really targets, then you should get into at least one, as long as you apply to three or five of them. If you don't happen to get into any of your reaches, but you do wind up in the top 5-10% at the target you choose to attend, then you might have as good a chance as anyone reapplying as a transfer to your reaches. The example of reapplying as a transfer is just one case in which you might have a better chance the second time around. You should never attend any school that you would not be happy spending three years at.
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Is the job market for new lawyers really that bad?

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 07, 2007 1:02 pm

Anna Ivey, whom I respect and read her book about getting into law school,has posted on her blog about schools that are not Top 14. She warns that the job market is slow for students who go to law school at a second tier school especially, and mentions Brooklyn Law School and Tulane in her post.

What do you guys think? I know I have no chance with my stats at a T14 school, but I also know that I am not in this for the money (which Anna assumes every prospective law student is in her post). Do you think her advice should be taken seriously?
Anna Ivey wrote:Law school applicants fight me on this all the time, but I stick to my guns. Most ABA-approved law schools are not worth the investment. It's painful for people to hear, and most insist on learning this truth the hard way.

For those who hesitate to take Anna's word on the state of the job market, lets take a look at what the Bureau of Labor Statistics has to say. They seem to have little to gain from panning anyone's job prospects without good cause.

Lawyers held about 735,000 jobs in 2004 ... Employment of lawyers is expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations through 2014, primarily as a result of growth in the population and in the general level of business activities.
The phrase "about as fast as average," has a specific meaning in BLSpeak. It means growth in the total number of jobs between 9 and 17 percent over ten years. The high end on that would be less than 13,000 new jobs per year. Now consider that law schools graduate about 45,000 new attorneys each and every May.

Even if we assume that another 13,000 attorneys will retire each year, that still means law schools are turning out roughly twice as many graduates as there are jobs in the market -- every single year. And it only gets worse over the course of years, as unemployed graduates from last year have to compete with the new meat and with the waves of attorneys leaving big firms for better work.

So, we've got a total of about 125,000 new jobs -- in the best case -- and 450,000 new lawyers. In order to create jobs for all the new attorneys that will graduate within the next ten years, you would have to convince half of all attorneys working in the country today to retire or die within a decade. It could happen ... I guess.
Competition for job openings should continue to be keen because of the large number of students graduating from law school each year. Graduates with superior academic records from highly regarded law schools will have the best job opportunities.
And here we go: "keen competition" is another BLSpeak phrase -- it means more job seekers than jobs. That's putting it rather mildly if you look at the math behind it. Also notice who they predict will get what decent jobs there are to be had in this market.
As in the past, some graduates may have to accept positions in areas outside of their field of interest or for which they feel overqualified. Some recent law school graduates who have been unable to find permanent positions are turning to the growing number of temporary staffing firms that place attorneys in short-term jobs until they are able to secure full-time positions.
For a lot of new lawyers, "until they are able to secure full-time positions," might as well read, "until hell freezes over." Many will never find permanent positions, because they just don't exist. This is not just a disgruntled cadre of the bottom 1% who never made good at anything in their lives. And it doesn't deny that many lawyers each year will find work offering varying levels of pleasure and pay. But twice as many attorneys as jobs adds up to just one thing: Major pain for many people.

About 100,000 people each year take the LSAT. Around 85,000 will apply to law school. Only about 2 in 3 -- 55,000 or so -- will be accepted at even one school. About 46,000 will matriculate, and (here's one small comfort) almost all of them will earn their JD. But even after all that winnowing -- after making cut after cut, and surviving three years of school, and taking on $100,000 in debt -- about half of those who survive this ordeal may never find any work as lawyers anywhere, ever.
Is T14 really going to get me $30-40k more a year?
Salary Distribution - By School Rank

Salary Distribution - Overall, Class of 2006 ... on-of.html
Is the difference between schools ranked 10-14 and those ranked 15-19 really so great as people on here seem to believe? Is Cornell THAT much more prestigious than UCLA or Vanderbilt, even though they all have the same median LSAT, similar salary stats, etc.? What justifies this notion that "national" status ends precisely at no. 14?
Vault 100 placement drops from 34% to 19% between 14th ranked Georgetown and 15th ranked UCLA. That's a drop more than twice as large as the 7% gap between 8th ranked Michigan and 14th ranked Georgetown. In terms of raw numbers, Georgetown sends almost as many graduates to Vault 100 firms as UCLA, USC, Texas, and Vanderbilt combined. Texas is the only school outside the Top 14 that tops any school within the Top 14 in this category of placement, measured as a percentage of the class (they beat out Boalt by 1%). ... ement.html

Schools just outside the Top 14 seem somewhat more competitive in terms of federal clerkship placement. But this may be because your chances for these jobs decline very rapidly as you move down from the Top 3. ... chool.html ... chool.html ... chool.html
That article really depresses me. I know I'm not getting into a T14, so now I feel like I'm going to be reading electronic contracts for $30 an hour and no benefits for the rest of my life.
If you know this is true -- that you have no chance of going to one of the top national schools -- then just realize that your legal career will happen in that great big working world outside of the niche market of "Big Law." Only 10% of attorneys in the entire country work for the largest, most elite firms that pay salaries far north of $100k. The vast majority of attorneys earn in the range of $40-80k, with the biggest cluster around $45 - 55k.

So choose your school and plan your career accordingly:

1) Pick a nice region where you would feel happy and want to settle

2) Go to a public school where you can get in-state tuition; merit $$ would help too.

3) Realize that grades and connections will dominate your job prospects after graduation, and act accordingly to maximize them.

4) Choose a practice area that you will love; learn what you have to do to succeed in it; and then do that. Find a good mentor who is established and connected in this field during your 1L year.

5) Make sure that you will be happy spending the majority of your waking hours in the practice of law, and that you will be happy making $60k rather than $160k doing that.
Last edited by sockpuppet on Fri Dec 21, 2007 12:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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How do I write a LOCI?

Post by sockpuppet » Wed Dec 12, 2007 1:03 pm

What are you talking about? LOCI?
Letter of Continuing Interest. Law schools ask for them, and candidates may send them, in order to let schools know that they still want to attend after the school offers a wait list spot, or if it's just been three to six months and the applicant has heard nothing.
What should they contain? Should they be mailed or emailed? What is the appropriate length?
What to include will depend on what they say or ask for in any wait list or defer letter that you get. Often they ask that you send specific things, or that you reply by email or phone or using their paper form to confirm that you want a wait list spot. Unless they ask for some extended response, I would say they should be no more than one page. Other than that, just write a standard format business letter along the lines of:

Code: Select all

                                                          Groveling Hovel, Canada
                                                          LSAC: 00000000

January 1, 2008

Too Good For Me Law School
123 Superior Avenue
Uptown, USA

Dear Admissions Officer Who Spurned My Affection:

(or Admissions Committee if you have no signed letters from them)

Thanks for taking your time to consider me ... blah blah blah has happened since I first applied ... The offer of my first born child for a spot in your Fall 2008 class still stands ... Please let me know if you need anything else, and also to whom I should send this really huge sack of cash.


Desperate To Attend
I prefer to print and mail rather than email, just to get some proof of delivery. Email would probably work just as well for most schools. The materials they ask you to send or their letter to you may dictate how to respond.

If you want to send a real letter and want to make sure it gets there before the next ice age, then use something like Priority Mail. That will get anything under a pound anywhere in the US in two or three days, with delivery confirmation, for $4.60. You can print mailing labels off the USPS web site and drop packages in any mailbox. USPS will also send you flat rate envelopes free of charge if you order them from their online postal store.

FedEx costs more but has tracking along with confirmation. I assume that the Canadian postal service would offer something similar to Priority Mail for about the same price. I use some sort of confirmed two or three day delivery for all paper correspondence related to applications -- LORs, transcripts, Dean's Certifications, etc. It beats grinding your teeth down to the jawbone while you're waiting three weeks for the damn things to just get there already.
I'd think it a waste to start thinking about these before March...
Wait lists will not happen until around then. But if you applied early in September / October and are still in college, and if you have not heard anything by the first or second week of January, then it seems fine to send one on the heels of an updated transcript showing Fall grades or a degree conferred.
I'll be sending updated transcripts to LSAC, which will send them out to all the schools to which I've applied (at least I think that's what happens). Why do I need a note attached?
You can't attach anything -- LSAC will send an updated academic summary automatically. But you may have other things besides what show up on the transcript to mention. If you graduate with Latin honors or distinction, LSAC just puts a generic "Academic Honors" tag on your last semester. Also, if you got an honor society invite or have done other things that don't appear on the transcript, then you may want to mention those in a short letter as well.

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How can a school drop twenty spots on US News in one year?

Post by sockpuppet » Fri Dec 21, 2007 12:56 pm

As I look at these forums I tend to see people mentioning schools that are up and coming or rising in the rankings. If this is the case, then that must mean that some schools are dropping. I was just wondering which schools might be falling down the rankings?
Some schools that dropped over 5 spots in the rankings last year:

Notre Dame (-6)
Florida (-6)
Nebraska (-7)
UNC (-9)
BYU (-10)
Oregon (-12)
San Diego (-20)

So, what's the deal? What makes a school drop 5, 10, 20 spots? I can't be totally arbitrary...right?
It can be, and in many cases it is. A law professor named Theodore P. Seto has put a lot of work into reverse engineering the formulas used to generate the US News Ranks and published a law review article on the anomalies he found as a result: ... _id=937017

One of the more interesting sections is the one on reliability of the rankings, which starts on p. 19. In this he discusses how the various rounding and scaling effects used to compute the rankings can produce rather random and dramatic changes in the rank of some schools, as a result of trivial changes in the ranking factors of schools on extreme ends of the scales.

In effect the formula used to rank schools is unstable, and even if nothing about a school changes at all, variations in schools ranked near the top or bottom of the range in each variable can cause the raw score of schools nearer the middle to vary up or down as much as two full points, and can cause their rank to vary much more, due to the many ties in raw score.
Theodore P. Seto wrote:I begin with my conclusions. First, U.S. News’ law school “ranks” are unreliable – that is, they are subject to significant random error. Second, its “overall scores,” if read with a “±2” appended, appear to be relatively reliable – with caveats.

My first conclusion can be illustrated by a simple example involving a change in the numbers of U.S. News’ lowest-ranked school – which I will call the “bottom anchor” but otherwise leave unnamed. Assume that the reported 9-month employment rate for graduates of the bottom anchor falls by just 1 percentage point and nothing else changes at any school in the country. In a reliable ranking system, one would hope that such a change would not affect the rank of any other school. After all, this is a miniscule change in one statistic at a school that few lawyers, law professors, or law students have heard of.

As you might expect, nothing happens to the bottom anchor’s overall score (by definition, zero) or rank (180th). But this tiny change wreaks havoc on the relative ranking of the top 100 law schools. Seattle and San Francisco jump six ranks, Fordham jumps from 32nd to 27th, and Rutgers Camden, San Diego, and Indiana Indianapolis each jump four. Houston, Kansas, Nebraska, and Oregon, by contrast, each drop three ranks. Overall, 41 of the top 100 schools change rank. Fordham’s dean gets a bonus. Fingers are pointed and voices raised at Houston. All because of a trivial change in the employment statistics of a single school far away in the spreadsheet. Stranger still, if the bottom anchor’s 9-month employment rate falls an additional 4 percentage points (that is, a total of 5 percentage points) – and nothing else changes at any school in the country – most of these effects disappear, but the reordering moves into the Top Ten. UC Berkeley and Virginia both drop from 8th to 9th place. At the other schools named above, it is as if nothing had ever happened.


The same kind of random changes in rank can occur if small changes occur at the other end of the spreadsheet as well. Assume that Yale’s reported 9-month employment rate rises by 1 percentage point and that nothing else changes at any school in the country. This relatively minor change has no effect, of course, on Yale’s overall score (by definition, 100) or rank (1st). But it makes a big difference for Harvard, which now moves into a tie with Stanford for second place. Next, assume that Yale’s 9-month employment rate rises by just 1/10th of a percentage point more, from 99.9% to 100%. Catastrophe! UC Hastings drops 6 ranks, from 43rd to 49th, almost losing its place in the top 50.

How can the rankings be so extraordinarily sensitive to tiny changes unrelated to the schools affected? Two aspects of the U.S. News system account for this sensitivity. First, the fact that U.S. News insists on assigning an overall score of 100 to the top-scoring school and an overall score of zero to the bottom-score school, no matter what, means that any change in one of those schools’ numbers will shift the entire scale against which other schools are measured. If any Yale number changes, Yale’s overall score cannot change. Instead, “100” is effectively redefined to mean something new. This, in turn, means that every other overall score (except zero) is redefined as well. Conversely, if a number at the bottom anchor changes, “zero” is effectively redefined to mean something new – as is every other overall score except 100. As a result, changes in input variables for Yale or the bottom anchor, particularly in higher-weighted variables, can trigger extensive random changes across the system.


By itself, the foregoing problem might not produce the extreme sensitivity illustrated in the foregoing examples. Perfect Yale 9-month employment numbers move Hastings’ unrounded overall score by only 0.02 (in my spreadsheet, from 51.50 to 51.48). A second aspect of U.S. News’ system, however, magnifies this effect. Before ranking schools by overall scores, U.S. News rounds each overall score to the nearest integer. A school’s unrounded overall score may be slightly above the midpoint between two integers. That score will be rounded up (from 51.50 to 52). A small change in the unrounded score, however, may push it below the midpoint. Thereafter, the score will be rounded down (from 51.48 to 51). As a result, a small change (here, 0.02) in the school’s unrounded overall score can trigger a full one-point change (from 52 to 51) in the score upon which relative rankings are based.

U.S. News then lumps all schools with the same rounded overall score together and ranks them as tied. Hasting’s rounded overall score of 52 puts it in 43rd place. The hypothetical Yale employment figure change, however, moves UC Hastings’ unrounded score enough to cause it to be rounded down to 51 instead. Under U.S. News’ methodology, it is now lumped together with schools with rounded overall scores of 51, which U.S. News declares to be tied for 49th place. UC Hastings has just fallen six ranks.
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Post by sockpuppet » Fri Mar 28, 2008 4:33 am

This actually brings up a very interesting question, "From a pure debt-recoery standpoint, which is better: Big Law or LRAP?" I know that many people will say, "Well that depends one the situation." But imagine a situation in which a big law person maximizes the opportunity for that route, and the public interest person does the same. Then what is your answer?
Ballpark calculation, assuming $150k owed:


- $36k salary
- 10 year repayment schedule
- $300 per month loan payments
- $360,000 total gross income
- $36,000 total loan payments
- $300,000 unpaid principal / interest forgiven at ten years

2) Big Law

- $320k salary plus bonus
- 10 year repayment schedule
- $1,800 per month loan payments
- $3.2 million total gross income
- $200k total loan payments
- $150k in loans paid in full after two years, give or take

The LRAP example is based on the Income Based Repayment (IBR) and public service loan forgiveness programs created by the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) of 2007. In the Big Law example, I'm just making a gross estimate assuming that you would make more or less regular payments and apply at least half of your first and second year bonuses to paying down the loan. Your debt would be gone in two years instead of ten, and you'd be roughly $3 million ahead ten years out. This is also assuming you're getting Wachtel level bonuses at 100% of salary (you said maximize ...). Neither example accounts for raises, taxes, etc., of course. But the difference is so gigantic that it can't possibly matter. If you go the Big Law route, then you can either walk away and do public interest after two years, or work ten and retire, doing 100% pro-bono for the next twenty. I'll let you decide which you think comes out "ahead." Can you stand Big Law for two or ten years? Can you even get it?
Under the new, federal LRAP, can time you spent working for a nonprofit prior to law school count toward the ten years?
Davis' LRAP program is pretty unique. I was shocked when I heard the work requirement was only 30 hours a week (apparently its a new thing they started to help people who had kids or dependents they had to take care of). Given that I would like to have kids someday and have two parents who will likely be incapacitated in the next 10 years, its very nice.
Time that you work in public service or non-profit jobs before you graduate from law school does not count for the purpose of loan forgiveness. This is because the clock starts running only once you enter the LRAP program. Most of these programs are not calendar time service commitments in exchange for forgiveness. School LRAPs work (and manage to be tax free) by making you loans to pay off loans, which then get forgiven after a certain period of time. Their formulas determine how much of your current payments they will cover (up to 100% in some cases), and as long as you remain in eligible employment (and make the actual payments on your original student loans) then the short term LRAP loans issued to cover your payments will just disappear.

For CCRAA loan forgiveness, the "time" is actually counted by the number of monthly payments made while under Income Based Repayment. So you have to 1) Qualify for IBR based on your income and the unadjusted amount of your loan payments; and 2) Make at least 120 payments under IBR (10 years if made continuously). This applies if you work for the government, military, or any 501(c)(3) agency, as well as in certain specified public service jobs not otherwise covered.

If you work in a job which is not considered public service (i.e. private sector), then you have to make 25 years worth of payments under IBR in order to gain forgiveness. You can move in and out of IBR as many times as you want, over any period of time, if your income goes up and down. During any period when your income is low enough, you can elect to make IBR rather than standard payments. Once you accumulate a total of 120 payments under IBR, no matter how long it takes you to make them, you get full forgiveness of any remaining balance. The point about hours required for a person to be considered employed is a good one. As written, the law requires "full-time" employment to qualify for IBR. But we'll have to check the regulations when issued to see what specific hourly requirements will satisfy the "full-time" rule.

It's also important to note the big difference between IBR and current school funded LRAP plans. Current LRAPs actually make small, forgivable loans to you that cover the full standard payment for your regular law school student loans. The programs usually also require you to elect a certain repayment schedule such as 10 or 15 years. But IBR only reduces the amount you are required to pay each month -- not the amount of interest and principal due. If your payments under IBR do not cover the full amount of interest due, then any left over adds to your loan balance, and your total debt grows each month rather than shrinking. This is why $150k in loans balloons to $300k forgiven after ten years, even though you've made $36k in payments over that time. This is also the reason that any income based repayment scheme in fact must include forgiveness at some point -- if it did not, then borrowers would be stuck with an infinite series of payments on an ever growing debt that they could never pay off.

Under many school LRAP plans, the temporary loans made to cover your regular payments are forgiven after just six months or a year. If you're in the plan for three years, then leave for the private sector, then it's as if you made three years worth of regular payments, even though LRAP may have covered all of them. With IBR, if you make very low payments for three years and then begin a much higher paying job and leave IBR, then you'll actually be worse off because your balance will be even higher than when you graduated. You might have no other option besides IBR for maintaining a viable budget with a very low income. But you can wind up paying a lot more in total interest if you use IBR only for a short time and never return for long enough to gain forgiveness.
What are the odds of a school ending its LRAP program? Has it happened before?
It's a virtual given that, once CCRAA is fully implemented in published regulations, all school LRAPs will mandate that graduates participate in the Income Based Repayment program as the primary means of payment reduction and forgiveness. Some schools may then choose to subsidize the already lower payments under IBR. Others may refocus their LRAP programs to help only pre-CCRAA borrowers, those with private loans (not eligible for CCRAA), international students (who can't get federal loans), or those working internationally (who probably can't qualify for CCRAA on account of not filing or paying US income taxes).

More likely most schools with poorly funded programs (which is pretty much all of them other than the Top 10 - 15 schools) will be thrilled to just wash their hands of the whole affair. They would love to redirect funds now devoted to LRAP into things like summer and post-grad public interest fellowships, or even just handing out more merit $$$ to new students. The top ranked and really wealthy schools will probably follow Harvard's lead and do more innovative things with their money, like boosting grant aid or waiving big chunks of tuition up front, since those are more newsworthy than just cutting some poor slob's loan payments by 80%.

Schools that change their LRAPs will most likely provide transition or legacy coverage for students with non-CCRAA eligible debt. They will also (or at least they should) very prominently and strongly suggest that all new students take only Stafford and PLUS loans rather than private loans, if they plan to rely on LRAP to retire any part of their debt. The big problem with most school funded plans is less that they might "end" and more that many are just chronically underfunded. It's all well and good that the formula says you're eligible for $10,000 a year in benefits, but if they don't have the money to cover everyone, then they either arbitrarily deny people or reduce everyone's benefits by however much they need to get within budget.
I was unaware that LRAP includes undergrad loans, very interesting.
Some school plans do and some don't. The CCRAA plan applies to all federally guaranteed loans issued through the Stafford, GradPLUS or Perkins programs, but not to private loans issued by either school funded programs or commercial lenders.
Don't forget though that the forgiven loans are counted as income for tax purposes, so that could leave you with a pretty heavy tax burden (but still worth it).
For now this is an issue, but only because they have not yet gotten around to adding an exemption to the tax code like the ones allowed for every other similar program. It'll be fixed before anyone ever has to face it, because if it isn't then they would be hitting people making $40k per year with tax bills for $150,000.
But the downside is that you're stuck with a fixed cost for at least 10 yrs. What if you wanted to buy a home in the future and can't get a good rate or can't take out a big enough loan as you may want because they factor in 1) your income and 2) your existing debt (among other things of course).

I worry that even if they forgive loans after 10 yrs and only chip away 15% of your total income, that fixed cost (in addition to your whatever other fixed costs, e.g. insurance, etc) you have, is going to prevent your ability to actually save money for your future - e.g. sock away a decent amt for your retirement, and for a home, etc.
The typical back-end ratio used by lenders when looking at mortgage applicants is 30 - 40% of gross income. If you keep your use of other forms of debt like credit cards and auto loans to a reasonable level, then IBR payments should not cause you any problem in getting a mortgage. Keep in mind that the formula is 15% of gross income above 150% of the federal poverty level:

IBR Payment = 0.15 x (Gross - 15,315)

So if you make $40k, then IBR payments would be $3703 per year, or $309 per month. That's only 9% of total gross income and should not on its own cause a problem for anyone trying to save or applying for other forms of credit. If you come out owing the usual $100k or more, then that $3,703 per year is also going to be 100% interest. With gross income less than $55k per year you can take up to $2,500 of that as a deduction just like mortgage interest. So that means you're really only losing about $250 in after tax income per month.

No matter what your other goals, being stuck with a fixed cost that is around 9% of your gross income sure beats being stuck with one that is 50 - 60% of your gross.

More details on LRAP plans for law school graduates appear in: Figuring out Financial Aid.

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