Voiceover: LSAC LawHub®. Explore. Prepare. Succeed. LawHub Webinar Series. Decision Day: Choosing the right law school. Recorded March 23, 2022.
Gisele Joachim: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the LawHub® Webinar Series. My name is Gisele Joachim, and I am the executive director of Ambassadors and education here at LSAC. Now, today, I am so excited that you all have joined us, because we have a spectacular program planned. Today, we are going to take a deep dive into your decision-making process. The starting point here is the assumption that you have been admitted to one or multiple law schools.
Our goal today is to offer you helpful advisement to think about your choices and also to provide you with some tools to assist you in your final decision. In addition, we will be answering questions as part of a Q&A period during the second half of this program. If you have questions, we encourage you to submit them via the Q&A box throughout the presentation. We will do our best to respond to as many questions as possible. OK, so let’s get started. First of all, I am happy to welcome my colleague Kyle McEntee to join me. Kyle?
Kyle McEntee: Thanks, Gisele, and thank you everyone for joining us today. So, my role here at LSAC is pretty new, actually; I just started officially about a month ago. I am the new senior director for prelaw solutions on the LawHub team. Previously, however, I was the executive director of Law School Transparency , which is, well, formerly, a nonprofit that helped prelaw students decide whether and where to go to law school. We were founded about 13 years ago while I was a student in law school. And over this time, I’ve come to, I guess, dedicate my career to helping prelaw students get access to better information, whether that was advocacy to convince schools to give up more data or the American Bar Association as the regulator to require law schools to provide more data. What it all came down to was learning how to organize information and figure out how to communicate it to people so they can make informed choices. Gisele, do you want to talk a little bit about kind of why you’re here?
Gisele: Sure, so I’ve been at LSAC now for about three years, but before that, I was, for 15 years, the dean of admissions enrollment management at Seton Hall Law School. And even before that, I had a long career - I won’t say how many years, so I don’t age myself - but I had a long career on undergraduate campuses in admissions roles, student affairs roles, and financial aid roles. And so, all of these pieces together, and with Kyle and I together, Kyle with his data-based thinking and me with more of a fit-based, I think, presumption, I think we have some really good, important information to share with our audience. I wanted to share one quick anecdote before we open up the conversation. And it’s the one that I always think of when I think about fit and students making a choice, perspective students making a choice out of their available options, and how to go about making that choice. And I remember really fondly a student who was admitted to the law school I used to work at, Seton Hall Law School, which is located in Newark, New Jersey. And I remember that when we admitted him, he came into my office and he thanked me, he thanked the admission staff, and he told us quite emotionally how he grew up in the city of Newark, and how every day on his way to school, he would, along with his father, would pass by the law school and he would point to the law school and say that that was his goal, that he wanted to be a lawyer and he wanted to attend that school. And here we’d gone full circle. And I think about when you are in this position, it’s usually not as obvious as that, that that’s my school, and so obvious for the school as well that this is a student who belongs at the school, and so that’s what this conversation is about. When it’s not so black and white, what are the other things that you should look at? What are the things that you should consider? So let’s open up our conversation, Kyle. And let’s start sort of on that thread that was about location, right? When you come right down to it, that story was about the location of the school and that student feeling an affinity and an importance about that location. So let’s start with location.
Kyle: That is definitely my favorite place to start, because I think it is completely underestimated. Two in three graduates, when they get a job, their first job after law school, it’s located in the state in which they go to law school. And there’s a number of reasons why this is the case. I can get into them shortly, but it really behooves you as you’re making this decision to really think through, where do you want to work? Now, there are some schools that operate on a national scale, but we’re talking one, maybe two hands’ worth of schools that this applies to. Most schools operate on a regional, state-based, or even local market. And I would actually probably say there’s more schools that operate on a local market, within a few hours’ drive of the school, than even on the regional basis, which might include several states. Now, when thinking about location, the way lawschooltransparency.com , which is a resource we’re going to refer to throughout this, which is now an LSAC-owned property, the way we organize information is around where people get jobs. And so it’s not just where is the school located, but it is also where are graduates going from that school? And that’s how you can really start to tease out, is this a local school? Is this a school where it’s really everyone from one state, or is this a regional or national school?
Gisele: And so, is it all about the jobs? When I’m looking at location, is that really where I need to have my focus, primarily? Is that what you’re saying?
Kyle: I think it should weigh heavily on your mind. Now, everything we’re talking about today, it’s very personal. There’s no "one size fits all" law school or "one size fits all" answer or method for reaching the decision for you. It is very personal. You have to balance cost, jobs, environment, your sense of belonging, what you want to do in your career, your family obligations. All these things play a role, but it is a professional school. People go to law school, in general, to become lawyers, so you should be aware of, where are you going to be able to be a lawyer from which school? Or I guess I want to pull that back a little bit and not say, where are you able to, but where are you most likely to be able to be a lawyer? Because you can defy odds, but know in defying odds, there’s a reason that a few percentage only go across the country from particular schools. It’s because the way people find jobs in law school and after, it’s through networking, it’s through relationships, and those relationships are with alumni or with people in the local legal community. And it’s pretty rare, except at the largest schools, or largest national schools, with the largest firms, that people will fly across the country to interview you. Mostly you’re on grit and determination. And that’s a lot easier to do when it’s in your backyard than across the country.
Gisele: I mean, I think that there is something to the data, and this maybe we could get to, or I want to get to our main points, of course. Part of I think the limitation of the data that’s available is that it is just about sort of those jobs right out of law school. And obviously that’s going to be highly predictive of where your career goes or where those next few years go. But if you went to law firms around the country, I’m sure that in the later years of employment, you’d find a greater variety of law schools from where people came, would be my guess.
Kyle: Yeah, I think there is some evidence of that, especially at the larger firms, but it is important for everyone on this call to realize that to practice law in a state, you have to pass the Bar exam in that state. And after five years, some states, there’s reciprocity, so you can have your license recognized in another state, but that’s not as easy, perhaps, as it should be, and if you’re within that five-year mark, you’re going to have to retake the Bar exam. And that is a significant constraint on your ability to actually get those jobs out of state. So, it’s not the best system, the way it’s set up, but it is our system, and you have to work within the system at least until you can figure out how to break the system.
Gisele: Absolutely. All right, let’s move on to a topic that I know Kyle and I have a lot of agreement and alignment on, and that is, do people hang on the rankings too much to make their decisions?
Kyle: Oh, absolutely, the U.S. News rankings in particular are worse than useless. And in fact, all they do, in my opinion, is poison the decision-making of students and schools alike. And it’s really easy to get caught up in the rankings changes. And I think over the next few weeks, you are going to experience that. We are going to see rankings shifts like we haven’t seen in years, but it doesn’t mean anything, because the methodology is unsound and it’s measuring the wrong things. It’s putting all schools, all 197 ABA-approved schools, on a single list and saying, 1 is better than 2, 2 is better than 30. And it’s not to say that some schools are not better than others at particular things, or that one school or another is not going to be a better fit for you than it would be for someone else. But what it is to say is that when you put schools on a list, you’re saying that they’re worth comparing, but if you want to practice in California, the chances are you should not be considering a school in New York and New Jersey. Same way the opposite. And yet, if you’re making your decision based on rankings and the New Jersey school is 70 and the California school is 50, and you think that’s what should determine your decision, you’re setting yourself up for less success than you would’ve otherwise. And sure, you might end up lucking into the right choice for you. But what we’re really trying to do today is encourage you to make your choices on an informed basis, so you can get a great start to your career and have as little friction as possible. Gisele: Yeah, when we talk about rankings, I think of another one of my personal anecdotes with a student who, and I won’t name actual law schools, except to say that the student ended up transferring, which is not a common practice in law school, but transferring to Seton Hall from what’s traditionally called the T14 school that he went to. And he told me during his admission process that he knew it was the wrong choice for him from the beginning, but that he felt so compelled to go there because the ranking was as it was. And that’s the sort of thing that I hope to help students avoid, that feeling like you should go there because of that ranking or because of some other sort of fabricated external force, because your mother wants you to go there or whatever it is, those kinds of things.
Kyle: Yeah, and again, it’s not to say that there’s not certain schools that do some things better than others. There is a real hierarchy among law schools when it comes to placement at the largest firms. So if you were dead-set on a prestigious job, there’s a reason to look at the schools that are more prestigious, but the measure to use to determine that is not the ranking, but it’s to look at the actual job outcomes. See where are people getting jobs in federal clerkships or in law firms of 251 or more attorneys. Those are the numbers to focus on if that’s the job you want after law school or the option you want, not "Is this school 6 or 7?"
Gisele: Yeah, so that’s a great segue to sort of what we agreed was like the third sort of primary factor. And we’ve touched on it a little bit, but employment outcomes. So beyond the sort of regional and geographic employment outcomes, what should folks be looking for?
Kyle: Yeah, so probably the best way to start digging into the employment data - you can do it on lawschooltransparency.com, we’ll show you how to do this later on - but you can also look up any of the ABA 509 disclosures. These are on law school websites, and it’s also available at the ABA’s website, where you can look them all up. But what to look through there, because it’s frankly just a giant data dump that’s not super well organized, but it contains a wealth of information that can really help you decide whether a school is a good fit for you. And the gold standard job to look for there is long term, full time, Bar passage required. Long term means that the job is indefinite or going to, you’ll have the job for at least one year. And short term is everything that’s left. Full time, as you might imagine, is 35 hours or more per week. And then Bar passage required means that the job requires a law license. This is the gold standard, right? This is a great proxy for your ability to have a successful start to your legal career. Now, again, it’s not that you can’t have a successful start if you don’t get a law job within 10 months of graduation, which is when these numbers are measured, but it is a much more difficult battle, and it’s an uphill battle, because at that point, you got the next crop of students graduating and you have to compete with them as well. Now, the other main category to look at is the long-term, full-time JD advantage jobs. So these are jobs like my job right now. I’m in a JD advantage job, where my degree, my law license, is not required, but it is helpful in me actually doing my job, and my employer, in this case LSAC, values the fact that I have my JD and that I have my law license. That said, the jobs that people pursue after law school in the JD advantage category are a bit of a mixed bag. About 40% of people who are in those jobs 10 months after graduation are still looking for another job, which we look at as a proxy for satisfaction. And you compare that to the Bar passage required jobs, and that’s about 8 or 9% are still looking for other jobs. So, look to that category, but you have to really dig into the substance of those jobs and figure out, is this something that is worth going to law school for, or is there another path? So a paralegal is a great example. It’s a fulfilling job, it can be a really well-paying job in a lot of cases, but some schools do count that as a JD advantage job. But very few, if anyone, goes to law school to be a paralegal, but if you want to be a consultant, law school is one path to that, maybe not the best path, but it is a path. If you want to do regulatory work, that is, not requiring a law license, law school can be a good fit for you. There’s not that many of those jobs, but the people who get those, they tend to be pretty satisfied with them.
Gisele: Great, so we have a great question in the box about rankings that I want to come back to in a minute. Before, I just want to highlight some things. You of course mentioned Law School Transparency in terms of looking at employment, but to be clear, law schools are required by the accrediting organization, the ABA, to be very transparent about their employment results. And you’re comfortable with the numbers that they put out, right?
Kyle: Yes, absolutely. The numbers, you can trust them.
Gisele: Good, and every school has to do it. You can definitely access them through Law School Transparency , but you can also go to individual law school websites.
Gisele: And download and find that information on each law school website.
Kyle: Yes, and generally on school websites, they do have summaries, so you’ll see a percentage, but the actual requirement is that they provide a PDF or a table that’s not on the PDF that just has the raw data. And so, in those cases, you have to just divide the numbers you care about into the denominator that you care about, which generally would be all graduates. So we make it a little easier on Law School Transparency to do it, but it is 100% correct that the numbers have to be published on the school websites and that you can trust them.
Gisele: Perfect. All right, so here’s the essence of the question that I love about rankings. So don’t rankings really matter because the employers care about the rankings? Don’t the law firms care about the rankings?
Kyle: There is minimal evidence of this. And even if there is evidence that they care about the prestige of the school, they’re not going to care that School X went up two and School Y went down two in a given year; it just makes no difference to them. In fact, they probably won’t even notice. And the "they" there is doing a lot of work, because what one partner or some associates might say at a firm, they’re not the ones necessarily with the power. The people who have the power are those with the hiring committee or on the hiring committee, the ones who make the determination as to where are they going to go on campus to interview, or these days, via Zoom. But by and large, no, they’re not going to care about that, any more than they’re going to care about the general reputation of the school. So again, you can look at it directionally, but don’t get too caught up in the individual movement here and there, or even wild swings, which, again, we’re going to see this year, we’re going to see some wild swings. It’s not going to affect how people understand the general hierarchy of law schools. Again, that’s not to say, like, the hierarchy is healthy, but it exists. It’s reflected by the rankings, but it’s not a causal relationship here.
Gisele: Perfect. All right, let’s move on to some other issues that we felt are important for folks to consider. It is not exactly the same, and you mentioned it and I mentioned it. Let’s talk about proximity to home and family; what’s important there, you think?
Kyle: Yeah, this is very personal, right? I mean, when I applied to law school, I went to undergrad in North Carolina, and I wanted the opposite of proximity. I wanted to get out of North Carolina for a few years, and so I didn’t even apply to any law schools in North Carolina, despite several of them being a good fit. But I think, again, it’s a very personal decision. If you’ve got small children and a family, it might make a lot more of a difference for you to be able to get through law school successfully if you have the support system around you. And that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to consider. Now, don’t forget about the cost and the job outcomes and all of that, but it is absolutely OK to consider all these factors and, as you learn in law school, do a balancing test for what the best ultimate choice for you will be. Just don’t be afraid to make your choice based on what matters to you.
Gisele: Right, and the way I always spoke to students about it was sort of, where do you do your best work? Is your family a distraction, or are they a support? That can help to sort of determine that. You have to be honest with yourself and honest with your situation to be able to make good choices. So I think that’s right, definitely an important thing to consider. Does faculty reputation mean anything?
Kyle: This is a tough one, because I think I’m a little worried here, Gisele, about my personal bias creeping in, because this is not necessarily a data-driven opinion.
Gisele: That was a good disclaimer.
Kyle: Yeah, so, like, through my experience, does it matter? On the fringes, it can, but by and large, I don’t think it matters at all, but I’m curious to know your take on that as someone who’s been inside of a law school.
Gisele: I mean, I think it can make a difference, not so much the reputation, but knowing that you have experts in a field, if that’s a field of high interest to you, then you know that you’re going to have more like-minded people, if you will, people who are interested in that same discipline. And I do think, I guess I agree that on the fringes, it can. I think about an expert area that the law school I used to work for had, and they certainly had opportunities for internships and externships within that discipline, beyond sort of everything else and beyond what I think most other law schools could have offered in that discipline.
Kyle: Yeah, I think it’s important for you, as you’re making this decision, to reach out to the schools and ask questions about this. If you have an interest in cyber law and you see that the faculty, there’s three cyber law courses taught and it’s one or two faculty members and they seem really engaged, well, I would ask, how does this translate into internships? Because if it’s not translating into internships or jobs, then it might be interesting intellectually for you and make for an enjoyable three years, but if your goal is to end up doing that work, it might not actually give you the leg up that it might, and you might actually be looking for other factors to figure out what your best pathway is to those jobs.
Gisele: Yeah, so let’s talk about internships and externships a little bit. I think that some of our audience may not be as familiar with how important that is in the law school world as compared to sort of college/university world.
Kyle: Yeah, so I think an important statistic here is that I can’t, don’t quote me on this, it’s directional here, about 60% of people get their first job offer before they graduate and pass the Bar and get their license, and then the other 40% get it afterwards. So for that 60%, the vast majority of those are people who are getting jobs after they interned. And so typically you do an internship over the summer. So over your 1L summer, which means after your first year, or over your 2L summer, which is after your second year, externships can also happen over the summer, but generally that will be during the actual semester, if the school you’re attending is on a semester system. But for the people who get jobs afterwards, so that 40% or so who are getting their law license and then getting the jobs, those internships still matter, because that reflects the experience you will receive in the legal field. Now, that’s not all that matters. Your experience before law school actually can be a real factor, especially if you get great at communicating how what you did before translates to the successful practice of law. And I’ll encourage you over the next few years to pay attention to LawHub, because LawHub will not just be about helping people get into law school, it will be about academic and professional success. And one of the things we’ll do is to help you figure out: What are the things that you were doing previously that translate really well to becoming the whole lawyer? Yeah, that ended up somewhere different than I thought we were going, but ...
Gisele: Great, so I think sort of the last big sort of topic encompasses a lot of little, maybe some softer, some data-driven, but this idea of fit, like, what can we tell people about finding a fit and the things that they might look for, either that are data-driven or just about that feeling? I mean, I have some thoughts on it, but I want to start with you, Kyle.
Kyle: Yeah, I think it’s hard to emphasize enough the enormous impact of belonging to your success in law school. Now, we don’t have school-specific data on this, but there’s volumes of data at the national level that demonstrate how important the feeling of belonging is to your success. And by success, it’s a variety of metrics from job outcomes, to your sense of self, your sense of your professional identity. And so, again, volumes have been published on what it’s like to be among only a handful of Black or Brown students in an entire law class. Or when you find out that the gender-neutral bathrooms advertised at a law school are actually bathrooms located in the coffee shop across the street. And so when you’re making this decision about which law school is right for you, it’s also important to consider whether that school provides a community of support for minoritized students. And that support system looks like intentional programming, inclusive curricula, diverse faculty and staff, connections to networks that include law student affinity groups, strong connections to the local/national/state Bars and their affinity groups. And then looking for these programs that actually connect students to other students, and then also to members of the profession. As part of this, you should be asking questions of students, and not necessarily the students at the admission staff puts you in touch with, but go out and look for yourself. Try to find people to ask and get their real view on what it’s like to be at the school when you fall into particular demographics, because it’s not equally supportive for everyone across all schools.
Gisele: Yeah, I’ll give a little pushback there and say that the folks who the admissions office sets you up with are probably just fine. They’re the students, typically, they’re going to be the students who are the happiest. I mean, maybe that’s to Kyle’s point, is they’re giving sort of a skewed - they’re not going to be scripted or anything like that, it’s just that they’ve been selected or they’ve self-selected that this is something that they want to do because they’re happy in their experience. The advantage to talking to those students will be that they have been trained, so they know a lot about the depth and breadth of everything that’s offered at the law school that maybe the average student won’t. But to Kyle’s point, I think that it’s good to also find maybe some random students who don’t have that depth and breadth to be able to give you sort of maybe the more common man, if you will, their take on things. Would you agree with that?
Kyle: Yes, absolutely, and I think this is just a general point. Everyone has opinions, and what your job is here, like your job is going to be once you become a lawyer, is to sift through the information and build a tapestry, really. So, the truth is often in between extremes, and I think that applies here as well. So seek out lots of different opinions and then go with your gut.
Gisele: Great. I think that I’m not going to say not to speak to alum, but I have found them over the years to be far less helpful than current students, especially depending on how long the alumnus has been out of the law school. Things change. They’re maybe more helpful in terms of networking and trying to set up sort of future job possibilities than finding out about the law school today and the law school that you’d experience.
Kyle: I think that is exactly right, because it’s amazing to me how often lawyers are wrong about what’s going on at their alma maters. I graduated in 2011, so now almost 11 years ago, and my school is virtually unrecognizable, but the only reason I know that is because I’ve been involved in legal education policy work. Do my classmates, do they have any clue what they’re talking about? Not really, to be honest.
Gisele: Right, all right, so that’s good. So one of the things that I do think is important, but I recognize can sometimes create a financial barrier for people, so I do think it’s important to visit the law school campuses, if you can. It’s part of finding that fit, walking around and again, to sort of, to highlight Kyle’s point about, do I see myself here? Do I see people that look like me here? Is this going to feel like a comfortable place? And in some ways, it becomes more important when you are considering a law school that’s further afield from where you are, from what you know, because that’s exactly what you don’t know, what it would feel like if I am from Newark, New Jersey, and I’m looking at, I don’t know, the University of Iowa, what’s that going to feel like? It’s hard to get a sense of that, I think, without being present in that space.
Kyle: Nothing to say in response, that’s just right.
Gisele: Terrific. All right, so before we go on, I think we’re at the point almost where we’re going to show some Law School Transparency stuff, but before we do that, Kyle, is there any area you think that we’ve missed?
Kyle: Well, I just saw a few questions in the chat here that I think are worth addressing live, namely, why do we think, or why do I think, there’s going to be such a large swing in the rankings in particular this year? And the answer is there’s been some methodological changes from U.S. News, so that’s why that’s the expectation.
Gisele: You know what, there is one thing here before we go ahead, and I can’t believe we didn’t address this at all, but let’s talk about a little bit before you bring up the tools, and that is, let’s talk about cost a little bit. That could be a way I’ve seen it many times, where students are choosing a law school simply because it costs less. What’s your thoughts on that?
Kyle: I understand the instinct. That is scary. That has impact on you in the short term, the medium term, and the long term. That said, do you still, on an informed basis, know what the trade-offs are? I mean, this is not an actual example, but, like, if there’s a 5% chance of you getting the job you want from one school that’s free, and a 95% chance of getting it at another school that costs you $100,000 of debt, well, you should think pretty carefully about choosing the cheaper school in that instance. Now, oftentimes we’re not dealing with such extreme examples and we’re dealing with larger numbers than $100,000 differences. But I do think that only thinking about cost would be a mistake; it needs to be in the context of your career objectives, your personal objectives, and your likelihood of actually achieving those from various schools at various price points.
Gisele: Yeah, so the way this question often comes about is the way I see it right in the Q&A box now: higher scholarship, or higher rank. Kyle: Yeah.
Gisele: It’s not black and white, it’s all of these factors.
Kyle: Right, and I see another question here. Someone says, when looking at employment outcomes on LST, what percentage is a good outcome? If the school is below 70%, should I be concerned? And the answer is, there’s no good answer, right? This really comes down to your personal comfort level. Now, using an example, if, let’s say, the employment rates in the long-term, full-time jobs is 65% and you’re going to have a full ride, I probably won’t lose sleep over making that choice. But if it is going to cost you $250,000 and you don’t have a line of sight on how you’re going to repay that debt, then maybe I would be more concerned. But, again, I using the word "I" there for a reason and not "you," because this is about how you feel. And I can’t tell you how to feel; I can only ask you to think about your thirst for risk and what matters to you.
Gisele: Perfect. All right, why don’t we dive into the schools a little bit?
Kyle: All right, so this is the main page of lawschooltransparency.com. So we have very little time, so I’m trying to figure out how to run through this quickly. The place to start for you, because you all are all at a point of decision-making, is probably to go to the, My Law Schools Report and make sure that you’ve added all the schools under consideration to your My Law Schools list. Now, if you’re on a school profile or on another place in the site, and you see a little star, you can star the school and it’ll then show up on this report. But you could see here, this report has five different tabs. There’s a variety of different ways to organize schools. But when you see a report, it’s always the same five tabs with the same information; what changes is the schools that are on the report. So, again, this report has three schools that Gisele and I added to our list. Now it is really important to recognize, and we did this on purpose: No one should be choosing among these three law schools, because Willamette is in Oregon, Villanova is in Pennsylvania, and Marquette is in Wisconsin. I mean, I guess it’s possible that those are the three states that you’re interested in because you have family there, so I guess I shouldn’t say that it’s impossible, but by and large, these are not three schools you should be considering together, but we do think that they’re illustrative in other ways. So the big number here that you’ll see, and you see the emphasis on, is your job score. So this is a very personalized piece of information. So I’ll click this, and you can see here that I’ve set my job preferences in a certain way. And it’s from these job preferences that we generate a number from 1 to 9.5, or maybe it’s 0.5 to 9.5, I can’t remember exactly, but the point is it peaks out at 9.5. In this case, I’ve said I have a high interest in being a lawyer, any law job, medium interest in law firm, not super interested in a large firm, public service is pretty interesting, and I’m not super interested in clerkships. So I save and go back, and this is what it gets me. So 7.4, 7.3 and 6.9. So, you know, 7.4 is better than 7.3, but how much better? Not so much better, so really, what that means is it comes down to cost. Now we start getting to differences 7.4 to 6.9, that’s a little bigger, but still, really not that much. The value of this score is that it helps to take a lot of the noise that you see and reduce it down to something that you can actually act upon. So, Gisele, do you want to just ask questions about this, or should I ... how do you want to go about that?
Gisele: I think that, so we’re about 20 minutes left, and there are quite a few questions that I think we’ll want to get to, so maybe just continue with the brief overview that you’ve got for a couple of more minutes, these other columns, what they are, and then we’ll hit the Q&A box.
Kyle: OK, so this number on the right-hand side, this is the median salary. This is the figure that was reported by the U.S. Department of Education, and they obtained their data at the program level about each of these law schools from the Treasury, so from the IRS. So these are very reliable salaries, but it’s the median. So it’s the middle point of all graduates over the period that’s measured. So it’s an important figure to look at. So you can see here that the salaries, these salaries are in the $50,000 to $65,000 range. That’s a fairly typical median starting salary at a school that is not placing a lot of graduates in large firms. Now, when you look at a school that places a lot of graduates in large law firms, these are the employers, these jobs are much more difficult to get than your average job - about 20% of graduates end up in those jobs - but they pay substantially more, three times as much as the median salary. So that’s an important factor to consider, is that access to those jobs, it’s not equal among all law schools. At some schools, it’d be a few percentage points, at other schools, it’d be 80%, right? I want to skip over to the Financials tab, because I think this is another really important piece of information that goes to how you balance cost and outcomes. So you an see here, we’ve got the median salary for Willamette at $57,000. In my settings, I’ve set my target debt service is 15%, which means that I would like to devote 15% of my income after graduation to paying down my debt. If that’s the case, then you can see on here, it helps you figure out how much you need to make in order to actually achieve that debt target, debt service. So in this case, to get to 15% at full price, it’s $207,000 target salary, which is much higher, of course, than the median salary. Now, you can adjust your target debt service, you can also add scholarships, so here I’ve actually created a budget for Villanova, based on the 25th percentile scholarship of $20,000 per year. And you see what that did is, it brought the debt down and the target salary down, but this is a good way for thinking through what your financial future might look like. And this is with the intent to repay all your loans. If you end up on the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program, which will forgive your loans after 10 years of working for the government or in public service, so with a nonprofit, these numbers don’t mean as much to you, but I will say from personal experience, when you’re in the nonprofit world, relying on this forgiveness, it does kind of handcuff you a little bit in terms of what you’ll consider in terms of next career steps. So why don’t we just go to some Q&A here. Actually, before I do that, anytime you click on a school name, you can see a full profile of their data and there’s, I think, nine different tabs here. And you can just kind of click through and learn all about the schools and what they’re sharing, what they’re not sharing, the admission statistics, which are not super helpful for you at this point. The Jobs tab in particular is very helpful for showing lots of different, helpful information about job placement.
Gisele: Perfect. All right, wait, my Q&A box got hidden. So I love this question. Is there a way that you can analyze the diversity of thought of students and professors at potential law schools?
Kyle: Not on this website. There have been studies done to look at that in terms of political donations by faculty. Now, how important is that? That’s up to you to determine, but I will say from my experience at my law school, I had some very conservative and some very progressive professors. My experience in the classroom with them was actually not any different because most of my professors did not talk about politics in the room. Now, they talk about the law in the sense that the law is not neutral, but that’s not necessarily a conservative or progressive way of looking at things; that is just true.
Gisele: Yeah, I mean, I think you can get a sense from student group information as well, Are there student groups that are representative of a variety, a diversity of views, and how active do they appear to be? OK, any different kind of advice you might give to somebody who’s interested, who knows they’re going down the public interest lane?
Kyle: Look for schools that have well-developed public service offices within the career development office. It is a difficult field to break into in a lot of cases, and so it’s important to see what are the resources and what are the specialties of the people who will be helping you find those jobs. And that said, if you want to be a public defender and not be a federal public defender, I think that probably matters a lot less. And it’s really going to come down to trying to meet people and make sure you get into those offices early for your 1L internship. But for a lot of other jobs, it is pretty important to be able to rely on the career services team.
Gisele: So this next question goes to something we wanted to speak about more broadly. And the question is, if I really want to work in one particular state, but I haven’t gotten into a school in that state, how much does that hurt? Should I pull myself out this year? Should I reapply? What do I do?
Kyle: Yeah, I think it really depends on the schools that you’re considering still, and see, is there some empirical relationship between that school and the state you want to attend? And if not, think through, how is it that I will get the job I want, or consider or find jobs. I mean, take a step back here. You don’t have to enter law school, knowing exactly kind of job you want. It should be a time of exploration, and if you have a strong sense of what you want to do today, expect it to change, and embrace that change. That said, geography, again, it matters a lot. And in every state there’s a large variety of jobs you can get. But what I would do is, if you’re going to go to the school that doesn’t have that strong empirical relationship, you have to be really direct in your efforts. So that means going to that state with some frequency, which might be expensive, so you have to factor that in, to meet lawyers. A lot more can be done these days over Zoom or any other video interface, so make sure you take advantage of that. But you really have to be very intentional if you’re going to be at a school that just doesn’t have much of a relationship. That said, there’s nothing wrong with pulling out and starting over next year. Consider it, consider the time off, the opportunity cost, whether anything’s really going to change next year. But yeah, I mean, if you do make that choice, just be intentional in your career seeking.
Gisele: Right, so I just want to jump on that, sort of that idea of reapplying and what might be the advantages. I want to highlight what Kyle said, which is, reapplying or applying anew, you can only expect, really, a different answer if something has changed. You shouldn’t sort of go into it expecting that somehow it’s going to be easier to get in next year. Maybe it would be, but maybe it won’t be. And even if you believe that you didn’t get in because you applied late in the cycle and then next year your strategy is to apply earlier in the cycle, there probably needs to be more, something else that’s different about your application, whether that’s another LSAT score that’s going to be higher or some experience that you’re going to highlight better in your personal statement. There’s going to have to be something different for you to expect a different outcome.
Kyle: And if you’re not sure if the new information you’ll be able to provide is actually going to change your outcome, talk to your prelaw advisor. If you’re in school, you can talk to your prelaw advisor. If you’re out of school already, you can still go talk to the prelaw advisor at your university institution. And then, if all else fails, talk to the law school and say, "Will this make a difference, or am I wasting my time?"
Gisele: Yeah, fair. There were a few questions about transferring, and I mentioned that as one of the experiences that I saw. So what’s your feelings about transferring, Kyle?
Kyle: Yeah, I have a pretty hard and fast rule that I tell people, which is don’t go to a school unless you will be satisfied with graduating from that school, because the transfer market is unpredictable. For example, law schools in general enrolled more students than they intended to, or wanted to, or should have over the last academic year. So is the transfer market this year, is it going to be really cold? We don’t know, but there’s a real chance that’s true. And so you just don’t really know. You also don’t know how well you’re going to do. You’re going to be in a class of your peers, you know? You’re going to be amazed by them, and they’re going to be amazed by you. But what that means is, you really can’t predict how well you’re going to do in law school, and to transfer, generally speaking, you have to excel in that first year. And then, of course, if you excel, then you have to weigh, well, do the job opportunities I have by being in the top 5% of my class, really, are they any better or worse, or are they any worse than what they would do at the school I could transfer to?
Gisele: Yeah, I totally agree with that. You don’t want to, somebody put a question in the box suggesting, I’m going to go to a less expensive, high-scholarship school first with the intent of transferring later. Just because you got a high scholarship at that school does not mean that you’re going to land in the top of the class.
Kyle: Right, exactly. And so it’s worth looking at the predictive value of the LSAT, right? It does in general predict across populations more success, but on the individual level, it’s not going to be predictive. And so you can’t look at yourself and be like, oh, my LSAT score’s the highest in the class. Well, great, a population of people that way are going to generally do better in the population of lower scores, but you individually, who knows?
Gisele: Who knows, exactly. What is my obligation to accept an offer, and when to accept an offer?
Kyle: Why don’t you answer this, Gisele?
Gisele: OK, I can definitely speak about this, absolutely. So, offer of admissions and offer of scholarships, usually, although not always, go hand in hand in terms of the timing with which you have to accept that. Generally speaking, it’s going to be with your deposit deadline; normally that’s going to be anywhere from April 1st, April 15th, and then when you’re putting down what in many cases will be a first deposit, that’s really your commitment to the school. After that, you can still change your mind; that is definitely within your ability to do, although you need to be sure that you let the law school know that you’re changing your mind. I recommend, because money is money — you’re putting down deposits, in most cases, that’s going to be a nonrefundable deposit — don’t make that deposit until you’re sure of that school, and the only sort of outlier would be if you’re waiting on waitlists, if you don’t have all your answers. If you have all your answers, I can’t tell you, Kyle, how many students, I would see place multiple deposits to multiple schools that they were admitted at, just because they didn’t want to sort of pull the trigger on their decision yet. And I always thought, this is such a waste of money, right? So if you need an extension, that’s something a lot of law schools are willing to give you in terms of the deposit date, so you can think about it for another two weeks or whatever that timeframe is.
But I would say, be honest about your deposits, deposit where you want to go, and then if something else happens in terms of getting off a waitlist or something of that mind, that’s when you would change. There are some questions about Law School Transparency . What are the sources of the employment data that generate the score; is it the 509 report?
Kyle: Yes, so the employment score, well, I guess that’s probably asking about the job score. So the job score, it is reliant exclusively on ABA 509 data. There is other data on the websites that comes from schools directly, which is usually through a NALP report, which you may have seen either on LST or on school websites, also U.S. Department of Education data as well. But the job score, that is generated from employment outcome data from the law schools as reported to the ABA.
Gisele: Great. Kyle, can you reaffirm where folks can find Law School Transparency ? Is it through LawHub, is it somewhere else?
Kyle: Yeah, so right now it is at lawschooltransparency.com . To log in, you have to use your LawHub account. If you already have an LST account and it’s not connected to your LawHub account, what you’ll do is you’ll, you still have to have your LawHub account, but there’ll be a tool to help you connect the two accounts. But by and large, we are using, "we" meaning lawschooltransparency.com, is now using the LawHub sign-in. And it will be more integrated with LawHub in the future, but that’ll be after you’ve started school.
Gisele: Great. We have about five minutes left, so couple more questions. We spoke about public interest broadly. What about government jobs? What if you’re interested in a government job?
Kyle: Yeah, I mean, I think it depends on the type of government job, right? Federal government jobs are quite competitive, but at the same time, especially if it’s a job with JAG, like, so, a military lawyer job, they tend to look across all spectrums of law schools. Whereas if you look at like the Department of Justice honors program, they tend to have hiring practices that look more like the elite law firms. But, you know, the state government, they’re going to be hiring mostly from the state law schools.
Gisele: Is there any different advice that we want to give to those interested in part-time programs?
Kyle: I mean, yeah, I guess it depends on whether you are intending to be a lawyer or whether you’re just going to enhance your previous career. If it’s the previous career, then you do what you got to do to get the degree and upskill yourself and hold on to your other job. But otherwise, whether you’re full time or part time, that’s not really going to impact you on the job market. Maybe you’ve got other skills that are more highly valued because you were part time, meaning especially if you were working throughout law school, and maybe you can tell a better story that might be persuasive in an interview, but by and large, the job outcomes, they aggregate part-time and full-time students.
Gisele: Great, so the last question, and then we’ll see if you have some final thoughts. I want to go back to this question about sort of feeling debt-averse and concerned about that, there is a question in the box that sort of relates to, what if I look at all of this and I just feel like it’s too overwhelming? Should that be the end? Should I just say this isn’t for me?
Kyle: I don’t think it should be the end, but I think it should be the start of a conversation that you start to have with people you trust. Maybe it’s family, maybe it’s a financial advisor, maybe it’s a prelaw advisor, maybe it’s a professor you trust, but it should be the start of a conversation. And it’s great to be honest with yourself and say, and start to map out, what does my life look like when I take on this level of debt? And even if you end up going forward with it, at least you’ll have a real sense of the decision you’re making and the risk you’re taking, if it is a risk at all.
Gisele: Great. I think that’s good advice. Final thoughts, Kyle.
Kyle: Let’s see. Not on this, I don’t think. I will say, stay tuned to LawHub throughout law school. We are moving in the direction of not just helping people with their prelaw success, but also their academic and professional success. And so if you haven’t had a chance, for example, to look at the modern law practice certification, I highly recommend that. And if you are at all nervous about law school, we have a program called Law School Unmasked, and that will be this June, sign-ups will be starting in May. Look out for that, because it will help you prepare for law school and really get a sense of what are the skills you need to hit the ground running on day one and knock it out of the park in your first semester.
Gisele: Great. I really enjoyed our conversation today, Kyle. I think that we’ve given folks a lot to think about, but in addition to things to think about, I think we’ve given them access to some handy tools that can help them think about these things and to frame them in the appropriate way as they continue on this path to law school. I want to thank everyone for joining us today. We’ve done our best to answer as many questions as possible, but we understand it was impossible to respond to everyone. If you have additional questions, please feel free to email us at ambassadors@LSAC.org. As Kyle said, we’re adding to the schedule of LawHub webinars, depending where you are in your law school application journey, I’d like to encourage you to join us next week on March 31st for a webinar on prelaw professionalism, as well as a full slate of webinars coming in April. And if you don’t already have a LawHub account, be sure to set one up today. Look out for learning opportunities every single month, stay connected with LSAC on social media, and stay tuned for updates about webinars coming your way in April, May, and beyond, as well as, as Kyle mentioned, more information about upcoming Admission Unmasked and Law School Unmasked programs coming this summer. We look forward to seeing you all again soon, thanks again, and how have a great day everyone.
Kyle: Good luck, everyone.
Voiceover: Visit LSAC.org to learn more.