Deciding on Law School and the Law: Talk to Lawyers!

•August 16, 2018 • Leave a Comment

There’s a good conversation in a recent ABA Journal on making a decision about whether law school—and more, the practice of law—is right for you.  The featured interviewees, Nicole Black and Heather Morse, talk about most of the relevant factors, which I’ve been talking about on this blog for years, and were motivators to open Advise-In Solutions—among them potential debt load, changes in the legal market, always having Plans B and C.  The latter is important in pretty much any job in the contemporary economy, and a good law degree significantly increases your job flexibility and puts you in a much stronger position to have realistic contingency plans.

I won’t summarize what Ms. Morse and Ms. Black say—it’s worth reading independently.  The one shortcoming in their presentation, though, was a strange one—I think they vastly underemphasize the importance of talking to as many lawyers as you can so that you know what you’re getting into.  That’s less important for law school; most applicants have a reasonable analogy to that in their prior educational experience.  Yes, law school is different but it’s still, well, school.

The practice of law is different.  And it’s much different between practice areas and firms.  I’m not talking about the distinction that Ms. Black and Ms. Morse emphasize the most—so-called “BigLaw” versus every other kind of law.  I’ve never known exactly what that means—the cultural differences between large firms are as significant as those between medium-size, small and boutique firms.  There are great large firms to work at, just as there are terrible ones (I was lucky in choosing my large firm, but I also did my due diligence to know that this place—and not some others—would be a great spot for me).  Same is true of every other size firm.  Size is not the issue, personality and compatibility is.

That’s why it’s important to talk to as many lawyers as you can—the more you talk with, the more you recognize the variety of legal practices and business environments.  The reason prospective law students get so many different evaluations of the benefits and dangers of the actual practice of law is because it really is that varied.  If you talk with lawyers (and they love to talk), you will be able to better decide if the practice of law in any form is what you want to do, and if it is, you’ll develop some criteria for evaluating potential employment opportunities after law school.  Some lawyers are bitter, some are happy, some are resigned, some simply would never want to do anything else.  If you talk with every type, you’ll start to figure out where you stand.

If you find the right place, the practice of law is rewarding and, as far as your colleagues and clients are concerned, pretty pleasant, despite the hours.  If you don’t, and I know this because I did and do talk to a lot of lawyers both before law, it can seem like one of the circles of hell in Dante.   So, as I’ve said on this blog before, know what you’re getting into—is law the right place for you or not–and be diligent about finding the right fit—is this place the right place to do what you want to do.

Expanded LSAT Opportunities: Implication for Law School Admissions?

•August 2, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The LSAT is now being administered six times a year rather than four.  In part, this is to try to head off the inroads that the GRE is making into the Law School Admission Council’s territory.  I’ve talked about the LSAT/GRE debate, which you can review here and here.

I haven’t talked about the impact of additional LSAT dates on law school admissions, partly because the expansion is new and no one really knows.  But I have talked about LSAT timing for admissions in the past, and the same principle still holds: the earlier you can finalize your admission package (including the LSAT score), the better.

Still, the schedule from September forward has changed.  There used to be a fall and winter test, and all else being equal, for next fall’s admission cycle, the fall test was better for admissions purposes—you were essentially in the first wave of applications that law schools reviewed (the June (and now July) test was marginally better, but it was a very small margin).

Now, instead of fall/winter, there are tests in September, November, January and March.  My guess is that the January and March tests will function much like the former February test—by the time they get results, it will be late winter, and a lot of the seats and money for law schools are already committed (especially for the March test).  If you’re taking those tests, you’re at a comparative disadvantage, less for the January cycle than for the March cycle.  That isn’t to say you shouldn’t take the test then—a higher score is always better, so if those are the times you can get your best score, that’s what you should do. My clients and I talk about scheduling for success a lot, and it’s something a lot of people don’t think about nearly as much as they should.  But you should be aware that you’re fitting into fewer slots and financial aid opportunities, and might consider taking the test but pushing applications back a year, particularly for the March test.

That leaves September and November.  September will almost certainly land you in the same place as the former fall test, and that’s a good spot.  But what about November?  Since there is no data on this, because admissions committees have never had two tests in the fall to work with, anything I’ll say is necessarily speculative.

But here goes.  My suspicion is that November will be treated more like the September test than January—maybe not as ideal as September but closer to it.  Here’s why.  First, a smaller proportion of people will take the September test than took the single fall test in the past.  That will reduce the number of seats and the amount of money that is committed by early November.

Second, the admission process generally takes (it seems) longer every year, so even the strong preference that I used to have for the fall test over the former December test has declined a bit in the last few years.

Finally, there’s just the calendar.  Because of finals and school breaks, less seems to get done on admissions decisions in December than in other months in the application cycle.  So, if you get your admissions materials in by early December, you’re in essentially the same position as all those on whom decisions have not been made but who took earlier tests.

What I actually suspect will happen is that wait lists will get a little longer for many law schools, as they themselves wait a bit more to see what the November test results bring.  Applicants themselves won’t see much change above the surface but decisions will be made a little differently at law schools.

A side benefit of the test expansion may be that that lengthening of the process will lessen any disadvantage from taking the January test.  I suspect there will still be some disadvantage, but again, that’s if all else is equal, not if you can get a measurably higher score in January that you could have previously.  A strong January score, along with a strong application package otherwise, will likely be somewhat more competitive than the same application package submitted from the former February test.

The ABA’s Abdication of Responsibility: Winners (Law Schools and The Bar Cartel) and Losers (Law Students) in the Rule Abandoning the LSAT (and Any Testing Requirement) for Law School Admissions

•June 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment

One reason regulation gets a bad name is because of regulatory hypocrisy.  The American Bar Association’s logo banners: “Defending Liberty Pursuing Justice.”  I guess you have to ask “for whom?”

The ABA will bring to a full vote in August its proposal—approved by relevant committees of, well, the ABA—to “eliminate the requirement of a ‘valid and reliable test’ as part of a law school’s admissions process.”

I’ve criticized the ABA’s lack of oversight over the law school admission process and law schools before.  Just look in this blog’s index under “ABA” or “American Bar Association.”  But then the ABA appears to consider action, so I wait and hope.  But it always comes out the same.  Regulations that might actually rein in abusive law school practices (or improve the admissions process, or tighten admissions, or, well, you name any proposal in the interest of law students) go by the boards, while regulations, like this one, that respond to what law schools want, get adopted.

The regulation finally adopted by ABA committees wasn’t just to allow the GRE to be used alongside or in lieu of the LSAT, it was to say, Oh, who cares about any of it?

Well, law schools care (and the ABA is giving them a win), and prospective law students care (and the ABA is telling them to pound sand, in the guise of opening the process).

The reason to take off testing requirements is simply to respond to a tough market for law schools where a lot of law schools—many of whom probably shouldn’t be in business since what they do is put a lot of people in debt that they’ll never get out of—need bodies in seats to pay their bills.  As Vivia Chen says (and her article is well worth reading in full), “why do away with something like the LSAT that tests for logical thinking and critical analysis—the stuff that actually gives you a flavor of what law school entails?…The reason is obvious: Law schools are worried that they won’t have enough warm bodies to fill their seats so they want to make the application easy, breezy and spontaneous.  Just what society needs: More people diving heedlessly into the legal profession.”

You might think the new rule will be a win for prospective law students and future lawyers.  It’s not.  First, because the vast majority of law school applicants will still take a standardized test, and most of those will take the LSAT.  There is no requirement for law schools to insist on a standardized test but most can and will insist on one for their applicants.

Second,  because the cartel-like nature of bar admissions will continue.  State bar associations generally don’t determine bar passage on the basis of a score—not, you get 70%, you pass, for example—but on the basis of how many new lawyers the state bar association wants, to cover retirements, attrition and the like.  So some years you need a higher score and some years a lower score will be fine.

The reason for that is simple—it’s to protect current lawyers and make sure they don’t face too much, um, competition.  From better lawyers.  It’s why someone who passed, say, the Florida bar yesterday is able to practice in Florida whereas someone who has practiced superbly for 30 years elsewhere can’t practice in Florida because they haven’t passed the all-important Florida bar.  It has nothing to do with legal ability, and certain state bar associations are pretty up-front about that (at least behind closed doors while crowing publicly about protecting the public).  It’s to protect their cartel members.  Period.

That won’t change, so there’s no victory for prospective law student here.  The number of lawyers will still be determined anti-competitively.  Bar associations are a medieval guild and—if it were anyone other than lawyers doing it (maybe doctors, too)—it would violate antitrust laws.

So there’s no victory for prospective law students.  But there is a clear defeat.  It’s worth something to be able to look at test data to get a decent idea of who your prospective law school classmates will be.  The opportunity cost to go to law school is about a quarter of a million dollars, give or take a few bucks, and the thing about investment decisions like that is that you’d like the people you’re tossing money to to be pretty transparent.

What the ABA is about to do is eliminate what transparency there now is.  Now law schools will be able to fudge numbers with much wider latitude, giving you the impression that a student body is more accomplished than it actually is.  You will be more reliant simply on what law schools tell you, since the LSAT numbers—which weren’t a tremendous help but were some—are now off the boards as a reliable indicator of a student body.  If as a law school, I can get 50 people with high scores, and then admit a bunch of other people who have taken no standardized tests, my numbers (and likely my ranking) jump and I can provide applicants with a technically accurate yet utterly false picture of my class.   And one thing law schools are really good at is gaming the system.  Whatever the high-flown verbiage, this new rule will say simply “Game the system all you want.”  Or “Lie all you want while telling the truth.”  At the expense of law students, since only law schools can play the game.

This is regulatory capture in its fullest sense—the ABA is doing the bidding of those it is supposed to be regulating while doing nothing—harming, actually–those who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of its regulation.

I guess this is ok for businesses like mine, since what law students will more and more need is guidance to see through the games that law schools will surely play, since the ABA has said happy hunting on law school candidates.  But avoiding the enhanced weaponry that the ABA has given law schools shouldn’t be necessary, not for people who can pay my fee, and not for people who can’t.  The ABA should do what it says its job is—defend liberty (for everyone) and pursue justice (for everyone) or it should stop saying it’s protecting prospective law students.  Or it should change its logo to say “Defending Liberty for Law Schools and Lawyers” and drop the nonsense about justice entirely.

But it won’t do any of that because then its jig would be up.  The ABA’s cynical regulatory cleverness is to give lip service to justice and liberty while doing, in the end, no more than protecting its own—law schools and current lawyers.   Not for the first time, the ABA should be ashamed.  But it isn’t—it will continue to spout self-righteous clap-trap about justice and liberty while doing the opposite.

20 Years of Law School Admissions and LSAT Prep—And Running

•May 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Tuesday was my wedding anniversary.  It occurred to me that I have been helping clients with law school admission, financial aid and LSAT preparation for longer than I have been married.  Both seem shorter than they’ve been.

I’ve been helping prospective law students for more than 20 years.  There are companies that are have been around longer but mostly they change out staff every year or two.  Most college and university pre-law advisors have been on the job for far less time than I have. 

Singular experience matters, as long as it doesn’t lead to tired, by-the-numbers work.  My clients make sure that mine doesn’t; they constantly present new challenges, or new twists on old challenges.  The law school and legal markets have changed over the years as well, from a hot market with too many applicants to a chillier one that caused some law schools to close and others to retrench.  Each of those changes causes shifts in how my clients and I approach our work, including the right application targets and financial aid possibilities.

Our success has been extraordinary.  From a very small client base, in the first year of Advise-In, clients secured admission to all of the top 20-ranked law schools.  We’ve only gotten stronger, helping clients secure in the last year, an average increase in their LSAT of over 13 points and over 40 percentiles.  Not the end of the story, of course, because the application package and admissions strategies make a tremendous difference in both admissions and financial aid awards.

So, 20 years of success and it keeps building.  We are looking forward to an even more impressive year next year…and the year after…and the year after that.  Just as in a successful marriage, commitment and dedication are two of the secrets.

Advise-In Solutions LSAT Results Continue to be Outstanding

•April 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

During the past year, my clients and I have achieved truly outstanding LSAT results (to say nothing of admissions and financial aid results that come partly from their LSAT results and partly as the result of putting together outstanding application packages and admissions/financial aid strategies).

From start to finish, my clients have averaged increased scores of over 13 points and over 42 percentiles.  That means that, on average, they have passed nearly half of everyone who was in front of them when they started.  Increases of around those numbers on an annual basis have been hallmarks of Advise-In Solutions since we started in 2010.

The fact that these increases are averages actually underestimates the impact in many cases; those who started at a higher point didn’t have 40 percentiles to improve, since they already started above the 60th percentile.

These results show what I’ve always said—the LSAT is a predictable test and in that way is unlike other so-called standardized tests—whether the GRE, the SAT, the ACT or any others.  That means that if you focus on the limited universe of material that you need to master, and do it in the most straightforward jargon-free way, you can make a lot of progress, improving your admissions and financial aid prospects markedly as a result.

I’m very happy with these results, though not, I suspect, as happy as my clients, who understood that their investment in terrific LSAT preparation with someone as committed to their success as they are (as distinct from a simple algorithm that leaves them on their own) was well worth it.  It is old-school; it also works.

LSAT or GRE for Law School: Not an Easy (or Cost-Free) Choice for Law School Applicants

•April 12, 2018 • 1 Comment

Karen Sloan recently published a helpful summary of the debate between the LSAT and GRE for law school admissions.  As of now, 17 law schools indicate they will accept a GRE score rather than an LSAT score, and more may well follow.

What is clear is why:  law schools want to maintain their admissions numbers (read: their revenue) and want to have maximum flexibility to do so without taking a law school “rankings” hit when they do it.

There is no requirement that law schools report a GRE score to the American Bar Association, and the ABA is not currently considering such a rule as far as I know.  So, what accepting the GRE allows law schools to do is to accept people they want to accept while still maintaining a median LSAT score that will avoid damaging their rankings.

I suppose that is ok if you are a law school applicant (more on that later) but to be clear: the reason law school want this is so that they can keep admission revenue high while appearing to be as “competitive” as they have been in the past.

The people—other than law schools and their revenue—that this helps fall into two categories.  First, people who for whatever reason just can’t get around on the LSAT but who otherwise enormously attractive to law schools.  (And who are willing to limit their options to just a few schools.)  There are not that many of those people since the LSAT is, in my view, a bit more rigorous—and therefore more predictable and somewhat easier—test than the GRE (I’ve taken both and did well on both, but especially appreciated the limited universe that the LSAT tested, which meant it was a lot easier to study for, and less culturally bound).

In any case, though, there are a few people in that first category—tremendously attractive but with a bit of a block about the LSAT.  That’s good.

The second category is less savory—those who didn’t do particularly well on either the LSAT or the GRE, so who (if their scores were reported) would make a law school look less competitive.  In other words, they are people who would likely not get into a given law school otherwise but that a law school can now accept—and whose money they will get—while maintaining “deniability” that their admissions standards have declined.  A nice sleight-of-hand and purely a revenue generator.

That brings up a final point—and the most important for law school applicants.  By and large, my admissions clients who have applied solely on the basis of the GRE have been considerably less successful at obtaining financial aid at comparable institutions with comparable application packages than my LSAT and admission clients (even if their percentiles on the two tests are also quite similar).  This is a small sample size but it’s nonetheless worrying.  What it tells me is that the GRE is just a revenue generator, and that if you’re applying on the basis of the GRE, at least right now, your chances of significant merit-based financial aid are lower.

That conclusion—that the high-flown philosophical pronouncements from law schools are really mostly about law schools’ revenues—is unfortunate but also unsurprising.  If you’re a law school applicant, you need to be aware that taking the option of taking the GRE or LSAT is not a cost-free choice.

Law School Employment Data: What to Trust When There’s No Question of Trust

•March 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

There’s a terrific piece by Jill Backer in the New York Law Journal that every prospective law student and law school advisor should read carefully.  It is a brief and useful examination of the various metrics that are used by law schools and others for the reporting data on employment for students coming out of law school.  I won’t summarize or repeat what the article says here but the basic point is that no one has really figured out how to report employment data that is useful across the board, i.e., for all prospective and current law students.

Over the past few years, the employment data has gotten better.  In the past I was pretty critical of what the ABA required law schools to report, but the standards and specificity of the data have gotten better.  Ms. Backer outlines all of this, so why isn’t she satisfied?

There is a simple answer: there is no summary reporting design that could possibly fulfill every law student’s needs.  Every new piece of reporting data both reveals and conceals something.  This isn’t a question of having to believe that law schools are dishonest or deceptive.  There is no question of trust—or at least, there is not necessarily a question of trust.

The problem lies in the fact that there are tens of thousands of law school students with thousands of different needs and aspirations.  No data set can get to all that.

In turn, that means that if you rely only on reported data, you’re not going to get the targeted information you need to make your best law school decision.  Very few schools have a wide and deep national reach; conversely, for certain occupations (law professors, for example), relatively few schools provide consistent, excellent opportunities for their graduates.

In general, schools are more (or less) limited geographically and by the reputational quality of government, clerkships, firms and other private practice into which they consistently place graduates.  There is also the “depth of bench” factor.  Some schools provide great opportunities only for graduates placing at or above a certain percentage of their classes, others can provide equivalent opportunities further down the bench.  In addition, this information changes on a yearly basis, although there are also consistent patterns.

What all of this means is that law school applicants want to strategize about how to get the information they need to make their best law school investment decision.  It is a process of due diligence on law schools that goes beyond the base data that law schools report to the ABA.  At Advise-In, I spend a lot of time with clients discussing how and when to obtain the information they need to make their best decision.  It’s a critical piece of the admissions puzzle, and one that far too few prospective law students engage in as seriously as they should.   

 
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