The way Anna Ivey talks about law schools would lead many to conclude that she doesn’t want you to get your JD. Yet for the past 12 years, she has been helping applicants get into elite law and business schools as well as prestige undergraduate universities.
Whenever she gets a potential client interested in law, however, Ivey says she doesn’t hesitate to grill them. “There is a whole intake process and they fight that tooth and nail but we make them do it,” says Ivey, founder of Anna Ivey Consulting. “We ask hard questions about why this makes sense for them. Ultimately, it is their call. We treat them like adults, but there is a due diligence conversation that we have with them. We like them to go into it with open eyes. That is a serious part of ethical admissions consulting.”
FOR MANY LAW SCHOOL IS ‘THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE’
Why the additional scrutiny? “Law school students skew younger,” notes Ivey. “They are less experienced. They are not in a career that they have already embarked upon. It is for many people the path of least resistance. It has become a big, big problem in recent years because the value of the degree is declining. A lot of these problems are coming to a head because of the return on investment.
“Very often the pressure to go to law school is coming from the parents,” she adds. “We see that much more with law school applicants than business school applicants. They are pushing their grown kids into a profession that is very different than it was ten years ago. They still think it is a safe degree and that is just not true anymore. iI’s a very expensive degree, and it is a time consuming proposition. It costs a boatload of money that could be spent in other ways. We have conversations around this with every applicant we work with. Some days, I am honestly the anti-admissions consultant.”
What of the often-stated argument that a legal education provides an invaluable framework for tackling challenges, the foundation for disciplined thinking, the ideal preparation for a successful life? “A lot of times I hear that as a defense of a JD,” she says, “but i think it’s a sloppy argument. It’s not clear that you need a law degree to do what you are doing. Maybe it was a really expensive detour. If law school were free I would feel differently, but for many people it is financially ruinous. The math becomes really tricky when you go to law school for public sector or social sector jobs.”
‘IF I COULD GO BACK AND TALK TO THE 21-YEAR-OLD ME, I’D HAVE A TOUGH CONVERSATION ABOUT LAW SCHOOL’
Yet, Ivey herself has no buyer’s remorse about her decision to get a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. A Phillips Academy grad, she had just graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in history when she decided to go straight to Chicago. “I don’t regret my law degree,” she insists. “I am glad I went to the University of Chicago. It was an incredible life-altering experience. It allowed me to join a community of thinkers and doers. But if i could go back and talk to the 21-year-old me, I would have a tough conversation.”
Initially, Ivey used her degree to open a door to practice law in Los Angeles for nearly four years until she had what she describes “my quarter life crisis and wanted to get out of Big Law. I kept my ear to the ground for awhile to look for opportunities to transition out. I went back to my law school at the University of Chicago and worked in admissions and then ran admissions for them for about two years.”
All of 27 years old when she was Chicago’s dean of admissions, Ivey couldn’t see herself doing the job forever–so she started her own admissions consulting firm in 2001. She’s now president of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and her own team of consultants range from the former director of admissions at Harvard Law School to several former prosecutors. Author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, Ivey has advised hundreds of law and business school applicants since then and seen the differences in admissions policies and practice, Ivey believes law schools have a lot to learn from their business school cousins.