Meet Anna Ivey: The Anti-Law School Admissions Consultant

“One of the things I admire in MBA admissions is that the schools are focused on your professional goals,” she says. “In law school, there is much less emphasis on career goals and what have you done until now, and why does this decision makes sense for you? I rarely hear people regret having done an MBA, and I routinely hear people regret doing a law degree. I think it goes back to what the schools are sorting for.”
Part of the issue, she believes, is ritual and tradition. “Law schools have been doing things for a long, long time,” maintains Ivey. “There are no prerequisites to get into law school. You don’t have to have life experience or work experience, for better or worse. That has been a long-standing tradition. I’m not sure it is serving people terribly well. I do admire the MBA process.”
Ivey cites one exception: Northwestern University’s Law School. In general, I don’t know that law schools are changing a lot because of the crisis but an outlier is Northwestern’s law school. They are the big shining exception in all of this. Most top schools are listening a bit more to employers who say they are turning out grads that cannot hit the ground running. So you have seen that needle move. But Northwestern requires work experience in order to apply. They won’t take you right out of college. So in that regard it is a lot more Kellogg like. and they take pride in getting a class composition that is more MBA- like. They are pretty innovative. One thing you can’t say about law schools is that they are innovative. They are not.”
That is why Ivey says she takes nearly as much pride in convincing someone that law school isn’t for them as she does in helping a good candidate get into a great school. “Success is more than which should school did you get into. It is, did you make a smart decision? The legal business is grim,” she says. “Really grim. If people move forward, i make a pact with them. I tell them we’ll work on your application together and I will make sure you submit the best application you are capable of.
“But before you send a big fat hunking deposit in there,” adds Ivey, “we are going to have a conversation to make sure you really want to do this. They are going into this with the pricing opaque because no one in a classroom is paying the same thing. It’s not until you get an offer from a law school that you know if you are going to get scholarship money or not. I make them revisit the conversation once we have the offers in front of us. There are some schools that might be worth it if you are not going deeply in debt for them. So that is a big part of the analysis once we get the offer back. You might decide it’s not worth it if you have to pay full fare. Some of the analysis has to happen across the course of the cycle.”
For people who can’t be talked out of law school, Ivey urges them to apply as early as possible. “Every day that goes by there are fewer seats to give away,” she says. “That is one reason why you want to apply early. It’s going to be harder to stand out when an admissions officer has already read thousands of files. If you are an applicant, you are one of thousands, If you are first, they don’t have one of you yet and you are a snowflake. By the time they see the third or fourth person like you, you really are much less of a snowflake. The first time i see the one-legged ice skater, I get all excited. By the time, I get to the third I say I already have one of those. If you are doing your job well as an admissions director, you are mindful of your job to engineer a class with real diversity.”
As a rule of thumb, Ivey believes that law school applicants shouldn’t apply to so-called “safety schools. “In general,” she says, “I encourage people to be very picky when they put together their list of applied schools. You don’t need safety graduate schools because you could do a lot of other things than go to law school. It’s different from applying to undergrad. If you have done your homework, you might decide that it only makes sense to apply to six schools and maybe they are all reaches. I tell people not to reflexively put their law school lists together like they did in college.”
Does she foresee an end to this period of declining law school applications and enrollments and higher than usual unemployment rates? “There is a lot of talk in the legal community about whether these are long-term systemic changes or whether this is a short-term blip,” she confides. I think some tectonic plates are shifting here and the market is changing longer term and that is because the business model of big law is changing. These are bigger changes in business models and the demand for legal talent and legal services are not going to undo themselves in a matter of years. We will continue to see a bifurcation where you will have top legal talent being rewarded handsomely for top work ,and it will be harder to justify going to a fancy law school that doesn’t set you up for one of those higher paying jobs.”

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