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Fine, Go To Law School—But Play Your Cards Right

 
“If I only knew then what I know now.”
That sentiment seems to lie at the heart of every Irish toast, mid-life crisis, and country song. You know the setup: “I was young and idealistic—naïve enough to believe I could change things. Over time, I was betrayed, beaten down, and humiliated. So here I am: Lost, alone, and penniless. If I’d only known…”
These days, you hear plenty of law graduates making similar gripes. Whether they’re waiting tables to pay off six-figure debts or questioning their values in a soul-crushing 80-hour-a-week job, one thing is clear: Law school just wasn’t what they expected.
Blame law schools. Blame Wall Street. Blame television. Blame parents. After a few more shots, we can blame ourselves too. Regardless, law school is an expensive crapshoot. Like the law, legal jobs are seemingly skewed towards the thee W’s: The wealthy, white, and well-connected.
Does that mean it’s time for students to wash their hands of law school? Not necessarily, says Shannon Achimalbe, an attorney who recently left a solo practice for corporate law. In a recent column in Above the Law, Achimalbe dispenses advice to future lawyers (who, like all of us at that tender age, are probably too self-assured to listen). So how can you cut your tuition and ensure law is the right field for you? Here is some of Achimalbe’s advice:

  • Don’t Pay Full Tuition: “No one should be paying full tuition to attend a non-prestigious law school — orany law school, for that matter. If you are, then you are the sucker in the law school game. You see, someone has to subsidize the rich, privileged white guy who got a full scholarship thanks to his army of tutors and trouble-free lifestyle…You will also probably do well academically, but because you paid full sticker, you will have no choice but to take a Biglaw salary in order to service your massive student loan debt without being an indentured servant. If you don’t do well academically, then you will either be unemployed or take the average lawyer job that currently pays around $62,000 per year on average. At that salary, prepare to live on the modern welfare known as IBR/PAYE and expect to make payments for at least 20 years.”
  • Talk to Alumni: “I strongly suggest that you go to LinkedIn and look up the alumni of the schools you want to attend and see what they are doing. Don’t just focus on the top graduates. Take a look at what most of the average graduates are doing (or not doing) because it is very likely you’ll join their fate. Reach out to them, ask about their experiences and whether it would be a good time to attend their alma mater.” 
  • Negotiate: “Most law schools begin their curriculum in mid-August. It’s fairly late, but I am certain that most low-ranked schools are still recruiting students. I also suspect that some higher-ranked schools are keeping their options open and may accept a few stragglers. Since you still have one month left, use this time to get in touch with the admissions personnel of other law schools and ask if they are willing to consider your application. If you have multiple acceptance letters, you can either switch schools or negotiate a bigger tuition discount.”

As Achimalbe points out, recent declines in applications present a classic half-full/half-empty glass scenario. “You may have bad facts on your side (average GPA or LSAT scores), but you also have good facts (less students applying, schools starting to lower tuition). So emphasize the good facts and find ways to address the bad ones. If you are able to score a free ride or a large tuition discount at a good school (based on your goals), then not only should you attend law school now, but you may also have what it takes to be a good lawyer.”
To read additional advice from Achimalbe, click on the Above the Law link below.
Source: Above the Law

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