Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Some rules for risky times

Suppose you've thought about the general risks of attending law school but are still struggling over whether to accept a particular offer.  Here are some guidelines I would apply to that decision.  These rules require a little research and a bit of math, but they're not hard--and I think you'll find them worthwhile.  Even if you disagree with my metrics (and these rules reflect just my personal opinion), the guidelines may help you think through your own decision.

1.  Visit Law School Transparency and note two numbers for any school you are considering:  the "employment score" and the "school-funded rate."  The first number represents the percentage of 2011 graduates who held long-term, full-time jobs requiring bar admission nine months after graduation (minus those who claimed "solo" status).  Do not attend any school with an employment score of less than 50%.
  • 50% is a very generous cut-off.  Schools will tell you that some graduates found good jobs after the nine-month mark; some are happily working in jobs that don't require bar admission; some are pursuing advanced degrees; and so on.  Some of that is true--that's why the guideline is 50% instead of 90%.  If you are paying for an expensive professional degree, shouldn't you have at least a 50% chance of getting a job within that profession by nine months after graduation? 
  • Remember that even some of the jobs counted in the employment score will last only one year, offer little room for professional growth, and/or pay disappointing salaries.  That's another reason why the 50% rule is a generous one.
  • What if a school with a low employment score offers you a substantial scholarship?  I'd still be very wary of attending that school.  Schools in this category are producing graduates with very tenuous outcomes.  Why not wait a year or two to see if the school's employment record improves, tuition falls, or if you're happy with employment in another field? 
2.  Now look at the other LST figure, the law school's "school-funded rate."  If that number is ten percent or higher, ask the school lots of questions.  It's great when a school decides to help graduates by funding career opportunities, but your tuition dollars are part of that funding.  Funding of this magnitude also suggests that the school's graduates are having special difficulty finding jobs; they may at least be struggling to land the type of jobs that the school's grads usually pursue.  Ask questions like:  How do students qualify for the school-funded program?  What work do they do?  How much are they paid?  For how long?  What are the job outcomes for students participating in the program?  Ask for hard figures on the last question, not just general assurances.

Once you have the answers, you'll have to make your own decision about this factor.  Remember that a big program (lots of students working lots of weeks full-time) isn't necessarily better than a small one.  The big program may include more graduates, but it also costs the school more money.  

Also be sure to ask the school how it sees its school-funded program evolving over the next three years.  Will your tuition help support a program that disappears before you graduate?  Asking about the future of school-funded programs is a good way to get the school's administrators talking about the future of law practice.  Are they overly rosy in their projections ("oh, we won't need that program after another year because the market is going to turn around")?  Or are they realistic about the ongoing challenges?

3.  For each school you are considering, collect three more numbers:  (a) the total number of JD graduates in 2011, according to the school's NALP report; (b) the number of 2011 graduates reporting salaries to NALP; and (c) the median reported salary for that class.  If these figures are not on the school's website, call and ask for them.
  • For (b), be sure to get the absolute number--not a percentage.  When schools calculate the percentage of reported salaries, they often use employed graduates as the denominator.  In the next rule, you'll calculate the percentage of salaries reported for the full graduating class.  That's the more meaningful figure.
  • For (c), be sure to get the median reported salary for all jobs, not just the median for private practice.  Many graduates no longer have the option of choosing between private practice and other work; the overall median is a better guide for applying the rules below. 
  • If the school tells you that the salary figure is "not representative," because many graduates fail to report their salaries, tell the school that you're aware of that fact.  You can explain that you don't plan to rely directly on the median; instead, you will use it to make wise decisions about tuition and debt load.  
  • If the school refuses to disclose all of this information, do not attend the school.  What in the world are they hiding?
4.  Divide the number of 2011 graduates who reported salaries by the total number of graduates in the class.  This tells you the percentage of graduates who reported their salaries:
  • Example:  200 people graduated and 110 reported salaries.  110 divided by 200 = .55 or 55%
  • Another example:  240 people graduated, and 30 reported salaries.  30 divided by 240 = .125 or 12.5%
If the percentage you calculate is less than 25%, don't attend that law school.  Low reporting rates reflect one or more of the following:  (a) graduates did not obtain full-time, long-term jobs (NALP only collects that type of salary); (b) graduates had very low salaries (people tend not to report those); or (c) the school knew the salaries would be low, so didn't work very hard to collect them.  If less than a quarter of the graduating class reported salaries, that's a danger signal.

5.  Don't take on more educational debt than your law school's median reported salary for the class of 2011.  
  • Count all educational debt in this calculation--college, law school, and any other degrees.  If you've been admitted to a law school, you can ask the school's financial aid officer to help you make this calculation.
  • This is a tried-and-true, old-fashioned rule:  Don't accumulate more educational debt than your projected starting salary.
  • Some advisors will tell you that it's ok to accumulate debt up to 1.5 or 2 times starting salary.  Ignore that advice when planning to attend law school.  The median reported salaries from law schools overstate the true middle salary; your starting salary may well be significantly less than the reported median.  Schools advertising a median starting salary of $60,000, for example, have a students earning $40,000, $30,000, or even 0 during their first year after law school.  A reasonable rule of thumb, taking this spectrum into account, is:  Don't borrow beyond the reported median.
Update:  If your school has a fabulous loan repayment plan (see the next point), you could consider taking on more than the median salary in debt.  But isn't the fact that debt has outstripped median salary--even at top schools--a sign of how unrealistic law school tuition has become?
6.  Even if your school's median salary stretches into six figures, don't take on more than $100,000 of total educational debt (again, include all degrees), unless you attend a law school with a fabulous loan repayment plan.  Fabulous plans provide repayment assistance for private jobs as well as government or public service ones; they act as income insurance for graduates.  Unless you have that type of insurance, six-figure debt is too much to carry at the beginning of a career.  The debt will hobble your life choices more than law school will expand them.
7.  Don't count on IBR or other debt-relief programs; the government can change those programs any time.  Assume that you will have to meet the obligations outlined in your loan documents.  Read the documents carefully and be sure you understand the terms.  How much will you pay per month under the standard repayment plan?  If the number scares you, think about putting off law school.

8.  Make sure you know as much as possible about practicing law.  Have you talked to lawyers in a variety of practice areas?  Have you asked those lawyers hard question about what they dislike--as well as what they like?  What do those lawyers do every day--not just on the once-a-year occasions?  Have you shadowed a lawyer for a day or half a day?  If you haven't done these things, do them now.

Even if you know you want to go to law school--and have a superb offer in hand--interacting with practicing lawyers during the next month will help frame your legal studies and give you a leg up in the job market.  If you don't know any lawyers, ask your law school to put you in touch with some alumni.  I guarantee that you will get more out of talking to lawyers during the next month than you will get out of reading books on your law school's summer reading list.  And if the interactions give you second thoughts about a legal career . . . it's better to entertain those thoughts now, rather than later.
*   *   *
I know that these guidelines may make it hard for some students to attend law school.  If you don't have high scores and grades, you may not have been admitted to a school that satisfies these rules.  If your family lacks financial resources, you may not be able to satisfy the loan guidelines.  But remember:  The legal profession is suffering a serious job crisis.  Right now, we have "legal" jobs for only about half the number of students who graduate from law school.  And many of those jobs don't pay enough to service large loans.  You don't improve your options by paying for a degree you can't use or by taking on more debt than you can handle.
On a slightly more optimistic note:  It is possible that law schools and the legal profession will respond to the current crisis by restructuring law school, reducing tuition costs, or taking other steps that will help future students.  I don't know if schools will innovate, but many will have to do something.  At least a few innovative approaches should emerge during the next three years.  If law school isn't a good fit for you right now, why not wait and see if better opportunities emerge?


  1. NINETY-SEVENTH!! Waaahoooo!

  2. "If the school refuses to disclose any of this information, "

    Prof, M., shouldn't "any" be "all" in the above?


  3. "5. Don't take on more educational debt than your law school's median reported salary for the class of 2011. "

    Doesn't this one mean never go to any LS, even HYS, at sticker? For that matter, even with a 50% tuit scholly, wouldn't one still easily pass the median salary in expected total cost of attendance?

  4. Good point, 8:25--I've made that change. Thanks back to you!

  5. Thanks, 8:31--I originally had points 5 and 6 in a different order, so I've updated 5 to reflect the "fabulous loan repayment" point (which holds for some top schools). But, as I note in the update, isn't it troubling that schools are taking so much of a graduate's future income stream? High debt is a risk, even at top schools. Think of all the new T14 graduates let go in 2008 and 2009.

  6. DJM. You would tell them to only look at one year? What happens when there is an uptick in the stats, as the reports of summer employment suggest there may be at some schools. Or is this just advice for this year?

  7. DJM, thanks for both replies 8:32, :41 (I was anony's 1-3).

    I agree with the cost:return ratios being completely gorked; it's still almost fantastical to me, despite that I've been following this problem for a year or more.

  8. Hmmnm... ...shadowing. Do you have any info (surveys or some such) on willingness of lawyers to take a UG kid as a shadow for a day?

    Just wondering if it's one of those ideas that sound fine on the surface, but in practice may only be available to those 0Ls who have some sort of personal connection that makes the lawyer amenable ("arm-twistable") into taking the shadow.

  9. 8:42, if students want to look at more than one year, they could check 2010 and 2011. But more data are available for 2011--and those numbers don't reveal many upticks that I'm aware of. I think 2011 is the best market indicator we have right now.

    In one sense my guidelines are for this year; part of my point is that the market is very uncertain right now. But I think the general guidelines hold for the future. If median salaries, employment scores, etc. rise for 2012, then more law school seats will fit within the guidelines next year. I definitely wouldn't advise students next year to look just at 2011--in that sense, these guidelines are specific to now.

  10. 8:54, I think you should be able to guilt the lawyer into the shadowing. Or, given the desperation of law schools to enroll students this year, the school can do the arm twisting.

    Here's one line to use with a practitioner: "Do you think law school should be more like medical school, with clinical rotations?" [Practitioner eagerly agrees.] "That's great. A significant part of clinical rotations in medical school consists of shadowing practicing doctors. I'd like to get a very small head start on that--could I shadow you for half a day?"

  11. Shadowing: I think it might turn out harder than you'd expect, but that's just my impression based on some limited experience at a couple of firms. They pretty much shut down requests for shadows. That's why I think it would be useful to see some survey info, assuming it exists.

    As far as the law schools go, I'm not sure they have any clout or other means for twisting arms of existing practitioners.

    The student's own gambit you've outlined might work, but might as easily (or even more likely) backfire when the lawyer felt like he'd gotten backed into a corner by what is essentially a ruse.

  12. Absolutely outstanding post. Thanks to the scam bloggers, the information is out there. Most prospective law school applicants, if following this advice, will not apply to law school, and this is as it should be. I am occasionally contacted by prospective law school applicants and try to talk them out of it, unless they are admitted into a top tier law school AND either 1) someone is paying their way e.g. full scholarship or their parents/spouse/employer is footing the bill OR 2) mom/dad has an established firm and has guaranteed them a well paying job upon graduation.

    Getting the information out there is the first step. We are now in the midst of that process. Second step is the bottom 1/4 to 1/2 of law schools close down due to decreasing enrollment. That will take a little more time.

  13. Temporary shadowing of real attorneys can be deceptive as typically only the best moments or the more glamorous aspect of the job are shown or commented on. This is what fooled me. So many times also I get legal interns who have spent weeks with colleagues only to have received no practical and real world legal training or do any real world assignments, which are typical of the daily work assignments. Perhaps I would recommend any shadowing of attorney staff be for a longer than a day duration and have certain pre-determined goals: (1) address day to day items; (2) discuss nature and types of different projects (those easier to the more complex--discussing how one proceeds to actually do the different types of projects on a big picture level); (3) discuss how that attorney manages and tracks the work load; and (4) as time permits and as appropriate actually volunteer to assist with a work project beyond copying documents, assisting staff with pet legal research or other busy work but no legal substance projects (at minimum some proof reading task of real legal work should be provided).

  14. Employment longevity is a real problem with lawyers. There are tens and hundreds of thousands of once fully employed, even prosperous lawyers, who are now either completely unemployed or far from prosperous. I know scores of them. No law job is ever secure. You are only in a law job for as long as the clients, mostly corporations, are around and able and willing to pay you. The long term stability of many law jobs has become worse with the consolidation into biglaw of many/most medium sized law firms. There are thousands of new lawyers striving to push the more experienced lawyers out. IF THE TRUTH ABOUT LONG TERM JOB PROSPECTS IN LAW WAS REALLY KNOWN AND DEMONSTRATED WITH DATA, NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD GO TO ANY LAW SCHOOL.

  15. Shut up about the long term prospects. The long term propsects in many professions are poor. This isn't about you, this is about how some people don't even have any short term prospects in law and no way to pay off their loans. If you planned poorly for your future, that's on you.

  16. DJM or Lawprof - Here's an idea for a follow up entry to the entries of the last two days. It's grim but needed and I know of no other commentary on the subject. What considerations are there and what advice would you give to 1L who is considering dropping out of law school at the end of the first semester or the first year? William Ockham

  17. Make that "give to a 1L".

  18. As I 1L who would love to drop out, it's not so simple as just sharing the facts. If you don't have parents to take you in and you don't have savings, you're dependent on those loans to survive. I tried to drop out, I applied to every job opening I was qualified for in the past few months (including retail and food service). I received mostly silence and a handful of rejections. And moving out of the city to look for work isn't possible as I'd need a fair amount saved up to move and put down a deposit somewhere new. For the moment, taking out loans is the only way to support myself. I have no illusions that I'll be in a better situation after law school either, but this keeps me afloat for the next two years.

  19. The ABA, or Dept. of Ed., should make this post a must read prior to taking the LSAT. Not just a click the box affirmation. Something where you must affirm that you have read each section.

    Great information.

  20. Thank you for mentioning the old fashioned rule, that total debt should equal the starting salary. My father, who graduated law school in the early 70s told me about this rule, which was still almost true in 2005 when I graduated from Ohio State. They told us that the average starting salary was 60K, which was a lie, but at least back then you could graduate with 60K in total debt, as I did. Today, that's not possible.

  21. Between the choice of living on the street or taking on debt you know you'll never pay back, most people would take on the debt.

  22. Exactly what happened to me as an undergrad. At age 20/21. No family to live with no available jobs, difficult to move anywhere… may as well stay in school.


    "As I 1L who would love to drop out, it's not so simple as just sharing the facts. If you don't have parents to take you in and you don't have savings, you're dependent on those loans to survive. I tried to drop out, I applied to every job opening I was qualified for in the past few months (including retail and food service). I received mostly silence and a handful of rejections. And moving out of the city to look for work isn't possible as I'd need a fair amount saved up to move and put down a deposit somewhere new. For the moment, taking out loans is the only way to support myself. I have no illusions that I'll be in a better situation after law school either, but this keeps me afloat for the next two years."

  23. 1L with no options,

    I am not denegrating your hardship. Can you join the military?

    For a few of my relatives, this has been the only option. Three hots and a cot. Better than going deeper in debt that will never go away.

  24. DJM, as a fellow law faculty member, I agree with most of your advice. However, I question your apparent "line in the sand" at 50% employment, based on a single data point, which happens to be very close to the statistical mean.

    I agree that 50% is "generous." However, it's also largely statistically meaningless in the context of this data. As I recall, the overall mean is about 55% (see Bill Henderson's analysis), and it's very close to 50% if you remove T14 schools. By analogy, if you were grading on a "B" curve, would you tell an employer to refuse to even consider a student with a grade of "B-"? I suspect not, because you'd likely agree that the difference between a B and B- grade may not be particularly significant.

    In short, I fully agree that employment numbers are important, and I also agree that 50% is a horrid mean. However, I think these current numbers are more valuable as an indictment of the system than of any single law school. And I make this point as a faculty member of a school for which the employment numbers in this report were relatively high--much above my school's US News rank and well above 50%.

    If a school's numbers are well below the mean, then I agree they should at least trigger some serious questions. However, I don't think that a relatively small variation from the mean (i.e., any number below 50%) ought to make or break one's decision regarding a particular school.

  25. Professor 6:09,

    Even though there may be little actual difference between a B and a B- exam, the system still forces a hard cutoff. In fact, professors will often use this as a crutch when you ask them about your grades.

    Why should DJM's recommendations be any different?

  26. That's the problem with having hard and fast rules about a decision that should be the product of really considered and individual judgment. Sure, below 50 should trigger serious concerns...51 should, too.

  27. 8. Make sure you know as much as possible about practicing law. Have you talked to lawyers in a variety of practice areas? Have you asked those lawyers hard questions about what they dislike--as well as what they like? ...

    This is excellent advice. But so few 0Ls do this. Five or so years ago IIRC, in the comments to a post on a different law prof's blog about whether to attend law school, I posted my real name and offered to speak with 0Ls about practice. Only one person has ever taken me up on that offer (granted, that blog did not appear to be as popular as this one).

    I'll try the same thing here: My name is John Paschetto; my email is jpaschetto@ycst.com. If you're trying to decide whether to attend law school and would like to know more about what it's like to practice law, please feel free to email me.

  28. Here is a suggestion - if you are a senior in a college with a law school - and you are thinking of going to law school - audit a law school class - or ask to audit one for a couple of classes. If you find the subject matter interesting - good, if it bores you rigid - don't go

  29. vis 6:31

    And YCST is a first class firm - with might I say a damn good reputation - probably the best in Delaware

  30. I'm the wannabe dropout:

    I'm nearly 30 and female. If the army would take me despite my lack of physical fitness, I'd take it. But I need a job where I can begin and have a place to live starting September. And that's the thing, by the time I realized I wanted out, it was too late to apply for programs that take their time hiring people. I don't have that luxury, my school funded summer stipend runs out in August and if I'm not in school, then I'm on the streets.

  31. @6:30 Analogies are illustrative. They do not have to be exact fits.

  32. What considerations are there and what advice would you give to 1L who is considering dropping out of law school at the end of the first semester or the first year? William Ockham

    Seriously. This needs to be more than a blog post. It needs like a week-long treatment with a post each day, discussing various aspects of the question.

    I made myself very unpopular with some folks at my law school by talking openly and repeatedly about how many (most?) of us should drop out after first semester, or first year, or OCI at the start of second year.

    The great irony I encountered was that the people who were both aware of things like sunk cost fallacies (and other classic errors of cognition LP has discussed here) and rational enough to address them head-on during decision making were also the people who were smart and well-educated enough to comfortably land in the top 5% or so of the class.

    Much like the cruel joke that is "merit scholarships", the "drop out question" would most seem to benefit those least willing/able to evaluate it with ruthless rationality.

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. DJM, thank you for this. In the last two days, you've presented clear, cogent and convincing reasons not to attend law school. And I appreciate the obvious respect you've shown for 0Ls. Every prospective law student should read this post.

  35. The sad thing is that if someone was to follow DJM's guidelines to the letter, it would almost completely restrict minorities and everyone else not in the upper class from attending law school (minus the lucky few who land significant-to-full scholarship offers). Which is the reason why the ABA prolonged legal education and added all the barriers in the first place (to bar Jews from entering the profession)

  36. @6:09 a.m.:

    Your point would make sense if it were true that one could learn as much about the theory and practice of law at B- School of Law as at B School of Law, and employers acted in recognition of the fact that everybody in the U.S. is being taught the same material in the same way. But they don't, do they? Law schools act as sorting buckets for those employers, who will happily take the last guy at Harvard over the best guy at Hofstra sight unseen. Better human capital, and all that.

    A school below the 50% mean is like a poor starting hand in Texas hold'em. It could produce a winner when all seven cards are out, but over the long run, you make more money by not playing in the first place.

  37. @7:41 a.m.:

    Substitute "attending law school" with "participate in a game rigged against them where the law school gets paid up front and they get to repay the federal government at 7.5% for the rest of their lives."

  38. 7:41 is largely right, but DJM's point is that her guidelines protect those who most need the protection. Statistics for minorities in this meltdown are horrendous. Who is looking out for them as law schools continute to watch their diversity numbers?

  39. A while back, LawProf had some great advice for prospective law students: Search your state's online bar directory for recent graduates from the school you are considering. Get some idea what kind of jobs they are actually working in (if they list a job at all). Call or email a random sample and ask if they will discuss how they feel about their jobs, if they are glad they went to law school, etc. See how many are actually doing the kind of work you would like to do upon graduation.

  40. 9:00 am--correct, the schools whining on and on about how they give "opportunities" to "underserved" minorities are the ones profiting from the ruined futures of said minorities. It reminds me of the banks and real estate people who conned a lot of buyers, including many minorities, into buying homes they could not afford and later lost to foreclosure.

  41. 6:09, I appreciate that suggestion, but I'm going to stick with the 50% line. The 2011 data closely track the 2010 numbers--although with further declines at most schools. And I don't see any indications that 2012 will be better. If anything, there are lots of signs that the legal job market may get worse: Even if job numbers stabilize, salaries, benefits, and security seem to be declining.

    I would stick with the 50% line even if it were above the median--I hadn't considered the median when thinking about a number. Say, for example, 10 more large law schools opened, with 0 employment for their graduates: that might well bring the overall median below 50%, but I would still propose 50% as a reasonable (and very generous) rule of thumb for now.

    If a school has an aberrant employment score for 2011, I think it could explain that fact to prospective students. I also noted that students could wait and see on these schools: If the employment score improves, maybe the school looks like a better bet next year.

    But part of the reason I proposed these guidelines is so that other knowledgeable people could offer their own insights. Some advisors might well think that a student should consider schools that fall below 50%. Others (including me) would advise students to be cautious even about 50-60% or some other band in the market. All of this discussion seems quite useful to me.

  42. 12:38 One big unknown here is the longevity of legal jobs. Anecdotally, they tend to be short-lived. Employers are in the drivers seat and with the huge glut of lawyers, some act badly. They treat their hires badly, fire without cause after short periods, engage in protracted interviewing again and again fot the same job, and in short exercise their superior bargaining power to hurt people. You need to understand that one characteristic of the current legal job market is how quickly legal jobs disappear, and how they disappear for no good reason. It really comes down to employment at whim. What is the reason for it? Because employers can do that.

    In short, if that legal job you are looking for lasts a year or two, you still will not be able to pay off your debt. Maybe you should also look at areas where law degrees are helpful, but not required. At least the job longevity on average may be better than in the legal profession, and you may have a better chance at paying off your debt. Pick a few areas to research and then pick one to focus on, and try in that area in addition to trying for straight law jobs.

  43. When I started practising, firings of lawyers were rare. Law firms in particular had an unwritten code of making sure the lawyers that the firm did not want to keep had the time and notice to get another job. About 10 years ago, large law firms swallowed up the mid-sized firms and the market began to change. Lawyers are treated very badly by a lot of employers today because there are too many of them. That was not the case when I started because the supply of lawyers was more limited and the supply of lawyers from top schools more limited still.

  44. Professor,

    As a successful engineer of 15 years (also with undergraduate degrees in Paralegal Studies and Political Science), I am planning to attend law school in 2014 in order to pursue a career in IP (Patent) Law, or Federal Communications (FCC-Admin) Law. I've been watching the legal field closely and with dismay for the past few years, as well as scrutinizing tuition rates and job placement rates. It seems the legal areas I intend to pursue aren't suffering as badly as many, if not most other areas of legal practice.

    In any case, I've been searching everywhere for concrete advice on debt-load ratios and metrics that provide a way to do a self-directed evaluation of law school placement performance, rather than simply relying on the questionable traditional ranking systems. Few sources have provided a quality calculus for these answers, rather avoiding the question in most cases completely.

    What you have provided here is invaluable. I hope you don't mind, but I'm cribbing this entire post for my own personal reference as the date I make the decision to enter law school draws near. I intend to be largely self-funded for this venture, but the methodology you provide is an outstanding way to maintain a level of confidence.

    Thank you very much for this work.

  45. 5:24 Why if you are a successful engineer would you attend law school? That is a crazy idea. Among other things, you will be over age 40 when you get out, and that is a huge negative for finding work as a lawyer. In spite of your expertise, you will not fit in on account of your age. If you are hired at all as a lawyer, your career will be short-lived. Do not think no matter how hard you try you will be welcomed into the associate pool of 20-somethings or to a corporation where you bosses will be your age or younger. Big mistake to go to law school at this stage no matter how talented you are. You will never get to show it.

    I have been around in this profession long enough to know, and you should listen to me.

  46. @6:41am-- Is it really possible that you would be homeless if you didn't go to law school? I have room in my house and could use help with domestic chores. And I'm sure I can't be alone.

  47. @ 5:37

    Because I'm tired to doing calculus everyday. It's not so crazy when you consider Patent Law has continued to have openings in reasonable numbers right through this economic problem.

    Secondly, I'm not so sure your assertion about age is based in fact.

    Thirdly, my plan is to engage in private practice, or in-house at an aerospace firm, where I have several hiring advantages, including a long-term national security clearance. The corporation where I have been employed for 17 years, a large aerospace firm, uses many, many private consultants in IP and Admin compliance roles. Big Law isn't where I ever intended to go.

    I appreciate the comments, but I visit K Street in DC enough to know there is work available for what I am considering. I've grown tired of farming out patent applications and federal compliance work, particularly when I do 99% of the research and draft work in the first place.

    Thanks again.

  48. Dean Rayman Solomon is a member of the Illinois Bar - non practicing (he nerve actually ever seems to have practiced law - he was a "bar historian" instead) - you can find his record here


    The associate dean for enrollment at Rutgers - and probably the person responsible for the misleading information is Camille Andrews - who cough, cough teaches legal ethics !!! The mind boggles. She is a member os the Pennsylvania Bar - record is as follows

    Camille Spinello Andrews
    PA Attorney ID: 47307
    Current Status: Active
    Date of Admission: 11/21/1986
    Other Organization: Context Capital Partners, LP
    District: 2
    County: Montgomery
    401 CITY AVENUE STE 815
    BALA CYNWYD, PA 19004
    Tel: 610 538-6102
    Fax: 610 660-5000
    Professional Liability Insurance: I do not maintain Professional Liability Insurance because I do not have private clients and have no possible exposure to malpractice actions (e.g. retired, full-time in-house counsel, prosecutor, full-time government counsel, etc.).

    The Associate Dean of Students and Career Planning - another person with responsibility is Angela V. Baker She is an active member of the New Jersey Bar:

    NJ Attorney ID : 028081985
    Bar Admission Date : 12/23/1985

  49. 6:09PM

    First, if you are serious about your plan - start by taking the patent agent's exam - before going to law school - you employer will pay. Second, I would not denigrate what the patent attorney's do - it looks easy, but carefully drafting patent claims with a view to upholding their validity is actually pretty tough - I know, I litigate the patents later - and most are hard to defend. Third, in patent law there is a big difference between patent prosecution lawyers driven by what their technical backgrounds is - some such as physics are in perennial short supply - other subjects are far too prevalent.

    Finally, for patent litigation things look very good right now - but just about everyone in the field is worried that this is a last "hurrah." Too many troll cases, to much abuse of patents by major companies - there is a real likelihood that there will be change in the US that will kill some of the more dubious cases (which right now is most cases) with a significant downturn in demand for patent counsel.

    One of the basic rules I would say to anyone who is thinking of going to law school is to be careful of what looks "hot now" - because those are practices that tend to be oversubscribed and also vulnerable to legal changes over the next few years.

  50. 6:09

    Thanks. I have a variety of patents of my own and have vigorously defended two of them via litigation. Please do not mistake my previous post as an indication of denigration. I am keenly aware of the full scope of the process in IP and never claimed it was "easy" in any way. I simply stated that I do most of the work.

    One of my closest colleagues is a certified patent reader. That job is not for me. I've looked at it closely, through his eyes, and it's simply not for me.

    My technical background is RF Engineering. There are less people with my expertise than physicists...for a reason. So strike three to your list of things you apparently think I haven't analyzed carefully, nearly everyday, for the past 10 years.

    Lastly, it is pretty disappointing to be standing on the receiving side of the implication that I'm following "what's hot right now". I've been looking at IP practice for the better part of ten years, sir. The job availability for members of the Patent Bar has remained robust throughout that entire period, including during the deepest point in the recession.

    As for your "over subscription" claim, that's a false answer to a premise I reject. The Patent Bar has been and remains a pretty effective filter. This is exactly why there are openings RIGHT NOW for zero experience Patent lawyers in several federal government agencies, despite the fact that there are a zillion out of work lawyers milling around in the economy.

    It's a curiosity that some people here seem to think I haven't researched this issue, or that I'm an idiot.

  51. Sorry to say it, but age is a very important factor in getting a legal job. It is going to be tough for you trying to compete with 20-somethings. That is just the way the world works and you can ask why that would be so. I have enough experience in the legal profession to tell you it is so.

    Second, an undergraduate degree in paralegal studies will hurt rather than help you get a legal job. The most competitive undergraduate institutions do not offer paralegal studies. Law is a prestige-obsessed career.

    Finally, there have been posters on this site that are saying patent law is glutted. This is the first quote that is coming up from a google search:

    I am a patent lawyer. I used to refer to patent law as the rolls royce of the law business. No longer. There has been tremendous consolidation of the patent work into NLJ250 firms from the patent boutiques. As the consolidation has occurred, only the most profitable survive in the NLJ250 firms, and many are thrown away. Then, the NLJ250 firms work their leverage schemes so that there is a massive influx of new hires, and seasoned experienced people are pushed out. This is a new phenomenon in the patent law business. Moreover, these unfortunate and inhumane dynamics have produced a huge glut of patent lawyers.

    You should ask yourself if you are suffering from special snowflake syndrome. Law school is a bad bed today for most people, but is a downright awful bet if you will be graduating after age 40. Just do a google search on outcomes of older law school grads, including comments on this site. I am not making that up.

  52. @6:53 a.m.:

    my plan is to engage in private practice, or in-house at an aerospace firm, where I have several hiring advantages, including a long-term national security clearance

    If this includes a willingness to work for yourself and search out your own clients while you learn how to practice law in your area, as well as a willingness to get your law degree part-time while continuing to work and minimizing your opportunity cost, then I wish you Godspeed.

  53. Engineer @ 5:24 and later, it sounds like you have researched these issues carefully--I think you are an excellent candidate for law school, especially since you are accounting for the problems of debt in your analysis. (I'm glad my post could help on that--please feel free to share it with anyone.)

    Don't be too taken aback by comments suggesting you haven't thought through the issues. Many potential law students, both those in college and those later in life, haven't thought through these angles. So the commenters on this site automatically try to warn people about factors they might not have considered. Listening to these comments counts toward your exploration of "things lawyers dislike as well as like"!

    Two more specific follow ups, which I'll put in separate comments do I don't gum up the spam filter.

  54. On paralegal studies: The commenters are correct that traditionally, many legal employers would have seen this as a negative. Employers assumed that people were smart enough to go to law school or they weren't--all said and done at age 20. They also bought into the mindset that "law school teaches you to think in mysterious higher ways, while paralegal certificates teach you skills that aren't much more challenging than how to alphabetize."

    But some of those attitudes are changing. In particular, employers are recognizing the value of project management, data analysis, and information/knowledge management. Here is just one article on that: http://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/goodbye-lawyer-hello-legal-workflow-and-process-analyst. (I know that article refers to the UK, but they are leading the US firms in this area and I have seen similar developments here.) I suspect from your comments that you already have experience in these areas and will be able to translate that experience to other positions requiring the bar degree.

    The paralegal certificate may support your skills in these areas. If it does, I would portray it that way (project management, data analysis, etc). I think the type of innovative organizations you'll want to work for will understand that value. A firm like Dewey might not have gotten the value but, well, we know what happened to Dewey and that's not the type of place you'll want to work!

  55. Finally, on age. I don't know as much about this as I'd like to know--my experience is very anecdotal. But I have seen age work both for and against students and, from your comments, I think it will work well for you.

    Until recently, age seemed to work against students who wanted to enter BigLaw--and maybe some other practices as well. There's no doubt that some employers have set expectations for the people they will hire; if the candidate doesn't fit those expectations, they will pass. And many legal employers expect 25-year-old candidates for entry-level positions.

    But legal employers, like almost everyone else, are feeling the bottom line pressure. More than anything, they want someone who can do the job--and the best measure of that is someone who has done a similar job before. So I am seeing older graduates, who have relevant pre-law experience, being hired. The employer won't pay extra for this experience: You'll be hired as an entry-level attorney. But at least some employers are starting to see that JDs with pre-law experience can bring more to the workplace.

    At the very least, and most cynically, hiring an older grad with experience may allow a law firm to bill for that person's time more quickly. Remember the clients who have famously said that they won't pay for first-year associates to learn on the job? Well, a 40-year-old doesn't look like a first-year associate and, if that new hire can talk knowledgeably about engineering, patent applications, and other issues of concern to the client, that lawyer doesn't sound like a first-year associate either.

    This doesn't mean older graduates will have an advantage. There's still age discrimination, both explicit and unconscious. And you will also have to meet the usual employer expectations on law school attended, grades, etc.

    But if an older grad has thought carefully about his experiences, talents, and the value they bring to a future employer--as it seems you have--I think age is not a hiring handicap.

  56. The engineer should weigh the fact that he or she has a secure job and that the legal profession is anything but secure. If that person gets out of law school after age 40, that person needs to make the $250,000 that law school costs in additional pay after graduation to make the investment in law school worthwhile. If the median salary from a law school is $50,000, how much better is that than for the engineer's current job. The other problem raised by a commenter above is the short-lived nature of legal jobs. Maybe this person gets a legal job to start, but for how long will that job last? Would be pretty awful to quit a 15 year engineer job to be an unemployed lawyer.

  57. Long term patent lawyer here, in case the RF engineer comes back around. While he is a incorrect as to patent law generally (jobs are actually quite scarce, especially for newly graduated patent lawyers), an electrical engineer with RF experience should be able to land a job without much heartache. Especially since he may have an "in" with his industry contacts. But this is NOT true for a BS chemist, mechanical engineer, etc. For those fields, patent law right now is as bad as law generally.

    As for age: it's not the same sort of bugaboo in patent law as it might be in general practice. While a biglaw having an IP section might frown at older noobs, this isn't the case in regular patent firms. A high percentage of patent lawyers are second career people, and industry experience prior to law school is valued.

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