Sunday, November 8, 2009

Portrait Of A Recent Law School Grad - Part 2

This is the second part of our series about Lawyer X - a 2009 graduate of a Tier 1 law school who is smart, hardworking law school graduate that is trying to make his way in the worst recruiting market in decades.  The first part of the series appears here.

5) What was your undergrad degree?  About how well did you do?  I find that this aspect is important to law students because they want to think that they will do better than you because they have a better school/degree/GPA.  I am hoping that your school, degree, and GPA are good.

I was a Spanish Translation/Interpretation major with an Anthropology minor.  I graduated with a cumulative 3.96 GPA and was magna cum laude (missing summa by .01 - basically one A- instead of an A).  I went to GOOD SCHOOL for my undergraduate degree.  I would like to think that I did very well (not only in my major and minor, but in GE classes as well), and of course I had done extremely well before as well (straight As, top ten ranking in high school, etc.).  I of course thought I would be at the top in law school as well.

Comment:  The student has request that their undergrad and law school not be named, but the undergrad school is commonly listed as one of the top 50 colleges in the nation.  On another note, the student's undergrad GPA is absolutely fantastic.  You could not ask for better academic credentials.

6) What was your approximate GPA in law school?  Other honors?  Moot court?  Journal?

Currently I am ranked right at the 40th percentile of my class.  I have done better than more than half of my class, but I am still not at the top as I had been throughout my entire life.  I am a lead articles editor on a secondary journal.  I have received several "A" grades, but have had a few mediocre grades as well.  It is hard to say why I have done so well in some classes, but not so well in others, especially since my grades have been based off of one test (as is common in all law schools).  Evaluations of law students is a whole different ball game as you are well aware.

Comment:  You can see that law school is a whole different world, grade-wise.  As the student mentions, in many classes your entire grade is based on the final.  Top 40% is not stellar, but it is not bad at all.  Also, the grading in many law school classes can seem really pretty arbitrary.  For example, some professors want you to take a certain political/moral/legal stance with regard to some questions and the exam is rarely about factual material.  Instead, the students often attend class so that they can learn the professor's political leanings so that they can filter their answer the professor's way on the final.  Professor sometimes justify this by saying "Well, it's what you would have to do in practice before a judge, right?"  This can be a little tricky until students realize that when the professor is asking for the correct answer, he is really asking them to tell him what he thinks is the correct answer.  Students that try to report the law often accurately end up getting bad grades at first.

Prospective law students take heed - even with a 3.96 GPA, it's tough to crack into the upper percentages of the class rank at law school - and it is mostly luck. 

7) How good was your law school?  You don't have to identify the specific law school if that is uncomfortable, but something like "Tier 1" or "Top 50" or "Best law school in my market" would be good.

I go to GOOD LAW SCHOOL.  It is currently ranked IN THE MID TO UPPER 30s  To be honest, half of my class could have gotten into far higher ranked schools (i.e. T-14).  I myself would have likely gone to a far higher ranked school had I known then what I know now (my stats would have likely permitted me to do so).  The stats of GOOD LAW SCHOOL's incoming classes are simply far higher than those of similarly ranked schools.  Makes things VERY competitive.

Comment: I have disguised the name and rank of the law school upon request.

8) Just how vast was your job seeking effort?  How many interviews? Resumes?  You mention multiple cities - did you interview in multiple cities as well? 

I am from Indiana, and first targeted the Midwest on my own (this because my law school simply does not place many people in the Midwest).  I sent out about 20 resumes/cover letters/transcripts to each of the following cities - Indy, Cincy, Louisville, Grand Rapids, St. Louis, and about 50 to Chicago.  From this search I yielded two interviews with Chicago firms, 8 in Indy, 3 in Cincy, and none from the others.  From those screening interviews, I received 5 callbacks (four in Indy and one in Chicago).  I received one offer, but would have had to do strictly litigation and so I turned it down (looking back, I probably should have taken that offer).

Comment: The effort described is really pretty aggressive, especially if the student took the time to actually review the targeted firms before sending out the resumes.  Just FYI - spamming a law firm with resumes really does not work.  However, if you take time to review the law firm and craft your letters and resumes accordingly, then your success rate will be much higher.

The student also indicates another factor - he should have probably accepted his offer.  However, in his defense, he probably did not know just how bad things were going to get.

I also targeted the East Coast a bit.  I applied to about 50 firms in New York and 25 in D.C.  I received three screening interviews in NYC, but no resulting callbacks.  I received no interviews in D.C.

I then targeted the Mountain West area and sent off about materials to 25 firms in both Denver and Arizona.  I received 2 interviews from Phoenix firms and 6 screening interviews from Denver firms.  I received one callback from a Denver firm and did not receive an offer.

I did participate in OCIs at GOOD LAW SCHOOL and applied to about 50 firms total that came from several neighboring states, but mostly from HOME STATE.  I received 10 interviews and had no callbacks.

Finally, I attempted to see how the 3L market is going and to be honest it is absolutely horrible.  I sent out feeler emails to several firms back in the Midwest and in the Mountain West region and received basically the same news - no, we are not looking to hire 3Ls.

I actually had taken a job with a solo practitioner in LAW SCHOOL's CITY during the second half of my 1L year, and after all that job seaching I decided to stick with him starting with a salary of 60K as a base salary once I graduate.

Overall, I probably sent materials off to some 350 firms throughout much of the country (over ten cities) and received 35 screening interviews and 7 callbacks with two offers.

Comment:  The scope of his job search effort is enormous.  Everyone has to admit that the law student was extremely aggressive in trying to find any possible opportunity.  Also, I would say that a ballpark estimate of how much time that this student put into his job search would be in the area of 1,000 hours.  He really went all out.

Also, the student's "hit rate" is really pretty good.  First, 10% of resumes turned into screening interviews - that's considerably higher than a lot of people.  Second, 20% of screening interviews turned into callbacks - that's REALLY a lot higher than some people.  There are some people that go through 10 screening interviews and get zero callbacks.  This student probably interviews very well.

Note that the Law Student is going to be working at a job paying 60K/year after graduation.  This salary is very much in line with the salary discussion we had in our previous article about what you can make as a lawyer here, here, here, and here.  The salary is also widely different from what the law school pitches as their average starting salary for those going into private practice.

9) What is your feel about the percentage of your classmates that do not have jobs? 

I know most of my class and I am going to have to say that a bit over 50% do not have jobs lined up post graduation.  The top ten percent all have something as far as I can tell (many have clerkships and lucrative firm jobs), but there are several in the top 20% that do not have anything.  A fair part of the 30% still have nothing lined up and once you get to people in my position it starts to get more like 50/50.  Those in the bottom half mostly have nothing, but there are some exceptions here and there.

Comment:  Prospective law students take heed - even if you go to a Tier 1 law school, your job prospects are not good.  It seems like the majority really don't get a legal job.

Further, I note that the Law Student was a Liberal Arts major in undergrad, which was probably not helpful to him in the job search because a large proportion of the most lucrative jobs go to those law students with undergrad degrees in science or business, as discussed here. If you are a prospective law student and a Liberal Arts undergrad who is thinking about going to law school because you think that it will be a sure path to riches (or even just a middle class lifestyle), please do yourself a favor and think again.  The loan debt is a certainty, but the good job is not.


  1. This story sounds eerily familiar. Liberal arts major, really wanted to be a lawyer, went to tier 1 law school, average grades, massive job search, except I have zero results to show for it. This is probably so common by now it's a cliche. And yet law school application continue to rise...

  2. 12:10 - Yes, many people have felt the pinch this year. My best wishes for you to have a job. Also, you are right that it is crazy that law school applications continue to rise. Do the potential lawyers not have accurate information about the opportunities? Do they have huge egos that lead them to believe that they are the "chosen ones" who will winthe lottery and get the big firm job? Are the alternatives really so bad? Are they even doing the math?