Monday, February 04, 2008

Do bar passage rates mean anything?

A reader asks: I have heard from several sources, none of which actually have been to law school, that once a student has passed the bar exam, the caliber of school he/she attended doesn't really matter. What are your ideas on this (and I'm not referring to Harvard or Yale as options)?

From what I understand, the bar exam thing you heard is crap. C-r-a-p crap, and this is coming from someone who would desparately wish that were true because I go to a low tier school. (I got into a Tier 1 school... deep into the list, but Tier 1 all the same and didn't go because of, well... read the blog... ugh I hate the need to justify my choices but law school can make you a prestige whore).

Nearly everyone does a commercial bar prep course (read: BarBri) beause law school does nothing to prepare you for the bar. My school has like a 92% pass rate -- that's not gonna help me get a damn job. Most schools are between 79-95% for first time takers. So if that theory were true, than once you passed the bar, 79-95% of law school graduates would have no trouble finding work in their field. And that just ain't true!!!!

Maybe the "advice" you heard could be better phrased "Fewer people care what law school you went to after you've worked your first job for a few years."

There is a HUGE difference. Because the law school often opens the door to that first job. Many on my blogroll passed the bar but are doing jobs as contract attorneys reviewing documents in a law firm basement with no benefits and half the starting salary of their "peers" who went to better schools and/or had better connections and/or had better grades. This does not "count" as a job to BigLaw firms, or indeed many jobs where people eventually want to work.

So if what you want is the law firm job, starting salary 145k, expecting to work 80 hours a week in a big city market ... go to the highest ranked school you get into and get the best grades you can. EDITED TO ADD: assuming the "highest ranked" school is pretty highly ranked. Beyond the scope of this post to discuss ranking and job prospects in more detail. see comments and future posts.

If that's NOT what you want -- and realistically, its something only available to a small fraction of law grads -- go where you will be happy. Go to the school with the market in which you want to work, do lots of internships and network your ass off to get the legal job of your dreams.


agroothuis said...

I generally agree with your comments. Do you think you should qualify this statement, though?:

"So if what you want is the law firm job, starting salary 145k, expecting to work 80 hours a week in a big city market ... go to the highest ranked school you get into and get the best grades you can."

This is actually a kind of dangerous statement for students deciding from schools at the low end of the rankings spectrum.

Ex: I do not believe a JD candidate at a "3rd-tier" school has a significantly better chance at a big firm job than one at a "4th-tier" school.

And even the differences in job opportunities for 2nd tier candidates are not that much better than 3rd-tier. You're still looking at probably less than a 25% chance (generously) at a big firm job.

The big jump up in terms of job opportunity comes from going to a truly elite school.

So I think a law school applicant wanting to get into biglaw with only lower tier schools to choose from should not simply go to the "highest ranked school," but the one that gives the best return on investment (see, state schools with lower tuition or schools that offer big scholarships) to cover for the high likelihood of not ending up at the top of the class in order to get that big firm job.

What do you think?

Phaedrus said...

Here is my "Wish I Would Have Know" that is on topic with bar passage...

I wish I would have known that buying highlighters before my first semester was the dumbest thing that I could have done and the biggest waste of money ever . . . go to law school, BarBri, PMBRE, etc. give them to you for free.

Maybe this is a post better suited for Frugal Law Student.

nameless student said...

I second agroothuis' comment, with one exception. Some schools are stronger in a regional market than their rank, something to consider if you know where you want to practice. Examples I can think of are schools like Fordham and UC Hastings...I'm sure there are more in other metro areas.