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  Everything here is very, very out of date.

This is a set of essays that made sense in the world of the 1980s, and that was updated for the 1990s.  When law school tuition (where I went) was $400.00 a semester or less at many state schools. When "biglaw" was not a phrase or an employment category that had relevance to most lawyers.  Many, many things have changed.  Law school tuition is headed towards a pretty uniform forty thousand a year or so for 2011 for most schools. The entire class at Harvard or Yale probably qualifies for "biglaw" jobs, no statistically significant part of the class from a bottom 10% law school does (whereas before, the law review students at such a school qualified for the rough equivalent). 

Take much of what is said here as capturing an historical snap shot, though some of the advice may be useful still.

Otherwise, go over to a blog such as:

Thriving in Law School, Surviving Legal Practice: Essays, Comments, Links.

A collection of essays and links aimed at helping you thrive in law school and survive the entry into the practice of law. It also includes substantial material on the reform of legal education and the practice of law. The core essays are:
  • Preparing for Law School link
  • Alternatives To Law School  link
  • Dear New Law Student link
  • Externships link
  • Everything your placement office
    should have told you
  • Time Sheet Approach for Survival:
    Number One link
  • Pragmatic Reform of Legal Education link
  • Dear Family of the New Lawyer link
  • Limits on the Legal Profession link
  • Real Reform of Law, Law School
    --and the Legal Profession link
  • Updates/Comments links
  • Credit Cards, Etc.  links
  • Employment Links links  Resume Help link
  • Ask The Headhunter
  • Links Collection link

General Summary  and Recommended Books for Law Students (if you don't want to read my essays):

Comments I made to someone who didn't die from cancer after all, so decided that law school wasn't a fate worse than death:

Vermont is a good environmental school, though out of the way. In general, a better ranked school is better than one with a good program in your area of interest (other than oil & gas law). Good regional schools are excellent if you go to one in an area you want to practice in (e.g. Hastings in the San Francisco Bay area). If you can get into a true first tier school (and there are about ten or eleven schools in the top seven) it is worth it, but once you drop out of the top fifteen or sixteen, between the other fifty schools in the "top twenty-five" you should pick price and location over rankings.

If you prepare, you will do much, much better than those who don't. Get Atticus Falcon's Planet Law School. The front has a guide that takes you through preparing and around the, err, ranting, and if you follow that you will be ready to do well in your first year, the only one that counts.

Get Volokh's book on legal writing, otherwise read Atticus and take about a year to prepare.

Atticus is a gold standard classical liberal, with a bad attitude about law schools. for my review of her book (best current rumor is that she is an attorney in Chicago).

Thanks for surviving -- and thanks for the prod to get back to revising.

Another question, one I still don't have a good answer for.  I can't think of a single positive thing to say.  If the price for law school was the 2011 dollars of a thousand dollars a year in tuition, I could offer advice.  At thirty to forty thousand a year?  The entire model changes.  My real advice, go to a graduate program in business (a doctoral program where they pay you to go to school instead of where you pay to go, where there are ten jobs for every seven graduates and where the numbers make sense ...).  But for the following question, years later and I still can not give them any positive advice.

I came upon your website when I was searching for information on ADR education in law schools. How relevant do you think the USNews ADR rankings are in choosing a law school? Right now, I'm trying to choose between a half-tuition scholarship and research fellowship at Hamline versus better ranked schools in areas that I would like to practice.

My goal is to become a labor arbitrator but I'm not sure which route to take immediately after getting my JD. I assume that I'll have to practice labor/employment law in some capacity for several years before trying to move into arbitration. I'm worried that if I go to a "Tier 4" school, it might adversely affect my ability to get a decent job out of law school, and may be looked down upon while trying to build my ADR practice.

Any insight would be appreciated.

Recommended Books (you can see the covers and such below):

First, let me recommend the second edition of Planet Law School.  It is out now and my review and comments (a work in progress) are on-line here: link

I have suggestions I have made to people preparing for law school and you can find them in the essays on this site.  They form the core of what I think it takes to thrive in law school. is an old, unedited, but tried and true approach.  It has worked for people.

For something that will dominate much of the rest of your life, and where differences of a few points are so critical (the differences between the kids who start jobs that pay $150,000.00 a year and those who start jobs across the street at North Texas Legal Services paying $18,000.00 a year are less than a standard deviation -- less than true statistical significance), an extra year of "prep" school is an insignificant step.  Everyone else does it.  Most military academies have significant portions of their student bodies that went to prep schools (including junior colleges and colleges) prior to entry.  Nurse Anesthesia students get their RNs and then usually take more than just the one required year of ICU training prior to entry. Go to an Andover parents lecture and you will find 99% of the audience is taking an extra year or two to increase their chances of going to medical school.

Forget what you were told in any pre-law program you were in (as one of my law clerks once asked an advisor -- why wasn't anything in the program useful for the LSAT or law school?), and in your freshman year at college get Planet Law School.  Learn to write well -- and learn to write quickly.  Study rhetoric and logic (regardless of what your "real" degree is in).  Seriously consider alternatives (such as a Ph.D. in business).  And read and follow Planet Law School.

Second, let me recommend to parents and families Letters from Law School

My law school experience was a great deal different from that of most students. I had accepted a job offer prior to starting law school and I have an extensive background in debate and public speaking. Ever since I took apart a sergeant-major in my teens (looking back, he was right, but that didn't save him when he decided to argue with me), I've been fairly confident in oral advocacy. I also went to a law school without any sadists.

My first year job was more of a vacation and a great deal of fun. My second year I eased into a clerkship with the District Attorney that I really enjoyed.

Then, in the middle of my third year -- after Christmas, the control group changed for the company I was going to work for and things fell apart. Suddenly I was applying for jobs, interviewing and paying attention to things (like grades, class standings, etc.) that hadn't meant that much to me before. Suddenly, my dropping my clerkship (and the implicit job offer that I had already been made there) so that an acquaintance could get a full time job, looked like insanity rather than the normal kindness a fellow human being deserves. Not only was I out the clerking (and the related income), but I was now out of the loop for the job that went with it.

Lawrence Dieker's book, Letters from Law School, captures some of the feelings I had -- but more importantly, it captures the way it feels to be in the top part (but not top 10%) of a top tier law school -- the pain and the agony that most students feel. Well, the pain that the 90% of the students who aren't in the top 10% feel. It is an unfortunately accurate story.

The truth in America is that only the pain or the confusion of the literate seems to count. If you can't articulate your feelings or beliefs, the law, the press, and your own family won't believe that they exist. For most law students in Dieker's position, the stress and the anxiety are intensified by the fact that they are unable to communicate just what they are experiencing.

The Paper Chase is fine. It is the story of a gifted rebel who finds contentment in the top 10% at Harvard. Letters from Law School is still about someone at the top, with better than normal skills and better than normal results putting in back breaking effort, but it is a much truer story.

While he hits many true things only lightly, it is easy to find yourself wondering why he didn't stay at Ohio (a school with the same recognition and ranking as Tulane -- only a quantum level less expensive and near to home) -- is it ever worth the cost to go private over public? -- are that many law professors that inept (yes, it is true that law is the one place that professors are not chosen on the basis of having any teaching experience or ability -- I look back at BYU and am sobered to realize that it is one of a very rare number of law schools that actually prized ability to teach and quality of the teaching methodology of the professors -- I should have been much more grateful for things that I took for granted) -- is law school that confusing of an experience (yes, even more so for most students)? -- etc.

He also hits the emotional state that many students experience with the current state of placement. Law students are encouraged and taught to broadcast their resumes to every possible opening. As a result, a firm with two openings will often get 300 to 400 resumes (I've talked with people who do the interviewing). The smallish mid-sized firm I used to work for gets a steady stream of faxed resumes (which we universally hate and despise) and mailed resumes without any openings being listed -- often with naively high salary requirements prominently displayed in the cover letters like an act of charity offered to us (sad to say, my old firm took to hiring JDs to work as paralegals because they are easier to find and cheaper than certified paralegals. Of four paralegals  they had when I wrote this essay, three had JDs, one from a first tier, top 14, school)(at my current position, we had at least one paralegal who was law review).

Law Firm hiring is completely out of control. My old firm interviews few people (we recently had two openings, we interviewed three people) and sends everyone immediate feedback (within a week people know if we've decided to hire them or not). Most firms don't handle things that quickly. They have no formal process for keeping track of applicants, interview wildly and without really knowing what they are doing, and often fail to notify the people they are interviewing as to what they are doing.

Letters from a Law Student catches that process very, very well.

I wish that I had been able to read something like Planet Law School before I began law school. I wish that my friends in law school had been able to send copies of Letters from a Law Student to their families and loved ones -- especially those who went to law schools that did not organize support groups for families and that did not make an extra effort to realistically counsel students on employment and other issues from the very beginning (I still think fondly about our placement officer for her honesty and hard work).

I would like a three page epilogue instead of the two page one he provided. Maybe the epilogue with an afterword. I'm not sure.

But the book is cleanly written, honest, and I'm glad to read that he is still married with children (while my law school averaged less than one divorce per graduating class, and a 67% rate of incoming married students, most law school experiences are death on marriages and relationships). I wish him well in his legal practice and future, and recommend the book strongly. In spite of everything, one more lawyer has started to survive ...

Planet Law School........Important Books -- Discounted....

Besides Planet Law School for yourself and Letters from Law School for your family, you should take the time to read The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense at Work and Dress for Success. Most success in life comes from the triumph of EQ over IQ.  EQ, broadly defined, is not only "emotional intelligence quotient" (the ability to take the mature approach and delay gratification), but encompasses socialization.  There is no longer any good place to learn important socialization skills such as how to dress or how to talk with people under stress.  These two paperbacks will make up for years of holes in your education and socialization.  The other two books are generic texts that are better than some others.  If you feel compulsive and don't feel as if you can trust all your eggs in one basket with Planet Law School, read these two books to help you find some perspective and a sense of calm. [I've deleted the links to the books since I can't recommend them, but any two books on law school will do to fill in the blank].

In Association with

Other areas in this topic are found at:

This is a work in progress and your input, suggested essays and materials, and submissions are appreciated.

Best wishes,

Stephen Marsh

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Copyright 1990; 2000-2002; 2011 Stephen R. Marsh [home]

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