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Law School 1L Second Semester: Top 6 Things That Should Be On Your Radar

First-semester grades are in, and you’re either feeling really good, completely awful or confused by what it means to be in the middle (because up until now, you’ve always been on top, right?). You feel like you’re finally “getting” the law-school game, but you’re also uncomfortably uncertain how determinative first semester will be of your 1L success. So what’s an anxious 1L to do? Keep these six points on your radar:

1. Don’t get too comfortable. If you killed it first semester, good for you! Now get back to studying. First-semester grades are only half of your 1L GPA, and the curve is just as bell-like and difficult your second semester. Stick to your first-semester study routine, and keep working hard.

2. Don’t concentrate on failure. If you didn’t do as well as you wanted to first semester, don’t let your less-than-stellar marks consume you during your second semester. You can’t change your grades now, and the unfortunate part of the bell curve is that only a small number will come out on top. Instead of freaking out, figure out which study methods didn’t work for you, and implement tools that can help you improve second semester: see a tutor, join a study group, leave your study group if it was more distracting than helpful, outline, book-brief, take more practice exams or whatever other study techniques you find helpful.

3. Land a Summer Gig. It’s hard to put the books aside and think about the summer, but you’ve got to move fast if you want to land the summer internship of your choice. Deadlines begin looming early in your second semester (some even lapsing in January and early February), so set aside some time to research jobs and visit career services.

4. Connect with Professors. Grades are critical for securing your dream job, but networking is important too. Don’t wait until 2L year to build relationships with your professors. They can help you understand class material, figure out your summer-internship goals and give you long-term career advice. They also will be essential if you decide to transfer law schools and need a recommendation.

5. Make Time for Yourself. In law school, especially during your 1L year, there is always more to read, more to outline and more to learn. But sometimes you have to back away from the books, and give yourself a break. Everyone has warned you about burning out, but all you can think about is getting top grades so you can get a job. I completely understand. But after a while your efficiency, productivity, health and sanity will crumble if you don’t give yourself some me-time. Keep up with your work-out schedule, allow yourself nights out with family and friends and get away from the issues, rules, analyses, and conclusions for a while.

6. Don’t Look Too Far Ahead. It’s always important to see the forest of your legal career and keep in mind that your 1L grades and connections can impact your career. But don’t focus so much on the forest that you lose sight of your current goal: beating the curve. Great 1L grades will create a foundation for future opportunities. So stay focused.

This post is authored by Mary Kate Sheridan, Vault.com’s law editor. She covers legal news and trends relating to top law firms, law schools and the general legal industry. In search of a practical use for her writing, she wound up on the liberal arts path often-traveled: law school. After law school, she worked as a litigation associate in a large New York law firm. Mary Kate holds a BA in English from Mary Washington College and a JD from Columbia Law School.

 

Stay tuned for our upcoming show on this topic!  To learn more about how to survive and thrive in your first year of law school, check out our podcast Law School Survival Guide: Advice to Hit the Ground Running as a 1L and Beyond

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New Law School Rankings Emphasize Affordability

These days, there’s a lot of talk about the “value” of law schools.  But the well-known U.S. News & World Report rankings don’t specifically include price.  

That’s why, according to the ABA Journal, and the TaxProf Blog, author Malcolm Gladwell offered an alternative approach to ranking law schools in a recent critique at the New Yorker (sub. req.) — one that weighs affordability.  In The Order of Things: What College Rankings Really Tell Us, “Gladwell devised a law school ranking that puts the University of Chicago in first place and Brigham Young University in second. It is based 40 percent on value, 40 percent on LSAT scores, and 20 percent on faculty publishing.”

Gladwell criticizes U.S. News for failing to measure tuition costs as a criteria in ranking law schools.  He says, “U.S. News thinks that schools that spend lots of money on their students are nicer than those that don’t, and that this niceness ought to be factored into the equation of desirability.”  Gladwell is also skeptical of the U.S. News’ reliance on surveys to determine a school’s reputation and suggests that the surveys lead to a self-fullfilling prophecy, where a school’s reputation rises when the school rises in the rankings.

  1. Gladwell’s rankings are based on a website created by Indiana University law professor Jeffrey Stake that allows users to rank law schools based on the criteria of their choosing.  The Top 20 in Gladwell’s Law School Rankings, (counting value for the dollar at 40%, LSAT scores at 40%, and faculty publishing at 20% [using 2008 data]) were:

 

 1. Chicago

2.  BYU

3.  Harvard

4.  Yale

5.  Texas

6.  Virginia

7.  Colorado

8.   Alabama

9.  Stanford

10. Pennsylvania

11.  Georgetown

12.  Columbia

13.  U. Washington

14.  Kansas

15.  Arizona

16.  Mississippi

17.  Minnesota

18.  William & Mary

19.  George Mason

20.  Cornell

In fall 2010, the National Jurist and preLaw Magazine also rated Brigham Young second  in their list of “Best Value” law schools.  Georgia State University holds the no. 1 spot on The National Jurist’s 2010 list of “best value” law schools.  Of course, many students who attend “best value” law schools end up working in the same geographic area as the school.

 

 

 

 

Want to know about about this topic?  Check out these great podcasts:

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Faith-based Law Schools: How Are They Different?

There are 49 religiously affiliated law schools. They represent a spectrum of denominations and shades of belief. Some faculty incorporate this into curriculum, others do not. How, if at all, are these schools different from their secular counterparts? What effect might the religious commitments and beliefs of the sponsoring faiths have on subject matter, perspective, student life, academic freedom and admissions?

If you look carefully, you will notice a small scroll attached to most doors in the Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Called a mezuzah, this piece of parchment is inscribed with Hebrew verses from the Torah, Judaism’s founding legal and ethical religious texts.

Those students who are Orthodox Jews touch it every time they enter a room, explained Michael Eric Herz, vice dean of the New York-based law school. Others walk on by, respectfully passing it on their way to class or a professor’s office.

“Some students walk out the door (after graduation) knowing nothing of it,” Herz said.

To Herz, that is the beauty of a place like Cardozo law. It is a top-notch institution for becoming a lawyer. But it also is a comfortable place for those students who have strong religious beliefs — and those who do not.

That is the challenge religious-affiliated law schools face when it comes to legal education. They must strike a balance between the secular task of studying the law within a decidedly non-secular environment.

On the other hand, these law schools have opportunities to say and do things that a more traditional facility may not, educators say. At schools such as Regent University School of Law, professors start each class in meditation or prayer, noting how particular scriptures relate to that day’s conversations about torts or Constitutional law.

“For many people, attending a law school where they don’t have to check their convictions at the door can be very liberating,” said James D. Gordon III, a longtime law school professor at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, part of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

A broad spectrum of faiths

There are drawbacks. While any student can apply to a religiously affiliated law school, these institutions tend to attract a smaller pool of potential candidates. Some, including Cardozo and Regent, find themselves fighting assumptions about their law school that appear in student chat groups and blogs.

Ultimately, educators agree on one thing: There are nearly 200 law schools in the United States and less than 50 have a religious setting. If a student feels put out by a particular school’s affiliation, they are free to apply elsewhere.

The nation’s non-secular law schools cover a broad spectrum of faiths: Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Methodist, Mormon and others. Most have merely symbolic or external signs of their affiliation – like the mezuzah at Cardozo. Conversations about faith or the Bible rarely if ever arise within traditional law-school classes.

Educators estimate that only a dozen or so have truly strong ties to their religion or sponsoring church, including names such as Regent, Brigham Young, Ave Maria School of Law and Liberty University School of Law.

The subject is of interest not only to prospective law students, but to the legal educational community in general. There are dozens of papers debating the subject. The Association of American Law Schools even held a panel discussion at its 2009 annual meeting to cover the topic in more depth.

Herz, who spoke on the panel, describes himself as the contrarian of the group. He would not describe Cardozo as a Jewish law school, yet he admits there are obvious signs to the contrary.

For example, the law school is closed early on Fridays and completely on Saturdays for the Sabbath or day of rest. All food served in the cafeteria and at law school events is kosher. And one of its seminar rooms is reserved every day for afternoon prayer.

Still, Herz calls these superficial compared to the law school’s larger mission, which is to educate students in the study of law, pure and simple.

A similar law school is at Baylor University, which has a Baptist affiliation and is located near the heavily religious area of Waco, Texas.

Although Baylor Law School is largely secular, Dean Bradley Toben notes a small inscription near the law school’s entrance. The verse, taken from the King James Bible, reads in part: “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

The verse is Biblical – after all, Baylor is a Christian university, Toben said. Yet the law school is free to operate separately and make its own decisions as to how much interaction students have with religion within their coursework.

“The concept is part of our environment, but it’s not at all in your face,” Toben noted. “Not every faith commitment needs be shouted.”

Honoring the Honor Code

Law schools with more substantial influences include Brigham Young’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. Both the university and the law school are affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.

One thing that clearly differentiates BYU’s law school from others is its Honor Code. This document outlines the university and law school’s expectations for student behavior, dress and grooming. For example, students may not engage in pre-marital sexual relations and must abstain from things like alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee.

“The Honor Code helps to create an environment that is consistent with the teachings of the Church. Now, many students choose not to adhere to these things, so they choose not to come here. There are lots of places to attend law school,” Gordon said.

Multiple violations of this Honor Code can result in dismissal from the law school, Gordon said, although that is a rare situation.

“I think one reason students come here is they want to study law in a place that supports their religious convictions,” Gordon said. “It’s not very often where it comes to a point where it’s not working out (and a student is dismissed).”

Regent University School of Law also wears its religious affiliation on its proverbial sleeve. Televangelist Pat Robertson founded Regent in 1978 to provide “Christian leadership to change the world.” The law school joined in 1986 with a similar tagline: “Law is more than a profession. It’s a calling.”

To that end, every course starts with a 10-minute “period of devotion” where students pray together. Faculty may use the time to share Biblical verses and how they relate to the material in that day’s class. Regent also has a full-time chaplain to support the campus spiritually.

Dean Jeffrey A. Brauch described Regent’s philosophy as offering “a JD plus.” In other words, students are encouraged to ask themselves, “What Would Jesus Do?” from a personal and professional standpoint.

For example, when Brauch teaches a Civil Procedures class, students will go through the rules of discovery from multiple perspectives. They learn the basics of how information is exchanged between attorneys. But he also talks about the challenges he faced as an attorney, such as the temptations to hide information and shade the truth.

“First and foremost we are a law school. We train men and women to be excellent attorneys,” Brauch emphasized. “Students must make decisions about the type of character they want to have when they go out and practice the law.

“Look at the really big scandals of our time: Enron, Bernie Madoff. Those weren’t because of a lack of intellect. The problem was a lack of character and integrity,” Brauch said. “We want to shape character as well as intellect. It’s about using Christ’s character as a way to practice the law.”

That does not mean students are expected to toe the party line, Brauch added.

“It is not a place of monolithic opinion,” Brauch said. “The best days are when we can have a discussion of technical legal issues to broad legal policy and beyond.”

At BYU’s law school, the students and faculty are encouraged to have faith-based discussions within the classroom. Indeed, one of the school’s basic tenants – found on its Web site, admissions materials and all over campus – is to incorporate “religious, ethical and moral values in the instruction.”

Its mission also notes that the J. Reuben Clark Law School teaches “the laws of men in the light of the laws of God. The Law School strives to be worthy in all respects of the name it bears, and to provide an education that is spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging and character building, thus leading to lifelong learning and service.”

“Our faculty is free to bring religious perspectives into the classroom. Some choose not to,” Gordon said. “Others include religious perspectives from time to time when it seems natural or relevant to what they’re talking about.”

“All schools teach professional ethics and values. Religiously affiliated law schools can connect those values to the students’ religious beliefs, which underscores the importance of these values to students,” Gordon said.

Religion, law and the curriculum

Veryl Miles is the dean at The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law in Washington D.C. CUA is unique because it is the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States.

In terms of curriculum, non-secular law schools vary as to how much their affiliation impacts course offerings. In addition to the more traditional legal courses available there, law schools like CUA, Cardozo and others provide more specialized offerings.

For example, CUA provides classes on everything from Canon Law for American Attorneys to Islamic Law to Contemporary Social Issues Under Jewish Law. Cardozo has its Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, which offers a “distinctly Jewish perspective on issues in law and culture,” its Web site notes.

What that means for CUA’s students is that their law school courses will be filled with the values of the Catholic Church, including its commitment to social justice and “care in the development of our students’ professional identity,” Miles said.

“Each year at our first year orientation, I specifically encourage each entering class not to ‘lose themselves’ upon coming to law school,” Miles said. “That is, they should not forget the moral, ethical and religious values and beliefs that have formed their character prior to law school.”

For Baylor’s Toben, having the freedom to talk to students about their faith has provided him with countless opportunities to counsel students through some of the toughest periods of their lives – including law school itself.

“Students self-select, and I’d like to think they select us for many purposes. They have a comfort level (with our environment),” Toben said. “We don’t compartmentalize our faith lives. A person of faith shares that perspective and relies on that perspective no matter what the venue.”

Students at CUA’s law school can expect to hear and to raise questions concerning law, justice, reason, faith and conscience throughout courses, lectures and conversations during their time at law school, Miles noted.

“Opportunities for discussion of personal values in the study and practice of law –
whether those values are faith-based or not – go a long way in bridging a common disconnect many law students and practicing lawyers experience as they seek to reconcile the demands of legal practice with their personal moral convictions,” Miles said.

“While I do not suggest that providing such opportunities is the sole purview of religiously affiliated law schools, I do believe we have a calling to instill in our students that we are all a union of both body and spirit,” she continued.

The challenge of religiously-affiliated law schools

Most religiously affiliated law schools say they admit students with a variety of faith beliefs. But the majority of their student bodies tend to come from the community most closely associated with their founding institution.

Miles said CUA struggles with people’s assumptions about what they will encounter on campus both in terms of students and faculty.

“I think the greatest challenge is in informing others about our school and who we are. Many people who are not familiar with our school make an incorrect assumption that you have to be Catholic or religious to attend, or that we teach theology and religion,” Miles said. “We are an inclusive and diverse law school, with students, faculty and staff representing people of many faiths, racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as political and philosophical views.”

For those who are not a part of the Mormon faith, Gordon said it can be challenging to be a minority on the BYU law campus. For example, there are no special orientations, organizations or student groups devoted to non-Mormons. But that is in part on purpose so that these students do not feel too noticeable on campus.

Still, the degree to which they feel part of the community depends on the individual student, Gordon said. He said there are many examples of non-Mormons serving as heads of student organizations.

At Regent, Brauch said he believes the Christian environment helps foster a sense of community among students.

“I find as I watch them interact with each other and with our faculty members there is general support and an encouraging environment at our law school. They pray for each other. They help each other in practical ways,” Brauch said.

In fact, Regent ranked No. 7 for Best Quality of Life in the Princeton Review’s 2009 edition “The Best 174 Law Schools,” a recognition it has earned multiple times.

Law schools with a so-called milder affiliation like Cardozo say their student bodies show no favoritism to a particular faith. For example, Cardozo has a rabbi on the faculty, but the law school also has plenty of other faiths represented, Herz said.

“It just doesn’t factor into our hiring or our admissions policy,” Herz said. “A big piece of it is who you attract or who is in the building. … Most of our students are not Jewish. I actually don’t know how many Jewish students we have and I guess that is significant. I would guess as many as any New York law school.”

Baylor is largely the same, Toben said. There are nine faiths represented in its faculty, and there are as many Catholics as there are Baptists, he said. He estimates that about 23 percent of the law school’s students are Baptist.

One thing educators at religiously affiliated law schools seem to generally agree on is this: Students graduate from their law schools ready to practice the law just as well as any other student out there.

“Each attorney must bring his or her own character and sense of integrity to the lawyering task,” Miles said. “As a Catholic institution, we invite all students to understand that the legal profession is a service profession, and to particularly encourage service to those who are most in need.”

After graduation, BYU’s law students have no problem integrating into everyday society. After all, these students typically attended non-secular undergraduate schools and have held jobs of various kinds beforehand, Gordon said.

“They’re accustomed to dealing with people of different perspectives and values. They know how to be respectful and to accept diversity to be successful,” Gordon said.

This post is authored by Karen Dybis, and was published in the 2009 Back to School issue of preLaw Magazine.  Click here for the digital edition of this issue or visit the preLaw Magazine website for more great content about law school.  

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New from Law School Podcaster: Regional vs. National Law Schools

Law school applicants face a difficult decision in deciding where to go to school.  Law school is expensive and making the choice where to go is one of the biggest investment decisions many applicants have ever had to face. Should you opt for a school near where you want to live and work or the school with a high ranking or big national name? How do you calculate the return on your investment? Will the regional schools get you where you want to go, or do you need a national law school to meet your career goals?

In our new podcast, Regional or National Law Schools:  Selecting the Right School for You, representatives from different schools talk about the challenges – and the benefits – of getting your law degree locally or at a more national school, a consultant tells you what recruiters are thinking, and our guests give you tips for whichever path you choose to guide you to success.

Guests include:

 

Listen to the full show to hear more!

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Go ahead and share this great news with  your friends or anyone in need of a little law school inspiration. 

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The Value of an Externship

 More and more, potential employers are looking for graduates who already have work experience while in law school. And it’s definitely a leg up to getting employed after graduation.      

Phil Hancock found himself a cozy cubicle at the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs last fall. Each semester, the White House accepts about 100 interns from the thousands of applicants it receives nationwide. This capital co-op was a high point of Hancock’s budding legal career in public interest, and his third co-op while in law school at the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston

Externships have expanded in recent years, as schools strive to teach more real-life skills, and students seek the experience that employers desire. 

Hancock, a 2010 graduate of Northeastern, was just one of many students this past year who used an externship to jumpstart his career. 

On-site placements serve multiple purposes, program directors say. They expose attorneys-in-training to actual casework. They create mentoring opportunities. Most importantly, they give students a chance to “try on” their profession and even test out potential employers before committing to a practice area or full-time job. 

Northeastern University School of Law has one of the largest programs in the nation, requiring every student to complete four full-time quarter-length field placements called co-ops. 

“When our students return to campus, they are energized by their experiences and eager to pursue courses relevant to their developing thinking about the world of law,” said Dean Emily Spieler. “All of these opportunities involve doing real work in real legal settings.” 

One important reason to try an externship is how it advances a student’s job potential, Spieler said. Northeastern’s graduates receive a developed professional network, often in the fields in which they are interested and in the geographic area where they would like to practice. 

Carolyn Wilkes Kaas, a professor and the externship program director at Quinnipiac University School of Law in Hamden, Conn., said it gives students the opportunity to sample a number of possible professional environments before settling on their final direction 

“We tailor each student’s experience to what they already brought with them and where they are in their own development,” Kaas said. 

This assistance and interaction with the law school in placing students with the best of the best in the area’s legal industry is why externships are so special, Kaas said. Many students could not get these placements if they cold-called an attorney or judge on their own. 

“We remind supervisors that our students are paying for the privilege of working for free,” Kaas said. 

Taking time to try an externship may be the best thing students can do to ensure their future happiness as attorneys, Kaas said. She often shares the story of one student who asked for an environmental externship. The student felt the environment was her passion, but her on-site experience showed that she spent more time working on technical data than working with clients. 

Kaas said the law school reviewed that student’s passions, which included working with children. As a result of that meeting, the student tried another environmental stint along with one in family law. The student ended up focusing her career on family law, and she has made a successful transition into the working world, Kaas said. 

“There’s no such thing as a bad experience. Even if you didn’t like it, you learned something about yourself from it,” Kaas said. 

At the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, the school matches first years with attorneys who can address issues they will talk about in class, such as torts or civil procedures, said Program Director David Bateson. Second- and third-year students focus on their career interests and are matched with a mentor in that field. 

Mentors represent all sectors of the profession: private practice, all levels of government, nonprofit and public interest organizations, in-house counsel, prosecutors, public defenders and nearly all levels of the judiciary. The program also has mentors who have a J.D. but are using the degree in an alternative way, such as reporters or business people. 

“We’re really trying to open up a whole world of possibilities for students to explore to make the right choice for them,” Bateson said. “When they leave, they’ve got a jump on being better lawyers and we’ve given them the best opportunity to pick the right path for themselves.” 

Top law schools for externships 

Ranked in order of most placements per full-time students 

1.            University of St. Thomas

2.            Northeastern University

3.            University of Utah (Quinney)
 
4.            University of Denver (Sturm)
5.            Brooklyn Law School
6.            Brigham Young University (Clark)

7.            Arizona State University (O’Connor)

8.            Golden Gate University

9.            Southwestern Law School

10.            University of Nevada–Las Vegas (Boyd)

11.            Valparaiso University

12.            Thomas Jefferson School of Law

13.            Indiana University–Bloomington (Maurer)

14.            University of Cincinnati

15.            Quinnipiac University

16.            University of Maryland

17.            University of Colorado–Boulder

18.            St. John’s University

19.            University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign

20.            University of Dayton

This post was authored by Karen Dybis for The National Jurist and preLaw Magazines and was published in the 2010 editions of October National Jurist and Fall preLaw.  Click here for the digital edition of the Fall preLaw Magazine or visit the preLaw Magazine website for more great content about law school.

 

 

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LSAT Food for Thought

 Breakfast

MmmmMmm! 

Since many of you will be taking the LSAT this coming weekend, I thought it was appropriate for me to channel my inner Jamie Oliver and make some dietary recommendations to all the February LSAT’ers (if you haven’t seen Jamie’s TED talk, check out the first few minutes) out there. Truth is, we probably all should heed more nutritional advice from the likes of Jamie O – so why not let the LSAT be the incentive for change in your dietary habits? After all, chances are the exam has controlled every other aspect of your life for the past several months!

While I am by no means a medical expert or professional nutritionist, I do consider myself a highly skilled ‘Googler’, and I took some time to wrangle some helpful pre-exam tips from across the web to keep your mental steam throughout the entire LSAT exam:

Breakfast is essential. Nearly every expert that offered an opinion on what to eat before an exam started with the first meal of the day: breakfast. Some suggestions for a healthy pre exam breakfast are non-sugared cereal with fruit (try raisins, blueberries and/or or bananas), or if you prefer a hot breakfast, go with an egg sandwich with whole wheat bread or whole wheat English muffin. These selections will have the simple sugars (from the fruit) and complex carbohydrates (from the cereal/grain) to keep your energy levels up. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, is the protein element of your breakfast that should come from eggs or beans (more on that in a minute). Be sure to avoid sugary cereals or excessive caffeine before the exam, as these foods tend to result in a “crash” over time, meaning that you may not have the energy to make it through the writing section of the exam – the horror! Speaking of caffeine..

 Have your coffee, but scrap the Red Bull. Energy drinks are loaded with sugar and caffeine and are a recipe for test day disaster. Be sure to get enough sleep for two or three nights prior to the exam so that you aren’t reliant upon these gimmicky and unhealthy sources of temporary energy.

 As far as coffee is concerned, if you are a habitual caffeine drinker (i.e. you have a cup of Starbucks coffee every single morning) do not all of a sudden break from your routine, as your body is probably reliant on that daily intake and the effects of cutting your body off from this common drug on test day can be damaging to your law school aspirations.

 Protein Protein Protein. Another point on which all of the experts agree is that protein is an essential ingredient for test day mental fitness. Foods rich in protein will literally feed your brain during the exam, so don’t skip out on this essential aspect of a balanced breakfast.

 Call in backup. Take full advantage of the LSAC’s willingness to allow you to bring a clear one-gallon zip lock bag in the exam room with you by packing it with a juice box and a snack. It’s a long exam, almost always spanning through lunch time, so a granola bar and an apple juice can be essential to keeping your energy levels up throughout the entire test.

 Get off the sauce. Seems obvious, right? Make pains to stop drinking during the run up to the exam. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is generally not a great idea for your health, so it stands to reason that getting plastered a few days before the exam is not the most sound plan for a successful exam day. Besides, think of how fantastic that celebratory drink(s) will taste when you get your 180 score back from LSAC!

 In summary, good nutritional practices in the days leading up to (and morning of) the LSAT will give your body the fuel it needs to sustain your focus throughout the pressure cooker that is the LSAT exam. Feel free to share your own exam day tips; what has worked (or hasn’t worked) for you on exam days throughout your academic career? Do you have any strange exam taking superstitions that you follow? We’d love to hear about them!

This post is provided by Manhattan LSAT, a leading LSAT-exclusive test preparation provider. To hear more from Manhattan LSAT, listen to Law School Podcaster’s full shows, The LSAT: Everything You Need to Know About the Test and Conquering the LSAT: Tips for Tackling the Test.

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Deciding Whether To Go To a Regional Law School? Upcoming Podcast Takes a Close Look

As you think about law school (and maybe you’re even waiting to hear from the admissions committee on your pending application), you may be trying to decide whether to go to a regional law school, or opt instead for a big name or national school.  Given skyrocketing law school tuition, students are focusing on the value of school and many have to weigh scholarship money at local, regional or  semi-national schools against the full price at a national or higher ranked school.

That’s the topic for our upcoming podcast and we interviewed several deans of admission and career services at a range of law schools around the country to get some perspective for you.  Our guests also include Brian Dalton, the Director of Research and Consulting at Vault.com, to help us understand how recruiters see graduates from different schools.  He suggests that, if you’re thinking of a regional law school, it helps to put the end at the beginning and give some thought to what you want to do with your law degree.   He says, for example, there are  benefits of going regional depending on where students want to practice.  ”From many angles, it’s to one’s advantage to go to a school where one wants to practice – sometimes even more so than going to a higher ranked school. If somebody was choosing , between say, Fordham and University of Alabama, even though Fordham might be higher on the US News ranking scale, if they want to practice in Alabama, the choice is obvious.”

Guest Andy Cornblatt is the Dean of Admissions at Georgetown Law School, a large, national law school.  He says students at regional schools may be more limited when it comes to getting jobs and course selection, than at schools like Georgetown.  “I do think there’s some general consensus that the national law schools will give you more flexibility, job-wise, more academic flexibiltiy in terms or courses, they tend to be bigger. ”  Cornblatt adds, “I work at one of those places, so obviously, I think that’s the way to go.”

Cornblatt notes, however, that there are advantages of going to regional law schools, including the financial component.  “Many regional schools are state law schools…they tend to have students who are more like each other.  If that is something that appeals to the students, and it does to many students, that’s a real plus.   Another real plus, is many of these regional law schools are state law schools and there’s a financial component to this that one should not ignore.  These state law schools, if you’re from that state, are less expensive, and sometimes considerably less expnsive, than the private, bigger, more national schools are.  They also tend to also want to compte for the more local folks, so in terms of scholarship opportunities, merit scholarships, etc, some of the students may be better off getting a terrific financial aid package from a local law school and realize that they will have a good career opportunity in the general vicinity of that law school and that may be a better way to go.”

Students should look at the benefits of regional schools in regard to recruitment and job placements, says Sari Zimmerman, Assistant Dean, Career & Professional Development, UC Hastings College of Law.  “Certainly at Hastings, we have a very strong mock interview program.  We offer it twice a year.  The nice thing about having so many alumni in the area is that a school like Hastings can really draw on them and we like to bring our alumni back to interview our students so they get a very real-world experience.  As I said, that’s the benefit of going to a school with a large alumni population in the area, is there are so many resources mentor programs.  We have one of the largest in the country of 800 alumns all over the world actually in our program but also in career panels and brown bags.  There are always people in practice in a diver’s range of areas that the school can call on to bring them on campus and then the students can actually see people who have been precisely where they were, doing exactly what they want to do.”

We take a close look at the advantages of different types of law schools and get advice from our deans to help applicants navigate this important decision.

Other guests include:

Stay tuned for the full show!

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Should Applicants Always Go to the Best Law School They Get Into?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you should always go to the best, most elite law school you get into. Or is it?

In a recent study, law school professors Richard Sander and Jane Yakowitz discovered that the salary boost from earning stellar grades outweighs the boost from attending an elite law school. Moreover, if you graduate with a low-low GPA, turns out you’ll “feel the least secure about your jobs.” (Read more about the summary on the WSJ Law Blog, which links to the PDF of the reported study.)

In the words of Above the Law’s Elie Mystal, “I’m sorry, did anybody’s worldview just get blown up?”

“Higher performance produces a much larger dividend than eliteness does,” says Sander and Yakowitz’s paper. And they suggest that you choose the school where you will perform the best, regardless of rank. They write:

As an illustrative hypothetical, imagine an average student (GPA 3.25‐3.5) at 47th ranked University of Florida. Using the fifth column from Table 11 (AJD regressions on salary), we can predict how her earnings would be affected under various counterfactuals. If she had attended 20th ranked George Washington University, her grades likely would have slipped to the 2.75‐3.0 range, and her salary would drop considerably (by 22%, all other factors held constant.) Even if she had managed to get a spot at 7th ranked UC Berkeley, where the tier premiums are highest, her grades likely would have fallen into the 2.5‐2.75 range, and her salary would be 7% lower. On the other hand, if she had attended 80th ranked Rutgers, she probably could have improved her grades to land in the 3.5‐3.75 range, and earned a 13% higher salary.

But what happens when you get below the top 100? Does their argument still hold true? I suspect not. Moreover, since law firms are dealing with smaller recruiting budgets, many have had to limit the number of campuses they visit and they have not been visiting second or third tier schools at which they recruited in the past. On-campus recruiting is one of the most common ways JDs get jobs, and without a recruiter from Firm A on campus, it gets much harder to secure a job at Firm A, regardless of your GPA.

That said, Sander and Yakowitz’s argument almost definitely holds true when it comes to location. If you want to practice law in Alabama, for example, the absolute best way to do so is to attend the University of Alabama School of Law. As our 2010 Law Firm Associate Survey showed, attending a lower-ranked school near where you want to practice is often a better choice than attending a more elite school across the country. And if you get a 4.0 GPA at that local school, you are a shoo-in for a high-paying law firm associate position–as long as you don’t screw up the interview. To find out which schools are the best for getting a job in major U.S. cities and regions, check out this blog post from Vault, Top 5 Law Schools by Employment: The Best Program for Where You Live.

This post is authored by Carolyn C. Wise, Vault.com Education.  The education section of Vault.com provides content on law school, the admissions process, internships and industry trends.

Stay tuned for our upcoming podcast on this topic.

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Should You Take Time Off Before Law School?

  Spencer, a senior, sat in my office during a group pre-law advising session last week at a crossroads deciding whether to go to law school next year. He’s busy filling out applications just in case.  “My parents say if I don’t go now, they are afraid I will never go,” he said. “Plus, it is still a really bad job market out there. Maybe I should go to law school just to hedge my bets.” 

 Marisa, sitting next to him, chimed in.  “I wonder if it will disadvantage me if I don’t apply now,” she asked. “Do you think the law schools will hold it against me?”

 I took a deep breath before I answered their questions, attempting to reassure them.  “No, you don’t really have to worry too much about that,” I answered.” “Did you know that according to some statistics at some colleges now up to two thirds of seniors take at least one year off before law school?”  “Law schools are okay with your taking time off,” I continued. “In fact it can sometimes help make your applications stronger.”

 At colleges all around the country right now, seniors are getting closer to graduation, and understandably more worried about the job market in this still uncertain economy. Many are in the midst of deciding, “Should I go to law school now, or take time off before law school?”  You may be one of them. 

In my opinion, there are many good reasons to take time off before law school if you are not sure, or not ready. It is very unlikely to disadvantage you. For example, if your grades are not where you would like them to be, you can use the end of your senior year to bring up your GPA. Same thing with your LSAT score — retake it at the end of your senior year, or even the fall of the following year and try to increase your score.

Work experience can similarly make your application stronger. A job can increase your skills, your maturity, your knowledge and sometimes provide a nice topic for your personal statement, among other things. It can also provide an additional recommendation for you, especially if you did not get to know your professors that well in college.

You don’t have to work in a legal setting, but if you do, it will give you much greater insight into the legal profession before you start law school, and show you what lawyers really do on a day to day basis. In my work as a career counselor, I have found that it is pretty common for a law student to enter law school without really having a clear idea of what lawyers do.

Plus, it gives you a chance to have a study break between college and law school.  Anecdotally speaking, with the law school students I have worked with, those who worked for a year or two in between college and law school were sometimes more ready for the work that law school entails, and also more certain of their decision to go to law school. As a result, some of them really enjoyed law school because they were refreshed and ready to go. Sometimes they were also able to eliminate an alternate career choice, having tried another profession for a year or two, and disliked it. They were really confident in their decision to go to law school.

Law school is obviously a significant financial investment these days.  Working between college and law school may also give you a chance to save up some money before you become a full-time student again.  On the other hand, I definitely do not want you to conclude that you have to take time off no matter what. If you are a senior who is satisfied with your GPA and LSAT score, is not “burnt out” and is ready to study and has preferably interned or worked in a legal setting, you are in a great situation. 

If you are sure you want to be a lawyer, excited to go to law school and ready to apply, by all means go for it. This will no doubt be an exciting year for you. And if you are not, don’t worry. Law school will be there when you are ready for it.

For more information on this or similar topics, check out these great podcasts:

This post was authored by Hillary Mantis, the Pre-Law Advisor at Fordham University and a career consultant. She can be reached at altcareer@aol.com and is the former Director of Career Services at Fordham University School of Law and the author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers, and Jobs For Lawyers.  This story is published in the Winter 2011 issue of  preLaw Magazine.  You can visit the preLaw Magazine website for more great content about law school.

 

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