Joe and Elie discuss how they chose their law schools, and how others should do what they say, not necessarily what they did.
Thinking Like a Lawyer — Above the Law
Why Did You Go There
Intro: Welcome to ‘Thinking Like a Lawyer’ with your hosts Elie Mystal and Joe Patrice talking about legal news and pop culture, all while thinking like a lawyer, here on Legal Talk Network.
Joe Patrice: Hello, welcome to another edition of ‘Thinking Like a Lawyer’, I’m Joe Patrice from Above the Law and with me, my colleague, Elie Mystal.
Elie Mystal: I got into Harvard when it was hard.
Joe Patrice: Oh! This is sad times for you. We are of course talking about the big news of the month which is that Harvard Law has decided at least on a pilot basis, the caveat that you do to help you sleep at night, on a pilot basis, it’s decided to start taking the GRE as an admission’s exam rather than exclusively the LSAT.
Elie Mystal: Which just makes Harvard a lot easier for people to get into. Obviously, this is what I am going to 01:04 –
Joe Patrice: Of course.
Elie Mystal: Look, I feel like it’s possible to defend the utility of the LSAT and its unique place in the ferment without defending the actual LSAT. I think the actual LSAT is not particularly good test. I think it’s overused. I think it’s way overvalued. I don’t think that law school should carry nearly as much about the LSAT as they do, blah, blah, blah, blah. However, having a real barrier to entry to get into law school is important. The problem that I have with the schools, Harvard included now, accepting the GRE is that if you put yourself in the position of a 22-year-old person, right out of college, maybe you got 01:45, may be you don’t really know what you need to do.
You take the GRE because the GRE gets you into graduate school here and graduate school there and now Oh! May be gets you into law school too. Until you take the GRE, maybe get a good score, maybe you will find yourself applying to law schools without ever having to stop and think if you want to go to law school.
The LSAT on the other end at least requires a person to kind of step back, get off that easy train, and do something proactively to suggest they actually want a legal education and I think that’s very important because I think that one of the ways that people — where legal education really fails people, it fails people, who get into legal education without actually wanting to be a lawyer.
People, Oh! You can do anything with a law degree, people who want to be still in school, who don’t want to be out in the working world, the LSAT at least makes them stop and think about it for a second before they start their law school application process. This GRE thing is just going to make it so much easier for person to fall into law school.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, I worry that your argument proves too much though because you say, this is that barrier and then you point out as you should half the people go into law school or just go into law school because they think they can do something with their degree anyway.
So how much of a barrier is this already and then weigh the fact that it’s barely doing the job of being a barrier now, although I like the logic of what you’re saying, but empirically it doesn’t appear to be working and add in the benefits of not paying into the LSAT monopoly and not having a test that’s only given twice a year when you could have a test that’s given more frequently and more importantly as far as trying to get people into law who are good at it, I would say countervailing. There is a potential countervailing point especially since the barrier isn’t working that the barrier has done too much and that there are people who go on to get PhDs, who are taking the GRE, who might be fine fits for law school if they ever bothered to send in their application.
Elie Mystal: They might be fine fits for law school if they ever wanted to go to law school, but you can’t take a history PhD and say like, “Oh! You’d be a good lawyer. I am sure you would be a good lawyer if you want it, but if you don’t want it, how does that benefit? The role issue umbrage I will take at the Harvard announcement is it’s louder than in like, we are trying to improve excess. Are you, I think you’re kidding me.
You are a Harvard. You are not improving access to Harvard by letting people take a different test to apply. One percent of your applicants are going to get in. That is not access Yo. What you’re doing is providing a shield for a lot of schools that are not Harvard to now also except the GRE and artificially inflate their applications and inflate their class sizes by people, who don’t actually want to go to a low school.
Joe Patrice: I think that’s a concern. I’m ambivalent on this. At this point the news has just hit, we are still processing it. I have not decided whether I think the benefits outweigh the harms to this because I see both, but…
Elie Mystal: Do you think all those other schools are going to follow?
Joe Patrice: Some will, some won’t.
Elie Mystal: Who won’t? Yeah, but who won’t?
Joe Patrice: I mean do think that there are other schools who worry too much about how they will be perceived to do that. I think Harvard also exists in a unique place similar to Yale where a portion of their students are the high-minded people, who I really want to study the history of dramatical clauses in legislation and I was going to get a history PhD but I might as well to go to Harvard Law and there are double PhD law programs and for those individuals the GRE makes a lot of sense rather than taking two tests. I think to some extent places like Harvard and may be Yale if they follow suit, they cater to those people and may be that’s the reason why they do this.
Elie Mystal: I guess I am 05:46 right that this will be a good thing for people who don’t want to a JD, but kind of want to PhD in law.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: This will make it easier for them to get one, because that’s totally what we need. We need actual lawyers in this time as much as an actual lawyers wanting to go down into the muck and represent low in-compliance. We need more lawyers like that. Harvard is going to produce more lawyers, who can sit in a room and talk theoretically about —
Joe Patrice: Yeah!
Elie Mystal: That is great.
Joe Patrice: Yeah! No I mean obviously there are pros and cons depending upon how you feel about scholarship.
Elie Mystal: Scholarship –
Joe Patrice: Yes, I tend to be pro it but having had professors who JD-PhDs, but again it’s true that what’s really likely to happen is this becomes a shield for mid tier law schools to, even if they don’t accept to open up the opportunity to collect the 50 bucks from a whole new range of students and applications that they ultimately reject.
Elie Mystal: People understand, there are law schools who need the 50 bucks. I just – let’s move on, let’s move on, but let’s keep on talking about law schools because of the news and also because what would have been the biggest story this month, had it not been in the law school world, had it not been for Harvard’s accouchement, would have been the annual release of the US News and World Report law school rankings.
Joe Patrice: Oh! But it wasn’t there annual release. It was us leaking that release.
Elie Mystal: That is why you should read the Above the Law first. Yes US News is not officially released, at least at the time of this recording, US News has not officially released of the ranking, though they are up on our website and the big news there is that Georgetown University Law Center —
Joe Patrice: Do you have the sad trombone sound effect here?
Elie Mystal: — fell out of the wonted T14. Now the reason why the T14 is the T14 is because ever since US News started making law school rankings, the same 14 schools have been in the top 14. They switched places amongst themselves, but the 14 schools that were in the top 14, the US News first release their rankings, which I want to say is 1981 sometime in 80s have been the same 14 schools every year until this year when Georgetown fell out of the 14 down to 15 and the University of Texas, Austin Law School crept up above Georgetown into the 14th position.
Joe Patrice: We should also give a shout out to their appearance at 15 is the expirate ability of this is that they aren’t even in sole possession of 15th place, they are tied at 15 –
Elie Mystal: 08:29
Joe Patrice: Yeah, fair enough, I wasn’t necessarily going to go there, well let me see real quick who it’s?
Elie Mystal: UCLA, right?
Joe Patrice: I was going to say —
Elie Mystal: I was right.
Joe Patrice: I was – yeah that was the joke I was building up to. I was to going to go at UCLA so you’re right. I am glad that we’re on the same wavelength but yeah another one of those 08:50 law schools that isn’t going to win the 08:54.
Elie Mystal: So this brings up the question obviously and we talk about this every year, how should you make your decision? What are the factors to consider to make you own law school decision? How should you pick a school? Should you care that Georgetown fell out of the top 14. If you get into Georgetown and Texas, has your decision changed in some way based on this news? So we want to talk about that a little bit.
Every year Above the Law runs a series of decisions. We encourage people to e-mail us what schools they’re looking at and we give them a little advise columnist answers to their concerns. If you’re listening and you know somebody who’s thinking about going to law school or someone who has gotten into some law schools and they’re trying to figure out what to do, encourage them to e-mail us. We do five, six, and seven of these a year, but for this episode of the show, Joe I just wanted to start by asking you, how did you make your decision on which law school go to?
Joe Patrice: How I made my decision on which law school to go to, so I took the exam kind of very much at the late stage. I wasn’t positive. I wanted to be a lawyer, but I had had a great experience with a track of my Poli Sci classes, I was the E Con major, but also I did Poli Sci too that were dealing with law and I found them fascinating.
They would talk about GED-PhD. You said that I would be a good fit, so I took the test. They said I did okay on that, at which point I applied to a bunch of schools. I didn’t apply to Yale because I never —
Elie Mystal: You were coming from west just to be quick –
Joe Patrice: I am coming from the west coast. I didn’t apply to Yale because I looked and I was like I did well but I didn’t do that well. I got waitlisted at Harvard and then I got into the everybody below that and I toyed with waiting out the waitlist but I continued my process of learning more about the schools and once I realized between Columbia and like you could live in this magical place called New York, I was like know I don’t need to go Harvard anymore.
I xed them off the list not that I necessarily would have gotten in anyway but I was like no I am cool, but let’s just live in New York and I made the decision between Columbia and NYU, which was a difficult decision largely based on the classes I visited while I was out here on a weekend trip. I found Columbia to be very stuffy, very pretentious. The folks were — literally a thing that was said by the admission’s person was we don’t think we should have to sell you on Columbia, we are Columbia. Meanwhile, I went to NYU —
Elie Mystal: Sounds right, sound accurate.
Joe Patrice: That was a scheduled meet and greet. With NYU, I didn’t have time to schedule with the office but I just like walked in, they said, oh you know well, you’re free to roam around and do whatever. I visited a professor who might, my undergraduate professor taking his classes, so, I visited him and just told him what I was and he said, Oh! Well I have a seminar this afternoon, here is the readings for this week and just gave them to me and gave me three hours to read everything and his class was awesome and I could follow it because I read everything and I was like these people seem way more excited about me being a student than Columbia. So that’s how I did it.
Elie Mystal: So there were no financial considerations, no —
Joe Patrice: No not really. I mean I was in the heyday of the boom. I was in that period where every bank in the universe was like, do you want more money, we will give you more money. You are going to be a lawyer at the end, right? Are you sure you don’t want extra money?
Elie Mystal: And you’re happy with — and between the final two you think, you made the right call.
Joe Patrice: I did.
Elie Mystal: But you know a lot of people now and they’re —
Joe Patrice: Yeah we have Columbia person on staff here at Above the Law and she went to that Col College but I went to the real law school in New York and that’s cool. Airtight, how did you decide to double down on pretentiousness?
Elie Mystal: Well, it’s in my blood. There is the elitism that I was born with and that made it somewhat easy for me. I applied to 11 colleges. I got into 10. Stanford was the one that 13:03.
Joe Patrice: I love it. That is aggressive. I didn’t down apply to, I applied to like 7.
Elie Mystal: For college?
Joe Patrice: Oh! College.
Elie Mystal: I applied to 11 colleges because I don’t know. I didn’t get into Sanford and I went into Harvard. I applied to five law schools, the top five —
Joe Patrice: That’s about right, all right.
Elie Mystal: The only one that I didn’t get into was Sanford. I don’t know why I am not Sanford material but I am clearly not. They rejected me twice, which I made a point of on the website when I had the opportunity and so once I was into Harvard, Yale, Columbia, I think before what I got into was Harvard, Columbia, and NYU, I quickly discarded the lower two-ranked schools just based on the ranking.
I mean I love New York. I am from New York. I knew that I was essentially going to want to live and practice in New York to the extent that I was going to I want to practice, but they were ranked lower so I didn’t really even give them a fair shot. I think I visited NYU just because I hadn’t visited there for college, just to get a feel but like it was also like a reach up to New York.
So, I was really choosing between Harvard and Yale and my decision was based on two I think ultimately somewhat stupid factors. One was a sense of like I really thought law school was going to be college too. I was good at college. I liked college. I didn’t take any time off between law school and college and I was just looking to kind of keep with me, I loved senior year at college. I was just trying to keep it rolling.
So having graduated from Harvard a lot of my friends were still going to be in Boston, my girlfriend, who is now my wife, was still going to be Boston, she also went to Harvard but she took a year off in between. So, I knew she was going to be around like all my peoples were in Boston and none of my peoples were in New Haven and so that was a big kind of a big factor.
Joe Patrice: Well, that makes sense.
Joe Patrice: And then the second factor, which I don’t know if I knew them what I know now, I don’t know if this would have really changed but I when I looked at my scores, Harvard gives you, you have the a little grade and you know like you have Ex-ELSAT and Ex-GPA, and your are ex-demographic, you’re going into these schools, you don’t know.
So if look at the Harvard grades for where I was my scores and everything. I was kind of a right smack in the center of what Harvard grads – what Harvard admits. For Yale, I was just a little bit below average, right just below the cut. I still got in but I didn’t want anybody to be able to say to me that I only got into where I got into because of affirmative action. I just wanted that off the fucking table.
Joe Patrice: That makes sense.
Elie Mystal: And I felt that being your kind of average Harvard Law applicant, having gone at Harvard once, having graduated from Harvard then now you’re average kind of Harvard Law admitted person, I thought that would just take it off the table. Whereas if I got into Yale just because of my scores were just little bit low, some jerk would always be able to kind of like throw that in my face.
Now obviously, I have learned the hard way that there is nothing that you can do as a black person to ever take that off the table. Jerk off by people will always say that you only got into where you’re, you only are you’re because of affirmative action and so my attempt to end the debate was actually kind of stupid.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: And so I don’t know if I had to do it over again I just would have taken the number one school.
Joe Patrice: Right interesting.
Elie Mystal: Because everybody — look Harvard is three times the size of Yale, everybody goes to Harvard, says oh I got into Yale too but I decide in blah, blah, blah, and so a lot of BS and so I just told whole fucking story about. I got into Yale too, right so I don’t know that if I had to do it over gain, I just would have taken the Yale prestige and just been done with it.
Joe Patrice: Yeah the fact that all your people were in Boston, strikes me as a better argument because one thing that — as far as my decision to axe the waitlist was I didn’t see ultimately since I figured I was probably going to go into practice and not legal academia, I didn’t really see an advantage to going to a Harvard and/or a Yale over going to an NYU or Columbia.
If your job is if your life plan is go to work in a big law firm, may be go to the government afterwards, may be into prosecution whatever it’s if those practical tasks are your goal, there is not much distinction. Like you go to Harvard, Stanford and Yale if in the back of your mind, you’re like I am pretty sure I could be a law professor one day, like that’s the one thing they give you on top –
Elie Mystal: I am pretty sure –
Joe Patrice: — otherwise –
Elie Mystal: — you’re just this.
Joe Patrice: — yeah exactly. Otherwise, they’re going to give you basically the same things as everyone else, so I was like no I’ll be New York but that’s interesting.
Elie Mystal: For both of us what I think is interesting is that neither of us as we have just explained, really thought anything about the financial situation, right? It wasn’t like Harvard doesn’t have I wasn’t getting loans, I wasn’t getting any merit scholarship for any of the schools that I got into.
It was also going to be need based financial aid. I knew kind of going in that I would be borrowing my entire legal education, my parents weren’t going to help me, I knew that going in and at the point of being a 22-year-old like I said I applied to the top five schools, I didn’t apply to a Michigan or Northwestern or place where not only might I have gotten in by likely would have gotten in with some kind of scholarship.
That, for various stupid reasons, was not part of any decision-making process. I could have probably gotten into Vanderbilt with something approaching a full ride and that wasn’t even I didn’t even not give myself that option from the perspective of a 22-year old.
Joe Patrice: Well, one of things that’s I have always said when people ask me that’s the hardest about trying to become a lawyer, one of the hardest barriers you can have which I know I had and I believe had too, is not having I know that’s not true, you actually do have an exception as I think but not having a lawyer in the family you can actually like engage with and you have somebody as I recall, right?
Elie Mystal: No.
Joe Patrice: I thought you had like an uncle or something, who like knew, like what was the story about Indiana Maurer versus the Indianapolis Law School, you said something about at whatever. So we’ll deal this later. Point is I think one of the biggest barriers is not having anybody in your family who has ever done it. Someone you go to and go what’s going on here.
So, I was going in blind and things like, I didn’t really think well may be I should go to something like lower state school or something like that, low-ranked state school to save money because I was like yeah it’s a lot of money but I mean I going to be making a ton of money forever, right because there is no way I might ever go down a path it that doesn’t pay that.
and obviously ultimately after 11 years, I left practice but even if I hadn’t left practice, I didn’t have the person say oh no, no, no, no there’s a high likelihood that in-between your associating and you’re becoming a partner, you might take four years to work at the US Attorney’s Office and you won’t make anything there and like those sorts of discussions. I didn’t get to have, so I never considered finances because I was like oh! I’ll just get money dumped on me and I will pay it.
Elie Mystal: I never considered to pickup on what you’re saying. I never considered how the debt really then defines your career options when you graduate, right? Because from my perspective and again having not have lawyers in my family yes, I knew that there was probably some Wall Street firm that paid a lot more than the ACLU. You don’t have to be smart to know that.
Joe Patrice: Yes.
Elie Mystal: That’s obvious on it’s face, right but the gap, the extents of the gap between what you make if you’re out there working for a non-profit, working for an NGO whatever versus what you make at a white shoe Wall Street firm wasn’t something that I fully appreciated from the standpoint of being a 22-year-old and then how much I was going to end up owing these people wasn’t something I was fully appreciated.
When I had my exit interview I remember by at this time I was engaged, when I had exit interview from Harvard now where bills come not just law school now but for college as well I left that being like maybe we should make them a child and give it to them in payment for hire because we’re never going to pay this off and by the way I am almost 40 and still I haven’t even, I am just now getting into the principle I think right.
Joe Patrice: This is where I jump in and say that as of December 30, 2016, I have no more loans.
Elie Mystal: Vow. Eleven years of practice.
Joe Patrice: Yes, 11 years of practice and then now by that point almost to my four-year anniversary of doing this job after leaving practice, that said also I had the advantage that you didn’t which is I didn’t, I went to the University of Oregon as an instate student for undergraduate, so I didn’t have any under grad loans. It took me this long to only pay off the law loan.
Elie Mystal: That is amazing. But no, I remember when you do the on campus interviewing and you whatever, man when 22:12 offer me my position after my summer, it really kind of ht me they were offering me more money than anybody in my family had ever made.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: And it’s not like I come from like the streets, all right. I come a two-parent college educated got damn family and they were offering me more money and so that’s the kind of thing that it’s hard when now I have the opportunity to go and speak to students I don’t think that people especially kind of pre-law college students really understand just how important the money is going to end up being and so they don’t properly value free. I mean kids just don’t properly value free. Not loan, not debt, like actual 23:00 free, that’s —
Joe Patrice: Yeah. Well, it’s also important that when we did it the concept of the legal market exploding wasn’t anything anyone really envisioned and oh! Man they were wrong. They were so wrong. I didn’t ever get laid off. I know several people, who went to very prestigious schools who did. I am very lucky and/or I made myself as valuable to my firm as possible so I was dispensable. Whatever it was, I made sure that I survived any purges, but yeah I know it was brutal.
Elie Mystal: The whole concept of the market I think has changed and actually the fact of the market has changed, I do think has helped some younger students start to think critically about finances, but let me ask you this question, I mean, because we get this a lot when we do this decision series, I just said you have to value free, how much — how many spots on the rankings list do you value free?
Joe Patrice: I mean that’s a difficult question. I also I am very much on record as hating ordinal rankings. I think that the idea that the gap in this speaks too, we’ll discuss more in the print on Above the Law called T14 issue the idea that the gap between 14 and 15 is somehow bigger and different than the gap between 24 and 25. Certainly it’s true that those kind of gaps exists and ordinal rankings cannot capture them. I am not sure 14 is what a gap was but nonetheless I hate ordinal rankings for that reason because I think it sometimes convinces somebody I am going to give up on this free to get something, get the 48 school instead of the 49th school and I am like no.
Meanwhile somebody else might say, I am not going to do something because what is the real difference between 16 and 17 and I’ll go all my God a whole bunch and that’s something, that’s a nuance that isn’t really captured by rankings a lot of times and requires talking to people like us, which is to throw yet another plug.
This is why I think it’s important to send us your questions. If you’re pondering law school, email them to us at [email protected] and we will answer them either in print or on this podcast in some point in the future because we can add insights you can take or leave but we could have some fun with it anonymously.
Elie Mystal: Also state tuned in May for Above the Law’s law school rankings.
Joe Patrice: Oh! Yes, we will also have our own rankings –
Elie Mystal: Which we actually think are much better than the US News ones.
Joe Patrice: But for the one thing, we actually base them on this year’s data as opposed to them. The reason US News gets to come out so early is they’re basing it on a year old data, we wait to the new stuff.
Elie Mystal: Eventually, ABS releases all the new data and we tend to do it based on outcomes as opposed to inputs, so we don’t care. We don’t rate schools based on their LSAT scores of their incoming class. We rate them on based on their job performances for their outgoing classes, so nice plug.
I think that free is worth a lot, but it’s not worth changing a tier and we can debate where the tiers are, but I do think that let’s say Yale is giving you something so different than what let’s say Michigan is giving you, Michigan is a great school, but Michigan for free and Yale at full freight that’s a hard choice and I probably say with the caveat of what Joe already said about what you actually want to do with your life Yale is probably going to give you something very different than Michigan is going to give you that justifies their cost over Michigan’s free. However —
Joe Patrice: I mean, Yale gives you the keys to running the world so.
Elie Mystal: As far as I –
Joe Patrice: It’s like an executive bathroom except it’s like the pentagon, so.
Elie Mystal: As far as I ever want to believe right? However, the difference between Penn which I think is setting at full free versus Michigan which is like 9 for free, are you kidding me. Of course, you’re going to Michigan, but I really want to work in Philadelphia. FU, you’re going to Michigan for free. Chicago is fine. So, I do think that the tiers matter.
I think that if you are looking at Vanderbilt for free versus Duke at full freight, that’s a tough choice, but you will probably want to work in that area and Vanderbilt free is a really good option. If you’re looking on the other hand at University of Tennessee for free versus Duke at full freight, now you will be jumping tiers and now you’re probably going to get a lot of bang for your bucks at Duke. Those aren’t ironclad rules of course. I think any kind of decision like this is inherently personal but I do think that people need to think about the tiers at which they’re getting into.
Joe Patrice: Yeah so there you have, we talked a lot about law school and law school admissions from Harvard’s new decisions about this test to how we made our choices to how you can go about making choices. As we kind of mentioned throughout the show, send us these questions if they’re debating between a few schools at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]”[email protected].
Also you know what, send us any question you have. We’ll do a Male Bag show every now and again and you might be able to get on there. We will do –to back to original premises at this show, right the original pitch of the show and the meaning of the title Thinking Like a Lawyer was that we were going to address ridiculous situations from the perspective of being lawyers, so if you want us to break down what the liability costs on building a 28:34 are. I would just like for a liability insurance at a desk 28:37 at this point, which is at this point there have been a multiple incidents. I don’t know how you build one these days.
Elie Mystal: You cannot get that cover.
Joe Patrice: It’s yeah. Anyway, point is if you want to send any kind of ridiculous idea just go head at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]”[email protected] it might show up in another one of these in the future. Thanks for listening to us. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast. Be sure to write a review because those help. I know everybody always says that but they do. They actually iTunes and places like that they all count your reviews to figuring out where you come out when you type in law podcast and it will be like Oh! This one has got a lot of positive reviews, so it puts it higher.
So do all that. Follow us on Twitter. I am at @JosephPatrice, He is @ElieNYC. We are at Above the Law. Rate us. If you have any tips about law school, judges, crazy court cases, guys in the middle of the trial for arson whose pants catch you on fire which is an actual thing that happened, do send those things to us so that we can talk about them and follow the Legal Talk Network app to listen to listen to of all their shows and now I think I have exhausted every single thing I am supposed to say.
Elie Mystal: I think so.
Joe Patrice: All right. Thanks for listening, talks to you guys later.
Elie Mystal: He is out.
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