The latest in Thinking Like A Lawyer’s ongoing — if intermittent — series asking prospective law students where they’re thinking about going to law school and offering our advice. Offers from Penn and Berkeley? Elie and Joe got thoughts about it.
Above the Law – Thinking Like a Lawyer
Where Should You Go To Law School
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 am Joe Patrice.
Elie Mystal: And I am Elie Mystal.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: I don’t have my headphones on today, which means, I can’t hear your goddamn soundboard.
Joe Patrice: Really?
Elie Mystal: See, I know you’re doing it because you’re a little click, click, clicking.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, yeah.
Elie Mystal: But I can’t hear it, which is awesome.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. No, that’s true. You don’t have headphones on, so we’re recording here another episode, this time we’re going to talk a little bit about law school and applying to law school and some of —
Elie Mystal: The first —
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: First since we are talking about would be baby lawyers, and it was mentioned that I should have been angry about this last week. I will grind my gears here about the vagaries or potty training.
Joe Patrice: Ooh, okay.
Elie Mystal: So, a 5-year-old, 2-year-old, a 2.5-year-old is right now in the throes of potty training, and I guess what I want from a kind of — from a thinking like a lawyer standard. Okay?
Joe Patrice: Yes.
Elie Mystal: Why do we impose potty training on children when they’re clearly too dumb and too impetuous to understand? Why isn’t it more socially acceptable to just let the kids crap themselves until four or five. Or again, 10 or 11 when girls are watching, I don’t know, but why can’t we just wait until they can do it themselves as opposed to this dark current society which involves rule making towards a mind that is not capable of accepting the rule, right?
Joe Patrice: Well, I mean but the mind is capable of accepting the rule, right? Like you’ve successfully potty-trained your child. So that means —
Elie Mystal: I mean we’re — we’re getting there.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. So that means that the mind actually is capable of it and the alternative of course is you continue changing diapers for another 10 years.
Elie Mystal: The frontal lobe is not capable, right? You are not being able to train him through rational thought, you’re only able to train him through, you know, the rote habit making, which is like a different part of the brain. I don’t remember on the top of my head, but it’s a different part of the brain that your – you are basically beating part of his brain into submission to the potty as opposed to being able to elucidate him on the benefits of the potty.
Joe Patrice: Right.
Elie Mystal: If we wait until they were a little bit older, we wouldn’t have to go through.
Joe Patrice: You know what, you are perfectly welcome to continue dealing with people crapping their pants for years to come, the rest of us just not going to do that.
Elie Mystal: Yes, I hadn’t thought of that.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, because that’s the thing. That’s the downside of it for you. And I know the way to sell this. I’m going to make it all about you. This is all about your pain and your inconvenience not about anything else.
Elie Mystal: Right.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, and so you should embrace this moment.
Elie Mystal: You’re right, because although the past week-and-a-half has been terrible and we probably have at least another two or three weeks of generally a bad situation, but after that’s over, so like sometime in this summer, sometime this summer I won’t have to buy diapers anymore.
Joe Patrice: Right.
Elie Mystal: So, there’s going to be a cost saving.
Joe Patrice: See, there you go.
Elie Mystal: And then, yeah, sometimes in the summer I will not actually ever have to change because this is our last kid. Me and my wife doesn’t necessarily agree, but like it takes two, this is our last kid that we have together. Sometime this summer I will no longer have to change human feces with my hands.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, see, you know what, this was just a demonstration of like how Judge Posner deals with decision-making. I found practical goal and walked you through the incentives until you got there.
Elie Mystal: I’m usually not a Law and Economics guy, but it’s a powerful — it’s a powerful decision matrix.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, so — but no, I think that we’ve solved potty training here, and now from, I guess, we’ll take a quick break but we’ll transition then from babies who were crapping themselves to undergrads going to law school, which are not too different.
Elie Mystal: It’s not dissimilar.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. All right, so we’ll take a quick break.
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Joe Patrice: Okay. Welcome back. So let’s talk about law school. Now, for those of you who have been listening to the show for a while, you know that a feature that we do every year are a series of episodes called — that we kind of called the decision, where we have people write in, who are contemplating law school.
Elie Mystal: Right. The U.S. News & World Report rankings for law schools just came out a couple weeks ago, so that usually kicks off decision season. Decision season for us usually ends when the Above the Law rankings come out, which will be at the end of May, I’ll just put in a quick plug, the Above the Law rankings come out later than the US News rankings, because the Above the Law rankings wait for the updated ABA statistics on hiring and placement. U.S. News is actually always looking a year behind with that kind of stuff.
Joe Patrice: And yet they date them a year ahead.
Elie Mystal: Yes.
Joe Patrice: So, they’re a year behind, date themselves a year ahead, so there’s a two-year swing on the accuracy of their rankings.
Elie Mystal: Gas-lighting bro, gas-lighting. But, during this time, these are the times — the reason why this is decision season is because these are generally when law school admission fees come due, right? You got to make your deposit for whatever law school you’re going to attend right around this time.
So, people who are lucky enough to have multiple offers to go to different law schools, tend to ask us what we think. We try to give them in a kind of an unvarnished true opinion of where they should go; prestige versus money, region, those kinds of consideration.
So, we have a couple of people who knew that we were going to do this and sent them already, but if you have your own decision and that you are trying to make, please feel free to email us at tips, that’s HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]”[email protected]w.com. We will get your email, we will read your email. We might use it for an actual post or we might address your question in an upcoming podcast. So, please, that’s HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]”[email protected] with your decision questions.
Joe Patrice: Absolutely yeah, and that’s a good reminder also to not just listen to this podcast, which you should do religiously and give reviews and all that sort of thing, but also to read Above the Law because we can we can deal with these in multiple different medium.
So, let’s begin.
Elie Mystal: I don’t have headphones or the computer so I am just the guy sitting.
Joe Patrice: Oh, I just had to wait for the drum-roll to finish.
Elie Mystal: Oh my God!
Joe Patrice: So, the first one we have. So this is a question that came to us. It’s kind of unique, it’s not a multiple schools discussion.
Elie Mystal: Oh, no.
Joe Patrice: Well, all right, so the student is looking to ultimately go into kind of a Big Law sort of world, okay. They have, let’s see, have been admitted to — they put out, sent out a bunch of applications, they’ve been admitted to Boston University okay, scored 166 on the LSAT, question that they have is, given the dream of going into big law, getting into BU, should they attempt to retake the LSAT or roll with this and is BU fun?
Elie Mystal: Are they getting any money at BU?
Joe Patrice: No, that is not discussed in this. The question only is re-take or not?
Elie Mystal: Yes, so 166 is a difficult score to know whether or not you should re-take it without kind of knowing more about what kind of a test-taker you are. If I got a 166 I would re-take, I would know I have some confidence in my test taking abilities. I did in fact, but I would have some confidence that I could pop better than a 166, and at the level that he’s talking about, the difference between a 166 and a 170, difference between a 166 and a 171, it’s not nothing. Those five points is a significant difference, that can be the difference between going to BU, BC, nothing — there’s anything wrong with those schools or being, depending on some other factors kind of an outside competitive at Harvard, certainly being competitive at your Dukes and your Vanderbilts, if all you’re concerned about with big law, 170 is certainly competitive at Georgetown.
So, if your only goal is big law with this thing and you feel confident that you can get a better score, there’s a lot to be said for taking it again.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. My advice was because I already wrote this person back but my advise was, if you feel you’re kind of at this 166, it’s okay to go to BU if your goal is Big Law. I know people who are BU grads, who work in Big Law, are they going to work at Wachtel? Maybe that’s a little bit harder, but are they going to work at an actual Big Law firm in New York or DC, or I guess Boston too potentially, but probably even more importantly if you’re at BU. But, if you want to be at a New York Big Law setting, BU is a perfectly fine school to do that from. It’s not in your like elite status but it is definitely in the good enough that you can do that.
Elie Mystal: 166 is not a bad score.
Joe Patrice: Exactly.
Elie Mystal: One thing that’s not mentioned in this, at least, I don’t think it is mentioned in this query that would really kind of to me be the deciding factor is, well, did you take a course before you got the 166 or not, right?
Joe Patrice: Right.
Elie Mystal: Because if that is your course-free score, then dear God man, take a course and score better. Like, if you’re about to invest quarter of a million dollars potentially into your legal education, you should be willing to invest the $8,000 into your LSAT prep course.
And so, if 166 is what you’re doing kind of raw, absolutely take a course and score better. If 166 is the pinnacle of taking a course and taking it seriously and kind of trying your best with it, then maybe you’ve reached a kind of natural top, and 166 is a fine score and BU is a fine school.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, and I also said that if you are at 166 and then you go to BU, you do have the option if you kick the hell out of your first year of shopping yourself around as a transfer student too. It’s not a course that tons of people take but it is definitely one that people have taken.
Elie Mystal: And just to close the loop, I mean, I would be remiss if I didn’t say; also you’re probably going to freaking hate Big Law right? Like it’s the — most people don’t actually like it, so when you’re kind of going to a law school saying like, oh, I only want Big Law like that, your desire to do only that could change pretty quickly.
Joe Patrice: I mean, yeah, that’s definitely true too. But, I mean, I don’t think that’s significant for this question because it’s not like if the answer were, oh, I don’t want to do Big Law, your response would be, oh, well then just go to Cooley, like, it’s still worth going to the better school.
All right, our second talk of the day is much more complex matrix, okay?
Elie Mystal: All right.
Joe Patrice: All right, so get —
Elie Mystal: But you like paper.
Joe Patrice: Yeah — no well, no, I mean, I’ve got it written down here I can —
Elie Mystal: I mean, like speaking of LSAT courses like do I need to draw a picture?
Joe Patrice: Yeah. I didn’t take an LSAT course, so I don’t know how those things work, but let’s see. So, this one, I guess you don’t have to ask questions but I have it written down and so like a dungeon master or something you can ask me questions and I can like tell you what they are.
All right, so he’s narrowed down to — he or she has narrowed it down to three choices. Berkeley with a $120,000 scholarship, Chicago with a $30,000 scholarship, and Penn with an $80,000 scholarship, okay.
Elie Mystal: Did he or she roll a black character?
Joe Patrice: Yeah, you might want to avoid Penn if you did roll a black character or any minority, frankly.
Elie Mystal: Or Chicago, you mean, if you roll —
Joe Patrice: That’s true too, the Burkes.
Elie Mystal: If you roll the black character, $100,000 at Berkeley is going to be your winner right there. It’s a threshold issue. So, okay, let’s say —
Joe Patrice: For those of you who aren’t familiar with those stories, you should be reading Above the Law more and just type-in the words Amy Wax or Edmund Burke and it’s going to come up.
All right, so character here once to clerk, ultimately, but all three of these schools I think are sufficiently good that clerking is going to happen at these.
Elie Mystal: We’re going to go with Woodland Elf not Dark Elf, okay.
Joe Patrice: Okay, yes, let’s assume Woodland for the sake of this. All right so —
Elie Mystal: So, ultimately it’s clerking.
Joe Patrice: Ultimately wants to clerk and go into some appellate work, in fairness that’s what a lot of people say when they’re starting out because it’s the only thing you really understand. Appellate work is like your Political Science classes so you kind of get, but there’s more to life than that; but still, if you want to go into that, there’s plenty of options for you.
All right, so clerk and wants to go into that appellate work, very interested in organizations like the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center is okay with the idea of going to Big Law to pay off bills but would rather not.
Elie Mystal: So, it doesn’t sound like she made the saving throw against poverty, right?
Joe Patrice: Oh yeah, okay, you’re continuing with this analogy of Dungeons & Dragons. I – sorry, I even raised it. So — no, apparently.
Elie Mystal: I am a nerd of the old school.
Joe Patrice: Yeah so okay, understands that loan debt will be pretty high but they do need loans though, but they are willing to work at Big Law to pay that back. If they need new wrinkle, Chicago native, ultimately wants to be there or is acceptable with DC, so wants to be in those kind of places.
So now we could revisit Berkeley for a 120, Chicago with 30, Penn with 80.
Elie Mystal: Okay, I am going to have — again assuming a white character. I’m going to go strong for Penn with 80.
Joe Patrice: Okay.
Elie Mystal: Chicago native is all nice but the difference between — and I do think, especially if this particular person happens to be a bit conservative, Chicago is a great –
Joe Patrice: I’m thinking going to the Southern Poverty Law Center suggests they are not.
Elie Mystal: Good point, good point. I forgot that. Well then – okay, so now if you’re going to tell me the person’s left-leaning, Chicago’s just off the map. Like in the best of situations, Chicago might be a little better than Penn about getting you that clerkship, $50,000 a year better than Penn getting you that clerkship. I don’t know about that and then certainly when you add in, maybe you’re more concerned with social justice as opposed to kind of Heritage Foundation stuff, Chicago just no longer really is in the game here.
Between Penn and Berkeley, I’m going to go slightly with Penn just because what she’s saying — what he or she is saying, could be in DC, wants to do appellate work, ACLU, that all kind of pulls me east as opposed to making me think, I want to go all the way out west.
Joe Patrice: I mean, I think that’s very fair. I was torn on this, I’m with you on the Chicago level. I think that’s off the table in this scenario. It’s also good to get out of town for a little bit, it’s only three years. I feel like Berkeley’s a lot more money and is still a great school. I just feel like Berkeley’s the kind of place where you’re going to get a lot of good experience. You’re going to get a lot cheaper.
I think that is perfectly easy to go from there to the sorts of work that you’re talking about. I’d also note that clerk-wise, to the extent there are alumni connection, clerking sorts of things, the West Coast is kind of a good place to be because there’s a lot of judges out there, who come from those schools that you have a leg up on in the negotiating that over everyone else.
And I also think that there’s —
Elie Mystal: Hang on. The Ninth Circuit is kind of a hot place to be just to know.
Joe Patrice: Right, and there’s the Ninth Circuit being a hot place to be but there’s also I feel like if even in starting one’s career in an appellate practice, so much of the work gets sucked up by a couple of firms and a couple of lawyers when you start venturing into the DC and Chicago, even with the general Black folks.
So, like when you’re dealing with those kind of places, it get sucked up into a few firms; whereas, on the West Coast, there is a little bit more work to go around, I think. So, even if you end up having to — even if the worst thing that happens to Berkeley is you end up staying in California for a couple extra years of your — starting out your career, that’s not the worst thing in the world.
Elie Mystal: Yeah, I mean look, you make good points and I basically agree with you. And again, certainly if you’re non-White, Berkeley is I think the clear choice. My main reason for still kind of backing Penn is that Amy Wax aside, Penn is a generally underrated school.
Joe Patrice: Agree.
Elie Mystal: People kind of generally don’t realize just how good Penn law is in terms of getting jobs, in terms of placing their own people, in terms of their alumni network, and so people tend to undervalue that. Look, you make a great point, Berkeley is $50,000 more than they’re giving her and California is not a bad place to cool your heels, if you have to stay there a little bit longer before you eventually move back to Chicago or the East Coast.
Joe Patrice: Yeah — no I think that’s true. So, we’re done a little bit earlier than we usually are, do you want to just chat about what’s going on in the news?
Elie Mystal: Those are the only two?
Joe Patrice: Those are the only two we have so far, and I actually thought the money one was going to drag us out a little bit longer but we kind of agree so much, so.
Elie Mystal: My favorite from — and this guy has already made a decision about speaking of some of the things that have been going on in the news. I had a guy contacted me over Facebook who was choosing between University Chicago, Cornell, Northwestern.
University of Chicago gave them no money, Cornell gave them a lot of money, Northwestern was right in the middle. So, I know what I told him what’s your —
Joe Patrice: So what was it? It was Cornell —
Elie Mystal: UFC, Northwestern. What’s Big Law?
Joe Patrice: I mean, Cornell is giving the most money?
Elie Mystal: Cornell is giving the most money.
Joe Patrice: I think Cornell then.
Elie Mystal: I’ll throw an African-American.
Joe Patrice: I’d go to Cornell out of that I think, right?
Elie Mystal: What? Just straight money?
Joe Patrice: I think the money is very good, but it’s also a very good school that has ties to the New York and big large market, it’s a much like Penn kind of underrated in that front; and if it’s giving the most money, then that strikes me as the right answer, but –
Elie Mystal: I basically said the same. I gave him a little bit more of a plug for Northwestern.
Joe Patrice: Okay.
Elie Mystal: Then you get kind of on the same way that I gave, it’s a very close thing and I shaded a little bit towards Penn, I shaded a little bit towards Northwestern, because one of the things that he says is that in addition to in wanting the Big Law experience and Big Law money basically, he was talking a lot about how the thing that he wanted to do in law school at least or clinics and those kinds of things, and it’s hard to — if experiential learning is how you think you learn best, it’s hard to go against Northwestern’s plan there, they have been innovators and leaders in that kind of learning. And so, in the world we’re like, are you going to get a better grade maybe at Northwestern than Cornell just because maybe it’s teaching you in a way that — so that’s kind of how I went a little bit for Northwestern.
Joe Patrice: That’s fair.
Elie Mystal: Obviously again for both of us – and I think it’s important for people to hear that, right?
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: We’re both saying Chicago just off the table in that situation, Chicago is —
Joe Patrice: U of Chicago?
Elie Mystal: Yeah.
Joe Patrice: Right.
Elie Mystal: U of Chicago in US news at least is kind of much more highly ranked than Northwestern or Cornell as opposed to our other person who was Chicago and Penn are actually very, very close in the U.S. space, Chicago has real distance between Northwestern or Cornell, but Chicago at no money as an African-American when other schools are giving you money, they can’t make that case right now.
Joe Patrice: Well, I mean, it certainly has been a rough couple of months for them on that score.
Okay, so, I actually had a conversation the other day too, but this one was pretty easy. I don’t even remember what the other schools were, but he came up and he’s like, well, so I got a couple things, I got this, this, this, but I’m also in Stanford and I’m going out there, then he’s like, yes, you’re done here. Wait, hold on, let me ask a question, is one of the next things you are going to say “Yale”, because otherwise you’re done here? Absolutely going to Stanford; we’re finished; please don’t continue to drag this out, yeah.
Elie Mystal: Look, law schools are ridiculously expensive, I think over-expensive. It’s hard — the problem with saying all the time that law school is too expensive, is that in this world given where the market is, Harvard, Yale and Stanford are bargains, right?
Joe Patrice: Yeah. It’s astounding constantly to look at how much Yale, Harvard and Stanford are, and then you look at what one of the worst law schools in the country is and it’s almost the same, and you go, how can that possibly be?
Elie Mystal: There are law schools that are at the literal bottom of any ranking anywhere, that are charging just $10,000 less a year than Yale, just $8,000 less a year than Stanford, and if that’s the market Stanford’s a steal, Yale is a steal. If — I don’t want to dog any particulars, I mean, I want to dog every school, but — if Emery because it’s in the south and I can usually get away if making fun, if Emery is going to — and there’s nothing wrong with Emery. If Emery is going to charge $40,000 a year then Yale should be able to charge $80,000, and that’s the kind of separation that you’re looking at the HYS level, and you love how I keep putting Harvard first when I say that?
Joe Patrice: Yeah — no despite years and years of actual studies.
Elie Mystal: All evidence in the contract. At that HYS level you’re getting something even more — you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck because if you’re interested in Big Law, you’re covered, if you’re interested in practicing law outside the country you’re covered, if you’re interested in being a Supreme Court justice you’re covered. They put you into a different strata, that only kind of the top 10% at the other top 15 in schools can even think about doing for you.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, I mean the gap between some of the — I was just looking at some recent data, the net, you know, like undiscounted costs of the top tier schools are roughly 70 grand at this point over the bottom tier schools, but you got to think about that, that is 70 grand that is you got to start discounting out over the life of your career and even if your career is 10 years, you leave law reasonably young, if your career is ten years that’s 7,000 a year, if you’re going it, the quality of job that you’re going to get at the better school will more than cover the seven grand a year difference.
Elie Mystal: See, nothing of the quality and this is again all — everybody would like say, oh, you can do anything with a law degree, hmm.
Joe Patrice: Hmm.
Elie Mystal: But, with a Yale law degree, nah, you all can do anything.
Joe Patrice: I mean, In fact – well, actually with a Yale law degree the one thing you may not be able to do is actually be a lawyer, you could become the head of the defense department of a small Caribbean nation, but you will not necessarily be a lawyer, I mean, they say Skull and Bones, but that’s actually that school, that school is just a giant Skull and Bones Society.
Elie Mystal: Yeah, if you get into Yale, go, that’s our parting advice.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, and that’s what I said about Stanford too. I was like, unless you’re going to say “Yale” which is in whole different discussion —
Elie Mystal: If somebody asks if you’re a god, you say, yes.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, to bring it back to Ghostbusters as we try all the time.
So, yeah, so that’s it. So, seriously though everybody out there listening, if you’re an undergrad or know and love an undergrad or frankly hate an undergrad, whatever, if you have anybody you should let them know if they’re contemplating law school and they have some questions about what to choose we love these little hypotheticals, so send them to [email protected] and we’ll see if we can get them into a post or on the show, we’ll try and get to as many as we can because it’s good for us, it helps us get a look into what people are currently thinking and it helps you all to get the benefit of at least our experience. So, that sounded kind of depressing to say “our experience”.
Elie Mystal: Because we are old now, that’s why it sound depressing.
Joe Patrice: I don’t think it’s so much old as we’re two people who have made the affirmative decision not to practice law, so suggest we may have different priorities, but whatever.
Elie Mystal: Well, the whole point of doing the podcast or doing it online is our getting it into a post as well so then you get the wisdom of the crowd.
Joe Patrice: That’s true too from all of our comments. Anyway, so, that’s it for the show. Thanks for listening. If you aren’t subscribed, go do that right now, seriously, just we’ll stop, we’ll let you go subscribe.
Okay, we’re back, and then you should give us a review to write something, don’t just give us stars as lovely as those are, but the more that gets written and so on helps that algorithm understand that we’re a law podcast that people might want to listen to. Follow us on Twitter, he’s @ElieNYC, I am @JosephPatrice, watch MSNBC Elie’s on it pretty much every night now. So, that’s another way you can see him, and that’s it, we’ll talk to you soon.
Elie Mystal: Ease out, guys.
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