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Deposit deadline season is upon us. This will be a brief post, as there is no way I can possibly cover the range of choices facing all of you. For every one student who has a clear and easy choice about where to attend law school (and whether to attend at all), there are a bunch who have hard choices to make. Picking a law school is serious business. One thing that might quell your anxiety is that you’ll never know if you made the right or wrong choice. Being unable to split yourself in half and attend two places, you can’t A/B test law schools. 

The more important thing is to double-check that you really want to go law school, and by “double-check” I mean do absolutely everything in your power to make sure this is the right career for you. The seat deposit is not a binding contract to attend law school, and should not be treated as such. After all the effort of taking the LSAT and applying, I know it’s tempting to stop thinking and say “I’m committed, I’m definitely going,” but I encourage you not to. Instead, try to make the same dispassionate analysis of your options that you would expect of a judge. Here are some things to think about:

How Do You Feel About The Average Outcome At Your School?

Though you should strive to be at the top of your class 1L year, you should never expect to be. By and large, 1L year determines your hiring outcomes, especially at the top schools. Statistically, you are very likely to have grades somewhere near the median for your school, as that’s how bell-curve grading is designed.

Plan accordingly. You should never attend a school if you wouldn’t be happy with the outcome of the average student there.

Waiting Another Year Is Probably Less Of A Big Deal Than You Think

I hear people say “I’m in my late twenties already, so I don’t want to hold off another year on going to law school.” Fair, but if you think you can get yourself into a better position by waiting another year, it’s almost always a good decision to do so. This goes double for those who applied late (January or later). If you aren’t psyched on your admissions cycle outcomes, you may be best off trying again and applying early next year.

Brain Leiter just reported that an unusual number of potential students have applied late this year.  While outcomes for those applying late are probably better now than at any other time in law school history, for a given individual your results might not be as good as if you applied early. Do research about how those with similar stats fared. If you think you got a bad draw this cycle, consider re-rolling the dice early next fall.

The legal profession does not reward youth. A firm will look at your credentials, not your age, so don’t worry about getting a somewhat later start in the law.

If you can get on a higher trajectory by holding off, do so. The most common reason to wait is if you don’t think you have maxed out your potential on the LSAT. You have to listen to your gut to some extent on this one, but please, let us know in the comments if you are having trouble deciding to retake, and we’ll help you through the decision. Our general advice on retaking is here.

For those coming straight from undergrad, I think it’s most often a good idea to take a year off just for the sake of it. Here is some more specific advice on whether you should wait until next year to apply.

The Law Is A Profession, Not A Job

Law school melds you. To some extent, you go in as an individual and come out as a something much more specific. It may not be the career for the free and easy type. While there are perhaps some exceptions, you generally can’t have purple streaks in your hair while working for a law firm.

Particularly in litigation, part of arguing for a position is to dress it up with as much “main-streamness” as possible. This is why you see GW’s former counsel arguing for same-sex marriage. In law, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. Make sure you are okay with being an unobtrusive nail, or face the possibility of undue turbulence in your professional life. I wish it were otherwise, but the law profession does not change apace with the outside world. Powdered wigs are about the only feature to go in the last hundred years.

Seek Advice

There are a wealth of resources out there to help acquaint you with what practice is like for various members of the legal profession. Here’s our list of The Best Pre-Law Reading and The Best Books To Prepare You For Law School. Some of these books can help you be really sure that this is the career for you. Also see this piece: Why Do You Want To Be A Lawyer?

Also, if you are having any anxiety or trouble with anything about your decision to attend law school, reach out to us. Comments can be anonymous.  We are happy to do a full post analysis of your decision, as we have done for several others here, and here

About Author

University of Chicago, J.D., 2012 Ready to Kickstart your LSAT Prep? Join the LSAT Mastermind Study Group

12 Comments

  1. I live in the midwest and have been accepted to the only law school in my region (and put down a seat deposit), but my fiance just applied to two jobs on the east coast (different states). I applied to both a reach school and a safe school in each of these states, but not until very late in the admissions cycles. I’m not sure what to do about seat deposits because my fiance will not find out about either of the jobs until June. I have offers from the safe schools but was wait-listed at the reach schools. I would especially appreciate advice on seat deposit etiquette in this situation. I am also weighing the merits of waiting a year to be more competitive for the reach schools if I do not get offers because of applying at the last minute. I’m in my early 30’s and don’t want to wait too much longer to go to school because we’re waiting to start a family until I’ve finished school.

    • Hi anonymous, sorry that I missed this comment. As far as seat deposit etiquette, typically you can only have a seat deposit down at one school at a time. You may already be bending good etiquette somewhat by having several offers still open while you have a deposit somewhere, however, I think your situation is such that it is excusable. If you are concerned, let your school know your situation. You are of course free to forfeit the deposit and wait a year. You can reapply to this school in your region or ask them if they can keep the offer open.

      Best,

      Evan

  2. Hey guys

    I recently got admitted to UW (Wisconsin) and UMN (Minnesota). I live in the Madison right now and received a full ride to UW. I was offered half tuition at Minnesota.

    I’m really about which school to attend. Minnesota is more highly ranked and prestigious, though I would graduate around $100k in debt. They’re not too far in ranking, but Minnesota offers a larger legal market and more potential opportunities. Wisconsin is basically free.I visited both schools and liked the atmosphere. Looking at the ABA disclosures, there doesnt seem to be a huge discrepancy between the schools in terms of employment prospects but I”m worried there are other factors I’m not considering.

    What, if anything, trumps a full ride? Would you pick Minnesota or Wisconsin?

    ML

    • Here I personally would 100% take the full ride at Wisconsin. Yes job prospects are about equal at both schools, and at both there is the possibility that you will struggle for a bit to find a job. However, if you end up having difficulty coming from UW, you’ll be more or less fine as you won’t have the debt burden. Having that margin of safety would make me sleep a lot better. Really, very little trumps a full ride.

  3. I am looking to attend law school as a second career. I have 24 years of law enforcement experience and will retire in September this year; however, we have a benefit to work additional five years (Deferred Retirement Option Program – DROP). I am looking at trying to take LSAT end of this year or beginning of next. I have two questions. First, I was wondering if you might guide me as to your thoughts of attending classroom LSAT Prep course(s) vs. Self-Study? (I am a visual learner) My second question pertains to law school itself. I was curious as to how much actual time is required for studies…is this do-able while working full-time and being on-call, as I am a Detective?

    • Hi Jeff,

      If you feel you learn best from watching other’s do something, then yes, you should definitely take a course. Heres a longer discussion on taking a course vs. self-study: http://lawschooli.com/best-lsat-prep-course/

      As far as being able to work through law school, you’d have to look at a 4-year part time law program. The caveat: with the possible exception of Georgetown’s PT program, hiring prospects from part-time schools have never been very great, and are certainly not very good now with the legal economy lagging. You’d want to really make sure you know what you are doing as far as having a job lined up after school.

      Best,

      Evan

  4. Hello,

    I currently have been accepted to Southwestern school of law with no scholarship. I’m 22 years old and am contemplating if I should wait a year to reapply and get in a better position as far as scholarships and school. The only concern I have is that I took the LSAT twice already. Will it look bad? I’m also thinking about taking time off to work or get a paralegal degree (and work) then reapply. What would be your advice?

    • Sonia, I really can’t recommend going to an unranked law school right now even with a large scholarship. For southwestern, the odds of getting a job are low (only 38% had a full time job 9 months following graduation), and it’s expensive: you can probably expect to be something close to 300K in debt by the time you graduate. Given that the type of job you can expect coming from there is on the lower end of the payscale, that’s a bad spot to be in, even if you do find a job.

      If you really want to be a lawyer, definitely hold off and retake the LSAT. Schools nowadays just take the higher score, so having taken it twice will have no effect. Read this:

      Taking time off to work is a great idea, especially if you work in the legal field. That will give you a much clearer idea whether entering this profession is what you want to do. I really can’t suggest this course strongly enough.

  5. I am currently committed to attend Boston University School of Law in the fall and have already made both deposits, started making plans to move, began the loan process, and all of the other things future 1Ls begin doing during the summer. Lately I have been feeling really unsure about whether or not I should actually start law school this year, let alone at BU, especially because of what I feel was my disappointing performance on the LSAT. I have a 3.99 GPA from a strong regional university but first scored a 154 and then a 163 on the LSAT after self study (the first score was a result of unusual testing circumstances that I addressed in an addendum in my applications). I guess I am really just wondering if you think it is too late to back out of going this year after getting so far into the process. I am also really concerned about the fact that my family is so excited and has been so supportive about me going to BU Law, but I cannot help but feel like I am settling. I think that if I had more time to study – I worked part time off campus while going to school and participated in several activities on campus during my senior year – and took an LSAT prep course before taking the LSAT again in October I would be able to perform much better and possibly get accepted to schools in the T14. My goal was always to attend a T14 school but I think I ended up settling and tried to convince myself that I was happy accepting BU even though now I do not know if it is the right thing to do. Other then ending up in a situation at a school I am not that passionate about (my first choice was UVA, which I was wait listed at), I think my biggest concern is that I’m going to let my family down if I put law school off for a year after they had invested so much interest into this school. I guess I am just wondering what you think I should do, and if I do decide to go to BU Law this year and perform well, would I have a good chance at transferring?

    • Hi Sarah,

      Sorry for the slow response. While these decisions are too big and too personal for me to tell you what to do, I will say that far too many people in this situation go right away when they should hold off. BU vs. a T14 is frankly, a very different trajectory. While there is some overlap, really great outcomes in this profession are just so much easier to reach when you start out at the top. With your GPA, you have more than the potential to get there provided you can boost your LSAT.

      Though it’s tempting to let family have their say, really they should play no role in the law school decision process. The personal stakes are just too high. Here, 99 times out of 100 the best course is to stick with your original ambitions until it becomes clear they aren’t attainable. To me, it seems you are far from confirming that yet.

      • On transferring, that’s about 10x harder and 100 times less of a sure thing than just putting in the effort on the LSAT. Once you get to BU everyone will be trying to get top grades and transfer, yet only the very top of the class will be able to do so. Search around and you will see that sentiment echoed everywhere by people who have already attended law school. Trying for top grades will be the grind of your life and more often than not it doesn’t pan out.

  6. I’m in a very tough predicament. I didn’t score as high as I thought I was going to and now I have to go to a tier 4 school. Waiting another year and taking to LSAT isn’t an option. This past December was my 2nd time taking the LSAT’s. I know that I want to transfer after my first year to hopefully a tier 1 school but I’m having a difficult time figuring out what school I should bother going to my first year. I Applied to 11 schools and so far have been accepted to 7 and only declined by 1. How do I choose what school to attend for my first year and then how do I determine what school I can transfer to? This has been stressing me out so much.

    Thanks so much.

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