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Is It True That Attending Any but a Top-Tier Law School Is a Personal and Financial Mistake?

published March 24, 2014

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We asked attorneys and other legal professionals in the United States if it is true that attending any but a top-tier law school is a personal and financial mistake. Their opinions and positive advice should help law students make the right decisions. We hope you find their responses useful.

It may be a mistake, depending on your goals when going to law school.

If you take on huge debt, then going to a top-tier law school will help you land a more lucrative job after law school. However, going to nearly any Tier 1 or Tier 2 school and being the top 1% of your class can have just as influential effect on your job likelihood. Particularly if your law school is the only, or predominant, one in your community, then there will be many alumni happy to hire you.

If you want to land the starting $150K+ big law firm job, going to a top-tier law school is the best choice.

But for other job options at different starting salaries, or perhaps if you do not have the goal of even practicing law, then going to a more affordable law school can have positive local effects. And a (quality) law school education is so valuable in teaching you how to think differently.

-Corinna Charlton, Attorney at Law
University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law (ranked around 100 at the time of my attendance).

As an attorney that has never formally practiced, but went to a higher-ranked (top 50 at the time, top 40 now, I believe) law school, the bigger mistake is attending law school outside of the region you wish to practice in and continuing your education if you are outside the top half of your class, unless you have an established track into a job upon graduation.

The school I attended was in the Southeast, and I now live in Pennsylvania. There are plenty of students graduating from lesser-ranked, some deplorably-ranked, schools and getting jobs, whereas I was never able to land more than an initial interview, simply because they have an established alumni base in the area and people in the area are knowledgeable of the school. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't, I guess.

Additionally, law schools are churning out far more attorneys than the market can handle, putting the power firmly with the hiring firms. For those starter jobs, they're going to take the higher GPAs over the lower ones every time. To remain in school without a high class rank or a pre-arranged (typically family-based) job after your first year is a very bad decision from a financial and chronological standpoint. You are wasting your time.

--Nicholas Hamner, Esq.

It is definitely not a waste of time or money or a mistake of any kind to attend a non top-tier law school. This is especially true if the future lawyer has entrepreneurial spirit, business sense and drive. When I attended Brooklyn Law School in the late 1970's, it was far from a first tier school. However, with the quality education that I received from a dedicated top notch faculty, I was able to use my prior experience as a skip tracer, combined with my law training to eventually launch a successful career as 'investigative counsel' to the legal profession and financial and real estate communities. I may not earn mid or high six figures or more, but I am more than financially comfortable, enjoy my work, the entrepreneurial lifestyle where I don't have to wear a suit everyday and have flexibility. I have developed a national reputation doing what I love. In my graduating class (1979), there are State Supreme Court justices, multi millionaire business executives, well known trial lawyers and other men and women who have succeeded without having a top tier law school on our resumes. In my personal opinion, having the valuable education that teaches one (please forgive the cliché) 'to think like a lawyer,' combined with our undergraduate background and varied work experiences will help those with drive and business acumen to succeed, sometimes beyond their dreams.

-Charles-Eric Gordon, Esq.
Investigative Counsel

I went to Florida Coastal School of law. I found the quality of education to be fantastic and the post law school career to be great.


Absolutely not. The legal market has changed substantially over the last ten years for those looking for a guaranteed job. It used to be that if you graduated in the top 10-20 percent of a top 50 law school, you were all but guaranteed a job. Now there are people with those credential struggling for employment.

However, for those that want to hustle, that are interested in networking and developing relationships, it does not matter where they went to school. Even with a 'glut' of law school graduates, the rise of the internet provides a new lawyer with an opportunity to develop a brand and reputation at a speed never available before. And poll after poll states that consumers care little about where a lawyer went to school. They want a lawyer that is engaging, can handle there specific problem confidently, and is attentive.

-Christian Denmon
Denmon & Denmon Law

The answer is No. I went to Widener University School of Law, got my education, passed the bar exam for PA and NJ and found a job at a mid-size firm receiving lower end pay for starting associates. But, working hard at the firm gave me an opportunity to learn the practice of law and the procedures. I also was able to network with other attorneys. I then started my own practice after only a few years. Twelve years later I have grown my practice and I can measure success in terms of financial success and the rewards of managing and growing a law practice.

-Jason B. Martin, Esquire of The Martin Law Firm in Blue Bell, PA

Attending a non-top-tier law school is only a personal and financial mistake if the student's objective is working for a Big Law firm and the amount they pay for their schooling is exorbitant.

There are still plenty of people in need of legal help. If someone wants to start their own firm or work for a small practice (between 1-5 attorneys), attending a low-cost institution regardless of its tier is not a mistake -- they will still be attorneys, still be able to help others, and still make a respectable living.

The dividing line between 'mistake' and 'not a mistake' blurs as the cost of law school goes up. Attending an unranked school that costs as much (or more) than Harvard over 3 years is ludicrous. On the other hand, attending an unranked school that where you can get 3 years of legal education at a lower cost than a semester at Harvard is not.?

-T. Greg Doucette
The Law Offices of T. Greg Doucette, PLLC

1. Some of the most successful lawyers in the country started out at mid- or low-ranked law schools. Top-tier schools open up all kinds of opportunities that lower ones will not, but sometimes the financial burden is simply too great. The most important quality in looking for a law school, if you care about something other than ranking, is finding one in the city that you hope to practice. That is where you will spend your time growing your connections and opportunities, and most likely where you will end up taking the bar and, eventually, practicing law.

Mr. Banko, associate attorney at Jackson White

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published March 24, 2014

By Follow Me on
( 1324 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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