By Dorian HectorBio
I was asked to write a piece that describes the first semester of law school from orientation to finals, but I want to extend that time-line a bit. I’m going to start with choosing a law school. School is expensive, and law school in particular. Unless you have your heart set on BigLaw or the Supreme Court, you should consider this like any other investment: buy low, sell high. Go with a school you can afford, and get as much out of it as you can.
Last year, around this time, I sat down with a shoebox full of thick envelopes and struggled to make a decision. For me, the decision was between three schools: a private school with a very solid reputation and a full scholarship (school A), a private school with an okay reputation and a scholarship plus stipend (school B), and a public school with a good reputation for my intended area of study and a partial scholarship (school C). On the surface, the best option appeared to be the private school with the solid reputation and the full scholarship. At least, that’s what the emotions tell you. However, not everybody keeps those scholarships for the full three years.
If your rank drops below a certain level, you are on the hook for your full tuition. “I can work extra hard to keep at the top of my class,” you say? That’s what everybody else says, too. Think about the decision like a lawyer. Only 50% of students at school A retain their scholarships after the first year. School A costs $50k per year. Assuming that your abilities are equal to every one else with a scholarship, you have a 50% chance of having to pay for two years of school at $50k each. In terms of probability, a degree from school A costs fifty thousand dollars (that’s 50% times 2y times $50,000).
School B is tempting (spending money and a shorter commute), but following the same formula, 75% (only 25% keep their funding) times 2y times 45k is $67,500 for a degree at school B! Finally, we have school C. Funding there is guaranteed as long as the student maintains passing grades. This means, after funding, $10k per year times three years or $30k. I chose school C, and I’m glad I did.
Orientation was great. The whole class of 2014 gathered in the auditorium and heard pep talks from professors and alumni who had gone on to get jobs. Then we broke off into small groups where we played the name game, asked each other about our hobbies. A professor presiding over the group taught us some of the basics of legal writing and warned us to take care of ourselves, lest our graduation photo show us looking sicker and heavier than the orientation photo. On our own time, we exchanged email addresses and made Facebook friends (someone made a Facebook group that was indispensable for studying, by the way). On the last day of orientation, we met at the courthouse, rather than school, and we sat in on real trials. My group sat in on an asbestos injury case. It was pretty heartrending. After the testimony was over, the judge excused the jury for the day, and after offering us some words of encouragement, sent us home too.