I Wonder if a Law School’s Rank or Location is More Important

I am about to embark on my law school career, and I was hoping you could offer some insight that would help me to resolve a pressing issue of mine.  Here’s my deal: I would like to break into the Hollywood entertainment niche, which I know is incredibly hard, but I mean to give it my best shot.

Now, conventional wisdom would advise a man in my position to attend the best law school that will have him, which, in my case, would be Columbia.  On the other hand, I have also been accepted to UCLA, and while a bit lower down on the Prestige-O-Meter, UCLA carries a decisive advantage in its location.

Where would you suggest I go?

If I were you (and for the record, I hate starting sentences like this because I’m obviously not you—nor will I ever become you), I’d go to Columbia.  For one, it’s a higher-ranked law school.  Two, it’s in New York, and I love New York.  And three, it’s a higher-ranked, top-five law school.

As they say, this is a high-class problem.  Columbia (rank: 4) and UCLA (rank: 15) are both great law schools, and both are situated in exciting cities.  But, as you said, Columbia is more prestigious.  So, unless you absolutely despise New York or absolutely love Los Angeles, why not go to the more prestigious school?  Since law is such a snobby, prestige-oriented profession, the more street cred you can muster, the better.

As for the entertainment law component of your question, it’s pretty irrelevant.  Sure, living in L.A. might give you a theoretical geographical advantage, but it’s almost unquantifiable.  Trust me.  Entertainment firms typically don’t hire summer associates or 3Ls.  They just don’t.  Like I’ve said before in this column, the best way to get into entertainment law is to get a job at a prestigious firm, work there for two or three years and start networking your ass off. 

So here’s my overall advice, pal: Go to Columbia, get great grades and land a terrific summer associate job at the most prestigious firm you can in L.A. or New York.  After graduation, move to Los Angeles and work at a top national firm (Skadden, Latham, Gibson, etc.).  A few years after that, when you actually have some tangible marketing legal skills, start working the Hollywood scene. 

But don’t worry about any of that right now.  You’re five years away from all that.  So just relax, say yes to Columbia and start working your ass off.

Good luck.

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I am about to embark on my law school career, and I was hoping you could offer some insight that would help me to resolve a pressing issue of mine.  Here’s my deal: I would like to break into the Hollywood entertainment niche, which I know is incredibly hard, but I mean to give it my best shot.

Now, conventional wisdom would advise a man in my position to attend the best law school that will have him, which, in my case, would be Columbia.  On the other hand, I have also been accepted to UCLA, and while a bit lower down on the Prestige-O-Meter, UCLA carries a decisive advantage in its location.

Where would you suggest I go?

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

19 Comments

  1. Guano Dubango

    February 8, 2010 at 3:32 am

    For once, I agree with the poster.  Going to a better school makes a difference, even at the top.  If you are interested in women, go to UCLA however.  I know a guy who went there and had more women than breakfasts, and they gave him breakfast in bed, if you get my hint.  I went to Georgetown for an LLM and this has gotten me some female dividends, but DC and LA are like day and nite.  At UCLA, you have the weather in addition to the babes, and the warm weather makes them more likely to take care of their wastelines.  So if you want to combine law with “entertainment” go to UCLA.  If you want a better degree with unattractive women, Columbia is your answer.

  2. Bestie Festie

    February 8, 2010 at 7:42 am

    I totally disagree with the advice.  First of all, going to Columbia means that you have to spend the next 3 years of your life in hellish NY.  Secondly, going to Skadden or Latham isn’t gonna help you AT ALL in your quest to become an entertainment lawyer.  You gotta know someone in the inner sanctum, so you better get yourself a list of the small entertainment law shops and get yourself connected with one of their attorneys, even if you have to shine their shoes.  Thirdly, why would you wanna be an entertainment lawyer?  All that job entails is kissing the ass of dumb assholes who just happened to get a shot at the big bucks because they look good.  Stars are the worst people on earth to work for, and if its the money that you crave, you’re in the wrong field altogether.

  3. Anon

    February 8, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Bestie: You’re just wrong.  On top of that, you completely contradict yourself.  One, entertainment firms don’t interview or meet law students.  Two, most entertainment lawyers have big law backgrounds.  Three, wondering why the poster wants to be an entertainment lawyer is irrelevant.  Four, your assertion that Skadden or Latham won’t help AT ALL is preposterous.  Other than that, you were spot on.

  4. Columbia? Wasn't that big in the old days?

    February 8, 2010 at 9:42 am

    If you want to attend a school law professors think is prestigious, in what another poster has aptly described as a hellhole, by all means go to Columbia. It is to entertainment law what Juliard is to i-banking Your law professors may be impressed, but no one else will.  Skip the inbred smugness, the tedious facination with forgettable law review articles and people that never get laid or paid, and who have as their biggest dream, clerking for a circuit judge.  Go to UCLA.  That school is primarily for people that want to be lawyers (although it sends a fair number of clerks to federal judges and the USSC).  The advantages of living in LA to do entertainment are as obvious as living in Texas to do oil and gas or NY or SF to do ibanking: local entertainment firms are competitive; students seek internships and jobs at those firms right away. The guy that shows up to interview three years after the rest of his class is…behind.  And no the firms don’t need a law student with stories of professor so and so at Columbia for atmosphere. Frankly, you’ll look like someone’s dad at a teen party.

  5. Anon

    February 8, 2010 at 10:19 am

    @9:42.  That Columbia rejection letter still hurts, huh?

  6. Magic Circle Jerk

    February 8, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Columbia is the safe answer.  However, if you think you can network your way to a job while at UCLA or pursue non-traditional options for breaking into the entertainment game, the go west young man.

  7. Frat Guy Law Type

    February 8, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Only lawyers would use the term “street cred” to describe anything that happens in law school.

  8. Columbia? Wasn't that big in the old days?

    February 8, 2010 at 11:01 am

    anon @ 10:19: ha, ha. Never applied to columbia or juliard but i am sure I would have been instantly rejected by both.  I am sure columbia grads make great clerks and professors.

  9. BL1Y

    February 8, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    So many lawyers are sheltered little wimps that going to Columbia would probably count as street cred because it’s closer than most lawyers are willing to get to the ghetto.

  10. Big Jim

    February 8, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    What’s so complicated?  Go to the best school, get the best job you can, be miserable, then try to figure a way out of the hell you just signed up for by landing one of 3 jobs in entertainment law.  Easy enough.

  11. Anonymous

    February 8, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    When I was entering law school I had to choose between law schools that were ranked #7 and #20.  I chose the lower ranked one for quality of life and the education I thought I would get.  It was the right choice.  I have never regretted it.

  12. Pub Defender

    February 8, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Had this choice as a transfer student, either transfer locally to Columbia or go west to UCLA.  In terms of job interviews with big law firms it makes a big difference between # 4 and # 15.  Going to UCLA was not a guarantee of getting a big firm job if that is what is important.  Other fields or public interest law it really doesn’t matter where you go but what your interest is.  I chose UCLA and have never looked back.  Seriously have you been to LA?  The weather alone is a reason to be there.

  13. Shankapottomus

    February 8, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    I think there isn’t one right answer.  You just have to weigh the costs and benefits of going to school in each place.  That being said, the fact that you are “in” Los Angeles doesn’t really necessarily help you that much. 
    Plus, New York City is not exactly a slouch at entertainment law.  Many of the same media companies operate in New York and are even based out of there.  If you are solely interested in major record label deals and studio pictures, LA may be better.  But New York has big publishing, television, and a huge independent film scene where you can cut your teeth.
    Your job prospects will be immensely different out of the two schools, especially if you are only a middle of the road student.  Anyone who tells you otherwise has not been in law school very long, nor have they practiced law and looked at hiring standards (especially of big law firms and federal/state courts).  While UCLA might be great in Southern Cal reputation wise and for networking, the Columbia degree will get you instant cred and job opportunities just about anywhere in the U.S. and even the world.  Sowhether you change your mind about entertainment law (which you easily might, given that you probably have no idea what they do on a daily basis), you will have many other avenues open to you by default in more places.

  14. Craig

    February 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    These decisions are easy.  Stick with conventional wisdom.  You and every other dipshit (I mean that in the nicest way possible) going to school at UCLA all want to work in Hollywood.  Meaning, going to UCLA is not going to make you seem any more attractive to entertainment firms.  You will be like everyone else.  Columbia is the clear better school and in the best city in the world.  Not only will it not hurt your chances at breaking into Hollywood, it will also keep all your other options open as well.

  15. Conventional wisdom

    February 9, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Sir:  the people urging you to swallow “conventional wisdom” are as uninspired as the brokers who urged investors to reject “radical” Boeing and invest with “conventional” Douglas Aircraft with its nice propellers-just before the 707 came out; to accept IBM’s “conventional” view of personal computers just before the Mac and PC.  Their heirs in the legal business now urge you to follow the same tired, dusty path to career immolation as all the other lemmings falling off the cliff now. “Go to Columbia to get a degree” –of dubious utility outside the northeast; hope that its dusty reputation will “help you get a job”. One guy even talks of NY’s “publishing” community–as if publishing and TV aren’t under seige–magazine sales are down; newspapers are imploding; TV is struggling–have you seen CBS’s figures? NBC’s?  If you want to be in the entertainment business LA is the only place. If you want to be an entertainment lawyer, UCLA or USC are the places to go (do you know who went to UCLA film school? Google some names) Does Nimmer on Copyright sound familiar? A UCLA prof yes?  If you want to do work on an oil rig, you don’t go to Iowa tech and learn corn husking; for entertainment law, go to where the employers are: get a degree from a school they’ve heard of (and probably went to). And no, going to columbia to get into the LA entertainment practice isn’t “unconventional,” its transparently silly. (But Guano Dubango is off a bit–the women are all looking for rich stars or movie directors)

  16. A

    February 9, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Columbia.  Seriously, Columbia.  UCLA is a great school in the in the scheme of all law schools.  Columbia is prestigious anywhere and on any list.  They are really in 2 different categories (and I don’t just mean T-14).  If you go to UCLA, by your 2L you will ask yourself one question, repeatedly – what the hell did I do?
    Even if you are absolutely sure you want to live in L.A. and do the entertainment thing – Columbia.  UCLA degrees are ubiquitous in L.A.  Also, what specific niche are you talking about?  Where did the majority of the biggest bad-asses in the area go?  What kind of people run the studios?  Why does being in a library in L.A. for 40hrs a week give you an advantage?
    You need to do a lot more digging.  Where you come from usually determines where you go (in the legal field).  A Columbia grad is more likely to go wherever they want.  Also, you can network in New York.  The studios run the show in L.A.  Start bigger and work your way down to the job you want – it is pretty much impossible to go the other way – regardless of how much you believe in your ability. 
    I don’t go to Columbia, btw.

  17. prog

    February 9, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Columbia is the best choice, definitely.  That top-5 street-cred will get you a lot farther then any sort of theoretical benefit of being in LA for law school.  There’s pretty much absolutely no reason to believe being in LA for law school will give you any sort of advantage in getting into entertainment law.

  18. tfk

    February 10, 2010 at 7:46 am

    It depends on how good your networking skills are. 
    The entertainment industry in Hollywood is a bit like working in politics in DC (where I live) in that access and connections matter more in the hiring process than an Ivy Degree.
    If you are a socially presentable person who knows how to hustle, go to UCLA, start meeting the right people, talking to anyone connected to the industry on your first day of 1L.  Take on any and all unpaid internships that you can, get good grades and get into a good summer clership program, or better yet, get an internship in a talent management agency, those guys make money that makes most big law lawyers look like paupers!
    On the other hand, if you are the typical socially awkward, self-obsessed dweeb that is respresentative of most attornies (and most Ivy league ones), then by all means head off to Columbia and pray that the sunshine that beams from your ass as soon as you get your JD will wow someone in the entertainment industry into hiring you!!

  19. KH

    February 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Going to UCLA and doing well will get you a job with ANY big and/or presitgious law firm in LA.  It will also help immensly with getting a job at a boutique entertainment firm or talent agency if that is what you want.  UCLA has an entertainment law specialty (does Columbia, I’m not sure).  Even if that specialty doesn’t get you an immediate job in the field, it still likely means that you’ll have more entertainment classes available to take, perhaps even ones where industry big wigs come to speak.  Also, UCLA allows you to take courses outside the law school, so you may be able to land a sweet spot in an entertainment business course or a entertainment deal course even if you have to go outside the law school to take them.  Those courses always have great guest speakers.

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