I Wonder if I’d be Better Off at a T1 or T2 Law School


Regarding future job prospects, is it better to go to a second-tier law school where I would be at the top of my class, or should I go to a first-tier school and be in the middle of my class?

No-brainer.  Go to the best (highest-ranked) school that accepts you.

But I have to ask… Why do you assume you’ll be at the top of your class at a tier-two school and in the middle of your class at tier-one school?  Do you believe your mere presence at a pedestrian second-tier institution will automatically ensure that you graduate at the top of the class?  Yet at the same time, you assume you’ll finish in the middle of the class at some top-tier school—presumably because you’re not smart enough to excel there.  Hmmm.  So if you go to NYU, for example, you’re destined to be in the top 50%, but if you go to Hofstra, you’ll be top 1%.  Guaranteed.  Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

Anyway, here’s my advice: Get into the best goddamn law school you can.  Don’t worry one teeny-weeny bit about potential class rank or any other bullshit.  Just go to the best school and, once you’re there, get the best grades you can.  End of story.

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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.

10 Comments

  1. Scan

    October 30, 2008 at 5:31 am

    I disagree with this almost completely.  Get into the best school in the market in which you want to live/practice.  A tier 2 school in a big city can work out much better in your favor than some tier 1 in another state.  Also, grades matter, so do well no matter where you go.

    Also, you’re an idiot to think that you’d be at the top of your class at tier 2 simply because you were accepted at a tier 1 school.  That’s ignorant and illogical.

  2. Soul Seller

    October 30, 2008 at 8:30 am

    I disagree as well – in retrospect, I wish I had gone to one of the schools that offered me a scholarship. Students are putting themselves into six-figure debt on this bit of wisdom, and I think it really only pays off for a very few people.
    But right on about the school ranking / grades: that’s an overly simplistic view that is almost never true.

  3. Ellison

    October 30, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I agree with Scan.  By the way, I think you’d be surprised at how alike the students are in T2s vs. T1s.

  4. Pacific Reporter

    October 30, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    This is the credited response.

  5. Bill Dickey

    October 30, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    I agree with the other poster.  Go where you want to work, because no one will care in NYC if you are top 50% at University of Pennsylvania or Georgetown.  You are just a run of the mill twerp from an out of town law school with some kind of name.  Of course, in Philly, U of P is a big deal so being in the top 50% doesn’t much matter.  The worst is to be BOTTOM of the class at Montana State or Syracuse.  But who knows, one of those Losers will become Vice President of the US of A in less than a week!

  6. Snively Whiplash

    October 31, 2008 at 5:41 am

    A famous federal judge graduated last in his class from my law school and still got a federal building named for him after he died. The moral of this story: one day we will all wind up like him, a dead lawyer.

  7. LMark

    November 24, 2008 at 9:09 am

    I’m not sure whether that is the best advice.  If your goal isn’t Biglaw ™, you may want to consider the T2 law school if the tuition is substantially lower.  Unless you work for Biglaw (and BigCity Biglaw at that), your salary will not only be lower than 150K/year, it won’t even be close, won’t even be in the same ballpark.  Your loans, therefore, will become a major hardship. 

    I went to a T1 law school, and now I work for a small firm in the inter mountain west.  I like the work, but I’m sure I could have gotten a similar job if I had gone to UNM or CU Boulder, and my loans would be much lower.  And don’t get any starry eyes about being taught by the “rock stars” of the legal world.  You will learn the law from study guides, no matter where you go.  Off the top of my head I can think of three professors that I had at the T1 school that were simply awful, as opposed to merely “bad”.  One should have retired a decade ago, and the other two had no business ever teaching law. 

    That having been said, if you want to do Biglaw, you need to go to a T1 law school.  Also, in a down market, credentials may be more important, but here’s hoping the economy will improve by the time you graduate!

  8. Chainsaw

    January 2, 2009 at 8:24 am

    “Go where you want to work” is the classic rationalization of the loser who chose to settle … or worse, *had* to settle.  It’s all about options.  What if one day you don’t want to live in Podunk USA any longer?  Do you think you might *then* regret not having gone to a Top 10 school?  Mm hmm.

  9. SmallLaw

    January 27, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    As a “loser who chose to settle” by attending the top law school in my region (not a Top 10 school…just barely making the cut for Tier 1), I’ve avoided the abject misery of so many of the BigLaw malcontents that permeate the internet.
    I only racked up $60K in loans, and I’m living an upper-middle class lifestyle in a small city in the southern U.S. I’m happy because I came in to this with the understanding that there is a division between vocation and life. My family, my hobbies, my interests–these make up my life. My vocation is my means to an end, though I do enjoy it once in a while.
    I never was cut out for BigLaw, and I knew it from the first day I decided to apply to law school. I’m only interested in being financially comfortable. Being a “rockstar” doesn’t appeal to me at all, and I’m certainly not motivated enough to sacrifice all of my free time to pull down a huge paycheck.

  10. Christopher

    September 23, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Had I known then what I know now, namely that the legal profession is very snobby when it comes to where you went to law school, I would tell you to go to the very best law school you can. And if that law school happens to be lower than the top 25 in the country, only go if you have a full scholarship and can live for free while you attend. Otherwise, you could be committing financial suicide now, and actual suicide in the future. It’s that bad out there. And this comment comes from an attorney five years out who considers himself lucky so far.

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