I’m a 4th-Tier, Mid-Ranked Law Student


QI think I already know the answer to my question, but I guess I just want to hear it from someone else. I’m a 1L at a tier-four law school. I have a B- average, and my rank is 64/132. My hope is that I was able to improve my grades this semester. If I do well, it may still be a slow climb to the type of GPA employers are looking for, and again, being at a fourth-tier school doesn’t help.

My question is: Should I continue with law school? I’m 31, I have good amount of experience in publishing, and although I find certain areas of the law (i.e. copyrights, cyber law, etc.) interesting, I’m not passionate about it. I’ve already started googling alternative careers for people with JDs.

I decided to change careers because I’ve always wanted to attend law school, my past professors and a friend who is a Harvard Law graduate all suggested I go, and I want to provide my “future” family with a more comfortable existence. However, with my grades, the rank of my law school, and my ever-increasing student loan debt, I don’t think I’ll be able to achieve the results I was hoping for.

Plus, I’m absolutely miserable. I hate the Socratic method, I hate the idea of reading a bunch of cases that would be much easier to comprehend if the judges weren’t such poor writers, and I especially hate the attention the students in the top 10% get.

I understand why employers are interested in top-ranking students, but it just makes me wonder: If all employers care about are students in the top 10%, why should the rest of us even continue with law school? What’s the point?

AIf you don’t want to be a lawyer, don’t go to law school. Or, in your case, don’t finish law school. But, you need to come to that decision on your own.

As for class rank and all that, it’s relevant in terms of finding a job at a reputable firm, but it’s not everything. As you suggest, 90% of the class doesn’t graduate in the top 10%, yet many of them get great jobs and go on to do interesting things.

Having said that, if you DON’T LIKE THE LAW, there’s no point finishing. You have two years left. That’s a long time and a lot of money. Also, if your goal really is to get a job at a Big Firm, you’re right—you’re wasting your time. Middle of the class at a lower-tier school will not get it done. You would have more success with smaller firms in smaller cities—with smaller salaries. If that’s not interesting to you, quitting is a no-brainer.

But, IF YOU WANT TO BE A LAWYER (though it sounds like you don’t), all that stuff is irrelevant and you should suck it up and get your degree.  Remember, practicing law has nothing to do with studying law. They’re two different things.

My honest advice here: Get a job at a small law firm or DA’s office this summer—anywhere. I know it’s late, and this might be impractical, but give it a shot. Work for free.  Volunteer your time.  Do anything to be able to watch what lawyers do. See if you find it interesting. If you do, finish. If you don’t, quit.

You’ve heard this lame joke already, but just in case… “You know what they call the person who graduates bottom of the class from a shitty law school?  A lawyer.”

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.

26 Comments

  1. BL1Y

    May 26, 2009 at 4:22 am

    If you already have a decent job, then a law degree won’t give your future family a more comfortable existence.  You’re paying tuition and have lost 3 years worth of income.  You won’t be seeing anything close to the $160k (er…$144k?) big law first years are making.  It’s going to take you a long, long time for the degree to become profitable.  It’s a complete waste unless you really love doing legal work, and most of us don’t, so odds are you won’t either.  Cut your losses.  If there’s some aspects of law you like studying, fine.  Law schools don’t have a monopoly on curiosity; you’re allowed to pick up a book and read it without the $40k tuition.

  2. A. Wipe

    May 26, 2009 at 4:37 am

    I agree.  Stay if you like it, but don’t stay if you don’t like it.  That advice has always been true, even in good times.  If you don’t like it now, you won’t later, and you will have spent more time and mucho dolero getting to where you don’t want to be.  Even if you were #1 in the class, if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.  It’s no different for anything else.  Go with the flow.

  3. Pacific Reporter

    May 26, 2009 at 5:57 am

    Drop out ASAP. Go back to your old job. You’ll be happier and you’ll probably make more money.

  4. Dill Doe

    May 26, 2009 at 6:01 am

    I know someone who graduated at the bottom of her class and is now wildly successful.  She hated law, but then learned that it payed the rent, so she learned to like it.

  5. Anonymous

    May 26, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Great advice. This person seems on the fence. Too many law students fail to take advantage of summer work to see if the law is really for them. That’s the main question here, not the grades, class rank or school.

  6. BL1Y

    May 26, 2009 at 9:24 am

    @9:23: I don’t think it’s the case that a lot of students are just passing up good opportunities.  A lot probably don’t have the chance to take summer jobs in the type of place they want to work, especially as 1Ls.

  7. manda

    May 26, 2009 at 11:28 am

    if you’re doing it to make money, and you hate it, you may as well quit.  it’ll be really hard to find a job w/ those grades, and it’s likely your attitude will shine through, and then no one will want you.  you’ll be making as much (or less) than a legal secretary at a big firm and working 5x as hard.  just quit.  i wish i had.  and i had a 3.3 at a tier one school.

  8. Anon

    May 26, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    If this person is a skirt, she should quit now.  If he’s a suit, he should tough it out in the hope of getting a good job (and skirt) later.

  9. Realist

    May 26, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    From someone who slogs through state court trial practice daily, the punchline (and unfortunate truth) is “Your Honor.”

  10. BL1Y

    May 26, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Realist: Thanks, I thought that joke didn’t sound right.  It’s the top third are professors, middle third lawyers, and bottom third judges, right?

  11. Me

    May 26, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Quit WHINING!

    I can’t tell you how I hate listening to WHINERS.

    I hated all my law school classmates who went to law school because they were bored. You’re wasting your time & taking a spot away from a person who wants to be a lawyer.

    Hate the law? GET OUT.

    I don’t want to hear you whining about the BAR.

  12. Alma Federer

    May 27, 2009 at 3:44 am

    Hey, Judge SOTOMayer didn’t get where she is by whining.  Watch out, Men, here we come!!!!!

  13. BL1Y

    May 27, 2009 at 5:16 am

    Alma: She didn’t exactly get there on the merits either.  Obama decided to designate the vacancy as a diversity seat, and thus make merit only an afterthought to race and gender.

  14. Anonymous

    May 27, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Please cut your losses. You do not want to practice. Don’t burden yourself with $150,000 in debt and a $1500 a month loan repayment with no decent job prospects.
    Yes, in the USA they don’t like quitters…but sometimes it is better to quit and live to fight another day.

  15. LLady

    May 27, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    for sure continue!!

  16. Steve

    May 29, 2009 at 7:13 am

    The top one third in law school become “Litigators” at big firms and handle paper all the time, but quiver at the idea of actually addressing a jury.  The second one third become judges because of their contacts.  The bottom one third get rich because they have drive.  If you make the decision to continue in law school, find some portion of the “law” you like and develop your interests and contacts there.  If you want to do trial work, then do your summer work with a small trial firm.  As a second year student, I worked for water law lawyer in SLC, UT, because I liked the subject, but found I liked the advocacy and trial work better.  Now that you are through your first year, you have an idea of how much time you have to devote to school and can get a part time job with a firm working in an area you really like.

  17. mackeaveli

    May 29, 2009 at 11:23 am

    I was dead middle of my class. I worked 9 years at a small firm and made decent money, but wasnt getting rich. I tried hundreds if not thousands of cases. I got to be in court everyday and made a ton of contacts. Now I make good solid money at a very old very prestigious firm. I am a senior associate and within a few years expect I will be a partner. Not bad for a guy who was almost on academic probation my first semester of law school. Stick it out if you like the idea of being a lawyer or doing work in the law. I hated law school and finished in 2 1/2 years with a B average. I hated aw school, but love being a lawyer.

  18. Smarty

    May 31, 2009 at 10:54 am

    DROP OUT. These Candides won’t have to repay your student loans.
    Look: law school is a gamble. You tried your best, and you didn’t win. Taking a risk is honorable. The dishonor is not giving up when you know you don’t have the cards.
    You called it. Go back to your old field, or start a new endeavor. The truth is that your degree will be good for one thing: practicing law. It will end up being the best decision you ever made.
    Another two years will be another $60K-$100K; can’t you think of better things to do with that kind of money?
    Be Brave!
    GOOD LUCK!!!

  19. drlove

    June 1, 2009 at 6:44 am

    Good advice.  Working as a lawyer is much different than law school.  I hated school but like practicing.

  20. like my job

    June 4, 2009 at 6:28 am

    being mid-ranked at a 4th tier school will definitely not get you a job with a big firm in a competitive market right out of school. however, in law school, you get the impresssion that if you don’t make law review, clerk for a federal judge and subsequently obtain an associate position with some giant defense/trans. firm that you will be a failure and somehow unhappy as a lawyer. in reality, that’s simply not the case. i was top 10%, law review, interned for a fed district judge during the year, split my 2nd summer b/t 2 well-respected big firms and received “desirable” offers to work in biglaw. i ended up taking a pay cut by working for a fairly prestigious boutique firm that specializes in the type of law that interests me. i’m sure my law school career helped me get the interview, but honestly, a lot of smaller firms don’t care that much about grades and are more interested in you personally. i work less hours, i do not spend (most) of my time working on the mind-numbing types of assignments so prevalent with my biglaw colleagues, and after a couple years, my salary is about comparable anyway. many partners at non-biglaw type setups weren’t top of their classes either, and often they look for candidates that they can relate to. unless you’re absolutely set on one of the giant corporate firms that get so much attention and seem so desirable in law school, you still have many options that you may find far more enjoyable and potentially more lucrative in the longrun anyway. also, everyone hates their first year. you should get the opportunity to take some classes that aren’t part of the set curriculum in your 2nd and especially 3rd years, and you may find them much more interesting, not to mention that often in the smaller classes the professors don’t curve the grades, which can help you pull your gpa up. further, everyone is dead-on about practicing law being far different from law school. try to get some practical experience this summer and see if any aspects of the law actually interest you. the law is definitely not for everyone, but law school, especially your first year, can be extremely discouraging for some and gives you a very skewed perspective about what the field is really like.

  21. Paula N. Chavez

    June 4, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    I think the education that one receives in law school is excellent, irregardless of school ranking.  The world is a complicated place, and law school courses can give you an understanding of how things work that you can’t receive anywhere else.  It teaches you analytical, writing and research skills.  Moreover, the history education wrapped up in a law school course of study can be enlightening.  Particularly if you are not planning on practicing, including a J.D. on your resume will help you stand out in a crowded market.  You may consider obtaining an MBA too.  I’ve been practicing for 20 years, and have not been a happy camper.  So I think that not practicing is a good idea. I know plenty of people who received JDs and went on to find very interesting non-legal jobs.  I’d finish what you started and I think you’ll find that you’ll be glad that you did.

  22. at paula

    June 5, 2009 at 5:32 am

    “irregardless” is not a word. common mistake. i think cracked.com actually had an article about that being one of the top 10 misuses of the english language

  23. Paula N. Chavez

    June 6, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Thank you for the correction.  Noted.

  24. Paula N. Chavez

    June 6, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Merriam’s Online

    irregardless

    One entry found.
    Main Entry:

    ir·re·gard·less

    Pronunciation:

    \ˌir-i-ˈgärd-ləs\

    Function:

    adverb

    Etymology:

    probably blend of irrespective and regardless

    Date:

    circa 1912
    nonstandard : regardless

    usage Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that “there is no such word.” There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance. Use regardless instead.
    Give it a break.

  25. BigLaw

    June 19, 2009 at 6:40 am

    Being at a 4th tier school only means that you are stuck [for the time being] in your market, unless you have connections in another market. Your rank will likely mean that you miss out on OCI or BigLaw interviews but, IMHO you are better off. I went to BigLaw and I am miserable – the big paycheck, it turns out, is not enough to compensate me for the fact I don’t see my family! And the mid-ranked students I know who went to smaller firms have more practical experience and are happier! Go figure! Also, the government job-takers, they have loads of experience in a short time.  They struggle for a few years with the low salary and then they come to BigLaw – if they want – and make a great salary or they make a good salary at a boutique. The moral of my comment: You have options. If you can write on to law review, do it. Employers like that. If you can’t, get as much practical experience as you can clerking and try to do a clinical semester. The experience will pay off. Good luck!

  26. Laurie

    July 27, 2009 at 8:53 am

    “irregardless” in common English usage evinces a double negative “ir” and “less.” In other words, the word means the opposite of the way it is used.  Use “regardless.”

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