Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Is a law career over with a below median GPA?

Hi folks, Thanks for all your advice on this board. I a dharamsala06/01/17
It depends. He obviously has no shot at biglaw, but he didn' onehell06/01/17
I know you may regret your life choices, but the post-JD wor mrtor06/01/17
Actually, things eventually turned out fine for me. But it w onehell06/01/17
I won't argue that low ranked law schools are riskier. Nor w mrtor06/01/17
Yes, if he is indeed dead-set on his course then I agree his onehell06/01/17
onehell: Why did you leave legal aid? (if you don't mind my dharamsala06/01/17
Sure, the majority of lawyers may not be on IBR, but the ma bucwild06/01/17
He's in a tough situation but nothing is impossible. I agree ejs201706/01/17
In fairness to TLS, a school with over 1,000 grads a year wi vohod06/01/17
Don't get me wrong. I wasn't defending Cooley or anyone's de ejs201706/01/17
I think that he has a chance. His best bet is to intern in ruralattorney06/01/17
Legal aid and public defenders don't even ask for GPA where fettywap06/01/17
Getting any law job is hard. He needs internships in PDs off vohod06/01/17
Drexel has an 80% bar passage rate. He's not in the top half onehell06/01/17
Like others have said, public defender/legal aid positions a mrtor06/01/17
Drexel has a yearlong clinic at the Defender Association of dharamsala06/01/17
He has a decent shot, nothing more. You are not doing yourse flharfh06/01/17
PD and Legal Aid jobs often have a minimum GPA requirement, patenttrollnj06/01/17
OP, what compelled you to post this on JDU? Personally, I st nighthawk06/02/17
OP is a second generation American nurse living in a rented vohod06/02/17
Any kind of legal employment is going to be hard for this gu isthisit06/02/17
OP I thought you were doing a clerkship did you take a diffe thirdtierlaw06/02/17
Yes, I am doing a clerkship for the 2017-18 term (which can dharamsala06/02/17
double post dharamsala06/02/17
Just to add, I know a guy with pretty average stats who grad junkwired06/02/17

dharamsala (Jun 1, 2017 - 1:57 pm)

Hi folks,

Thanks for all your advice on this board. I am happy to say that after a long and bumpy ride through law school, I have obtained full-time. long-term employment requiring a JD before graduation, which is quite rare in this day and age.

I am mentoring a student at Drexel Law with a 2.90 GPA, which places him in the bottom half of the class. People below that 50th %ile are not ranked, so he is not sure exactly where he stands in term of class rank. He is interested in public defender/legal aid careers. Educational debt will be in the mid-5 figures, so not soul crushing. He is fluent in Spanish, which should be a boon given his career goals. He should be able to raise his GPA to above a 3.0.

How should I advise him?

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onehell (Jun 1, 2017 - 2:41 pm)

It depends. He obviously has no shot at biglaw, but he didn't really have one to begin with coming from Drexel. And for most people, biglaw is the ONLY thing that will EVER pay enough to pay off your debt without reliance on IBR and/or PSLF.

A lot of people say they're interested in public interest jobs, and it is true that these positions are not as grade-obsessed as biglaw. But they are NOT fallbacks. There are still far more applicants than positions, and getting in the door often requires you to move to somewhere VERY undesirable.

My question would be this: How committed is he, really, to public service? Is he prepared to go anywhere in the country that will take him, even if it's on some remote Indian reservation in North Dakota or something? Is he prepared to live alone, in the middle of nowhere, with no friends or dating opportunities, for years? If he's that committed (and knows the IBR/PSLF forms backwards and forwards) then things could work out. But he'd better REALLY want to be a lawyer, REALLY want to be a public interest lawyer, and be REALLY ready to look outside the major metros that most lawyers confine their job searches to.

Another dimension is this. If you ARE committed to public service, there are frankly other more rewarding and more in-demand ways to have that kind of career. The era of changing the world through litigation is largely over, and public interest work at rural legal aid largely consists of churning through child custody disputes in domestic violence cases and stuff like that, or defending people against debt buyers and landlords in Justice of the Peace courts. Or pursuing unemployment or disability cases in administrative forums where you don't even have to be a lawyer to handle the case. The PD is better, but even more hard to get.

In any case, you're very much in the trenches. It's not the kind of world-changing public interest most people envision from their law school classes. A truly dedicated public interest person in law school would often be better served getting an MSW or something like that. Much less debt, and much more in demand. LCSWs can even get licensed to bill health insurance and qualify for national health service corps loan repayment and stuff like that. Other options for do-gooders include an MPH for public health work, an MPA (kinda like an MBA but focused on government work), or perhaps teaching high school.

So the question isn't really whether his law career is "over." It's not. But the options he has are not going to be what he has probably been led to believe, and even if he gets what he wants, it's probably not going to be what he envisions or WHERE he envisions. And even with true dedication and geographic flexibility, he's in for a long and arduous search that might end up fruitless and lead him to unemployment or the doc review dungeons anyway.

He's probably young, and dropping out after 1L year is a pretty golden opportunity to avoid being pigeonholed as a lawyer. A lot of people will like that he has some legal training too, and he'll have a lot less debt.

Dropping out is not a foregone conclusion by any means, but he should seriously consider it. If he's got a true public interest dedication, well, society has spoken. The kind of social justice workers for which we are prepared to pay are basically in the areas of health and education, not law. At least PDs are a constitutional entitlement, but even that only causes the gov to do the absolute bare minimum in terms of meeting that entitlement.

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mrtor (Jun 1, 2017 - 3:06 pm)

I know you may regret your life choices, but the post-JD world isn't nearly as destitute as you portrayed it. While JDU seems like a gathering point for overdebted, underperforming attorneys, only a small fraction of overall attorneys are on an income repayment plan. I'm not saying law is the key to a rich and prosperous future, but most attorneys make out just fine.

It's nonsense to suggest people are routinely sacrificing everything and crisscrossing the nation trying to land this type of work. If he fully dedicates himself to public interest criminal practice, more likely than not, he will be able to find a decent job in his state.

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onehell (Jun 1, 2017 - 3:20 pm)

Actually, things eventually turned out fine for me. But it was a long, hard road to get there and it involved a lot of luck that I couldn't anticipate someone else would have. I wouldn't wish what I went through on anyone, and my eventual escape from it involved an awful lot of "right place, right time" sort of stuff. And I'm humble enough to know that my own anecdotal experience should not be the basis for anyone's decisions. My outcome (eventually) was good. Most people's will not be. This is what the data shows.

As to JDU being a "gathering point for overdebted, underperforming attorneys," you are right that a lot of posters are unhappy. But the experiences you hear on here are not aberrations and they are not due to lack of hard work. It is not they who "underperformed." No amount of hard work will create demand that simply does not exist.

Look at the numbers on lawschooltransparency. A JD from Drexel costs 240k and fully 75% of its graduates start out at less than 60k, and even that is only for the less than one-third of the class that even reported a salary.

A low-ranked law school is an extremely risky bet and no amount of hard work changes this fact. The majority of graduates do not see good outcomes, and "more likely than not" won't see good outcomes no matter how hard they work. That isn't sour grapes. It's hard, verified data.

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mrtor (Jun 1, 2017 - 3:51 pm)

I won't argue that low ranked law schools are riskier. Nor will I argue the sensibility of attending a private law school at sticker price. However, for the narrow purposes of this thread, the student that OP knows has a legitimate shot at working for at legal aid or a public defender's office. We do not know enough about his financial standing to advise whether he can realistically afford to pay off any debt he accumulates, however much it may amount to. If he cannot afford it, there are certainly programs available to assist him.

I think we can all agree that the best advice we could give him if he is set on this course is to pursue clerkships/internships and consider transferring to the cheapest law school he can get admitted to.

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onehell (Jun 1, 2017 - 4:06 pm)

Yes, if he is indeed dead-set on his course then I agree his grades do not foreclose legal aid/PD, and as many have pointed out such gigs do not typically see grades as the significant criteria.

But the OP did not say he was absolutely dead-set or that he has any other extraordinary circumstance (and not being deeply indebted would indeed be rather rare for a below-median kid at a low-ranked law school).

No one's saying he's got no shot at PD/legal aid. What I am saying is that those jobs may not be what (or where) he anticipates, and even though grades do not close the door to them, competition is stiff. They are not fallbacks for people who didn't do well in law school, so as you rightly point out if he decides to stay the course he will have his work cut out for him to distinguish his commitment from the rest of the applicants, and that is exactly what he should do if he is that committed.

But how dedicated he is to staying the course is also an unknown, and he definitely shouldn't stay in just because it's the path of least resistance or because "quitting" is frowned upon by parents or whatever. Dropping out is a real option. Not the only option by any stretch. But it's one he should consider, along with the others.

If it were me mentoring the kid, my advice would be simple: "It's going to be a long, hard road ahead. And the juice may not be worth the squeeze. Your law career is NOT over unless you want it to be, but you should give serious thought to whether you want it to be. There are a lot of other options that may not be available once you become pigeonholed as a lawyer or start a family. This is not a tragedy; it is an opportunity. I'm not saying you SHOULD drop out, but I'm not saying you SHOULDN'T, either. You are young and you have your whole life ahead of you. The die has not yet been cast. Consider ALL your options, and taking another path is one of them."

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dharamsala (Jun 1, 2017 - 5:43 pm)

onehell: Why did you leave legal aid? (if you don't mind my asking) Seems like the perfect job-reasonable hours, good benefits, emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating, etc. I mean, the salaries aren't amazing, but if you're a low-maintenance person, you can definitely eke out a comfortable middle class living.

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bucwild (Jun 1, 2017 - 3:25 pm)

Sure, the majority of lawyers may not be on IBR, but the majority of all lawyers are also over 34. Many of them graduated in a time when school was more affordable and graduates had better outcomes. Their success is hardly reflective of the average student today.

The majority of today's students aren't making biglaw, and aren't getting big scholarship $ to attend school.They will likely live or die by IBR.

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ejs2017 (Jun 1, 2017 - 6:47 pm)

He's in a tough situation but nothing is impossible. I agree with several of the other posters - I particularly agree with mrtor's perspective - that grades will not be much of an impediment for his area of interest. The availability of opportunity will be the struggle. Tell him to keep plugging and trying to do his best. Some people just don't get the law exam thing.

His choice of school shouldn't matter either for the jobs he's looking for. For example, I read the constant ridicule for Cooley on TLS and remarkably I see Cooley grads finding jobs left and right here in Michigan. The ones I know are good lawyers. He should definitely leverage his Spanish fluency. That may open doors regardless of grades.

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vohod (Jun 1, 2017 - 7:38 pm)

In fairness to TLS, a school with over 1,000 grads a year will place some of them..

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ejs2017 (Jun 1, 2017 - 8:41 pm)

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't defending Cooley or anyone's decision to go to law school at this point. I'm just saying that now that he's stepped in it all is not lost. He can still find something given his background.

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ruralattorney (Jun 1, 2017 - 2:09 pm)

I think that he has a chance. His best bet is to intern in a public defender office. If they see that he can do the work, GPA won't matter much. That's how I got my first job (as a prosecutor). My GPA was very middle of the pack, although I went to a law school that was just barely out of being T1.

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fettywap (Jun 1, 2017 - 2:17 pm)

Legal aid and public defenders don't even ask for GPA where I live. Lots of jobs don't care about that. I would be concerned that he's not able to make the grades and maybe law isn't for him though.

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vohod (Jun 1, 2017 - 2:29 pm)

Getting any law job is hard. He needs internships in PDs offices asap. My bigger immediate concern is: do you think he can pass a bar exam?

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onehell (Jun 1, 2017 - 4:24 pm)

Drexel has an 80% bar passage rate. He's not in the top half but it doesn't sound like he's in the bottom 20% either. LST also reports that Drexel's LSAT 25/75 is 154/159, and it also provides the helpful info that a 154 has a "low" risk of bar failure, and a 159 has a "minimal" risk of same. His LSAT most likely falls in that range.

Bottom line is that LST's analytics would say he likely has a "low to minimal" chance of failing the bar. So he should be able to pass if he studies. The data on employment, OTOH, is much less rosy.

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mrtor (Jun 1, 2017 - 2:44 pm)

Like others have said, public defender/legal aid positions are more interested in commitment to the cause than academic achievement. He needs to start demonstrating that commitment as soon as possible. If he clerks for a public defender's office or a legal aid organization every semester the rest of law school, he will run circles around the applicants who simply cannot find anywhere else to apply.

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dharamsala (Jun 1, 2017 - 5:37 pm)

Drexel has a yearlong clinic at the Defender Association of Philadelphia, which I was in this past year. It was the pinnacle of my law school experience. That should help him immensely, I hope? I'm sure they're swamped with applicants from T14s tho!

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flharfh (Jun 1, 2017 - 3:35 pm)

He has a decent shot, nothing more. You are not doing yourself any favors with a below medium GPA at a T3 school. It's true that public interest employers don't care as much about GPA, but at least where I practice they get so many applications that they can afford to be selective to some degree. The Spanish fluency will help him.

That said, if he is just completing his 1L year (and assuming he is debt financing most or all of the tuition) i would recommend that he seriously consider dropping out. His best case scenario if he completes his JD is a job paying 40-60k, which just isn't worth all the debt.

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patenttrollnj (Jun 1, 2017 - 8:41 pm)

PD and Legal Aid jobs often have a minimum GPA requirement, and they almost certainly are 3.4+.

Sadly, I don't think his chances are all that good given the terrible employment situation for lawyers.

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nighthawk (Jun 2, 2017 - 10:28 am)

OP, what compelled you to post this on JDU? Personally, I strongly disagree with the posters, but this is JDU. Negativity galore. Did you expect anything other than what you see?

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vohod (Jun 2, 2017 - 11:08 am)

OP is a second generation American nurse living in a rented attic in Edison.

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isthisit (Jun 2, 2017 - 12:21 pm)

Any kind of legal employment is going to be hard for this guy. He's at a 3xT with a below median GPA. That's a predictor of his bar exam success.

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thirdtierlaw (Jun 2, 2017 - 1:11 pm)

OP I thought you were doing a clerkship did you take a different job?

As to your question, his legal career isn't over. Unless you're number 1 or 2 in your class I don't think class rank actually matters when applying for a job. He is looking small law or legal aid. The advice you need to be giving him is that he should be networking now. T3 students should be hitting the pavement day 1 of law school. The connections he makes are what will get him a job, public interest or otherwise.

I'll never understand why people wait till year 3 to network. At that point everyone knows you're just looking for a job. Starting early is like planting a seed. You then water it for the next 2 years so when you graduate they are somewhat invested in your outcome.

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dharamsala (Jun 2, 2017 - 1:43 pm)

Yes, I am doing a clerkship for the 2017-18 term (which can be extended to another year if i want).

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dharamsala (Jun 2, 2017 - 1:43 pm)

double post

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junkwired (Jun 2, 2017 - 1:58 pm)

Just to add, I know a guy with pretty average stats who graduated from T4 who's getting a high paying gig at a large firm (not insurance defense) because he networked and one of the partners basically made it work.

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