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Posts Tagged ‘ACLU’

You’re different. You disdain the crass blandishments of biglaw. You have a soul. Let the giant firms seduce your naïve classmates with their shameless wheedling. You’re made of sterner stuff.

Your ultimate goal? Something better. A place where you might actually do good. Few lawyers receive that opportunity. Many, exposed to goodness, would burst into flames.

That’s why you’re taking the high road, escaping the pervasive cynicism and greed. You’ve got your sights set on a not-for-profit institution, dedicated to the promise of a better tomorrow.

Will it work? Can a lawyer escape pervasive cynicism and greed?

Seems unlikely.

Let’s talk about the the not-for-profit track – its ups, downs and in-betweens.

Right off the bat, we have to discuss salary. I know – you want to escape all that – the obsession with filthy lucre. But there’s a stark reality you must grasp before reporting for duty at a not-for-profit: You will earn bupkis.

Maybe that’s okay with you – like Hebrew National, you answer to a higher authority. On the other hand, if – like most young lawyers – you’re sitting on a zillion dollars in bankruptcy-proof loans, an extended period of earning zilch could prove…inconvenient.

This aforesaid stark reality also explains one of the dirty little secrets of the not-for-profit world: It’s a magnet for rich kids. If Mom and Dad have already paid off the $200k you blew on an undergraduate degree and law school, then bought you the cutest little one-bedroom in Chelsea and a brand new Prius…well, the logical next step is to save the world. It’ll be fun!

Not-for-profits are bursting at the seams with eager-beaver trust-afarians – and it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes Mom and Dad (and their friends) sit on the board. Sometimes the charismatic founder and Executive Director is a grinning, twenty-something former college lacrosse star, just back from Burning Man. You can’t hold it against him if he wants to donate a snippet of grandaddy’s styrofoam factory fortune to making the world a better place. But his white-boy dread locks and penchant for calling you “bro” in the hallway make you wince.

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An editor at AboveTheLaw suggested some months back that I do a piece on the US News & World Report law school rankings. For whatever reason, this stodgy old weekly news magazine – which someone must still read – has created a sideline business publishing rankings of schools, including law schools. I’m not sure what the criteria are, but at least in theory, it’s a big deal for lawyers when the list comes out each year.

The rankings seem designed to make official what everyone knows anyway, i.e., that there are “prestige” schools that are harder to get into. But like any good opinion piece, they throw in a few twists – familiar names in unexpected places. It boils down to dissing one of the big places, or unexpectedly anointing a second-rank outfit. That way everyone can get riled up over the respective rankings of my school versus your school.

It sounded kind of boring, so I filed the idea away.

Then it started to gnaw at me. The US News list seemed like a good example of the amazing lengths lawyers go to in order to distinguish themselves from one another. The entire profession splits hairs like this because the career path is so conservative there isn’t much to distinguish one attorney from another. Every lawyer lines up to take the LSAT, then get processed and distributed to law schools based on hairline distinctions. In class you sit through identical lectures, take identical exams, and head off – for the most part – to identical firms to do nearly identical work.

You end up arguing over the details.

The law school curriculum is pretty much the same thing wherever you go – it’s standardized. I doubt the property law lecture at a “top” law school is much different, let along superior, to a property law lecture at a less “prestigious” place.

But, of course the students are “better” at the more prestigious school – because they did better on their LSAT. How much better? Some tiny fraction of a percentage, probably, representing a few questions that they got right and someone else got wrong.

I worked with one lawyer who went to a “second-tier” law school in New York, but rose to the top of his class and made law review. He said he still faces resistance at top firms because of snobbery over where he went to school – even though he’s been out and working for eight years. Those Yale and Harvard lawyers at the big firms, he says, turn their noses up at his top of the class record at a “lesser” school – as well as his federal clerkship and the years of hard work that followed.

I’m currently working with a couple of young lawyers who find themselves in the odd position of trying to decide how to appraise the “value” of a “top school.” One woman was accepted at a “top” place, but offered a full scholarship at a “second-tier” institution. Is it worth $150k to go to the prestige school? The education itself will be nearly identical. Is the snob value worth it? According to one of my clients, half the kids at Columbia Law are struggling to find jobs right now, so it doesn’t sound like the “top “ places are pulling their weight. On the other hand, maybe it’s even worse coming out of a “second tier” joint. Crucially, though – with no debt, she wouldn’t be as desperate as everyone else. I see plenty of young lawyers emerging from “top schools” (and every other kind of school) with shaky job prospects, huge debt and – worst of all – the sense that going to law school was a mistake. The debt reduces them to indentured servitude, making it impossible to do anything else, at least until they’ve paid the piper.

How about the law firms themselves? Surely some are “better” than others?

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