Law School Tips for Success

March 28, 2013

Considering law school? Here are some pointers and suggestions to help you decide if a law degree is right for you.

Smart choices

The effects of the recession are still lingering in the legal industry, but many partners at large law firms agree that the market has nearly stabilized. Intellectual property and energy law continue to be lucrative -- and competitive -- specialities. Most law schools also offer dual degrees, such as J.D./MBA and J.D./MA degrees in a variety of fields, which give students greater interdisciplinary expertise that may be a benefit in the workforce.

[Find out what a dual J.D./MBA can add to your education.]

Insider tip

If you are set on a career in public interest law, don't let finances stop you. Many schools offer debt repayment options to students who work in the public sector, if their salaries are low enough.

Low Income Protection Plans (LIPP) and Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP) at schools help students who work in the government and at nonprofits pay back their student loans through loan forgiveness, lower interest rates or postponed payment plans.

Students with good credit can also fund their entire law education with a mixture of Stafford loans and Grad PLUS loans -- both of which are government-run borrowing programs. Better yet, to keep your repayment plan affordable, the government will now tie it to your income, if it's low enough. If you're still working in the public or nonprofit sector after 10 years and you've stayed on top of your payments, the rest of your debt can be wiped clean.

[Read more about paying for law school.]

Getting in

Study hard: High LSAT scores and GPAs continue to set top students apart in the admissions process, especially at the most highly selective schools.

Apply early: Most law schools practice rolling admissions, which means that the earlier you apply, the more openings there are likely to be. Also, try to apply well before scholarship deadlines, even if you don't think you have a shot. Many schools don't ask for any supplemental materials when awarding scholarships, so as long as you apply on time, you'll be considered.

[Check out the Best Law Schools rankings.]

Insider tip

Application mistakes are common but avoidable. Make sure you don't submit a law school application with one of these 10 common mistakes.

Blog watch: Many law school admissions offices have blogs where they offer up-to-date information about the school and pointers for applicants. Scout the blogs for insights when crafting your personal statement to increase your chances of being accepted to a particular program.

[Explore the U.S. News Applying to Law School guide.]

Reality check

-- The number of LSATs administered decreased from the previous year. In the 2011-2012 school year, 129,419 tests were administered, a drop from the 154,418 tests that were administered in 2010-2011.

-- First-year associates at large private law firms can expect to make $160,000 in metropolitan markets including New York, Chicago and Washington, according to the Association for Legal Career Professionals, known as NALP, in its 2011 Associate Salary Survey.

-- In 2011, some metropolitan areas saw increases in median salaries: In Atlanta, the median salary jumped from $125,000 in 2010 to $130,000 in 2011. The median salary at Chicago firms with 251 to 700 lawyers increased from $130,000 to $137,000 in 2011, and the median salaries at firms of the same size in Washington and New York climbed to $160,000 in 2011, according to NALP.

-- In other markets, such as Boston and San Francisco, NALP shows that the median salary remained unchanged from 2010, at $145,000.

-- At firms with two to 25 lawyers, median salaries range from $70,750 to $125,000 in 2012, according to NALP. The median salary that same year was $125,000 at firms with 251 to 500 attorneys.

-- In the public interest field, the median pay for first-year attorneys in an issue-driven public interest organization is $45,000, according to the NALP's most recent study -- the NALP 2012 "Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report". For public defenders, the median entry-level salary is $50,500.

Searching for a law school? Get our complete rankings of Best Law Schools.