Color Me Unconvinced

I'm part of the small audience David Bernstein is trying to convince to go to George Mason University law school: I have the test scores and grades to get into a higher-ranked program, but GMU has interesting faculty, is in a prime location for the kinds of stuff I'd like to be doing over the next few years, and has a strong law and economics program.

So I'd like to be convinced to choose GMU over higher-ranked alternatives. Bernstein's argument, though, remains unconvincing. Don't worry, he assures us, "you will not be alone." Great. That wasn't really my concern. Why should I care what other students do unless I can be independantly convinced that their choices make sense? And one would think that if enough students started choosing GMU over higher-ranked alternatives, it would have some effect on the rankings, or at least there would be some independant reasons to point to to explain why so many students made this decision. But Bernstein doesn't give us any argument other than "you will not be alone." At least the "everyone else is doing it; why don't you?" argument has some force. The "some other people are doing it; why don't you?" has none. And maybe I want to be the only person in the world doing something, just plain davka.

I can't remember where I found the article, but I recall reading a law school admission advice column answering a pertinent reader question. The future law school student was accepted to both a top ten school (NYU, if I recall correctly) and a lower-ranked school in the 30s or 40s range. The lower school offered a full scholarship, while the top school offered none. The student was indifferent in terms of the academic offerings, and only cared about the amount of debt she would have after she graduatess, and the difference in job offers. Surprisingly (for me at least), the advice columnist recommended choosing the higher-ranked school even with the additional $100,000 worth of debt this would entail. The columnist argued that unless the student isn't sure whether she will actually practice law when she graduates, almost any career in law--especially working for a corporate firm--will benefit more from the prestige of attending a highly ranked school, and this benefit is worth more than the significant difference in cost.

I'm still skeptical whether this is true, but the argument seemed persuasive at the time, and I'm sure this is the same worry lots of potential law students have when they must choose which school to attend. So if Bernstein wants to convince us to choose GMU over higher-ranked alternatives, he will need to address this concern, or at least make some other convincing argument, especially for those students who don't need to weigh the cost of tuition at one school against the scholarships offered by another.

Share this

Come to Georgetown. We'll

Come to Georgetown. We'll start an anarchist caucus.

Wherever you end up, if you

Wherever you end up, if you cannot be talked out of law school, pursue a dual degree program such as the JD with MA in International Studies at American University. Law school is, with few exceptions, three years of mindless trade school. In a dual degree program, your brain will atrophy more slowly, and you might come out of school knowing something worthwhile.

Scott, I'm seriously

Scott,

I'm seriously considering it. Curriculum B/Section 3 sounds fucking shweet; precisely what I am looking for in a law school program. And I think I would get along great with the radical lefties; I have a post in the works about how the CLS movement might actually be compatible and beneficial for libertarians. Their J.D./Ph.D. joint program in philosophy sounds kinda neat too. Know anyone who's doing that in addition to B/3? Although, if I can't cut it in graduate econ, I don't know if I can cut it in graduate philosophy either.

Dennis,

Yep, I'm very interested in joint degree programs. Only problem with them is that I won't get out of school until I'm over 30, and I won't have a physician's salary to make up for it. :neutral:

"I’m seriously considering

"I’m seriously considering it. Curriculum B/Section 3 sounds fucking shweet; precisely what I am looking for in a law school program. And I think I would get along great with the radical lefties; I have a post in the works about how the CLS movement might actually be compatible and beneficial for libertarians. Their J.D./Ph.D. joint program in philosophy sounds kinda neat too. Know anyone who’s doing that in addition to B/3? Although, if I can’t cut it in graduate econ, I don’t know if I can cut it in graduate philosophy either."

Can't say I know anybody doing the joint philosophy Ph.D. program. As to the CLS movement, I think it naturally leads to libertarianism--one of their central tenets is that the government provided law is the crystallization of power: if true, that's a powerful argument against government provision of law.

I love Section 3, and promise it's a lot of fun. Some of the criticisms of law and economics have been truly thought-provoking. And believe it or not, I actually found some of the feminist legal theory and critical race theory interesting as well.

Why couldn't you cut it in graduate econ? After all, Krugman could.

"And I think I would get along great with the radical lefties."

You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

Krugman is one smart cookie,

Krugman is one smart cookie, which may not be apparent from his NYTimes dribble, but his older popular writing and his academic work is excellent.

Math scares me. Numbers and statistics and probability scare me. I love the logic of algebra and proofs, but I'm terrible at learning new languages; applying the "grammar" of math is more difficult than doing so for regular languages - if you make a mistake in French or German, you may look like a fool but you can still get the point across. If you make a grammatical mistake in math, you're toast.

And that's what scares me about philosophy too: most graduate philosophy programs require learning a foreign language: French, German, Latin, or Greek. I've been studying Hebrew since pre-school, and I still can't do very much at all with it.

"And that’s what scares me

"And that’s what scares me about philosophy too: most graduate philosophy programs require learning a foreign language: French, German, Latin, or Greek. I’ve been studying Hebrew since pre-school, and I still can’t do very much at all with it."

Ah, horseshit. It's a mind over matter type thing. But for what it's worth, if you want to try to pick up French or German and you come here, I'll take a stab at learning it with you.

And B. Caplan's close by. We can go hang with him on the weekends.

The GMU faculty seem like

The GMU faculty seem like quite a benefit, don't great faculty make up for a lack of prestige somewhat?

There's nothing wrong with

There's nothing wrong with trade school. There may be some value in pure knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but learning a concrete valuable skill is okay, too.

I think the last time Micha mentioned law school, I recommended UVA. I stand by that recommendation. I really think you'd like it there.

I'm gonna have to agree with

I'm gonna have to agree with the person of whom you wrote in the original post--if you want to maximize opportunities, you need to attend the best school (or at least choose from among the best) that accepts you. This is particularly true if you are not sure what you want to do with your law degree, or if you don't know what area you want to practice in.

I didn't really appreciate this point until I was at law school. I went to the U of Chicago, my top choice, and at the same time one of my friends went to the U of Santa Clara. The first xmas we visited after our first semester in law school, I remarked on all the potential employers (read: mostly big law firms) coming to recruit for 1L summer positions. She was shocked--on her campus, there were no firms coming to recruit for 1Ls and the ones that wanted to talk to 2Ls only wanted to interview the top 5% of the class. At my law school (which was at the time ranked #3) you pretty much had several offers for summer employment and a job awaiting you after graduation unless you found a way to really screw things up.

True, that was back in '88-91, but things have not changed much. I currently teach at the U. of San Diego School of Law, and I can tell you that only a handful of students get on-campus interviews with the top firms. The rest of the students duke it out with each other for smaller firms and solo practitioners or summer jobs helping professors or "studying overseas" (often code for "they didn't have a job, needed the credits and had the money").

Yes, you will rack up debt if you don't have scholarship money or wealthy parents. I racked up debt but I have to say it was all worth it to go to my top choice. The big firm life wasn't for me, but the experience opened a lot of doors. Definitely worth it.

//dgm

Maybe, Patri, but its not

Maybe, Patri, but its not like the faculty at UofC is anything to spit at either (Posner, Coase, Epstein). And although other schools may not be as libertarian as GMU or Chicago, maybe it will give me more of a chance to argue with my professors. And we all know how much I love to argue.

dgm, Great points, all. But

dgm,

Great points, all. But Santa Clara has certain other benefits many of us here can appreciate.

"i agree with you about

"i agree with you about david friedman–he was at the U of C when i was there (does that date me, or what?) so i still had it better than my friend! i have this vague memory of my husband (then-boyfriend) going to friedman’s house, where friedman read kipling to him."

It verges on ridiculous how envious I am of your husband. Christ, I'm like a groupie.

micha, i agree with you

micha,
i agree with you about david friedman--he was at the U of C when i was there (does that date me, or what?) so i still had it better than my friend! i have this vague memory of my husband (then-boyfriend) going to friedman's house, where friedman read kipling to him.

i read david bernstein's post on the VC about the other factors to consider in choosing law schools, and i agree they have some merit. but i also think that if you are young (in your 20s) and single and trying to decide where to practice, you should not let the geographic element weigh too heavily. you never know where your life will take you, and i think you're too young to say, "i want to practice in cincinnati, and to live there forever and i already know it so i might as well go to the university of [some ohio school]."

if you had told me when i went into law school that i would end up living back in southern california (i went to college in san diego but could not get out fast enough--i thought the weather too bland and was more of a san francisco girl) after spending long years in d.c., i would not have believed it. if you would have told me that i would work at a big law firm, then a smaller firm, then litigating constitutional cases at IJ, then teaching at the university of san diego, well i would have asked for my money back. (IJ wasn't even around when i started law school, but i had worked with chip mellor at its pre-cursor. still, who knew it would turn out to be the powerhouse it is?)

my point is, you just never know, and i wouldn't advise sticking to the geographic locations you know just because you know them. they may look better to you 10 years later.

having said all that, gmu is a fine fine school. i taught in their legal writing program there for a couple of years and found the students to be very bright. we still have several friends who teach there (including bernstein--is this a small circle, or what?). you could go there and do really well, but who knows? you may end up on the west coast, in which case gmu looks like a really good regional school.

ok, 'nuff said.