Choosing a Law School, Financial Aid, and Scholarships | Interview

I recently interviewed Jenny L. Maxey, author of the new book, Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.

We discussed a variety of topics related to choosing a law school, financial aid, and scholarships. Our discussion follows.

What is one of the most important questions prospective applicants should ask themselves when deciding whether to go to law school?

In the book I focus on five questions, but there is one main question that the other four stem from, which is, “Why do I want to be an attorney?” Sadly, many students say they want to be a lawyer, but don’t know what that means or why it is so.

This question calls for a lot of self-reflection – are you able to do what an attorney does; what are your motivations; is this the right time in your personal life – and research – what does an attorney do; what does law school require; what is the current job market; what is your likelihood of employment.  It is this lack of research and reflection that increases job dissatisfaction and shocks many who thought they would have a guaranteed job or would bring home six-figure paychecks.

What are your thoughts on the importance of law school rankings?

Law school rankings are important for employment since the material you learn is mostly the same between each of the ABA-accredited schools.  Recently, Harvard came out with a study that 96% of their 2012 graduates were employed, while at the national level only 65% of 2012 law grads were employed (and this includes the underemployed).  Clearly, reputation of a school can affect your chances of employment upon graduation.

Employment also greatly depends on grades and class rank.  For example, if a particular “Biglaw” employer will consider a top-25% graduate of Harvard, they might seriously consider only a top-10% graduate of law school #25, and maybe only top-5% from law school #50.

How should applicants decide between higher-ranked schools, which may offer them less scholarship money, and lower-ranked schools, which may offer them more scholarship money?

Schools that are highly ranked usually come with a hefty price tag and, because most students are clamoring to get in the doors, will offer fewer scholarships, while lower-ranked schools use scholarships and lower tuition as an incentive for students to enroll.  If a school is offering a good scholarship and is only a few notches lower than another school you’ve been accepted to, then chances are the reputation won’t make much of a difference and you might as well get the same education for a better price (although this may not always be true if you qualify for in-state tuition at the higher-ranked school).  However, if the ranks greatly differ, then there should be other factors you consider such as in-state tuition, cost-of-living, the school’s reported employment, and location.

Relatedly, under what conditions, if any, is it worth going to 4th-tier "regional law schools"?

The end goal is employment, and statistically the 4th-tier schools are partially 4th-tier because their students struggle to get employed.  While these schools will likely be the cheapest options, this is a time where you may not want to look at price and scholarship deals.  Instead, look to other factors such as location.  Is this school in an area where there is a demand for lawyers?  Does it have a competing law school with a higher rank in the area?

Those who bombed the LSAT, but otherwise do really well in school may consider a 4th-tier school as a spring board to transfer and trade-up to a better school after the first year.  Still, transferring is difficult and can affect your rank, deduct some of your credits (affecting your graduation date and course load), and may eliminate possibilities like law review, moot court, honors/awards, and scholarships.

What should applicants do to negotiate the best possible financial aid package from law schools?

Be aware of the scholarships that law schools offer, find out if they require a separate application, and make sure you meet the deadlines.  Most offer scholarships based on merit, financial need, in-state resident status, underrepresented minorities, and even for those who demonstrate an interest to practice in a certain area of the law or for public service.  Some merit-based scholarships must be renewed, depending on your grades or rank.  Try to negotiate for an irrevocable scholarship—or go elsewhere. (After all, if they really want you because of your stellar LSAT score, chances are others do, too.)

On that same note, if another school offered you a scholarship, but your dream school didn’t, then let your dream school know what you’ve been offered and try to negotiate for the same thing.  With applicant rates at a low, schools are trying harder to keep the students they want.  No one will look out for your interest. You, and only you, can do that.

Any last words of advice to share?

The battle over whether law school is worth the investment can be very confusing to those considering law school.  This is not a black and white issue, although it is heavily portrayed that way in the media.  You need to do the research, serious self-reflection, and a cost-benefit analysis as well as learn how to budget and be smart about student loans in order to determine if law school is worth the investment for you.


Check out Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank for more tips from Jenny L. Maxey.


  1. This was extremely informational. Thank you!

  2. Great article with some very informative tips for the law school process.