Mid February Flash-Back

February 19, 2008

J.E., 1L

So it’s February, and I just finished deciding my summer job plans. Choosing my summer job was reminiscent of one year ago to when I was making a decision about which law school to attend. I was one of the early bird types with applying to law school, so almost all my decisions were back by mid-February. By then, I had done enough research on various schools to drive myself crazy.

Basically, I was weighing Yale against other top schools on two dimensions – financial realities (or better put, aid) and the overall caliber of the law school. At more than one top school, I was awarded a scholarship, ranging up to full tuition. YLS doesn’t award merit scholarships, and due to the way they calculate need-based amounts, I was left to support my entire tuition and living arrangements on loans alone (the reason for this is that they include parental contribution whether or not your parents actually will contribute). Thus, my decision came down to some elite law schools on a full-scholarship or Yale on full loans (which scared the bejeezus out of me). However, there was one line that Dean Koh said (during a personal conversation at a reception in New York no less) that really pushed me towards Yale. I don’t remember the exact words, but it went along the lines of: “If you make your decision to attend another law school based solely on money, you’re starting down a path where you make every decision based on money, and soon you’ll end up somewhere you never wanted to be. Don’t worry, the money will come.”

The reality of the situation is that everyone at Yale is going to do well and make money, which brings me to the second dimension I was deciding on. In all ways, YLS is the highest caliber of academic institutions, with the most incredibly gifted student body assembled anywhere in the world. Your instructors understand this, and teach law at the highest level; employers understand this, opening up the best opportunities. Indeed, for this summer I had to decide between going to a law firm where I could potentially earn $40,000 and going to the United States Department of Justice, where I would be working on real cases and policy in the national security and counterterrorism departments. Although the DoJ job is an unpaid position, it is only available to the nation’s best law students, but Yale students are the nation’s best law students. Fortunately, both places offered me a job, but I bet you can already guess which one I took. Yale generously provides summer funding through SPIF for volunteer jobs, so I won’t be poor this summer, but the real point is that given the chance I made the same decision again as before, giving up the position with lots of money for something of higher caliber. I know eventually money concerns will take over, and I’m ok with that. But for now I want the highest caliber experience, and for me that was clearly with the DoJ.

And back in last February when I was making a similar decision, I really only went with what I knew all along. I’m not saying that everyone’s decisions will be the same, but you owe it to yourself to go with what you really believe is best.