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Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Fri Aug 31, 2018 8:46 pm
by lxrlllxf
I graduated from Yale Law School a few years ago and felt that there were a lot of things about the school that were opaque and unfair. Because of the lack of an official grading system and grade curves, and the fact that getting on law review was not based on grades, students who went to Harvard/Yale/came from an elite social class had an unfair advantage over the rest of us in terms of getting prestigious clerkships and good firm jobs. They also have a larger network of undergrad alumni within the law school to share insider tips. So I'd like to share some of the info I learned only after I got there and wish I had known earlier to level the playing field. However, know that this is a few years after graduation, so take this with a grain of salt, since the below is unique to my experience and my information may no longer be updated. If you are another YLS grad, please feel free to update this.

1. It's easy to game the grading system and get straight Honors (H) without being the best or working the most. All you need to do is to take clinics, seminars, and take the paper option over an exam in black letter law classes where those are offered. Clinics, seminars, and basically any class based on a paper is a guaranteed H. Don't make my mistake of taking all black letter law classes with exams. For certain firms like Munger, you need at least 12 Hs from YLS in order to get an interview as a lateral. So grades are somewhat important even though they are not very meritocratic. For certain judges and Supreme Court Justices, you do need straight Hs to get a clerkship. Katzmann is one of those judges.

2. You must become a research assistant (RA) for at least a professor or two to secure a good clerkship. Do not RA for a visiting professor unless it's a really famous professor. The reason why you need to RA is because the person you RA for will then call on your behalf to a judge to get you a clerkship. Some of the Supreme Court feeders are famous professors. However, some of the more famous professors will only take as RA people they think will be successful down the road and help put their name forth for a Supreme Court Justice position, so they will only hire students who went to Harvard/Yale or came from elite background already. Your energy might be better invested in a professor who is not as famous but who you have a personal connection with. As long as they would be willing to pick up the phone for you, it's a professor worth investing in. Certain elite litigation boutiques (mostly ones in DC) require a district + appellate clerkship.

3. Law review is not based on grades at all, but for the rest of your life, people will guess you are not top of the class if you were not on Yale Law Journal, because they assume it is grades-based like it is at every other law school. So you need to really make sure you ace the bluebook exam. And if you're Asian, good luck because well. . . you can probably guess.

4. OCI - grades are important only for certain clerkships/firms, but for the vast majority of firms (even Wachtell/Cravath, etc), grades don't matter nearly as much as which school you went to for undergrad/career prior to law school/class background. I had classmates who had straight Hs but who went to top tier but non Ivy League schools strike out, and classmates who went to Ivy League undergrads and who were total slackers who partied all the time secure offers from every firm they interviewed with (including Cravath and Wachtell). Unfortunately, the lack of a strict grading curve (which Harvard Law has) tends to hurt minority/immigrant/poor students who did not go to an Ivy League undergrad because interviewers have no meaning way of differentiating your work ethic from other people at the same school, so they have to go by where you went to undergrad. To a certain extent, the same dynamic plays out for certain prestigious clerkships as well. Also, for whatever reason, the alumni interviewers from YLS at OCI tend to be white men/women who came from very privileged backgrounds, whereas the alumni interviewers from schools like Columbia and NYU are actually a lot more diverse, so culturally, it's much harder to connect with the YLS interviews at OCI if you come from a lower social class/not white. OCI at Yale tends to be a winner take all situation, so it's certainly not true that no one strikes out at OCI. For whatever reason, in my year, all the strike outs were minority women who did not go to Ivy League undergrads. And these were people who were perfectly nice and friendly (not socially awkward) and who studied at the library all the time. Ironically, if they had gone to a lower tier top law school like NYU or Georgetown, they probably would have secured at least one biglaw offer.

Out of my classmates, the ones who secured Supreme Court or other prestigious clerkships were the ones who maximized the number of seminars, clinics, and black letter law classes with a paper option + RA'ed for certain professors + worked for certain feeder judges + studied super hard for the bluebook exam so they could get on YLJ. Needless to say, the vast majority of them went to an Ivy League school or Oxbridge prior to YLS and thus had greater access to this type of info.

Also, biglaw litigation in NY is not the be all end all. At the rate all the NY biglaw firms are going, my classmates who are the happiest and getting the most substantive experience in litigation are the ones who went to small litigation boutiques or biglaw litigation in secondary markets (think Philly, Seattle, etc.) directly after law school. Looking back, I wish I had done that instead of working in biglaw litigation.

I hope this is helpful to someone! :D

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Fri Aug 31, 2018 9:30 pm
by BrainsyK
Now, this is some salacious and intriguing stuff--if it's true. As an Asian, I'd like to hear more about the Asian thing.

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Fri Aug 31, 2018 10:14 pm
by esther0123
This is a very cynical view, but I tend to agree... I wish I had known all of these tricks back in law school, though things didn't turn out too badly for me (thank god). This is definitely more true at YLS from what I heard from friends, but also true to some extent at HLS too.

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Sat Sep 01, 2018 4:12 pm
by lxrlllxf
Just a few other things:

Extracurricular clubs: Unlike other law schools where students are not encouraged to participate in extracurricular clubs like affinity groups, and ACS/Federalist Society until 2L year, it's actually the reverse at YLS. These groups are really important for networking and it's especially important to get on the board of these groups because they often will host events with important speakers (which the entire school is invited to attend) and then have board-only sessions/meals with important speakers and judges (for clerkship applications). You are supposed to volunteer as much as possible 1L year, get the leaders to like you, so you can apply and obtain one of the board positions 2L years. By the time 3L year comes along, almost no one participates in these clubs anymore since they do not offer as much networking/informational value to 3L participants. So in that sense, they operate rather like secret societies in that leadership positions will get you access to and chance to network with important people. I've also heard comparisons between the YLJ and Yale undergrad secret societies. Also, YLJ seems to create a weird dynamic where my friends from 1L year who did not make it on the YLJ seem to be excluded from a lot of the informal social events organized by friends on the YLJ. Whether this was conscious or not is unclear, but the YLJ seems to almost create a kind of social stratification within the law school and define friendship lines.

OCI: Because YLS is so prestigious, the best firms for litigation is actually not the NY biglaw firms, but rather the top litigation boutiques. As a clueless 1L at OCI, I stupidly bid on the top biglaw firms based on Vault-ranking. It wasn't until later that I realized that the most prestigious and best boutiques to bid on were firms I had never even heard of, but a lot of the other students who came from elite backgrounds knew about. You get the best training in litigation by going to those firms, which are leanly staffed, go to trial, require clerkships, and hire almost exclusively from H/Y/S. E.g. Williams & Connolly in DC, a couple of others in NY, Susman in TX, Keker in SF, Munger in LA. The significance of this did not quite hit me until several years after graduation. The type of training you get the first 10 years out of law school really matters a lot. I wasted a lot of precious time doing doc review on investigations at biglaw firms as a result. This type of information is often not available on Vault, and somewhat available on Chambers. To overcome the information asymmetry, if you don't have have any classmate from your undergrad who are in classes above you, you should make an extra effort to participate in the extracurricular clubs to get to know upperclassmen who might be able to explain this type of info to you.

1L summer: I remember being really surprised when I came back 1L second semester and heard that x number of my classmates had received offers/were applying to intern at various AUSA offices (primarily SDNY because it's considered at YLS as more "prestigious" than EDNY). I had to look up what a lot of these terms meant and didn't understand quite understand the significance of having your 1L summer spent at an AUSA office. Now I know that doing an internship there give your a leg up when you apply to be come an AUSA following graduation. And being an AUSA at SDNY/EDNY makes it easier to become a law firm partner.

2L summer: there is an almost hypocritical environment at YLS where you will be judged and considered evil if you openly talk about OCI plans or interest in biglaw. A lot of people will pretend to be ambivalent or say they are only doing OCI as a back-up plan and that their long term interest is public interest/academia. But in reality, they will be emailing and networking with alums long before OCI. And the very person telling you that he/she is here for public interest and sneering at you for your biglaw goals will be secretly gunning for biglaw. That is not to say that there is not a significant portion of great people who are truly interested in public interest work and making a difference in the world, but there is also a fair amount of people who will pretend to be part of the former group and judge students who admit their biglaw goals. For whatever reason, these people tend to be the ones who went to Ivy League undergrads/come from an upper social class where this kind of passive aggressiveness/hypocrisy is prevalent. You'll find that the students who grew up poor/from lower social class are actually more honest about their law firm goals. Ironically, they also tend to be judged more harshly for admitting that they want to make money.

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Sat Sep 01, 2018 8:39 pm
by rumcity
Can I pm you?

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Wed Sep 12, 2018 3:38 am
by khaosan17
What an informative review..

Thanks guys.

As a minority, middle class, non-ivy at HLS, the information roadblock you guys keep talking about totally rings true.

I can’t believe how those YLS students were striked out at OCIs.

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Wed Sep 12, 2018 6:44 am
by Npret
How did you guys not know or find out this stuff while in school? I thought these things were common knowledge. I don’t think it’s all meant to be a secret, so as someone said, you need to get to know people with good information. If you can’t find students to help you, their must be professors who will give you advice.

Yes, some people will always lie about their true intentions. I learned that back in 3rd grade when some kids had tutors for every class and coaches to help them in sports but acted as if it was all their own effort. Some people will always present the public face that is not reality.

Don’t let that deter you.

Edit to add - just speculating here, but talking about money and planning your career to get money may be very generally considered as not to be discussed openly. My suggestion is to avoid it and play the same superficial game. Just say you want biglaw training or some garbage like that, you don’t have to pretend to want PI.

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Thu Sep 13, 2018 12:37 pm
by dabigchina
IDK if 1L summer at a US Attny office is that big of of a plus tbh.

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Thu Sep 13, 2018 1:12 pm
by nixy
It’s not going to be a dealbreaker, but having interned at an USAO during school is helpful for if you want to be an AUSA down the line.

Also I can see it not being self-evident how SNDY/EDNY are different from, say, Bronx DA.

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Thu Sep 13, 2018 2:10 pm
by QContinuum
There are a number of things that would be less than self-evident to a 1L without friends/family who'd gone through law school before (preferably at Yale, but any previous law school info would help).

For example, it wouldn't be evident that there'd be an advantage to taking a BLL class with a paper option over the same BLL class with an exam. The natural (though incorrect) assumption would be that the papers and exams would be graded on a similar curve. Students might reasonably choose to take a several-hour exam than spend days/weeks writing and polishing a paper, not knowing that doing the paper would effectively guarantee an H.

It also wouldn't necessarily be evident which professors are the "best" to RA for, for clerkship purposes.

It certainly wouldn't be evident that Yale's lack of a strict grading curve may actually be harmful to URMs at OCI.

And OP's right about the lack of "lay prestige" of elite lit boutiques like Keker or Susman or Munger. Back when I was a 1L (not at YLS, but at a T13), I routinely confused White & Case and Williams & Connolly!

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Thu Sep 13, 2018 3:13 pm
by TheProsecutor
The key to succeeding at YLS is getting in.

All this stuff this thread is talking about is just about doing more prestigious stuff. Listen, you get into YLS, you're set. You can go to whatever firm you want. You can get a clerkship. You can make lots of money. You can be a judge one day. You can work in government. You can do PI. No doors are closed.

So you don't get to go to a prestigious boutique, because nobody told you it was prestigious? Sounds like you didn't do your research. But nobody knows those firms are prestigious anyways. And prestige is merely a signaling device - - did I mention, you're already at YLS? Lay people think its second only to harvard and lawyers know its the best. So what's the issue?

The only possible issue I see is if you want to clerk for SCOTUS, then sure, this thread is gold and full of great advice. Write papers, become a TA, do your 1L at SDNY and 2L at some obscure boutique. Get all Hs. But otherwise, you've made it. There's only 200 of you. Plenty off opportunities to go around.

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Thu Sep 13, 2018 4:16 pm
by QContinuum
TheProsecutor wrote:The key to succeeding at YLS is getting in.

All this stuff this thread is talking about is just about doing more prestigious stuff. Listen, you get into YLS, you're set. You can go to whatever firm you want. You can get a clerkship. You can make lots of money. You can be a judge one day. You can work in government. You can do PI. No doors are closed.


That's the common view, but the entire premise of the OP is that success isn't necessarily assured at YLS. The OP raises the example of YLS URMs striking out at OCI:

lxrlllxf wrote:For whatever reason, in my year, all the strike outs were minority women who did not go to Ivy League undergrads. And these were people who were perfectly nice and friendly (not socially awkward) and who studied at the library all the time. Ironically, if they had gone to a lower tier top law school like NYU or Georgetown, they probably would have secured at least one biglaw offer.


TheProsecutor wrote:The only possible issue I see is if you want to clerk for SCOTUS, then sure, this thread is gold and full of great advice. Write papers, become a TA, do your 1L at SDNY and 2L at some obscure boutique. Get all Hs. But otherwise, you've made it. There's only 200 of you. Plenty off opportunities to go around.


I disagree that the OP's advice is only useful for SCOTUS gunners. Many of the elite lit boutiques effectively require folks to land prestigious CoA clerkships, for which OP's advice is very helpful.

And I'm certain that OP's classmates who struck out at Yale OCI would disagree that they "made it" simply by being at YLS.

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Sat Sep 29, 2018 11:48 pm
by whats an updog
Also remember to keep a calendar. Might come in handy down the line.

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Mon Oct 01, 2018 2:04 pm
by macncheeese
whats an updog wrote:Also remember to keep a calendar. Might come in handy down the line.


Yeah, and that - :shock:

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Mon Oct 01, 2018 8:48 pm
by ughbugchugplug
Beer and a quick temper

Re: Keys to succeeding at YLS

Posted: Mon Oct 08, 2018 12:38 am
by Wumbo
as a student at HLS this is super interesting to read.

I'm curious about your emphasis on "non-ivy," as if most people at YLS came from an ivy. Is this true?

At HLS it doesn't seem to be. IIRC in my section there were like 12 (of 80) combined from ivies. Assuming similar numbers across sections, that would be 15%. Granted if you throw in places like Stanford, Uchicago, NW, Duke, Berkeley, Michigan, and other top non-ivies, then that number likely approaches or surpasses 50%, but according to your analysis even those folks would be at a disadvantage in OCI. So it seems like either YLS must have way more ivies, or something else besides non-ivy undergrad must be harming those who strike out at OCI (maybe other aspects of that information asymmetry, but a lot of that concerned grades and RAs, which you say firms don't really care about anyway).

Either way, that obviously doesn't discount the bulk of your analysis, and it makes me wonder if firms might do similar things if grades at HLS were more like YLS, whereas despite what people often say, grades here do matter for firms, albeit obviously to a lesser extent than other schools.

Interesting also about the hypercritical-of-biglaw attitude. that happens here too, for sure, though perhaps not to the same extent, and it manifests itself more in people being self-conscious of their own decision to do biglaw than in shaming others for wanting to do it. There's definitely not the same lack of guilt for wanting to do big law and make a lot of money, though, which does seem to be rather ubiquitous at "lower" T14s, according to friends there.

I hadn't really thought of the advantages going to an "elite" school for undergrad might have from a networking standpoint, though it's definitely true that whereas I knew nobody who had gone to YHS or even a T10 before going to law school, a lot of my ivy friends knew a bunch, not to mention had worked as paralegals in biglaw, and so I can definitely see how in that regard I may have been disadvantaged (the flip side is that I did know a lot of people at mediocre law schools, where 90% of people have no shot at big law, so that helped put things in perspective and avoid the reference bias of classmates worried that they'd have to "settle" for a V50 firm at OCI).

Perhaps the biggest difference b/w YLS and HLS based off what you've said is the stuff about RAs. Relatively few people I know RA here. Those who do don't seem to develop amazing relationships with profs. Had known that it would be different at YLS, though that's unfortunate that profs there seem to discriminate based off prestigious undergrad credentials.