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Choosing a Law School

In brief . . .

  1. The "best" school I can get into? Maybe.
  2. Attend a law forum
  3. Keep financial considerations in mind as you investigate schools.
  4. Visit schools in which you are interested, and talk to students at those schools.

A commonly dispensed piece of advice for those headed to law school is that they should attend the "best," as in the most prestigious or elite, law school that will accept them. This may be good advice for some but not for others. As a general matter, the more prestigious the law school, the broader will be the marketability of someone who has received a degree from that school.  However, the more prestigious and selective law schools in the country may not be the best fit for some law school candidates. Besides reputation, there are a number of other factors you should consider when deciding where to apply:

Geographic Location - Graduates from "Top 20" law schools usually have more geographic mobility upon graduation.  That is, they have greater success finding jobs throughout the U.S. due to the prestige and clout of the law school they attended.  Graduates from lower ranked schools may be more limited to searching for jobs in the cities or region where those law schools are located (i.e. midwest, southeast).  This is because most employers outside of these geographic regions are not as familiar with graduates from these schools.  Also, consider law schools in areas where the demand for young attorneys is growing, rather than slowing. 

Campus Atmosphere - Law school campuses differ in class size, the extent to which schools engage their students in teaching and learning, and in the surrounding off-campus environment. Visit campuses if you can. Sit in on a class. Get a feel for the atmosphere both on and off the campus.

Financial Assistance - Explore opportunities for financial aid. Law school is expensive. Lower ranked law schools aimed at enhancing their stature are increasingly motivated to lure good students by offering attractive aid packages. Someone graduating from law school with a smaller debt burden may well have greater flexibility and more options regarding future employment than someone who must pursue high-paying jobs with large firms in order to repay student loans.

Joint Degrees - Some law school candidates may be interested in (and well served by) a joint degree program.  Joint degrees typically combine law school with graduate studies in another field (e.g., MBA, environmental studies, public policy, etc.). Joint degree programs allow one to acquire more specialized training in an area in which one hopes to practice law, and typically require four years to complete.

Placement - It is important to research the placement rates for those schools on your short list.  The legal job market is competitive, and one ought to familiarize oneself with each school's bar passage and placement rates for recent graduates.  You also may wish to look at where recent graduates tended to find their jobs. Do they go to larger or smaller cities? Large firms, small firms, or other job settings?

The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) identifies a host of factors to consider when choosing a law school:

  1. The breadth and support of the school's alumni network
  2. Breadth of the Curriculum
  3. Accessibility of faculty, including collaborative research opportunities
  4. Cost
  5. Internships and externships, summer clerkships, and legal clinical programs
  6. Faculty accessibility
  7. International programming
  8. Law library strengths and weaknesses
  9. Loan repayment options
  10. Public interest programs
  11. Racial and gender diversity
  12. Religious affiliation

The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools is a good place to start your search.  It includes a several-page description of each school, along with data on their admissions from the previous year. This will allow you to determine your chances of being accepted at various schools. The Guide can be found and accessed for free on-line. You also should plan on attending one of the law forums where representatives of law schools are present. There are large forums in the fall at Chicago, Notre Dame, and the University of Michigan, the dates of which are available on the LSAC website. If you can, visit the campuses of the schools you are seriously considering. Most schools will arrange tours, give you the opportunity to talk with students and sit in on a class. These visits can be a good way for you to introduce yourself to school officials even as you gather information for your law school decision.