Choosing The Right Law School

If you are fortunate enough to be able to choose among multiple law schools to which you have been accepted, the decision can be daunting.  Let me make a few suggestions from experience.

LAW SCHOOL RANKING:  First, do not choose a law school based upon rankings alone.  Rankings do make a difference to some extent (and for some jobs more than others), but rankings definitely are not everything.  Law students tend to be far more obsessed with a law school’s ranking than employers are.  Employers will consider the reputation of a law school, but they focus on far more than that.  Employers also will focus on whether they know the law school well, are an alumni of the law school, have worked with others who went to that law school, how well you did in law school, and a host of other factors that go beyond rankings.

LAW SCHOOL RANKING (cont.): Also, employers don’t tend to make a big deal out of small differences in law school rankings, and often won’t even know the difference.  It may be important to you whether your law school is ranked 25 or 35, but your future employer probably won’t even know the difference.  They will know the difference between a Top 10 school and a school ranked 40th, or a school ranked 30th vs. 110th (and large differences in rankings may have some impact their hiring decisions) but they are unlikely to make a big deal out of modest ranking differences.  I have seen some profoundly ignorant advice on law school forums (inevitably from anonymous sources) saying things like “don’t bother going to law school if you aren’t going to a T-14 law school” – that advice is so naive and simplistic that it doesn’t even merit further discussion.

COST:  Second, if there is a big cost difference between law schools (e.g., because one gave you a large merit-based scholarship and the other didn’t), that is a highly relevant factor.  But again, the cost of law school will be more important to some students than others.  If you have family money that can easily afford the cost of law school, your situation may be different than if you need to go into large amounts of debt to finance law school.  Also, if you are in your 20s and plan to be a lawyer for 30-40 years, law school debt (while still relevant) is not as big a deal as if you aren’t sure about being a lawyer and could see yourself possibly changing careers within 5 years (or if you perceive you may have trouble finding a job or passing the Bar after law school).  If you perceive one law school making it more likely you will get jobs (including summer jobs during law school), the extra cost may be a worthwhile investment in your future.

PRIDE:  For the rest of your life, people will often ask you where you went to law school.  Ask yourself how important it is to say “I went to _________ Law School.”  For some people, that subjective factor is more important than it is to others.

THREE YEARS OF YOUR LIFE:  Law school does not last a lifetime.  But three years is not an insignificant amount of time, and law school (like college) is one of those time periods that people often remember for a lifetime.  Ask yourself how happy you perceive yourself being going to that particular law school and living in that area for three years.

ALUMNI NETWORKING:  Some law schools tend to be more proactive in their alumni networking than others.  That may make a difference when it comes to getting future jobs.

THE REGIONAL EFFECT:  If you are going to law school in the area you plan to work, there may be some advantages.  it will be easier to interview, get internships with employers that interest you, etc.  Also, your future employers likely will have more lawyers who graduated from that law school.  A San Diego employer will likely have far more graduates from USD than from a Florida law school, for instance.  People tend to like their own, and having that common interest/experience with a future employer may be beneficial.

QUALITY OF EDUCATION:  Ironically, this tends to be a minor factor, in my opinion.  Most law schools tend to teach the same stuff, and most of your knowledge is likely to come from on-the-job training anyway.  However, if you have heard great things about the law school’s courses and/or professors (or vice versa), that may be something to consider.

SPECIALIZATION:  Surprisingly, this is likely to be a minor factor as well.  You don’t need to select a law school with a good reputation for “Entertainment” if you plan on becoming an entertainment lawyer, for instance.  It just isn’t that big a deal.  As long as you can take a couple courses in the subject area, get educated in the basics, and demonstrate from your transcripts that you have an interest in the topic, you probably don’t need to worry much about how good the law school’s reputation is in the particular field you are considering.

CONCLUSION: The decision about which law school to attend is an important one, and there are a lot of unqualified people out there giving advice.  If you have questions, please feel free to email me at mark@scoreitup.com.  Good luck!

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