Selecting the right law school is a difficult process at best. There are approximately one hundred and eighty law schools in the United States. Some are accredited by the American Bar Association and others are not. The best law school for you may not be the best one in the United States or the one your friend is attending. The selection in short is personal. You must therefore evaluate your personal preferences and criteria that are important to you – not those of your parents or friends. While the following list will assist you in this process, it is not exhaustive and does not appear in order of importance. Some of the things which you should consider are:
- ACCREDITATION– Is the law school accredited by the American Bar Association? This is important to you because you may not be able to take the bar examination if you went to a non-accredited or regionally accredited law school.
- LOCATION– Is the location on a campus or in a city? Is the law school located in a geographical area that you prefer, or is geographical preference unimportant? Is the location on a campus proximate to a city?
- REPUTATION:–The issue most often discussed by prospective law students, yet the most difficult to define, is reputation. A number of factors contribute to a school’s reputation, including faculty, facilities, career services, reputation of the parent university, etc. Though a number of law school rankings are available, most factors evaluated are not quantifiable, and therefore you should not perceive the rankings as accurate or definitive. Selectivity at law schools, however, is one factor, which can be quantified; you can gauge a school’s relative selectivity by comparing the number of applicants accepted to the overall number of applications. The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools contains charts and tables of recent admissions cycles at most schools, which reflect the level of selectivity.
- SIZE–Do you prefer a large (1,000 or greater), an intermediate (500-1,000), or a small (500 or less) student body? The obvious advantage in larger law schools are a greater number of course offerings and diversified interests within the faculty, while in small law schools there is probably greater contact with the faculty and the other law students.
- NATIONAL/REGIONAL SCHOOLS– Does the school attract applicants from across the country and abroad? Or do most students come from the region in which the school is located? This is a tricky area today because many law schools tend to be more national as a result of the job market. Also, many law schools have a combination of two or three of these characteristics. On the other hand, it is true that placement figures indicate that particular institutions tend to have their greatest “clout” in a particular region or a particular state, while others place their students throughout the country. Where do most students want to work following graduation-throughout the country or in the school’s region?
- STUDENT BODY– What is the size of the entering class? What does the admissions profile tell you about the quality of the student body? Where did students study as undergraduates and what are their geographic backgrounds? Is there diversity in interests and personal/cultural backgrounds? What is the overall atmosphere are students friendly or overly competitive? Is there much interaction with fellow students outside the classroom? Any professional program is competitive. Some law schools are very competitive and have student bodies, which are vocationally oriented and grade conscious. Others are less competitive and possess student bodies, which might be classified as “supportive.” The best way to find out about the student body of a law school is to visit the school and talk to both the faculty and the students.
- FACULTY–What is the faculty-student ratio, the number of full-time vs. adjunct faculty, and the number of female and minority faculty? What are the academic and experiential backgrounds of the faculty? How accessible are they? This is very important since the strength of the faculty determines the strength of the law school.
- FACILITIES AND RESOURCES– In general, do the facilities provide a comfortable learning environment? Do students have access to courses from a range of academic disciplines to supplement their legal curriculum? Is the school affiliated with a university? How accessible are electronic databases such as Lexis and Westlaw? Is the library large enough to accommodate holdings and permit students to conduct research and study? How helpful is the library staff? Does the library have computer facilities? Is the library growing each year? Is the director of the library a professional and do they have the support of the administration?
- OPINIONS OF PROFESSIONALS–Lawyers judge law schools on different and perhaps more practical standards than academicians. Things like contacts made in law school, which will be helpful in the future, success in passing the bar, placement, their own experiences with graduates of the law school, etc., influence their opinions. In any event, their opinions should be sought along with the opinions of people in academe.
- SPECIAL PROGRAMS– Does the school demonstrate a commitment to women and minorities through special programs? What course work is available in specialized areas? What joint degree programs of interest to you are available? What are the opportunities for practical experience, including clinics, internships, etc.? What specialized institutes, journals, or organizations exist in your areas of interest? If you have an area of the law that is of particularly interested to you, this is a very important criteria. There is a good chance that these interests will change as a result of your exposure to a broad and common first year experience.
- COSTS– What are tuition, housing, and transportation costs? Is financial aid exclusively need-based or are merit scholarships available?
- PLACEMENT– After three years of intense study and the expenditure of much money, the graduate law student is ready for the world of work. They expect to be gainfully employed in the legal profession–that is why the person attending a professional school should be aware of; what percentage of the class has positions at graduation? What advising and resources are available to help you find a job? How many employers recruit at the law school and who are they? Is career counseling available? In what types of positions and geographic areas are they employed? What is the percentage of graduates holding judicial clerkships? What assistance is given to students not interested in working in law firms? What is the bar passage rate for recent graduates?
- STUDENT LIFE– Is the school located in a safe area? What types of cultural opportunities are there? Does the school provide recreational facilities? Is housing provided for first-year students? If not, does the school offer assistance in locating off-campus housing? Is the location rural or urban? What is the cost of living?
- NON-TRADITIONAL ALTERNATIVES–You should be aware that some law schools offer alternatives to fall admission in a full-time law program. You can earn a degree in four years by attending law school in the evening. Evening and part-time programs make it possible for students to work and study law simultaneously. A few schools on the quarter system allow students to enter mid-year. Summer entry and/or summer courses can accelerate the degree program from three to two-and-a-half calendar years. And finally, some law schools have created summer trial programs, which allow borderline applicants to prove themselves capable of legal study in time for fall entrance.
Much of the above material was developed by Jane Levy at Cornell University.