Choosing a law school is much like choosing a spouse and should be given the same careful consideration. While you might weigh the typical physical traits, its the subjective and personal factors that lead to love.
While you may think that you should choose to apply to and attend the best school that will admit you; this isn't always conducive to a happy and fruitful law school experience or career in law.
The truth is more accurately that to choose a law school you will not only have to consider the rankings and reputation of various schools but you will also have to consider a great number of other factors to determine which school will ultimately offer you the best experience.
Here are some criteria that have strongly influenced our students and been recommended by our partners:
The first year curriculum at most ABA approved schools includes the same core classes. Thus when evaluating the curriculum and academic experiences available at a school, you should consider the breadth of options offered to you in your second and third years as well as the teaching philosophy of the schools. The number of and variety of elective classes offered will also vary greatly from school to school as will the number of specialty programs. Be sure to visit the web sites of the schools that interest you to learn more about each school's particular curriculum and whether it offers what you need.
Students & Faculty
When choosing a law school you should also assess the academic profile of the students you will be in classes with and the faculty that you will be learning from. In order to have the best possible law school experience you want to be in an academic environment that will challenge and stimulate you. School publications will give you some basic information you want, but you may want to also do further research using resources such as the Association of American Law Schools' Directory of Teachers. You should consider the diversity of both students and staff with regards to race, gender, education, and professional experience.
Employment Opportunities and Assistance
Since for many of us education is the means to a particular career, you should consider the employment rates and assistance programs at the schools you are considering. Investigate the role the career services office plays in job and internship placement and the relationships that school has with government agencies, law firms, and corporations. Find out what programs are in place to help you understand your career options, what agencies and industries recruit on campus, what career counseling is available, and what the employment rate is for first year graduates.
Size of Class
Much of the learning in law school depends on the quality of class discussion. Small classes provide essential interaction; large classes (and the Socratic method) provide diversity, challenge, and a good mix of reactions, opinions, and criticism. Find out not only how many students are in the school overall but also how many are in a typical class and the faculty to student ratio. In general, larger schools offer you the opportunity to sample a wider range of class options while smaller schools offer a greater opportunity for personal interactions and camaraderie.
A school's reputation is generally a reflection of the US News and World Report rankings and the perceived quality of the graduates in the job market. However, programs with strong local reputations are generally not well reflected in national ranking charts and programs with strong specialities are again overlooked for programs with broad strength. Ultimately, when considering a program's reputation, you must factor in your career aims and evaluate the school's repuatation on the basis of the school's ability to get you considered for the positions you want.
Law school rankings, which are done annually by US News and World Report, have traditionally been the primary means for selecting a law school and assessing the quality of the program. However, in recent years rankings have become increasing under criticism as more and more law school deans, professors, and applicants come to realize the inherent flaws in the ranking system and the importance of non-quantifiable factors. Additionally, one of the critics of the US News & World Report rankings is that they can be gamed, and many law schools are learning how to cheat the system.
In addition to developing your own evaluation system, several other ranking systems have emerged in recent years. One of the most well-respected alternative ranking systems has been created by Brian Leiter, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
Since financial aid for law school is available primarily as loans rather than scholarships or grants, the average law school graduate finishes school with debt in excess of $80,000. Researching financial aid options offered by the schools you are considering is a very important step in determining which school may be the best for you. If you plan to pursue a career that will not be high paying upon graduation then mitigating your debt should play a key role in your school choice, while if you anticipate having a six-figure salary after graduation, debt will be less of a concern.
Other than federal student loans, most financial aid is conferred by the individual law school and thus the schools themselves will be the primary source of information for you as to the amount of aid you may expect. Some scholarships may be available either through the individual school or from organizations such as local bar associations, fraternities, sororities, or business organizations.