Choosing a Law School
Once you have decided that you want to become a lawyer, choosing
a law school will be your most important decision. For a few
people, deciding which school to go to is an easy decision. But,
if you are not in the group that has to stay in a particular
area or has a special reason for going to a particular law
school, then you are going to have to make some choices. Given
the fact that most schools charge an application fee in excess
of $50, narrowing down the list of potential schools is
important. While we at Law School Coach
don’t claim to
have all of the answers, considering the following information
should make your job at choosing a law school much easier.
What is Your Goal for Law School?
One of the most important preliminary considerations in choosing
a law school is to clarify what you want out of your education.
One person may already have a job lined up and all he needs is a
bar card. Another may be going to law school with an eye towards
landing a $200,000 first year salary at Big Firm (if this is
you, read our recent Blawg post on the law school myth). These
two people will find different factors important when choosing a
So, step one is to do your best to define what your goal for law
school is. Where do you want to work after graduation? Do you
have a specialty in mind? What are your constraints (financial,
geographic, etc…)? Is the prestige of the law school important
to you? Would you consider a lower-tier law school if they
offered you a scholarship to attend?
Which Law Schools Will
The next step is to determine the law schools that you are
qualified to attend. This is mainly a function of your LSAT and
GPA. Unless you have put a great deal of thought into it, you
should only consider ABA accredited schools (most states require
this accreditation to be licensed). When reviewing law school
applications, committees will put a student into one of three
piles: “presumptive Yes,” “presumptive No,” and “further
review.” The presumptive Yes students will be accepted unless
there is some very negative information in their file. The
presumptive No students will be rejected unless barring some
very positive information in their file. The further review
students will have the most carefully scrutinized applications.
Your LSAT/GPA combination determines which pile your application
is placed in.
Each year, US News and World Report ranks law schools. This
ranking will give you a good idea of the law school’s
reputation. The ranking will also give you an indication of how
competitive the admissions process will be at a given school.
Law schools publish their acceptance data. Generally, you will
be a presumptive Yes if both your LSAT and GPA are at and above
the school’s 75th percentile credentials; and, you might be
offered a scholarship. You will be a presumptive No if both your
LSAT and GPA are below the school’s 25th percentile credentials.
You will have a good chance of admission if both your LSAT and
GPA are at or above the school’s medians. If your credentials
are mixed (one score above the median, the other below), the
quality of your undergraduate preparation and how well your
application stands out will be the deciding factor. For a nifty
program that allows you to input your LSAT/GPA combination and
will spit out your highest ranked choices,
Narrow the List of Potential Law Schools
Once you have determined the group of law schools that you
have a reasonable shot at attending, it is time to narrow down
the list. To do this, start to look at the list with your goals
for law school in mind. Are there any places that you are
unwilling to live for three years? Are there any schools on the
list that are outside of the constraints you have set? Do any of
the law schools on the list prevent you from reaching your goal
– some firms will only consider certain schools, academics
usually come from certain schools, etc….
Probably the most important factor you will consider is where
you want to practice law. If you want to practice law in a
certain geographic area, you should strongly consider schools
from that area. Look at the local firms’ websites to get an idea
of the law schools that are prevalent for lawyers from that
region. Certain law schools have more clout regionally than they
do nationally. If you know you want to live and practice in
Kentucky, your best bet will probably be a Kentucky law school
(there are only 3 to choose from). For a geographic listing of
approved law schools,
Hopefully, there is more than one law school left on your list.
If the above exercise leaves you with only one school, or no
schools, you will need to reconsider your goals for law school
(unless you are a presumptive Yes).
Once you have then narrowed down list, it is time to start
submitting your applications. It is not a bad idea to throw in a
law school that is a little above your qualifications (reach
school), and to keep a safe (fall-back) school on your list.
Considerations for Your Final Law School Choice
Hopefully, several of the law schools on your list have offered
you admission to their class. Perhaps others on your list have
put you on their waiting list. If you have followed the above
recommendations, none of the schools that you have been accepted
to are schools that you would not consider attending.
Have any of the schools offered you a scholarship? Do you have a
clear first-choice? Are there big differences is tuition between
the law schools that have accepted you? Which school is the
highest ranked? Do any of the schools have a clinical program
that is important to you?
If there are a couple of schools that leave you with a tough
decision, you should consider visiting the campus. Ask the
students questions, see what kind of vibe the place has. Is this
a place you are comfortable spending the next three years of
your life? What is the culture of the school—competitive or
relaxed? What about class size? Does the school provide an area
for 1L’s to study?
Why Shouldn't I Just Choose the Highest Ranked Law School
that Accepted Me?
For most people the law school ranking should not be
the deciding factor
schools. The reality is that the schools on your list are going
to allow you to accomplish your goals. Only the top 10 law
schools are sufficiently prestigious that simply going there
will do a lot for a law student in terms of career
opportunities. Beyond that, things get more complicated. The
schools that follow surely carry prestige, but employers will no
longer pay attention “just because” a particular applicant went
to the school. The individual’s ability and law school results
matter more. That’s not to say that a school’s reputation
becomes irrelevant. It remains relevant, but outside the top 10
it becomes less important.
In general, if you have a choice between a “Tier 1” (top 50) law
school, and a lower tier school, the Tier 1 School should have
an edge in your decision. Also, if you know what kind of law you
want to focus on, law schools are ranked by specialties such as:
Health Care Law, Trial Advocacy, Intellectual Property, and
International Law. If you are interested in a particular type of
law, a high ranking on the specialty list should be given
Ranking becomes less important when you are choosing between
similarly situated law schools. For instance, going to the #20
law school (George Washington) versus attending the #30 law
school (UC Davis) is not going to give you a prestige factor
edge. This is also true for schools in Tier 3 versus Tier 4.
Once You Choose a Law School
Inform the law schools of your decision as soon as you make it.
If you are not accepting an offer, notify the school in writing
so that they can offer the seat to another applicant. To reserve
your seat, we recommend that you send your acceptance letter by
certified mail/return receipt requested. Be sure to review your
acceptance packet and comply with the law school’s procedure for
accepting the seat, including the payment of a seat deposit
(credited against your tuition). Usually your initial decision
will be due by April 1.
Understand that choosing a law school is not an irrevocable
decision. If you are wait-listed at a better school and get a
late offer, you are not bound by having already accepted
admission at a different school, though you may lose your seat
deposit. Just make sure to let the schools know as soon as
For more tips, be sure to check out the Law School Coach
Guide to Law School Admissions