With over 230 accredited law schools spread across the entire US, “Where should I apply?” can be a difficult question to answer.
Aside from the standard advice of applying to the highest ranked schools you will most likely be accepted to given your LSAT and GPA, you should consider a number of additional factors when compiling your list of target law schools. While ranking is very important, depending on your circumstances, it may not or should not be your number one consideration when choosing where to apply.
The rank of your law school is really important…to an extent. The importance of the rankings really depends on where your target schools land. For example, if you are targeting the programs ranked 1-35, the best advice, subject to certain exceptions, would most likely be to choose the highest-ranked school to which you are accepted. Institutions in the upper half of this band are national programs that are highly respected by legal employers across the country. Going to one will keep as many doors open to you as possible (which is something you will certainly want to do). As you move down the first tier and into the second, third and fourth tiers of the rankings, several of the other factors become significantly more important.
Another hugely significant factor in your law school selection decision is location. If you graduate from a T14 program, you will likely be able to move to most areas of the country. However, outside of the very top programs, often times local ties will outweigh law school ranking for employers. Hiring new attorneys is an investment that employers want to maximize, weighing not only potential success but potential retention as well. If you are determined to work and live in a particular city post-graduation, especially if it is not in a major metropolitan area like Manhattan or Los Angeles, consider applying to schools in that geographic location even if they may be lower ranked. For example, if you intend to work in the Atlanta area, it would likely make more sense to go to Emory over USC, despite the difference in ranking. In addition, it is really important, particularly outside of the top national programs, that you choose schools in locations where you would feel comfortable not only living for three years but where you could conceivably live and work after graduation.
Since you will be devoting three years of your life to law school, consider the on-campus and off-campus environments. Research areas that are important to you: diversity, class size, rural or urban, faculty make-up, weather, sports teams, proximity to friends, etc.
If you can, you should absolutely visit the campuses of the schools you are targeting. While it may not seem critical now, the accessibility and availability of facilities such as libraries and housing will greatly impact your law school experience. Do not discount the importance of a school’s social environment. Speak to current and past students to get a sense of what it may be like on a day to day basis: Is it competitive? Do people go out together? What do they do in their free time? Do you see yourself fitting in?
Area of Interest
If you have a strong sense of the type of legal professional you want to be upon graduation, research the school rankings in those areas. Perhaps you want to become a law professor after school or you have a strong interest in a particular area of law that you would like to practice after graduation.
Familiarizing yourself with school curriculum and extra-curricular offerings can also be helpful in narrowing down your choices. If you are interested in intellectual property and patent law, it would be worth noting that the University of Virginia has amongst its 19 clinics a Patent Clinic, whereas other law schools do not. U.S. News & World Report also provides rankings of law schools for particular areas of study, for example International Law or Intellectual Property Law.
Cost & Scholarship Opportunities
While many students pursue law for reasons other than money, it would be imprudent to dismiss the financial realities of attending law school. Undeniably, law school is a costly undertaking. In most cases, you will be graduating law school with a significant debt load (see this article for a ranking of schools based on debt). Depending on your financial situation, consider schools that can help lighten your financial load whether it be through scholarships or in-state tuition rates. Check out our article HERE for scholarship tips. In addition, living costs can vary greatly among law schools. Living in the West Village to attend NYU law will be far more expensive than Charlottesville.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is be informed when choosing where to apply to law school. Below are some resources that may be good places to begin your research.
- U.S. News & World Report 2020 Law School Rankings
- The American Bar Association Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools
- The LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools
- Your undergraduate career services office
- Anecdotal research. Talk to people who have applied to law school. They may have insight not found anywhere else.
- Talk to an expert at Stratus (free consultation) or review our articles on the subject (including HERE and HERE).