Choosing a Law School: Part III

Miscellaneous factors to consider

by Ryan R.of Parliament Tutors

This is the third in a three-part series.

Published January 18, 2012

Aside from the cost and the ranking of a law school, there are also important miscellaneous factors to consider when deciding which law school might be the best fit for you.
How important is the location of a law school?
Real estate agents say that three things sell a home: location, location, location. Law school can be similar. If a student attends a school outside of a particular region that is not nationally known, odds are that they will struggle to find employment in the region they want. This is because law firm recruiters likely aren’t going to get onto a plane, and take a long flight to meet law students at a particular school unless they hold that school in high regard.
I’ve tutored some students, predominately younger students, who want to experience a new city, because it would be fun. I love traveling, and agree that if it does not impact their work, students should make law school as fun as possible. However, attending the University of Hawaii just because you want the Hawaii experience, but want to work in Chicago is among the weakest choices a student could make.
I have a friend went to a law school like Penn State, did okay but not great, came back to New York City, and can’t find a job. I have another friend who went to New England College of Law (a tier 4), placed below median, returned to NYC and has not so much as had an interview for a full time paid position in two years. This is not just because the economy. This is because if you’re a hiring partner in New York, and willing to higher a sub-par 4th tier graduate, why would you take somebody who was taught at a local Massachusetts school when you can take someone from one of the many 3rd and 4th tier schools in New York?
Regional schools are regional, and you should not attend a particular regional school if you would not be content working in that region unless you intend to go back to school following your JD for something non-law related, or have a job waiting for you.
What schools are national?
As discussed in our law school rankings article, the top-14 law schools are all national, and there are varying opinions as to whether the top-25 or even top-50 schools are national. These are schools that you can feel comfortable attending even if you do not want to spend your early career in that region. For example, most Yale graduates do not wind up practicing in New Haven or even Connecticut.
How important is a law school’s “collegiate atmosphere”, and personality?
Oddly enough, I do not know of one law school that does not describe its atmosphere as “collegiate,” “friendly,” “non-competitive,” etc. Look, attending a law school particularly if you’re leaving your home state single and friendless to enter a rigorous three-year competition is daunting, and virtually every student wants to make friends, and be in a peaceful atmosphere.
However, according to students I spoke with at a wide array of law schools throughout the country, law school is and by its nature will always be very competitive. Students typically state the following, “I’ve made friends. We joke around, we talk and we’re all willing to help each other out. But at the end of the day, everyone of us is secretly hoping for everyone else to get a major cramp on the day of the final, and fail so that I can be number one, and be the best job.” The general consensus is that while those students who go out of their way to harm their peers are ostracized, and that meaningful friendships are developed, but that grades will almost always precede friendship.
Virtually all schools care to foster fair competition, and would much rather admit moral pro-social individuals than amoral antisocial ones so take a school’s claim they’re the most collegiate with a grain of salt (how can you prove this anyway).
That said, there are surveys that rank the “fun” or “quality of life” of different law schools each year. This past year, UVA was ranked as the most fun law school, and Virginia along with schools like Duke and Michigan are constantly in the running in these surveys.
How important are a specific law school’s clinics, areas of specialty, etc.?
Students sometimes prefer one law school over another, because of their IP or international law programs. While these considerations have merit, many students overvalue them as major IP or international law firms tend to pay attention to the general USNews rankings far more than the specialty rankings. This is because law schools generally teach students the law, and how to think like a lawyer, but becoming a good lawyer happens only with experience.
Therefore, law firms tend to hire students who they feel are the best and the brightest, and typically pay attention to their class rank, and their school’s ranking, and not their school’s IP program’s ranking.
It seems the only tangible value a school’s specialty programs really possess is the opportunity for students to connect with professors who specialize in the type of law they wish to practice.
These factors should be regarded as possible tie beakers, and should likely take a backseat to factors such as general ranking, geographic location and cost of attendance.
Final thoughts
One thing that cannot be discounted in this entire process is your happiness at a particular school. Law school will consist of three years of your life, and there is a scientifically proven link between happiness and performance. So while a particular school may be better regarded on paper, that will hardly matter if you’re so depressed you can’t study. If you aren’t sure whether you’d be happy in a particular city or particular school, the best thing you can do is visit.
Once you’re admitted, some schools even offer to pay for your flight/hotel accommodations in hopes that you’ll matriculate there. Take advantage of these opportunities, keep an open minded, and most importantly… don’t jump to any decisions.
However, as expressed in this article, don’t overhype things like “new computers” or “beautiful architecture.” Make sure to pay closer attention to things like how much you need to pay, and what your odds are of landing a job that would satisfy you. These factors will impact your long term future far more than “free bagel Tuesdays” will unless you have a deeply unhealthy love for bialys.
Ryan R. is an LSAT Tutor with Parliament Tutors, a San Francisco Tutoring service.
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