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 Selecting a Law School 

 

Many college seniors ask their pre-law advisors, "what is the best law school?" but very few ever ask, "what is the best law school for me?" There are 177 ABA approved law schools, and all have met the American Bar Association standards or they should not have received accreditation. There are various reports which rank law schools, but these rankings can be deceiving, and it would be incredibly naive for a student to debate whether Harvard is better than Yale. They are both excellent and, perhaps more importantly, they are both different. It would be better for the student to look at the differences with a goal of selecting the institution that best meets their needs.

Some of the things which a student should consider in selecting a law school are:

Location:
Is the law school located in a geographical area which the student prefers, or is geographical preference unimportant? Is the location on a campus or in a city? Is the location on a campus proximate to a city?

Size:
Does the student 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.

Character of the Law School:
Is the institution characterized as a national, state, or regional law school? 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.

Student Body:
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." Some students react very well to a very competitive atmosphere while others do their best work and feel more comfortable in a supportive atmosphere. In my opinion, 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. If possible, sit in on a few classes and mix with the law students after the class. Correspond with former undergraduates from your institution who are attending a particular law school.

Faculty:
What is the strength of the faculty at aparticular law school? This is very important since the strength of the faculty determines the strength of the law school. The bulletin of the law school will list the faculty along with their professional activities, publications, etc. One should certainly look at the number of full-time faculty, the number of part-time faculty, and the administrative staff of the law school.

Support for the Law School:

Does the law school receive the full support of the parent institution? If the school is not affiliated with a college or university, does it have strong support from alumni? Are alumni of the law school organized and do they support the school financially and in terms of helping with placement?


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.

Areas of Strength for the Law School:
Some applicants have an area of the law in which they are particularly interested—international trial law, corporate law, tax law, patent law, etc. There is a good chance that these interests will change as a result of their exposure to a broad and common first year experience. Ideally, students will pick the best law school for them which has faculty and curricular expertise in the area or areas in which they have an interest.

Cost:
Somewhere along the line, money will rear its ugly head. The applicant, unless they are well fixed, must look at the total cost for three years of study. This estimate should include tuition, room and board, fees and expenses, insurance, travel to and from the law school while classes are in session, as well as travel to and from home for vacations and during the summer breaks, etc.

Job 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 attended a professional school. In selecting a law school, the student should be aware of the institution's history of placing graduates in jobs. This information can be obtained by consulting the catalog, inquiring from the Placement Bureau at the law school, and by consulting the report of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

The above information is not listed in order of importance but merely cites data that students should investigate in their junior and senior years prior to applying to law schools and prior to selecting the law school which they intend to attend.

by Robert J. Waddick, Assistant Dean
Pre-Law Advisor
Notre Dame