How to choose a law school

Most law students probably would agree that a school’s rankings helped in their search process. But so did other factors, like location, curriculum, financial aid and more.

Generally, most law-school graduates and legal educators say there are a multitude of factors that play into this life-changing decision. Among them:

  • Money. Student debt is considerable among lawyers. So a longstanding piece of advice is students should balance how much a particular school costs against the quality of the education. Attend the best school you can as long as it is financially within reason.
  •  Setting. A smaller or a private law school on a more rural campus may suit your style. Larger, public schools inside metropolitan areas tend to offer more distractions, which may help you maintain some balance during those three tough years.
  •  Faculty and classes. If you want to study gaming or equine law, there are law schools that specialize in those fields. Studying with a professor that shares your passion for a particular industry can make the process that much more satisfying.
  •  Family and work. If you like a strong support system, try to find a law school that is near where your spouse works or where your friends are attending. Also, if you need to work to support yourself, you may want to rule out certain schools because their rigorous requirements will prevent you from holding even a part-time position.

Overall, nothing beats an on-campus visit when possible. Seeing a school in person can be a true eye-opener because you will notice things the rankings may never think about, said Robert Franek, publisher of The Princeton Review’s “Best 172 Law Schools: 2010 Edition.”

Franek recommends you talk to as many current students as possible. Chat up the professors. Visit the career planning office. Come with questions. Challenge everyone to prove or disprove what you think you know about the school, he said.

Every school has a personality, and that doesn’t necessarily show up in the rankings,” said Greg Brandes, Dean of Faculty and law professor at Concord Law School in Los Angeles.

Brandes recommends students develop friendly relationships with the recruiters at the law schools on their short list.

Although you don’t want to be a pest, “You should be talking to them so often If you know what firm you would like to work at, analyze which law schools its lawyers attended. Alums may be more willing to hire you if you attended their pride and joy. It also doesn’t hurt if the law school is connected to a university with a strong sports program, said Edward Poll, a nationally recognized coach, law firm management consultant and author of Growing Your Law Practice in Tough Times.”

Good athletic teams tend to put a spotlight on their educational institutions, and law schools benefit from that,” Poll said.

May the best school win.

Published in the 2010 Back to School issue of preLaw Magazine by Karen Dybis